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no reason to stay

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The following day was torture. Slow, unending, hot-as-hell torture.

Feigning interest in the mainland as I walked with Tarquin, met his people, smiled at them, grew harder as the sun meandered across the sky, then finally began inching toward the sea. Liar, thief, deceiver—that’s what they’d call me soon.

I hoped they’d know—that Tarquin would know—that we’d done it for their sake.

Supreme arrogance, perhaps, to think that way, but… it was true. Given how quickly Tarquin and Cresseida had glanced at each other, guided me away from that temple… I’d bet that they wouldn’t have handed over that book. For whatever reasons of their own, they wanted it.

Maybe this new world of Tarquin’s could only be built on trust… But he wouldn’t get a chance to build it if it was all wiped away beneath the King of Hybern’s armies.

That’s what I told myself over and over as we walked through his city—as I endured the greetings of his people. Perhaps not as joyous as those in Velaris, but… a tentative hard-won warmth. People who had endured the worst and tried now to move beyond it.

As I should be moving beyond my own darkness.When the sun was at last sliding into the horizon, I confessed to Tarquin that I was tired and hungry—and, being kind and accommodating, he took me back, buying me a baked fish pie on the way home. He’d even eaten a fried fish at the docks that afternoon.

Dinner was worse.


That night I was sitting at Tarquinʼs right, Amren at his left and Rhys beside me. Food—as delicious as it was—tasted like ash in my mouth. It had nothing to do with my fire gift, but with the others gifts I would have never thought I possessed. The gift to lie through my teeth like I'd been doing it since I learned to speak.

Liar, liar, liar. It was the only thing my mind could bark at me. It drowned all of the sounds beyond my own head.

I felt Rhys' eyes slide to me when he thought I wasn't aware. He was bound to notice the silence that seemed to surround my seat. There could have been an empty chair between the two High Lord and there would have been no difference.

I tried my best to make myself part of the conversation. And failed. I didn't know what trivial topic was being discussed tonight and surely didn't care. Not when Tarquin seemed so calm. Satisfied, even. I knew that expression would turn bitter tomorrow.

Because of me.

A little bit quiet today?

And that's your business beacause?

I dared to flicker my eyes to Rhys for the first time tonight. He could barely hide the curling of his lips. Prick. And here I was, thinking we were friends again.

Who told you we were friends to begin with?

Well, Feyre darling, it brings me joy to know you still find ways to hurt my old heart. 

Your ego, you mean, I huffed.

Auch.

Poor High Lord, not a friend in the world.

I found myself chuckling before I could stop it. Laughing silently with my eyes focused on my plate. My face went unbearably hot. Without needing to look up, I knew everyone was staring at me.

Varian, Cresseida and Tarquin, all of them staring at me like I had grown a second head. Or several. But it was Amren—Amren, the only one who I though would've been on my side, who said, “Something interesting in your mind, Feyre?”

Rhys almost purred.

The insufrible bastard had the nerve to look curious about my reaction. He arched his brow while mortification hit me in the head like bricks. “I was just thinking about something particularly stupid,” I managed to get out.

I didn't know if I meant Rhys or myself. Cauldron knew I was fairly ridiculous, smiling like a love-sick girl. It was disgusting.

Rhys' brows went a little bit higher and the stars in his eyes shone with wicked delight. The bond between us vibrated with laughter.

“It's lovely you resort to your most ridiculous memories to not be bored to tears by their Highnesses,” Varian told with an expresión that screamed just how much he wished to do the same. But I doubted he wanted and old gossip in his head.

“I thought no one would say it,” Cresseida agreed from Amren's left, while she took a sip of her wine.

My face still felt hot, but... I chuckled again, it was short and a little bit choked. It felt good, I supposed, dining with them. Interchanging stories and sharing laughs, as sharp as those might get. It felt like something I could get used to.

But after tomorrow, Tarquin would only see it as a pretense. He'd never think that I really wanted the friendship he offered me—as tentative as it was. I couldn't say I blamed him. 

My smile faded, turning into a firm line. I was ready for this day, this trip, this lies to be over. I lowered my fork, being extra careful not to make a sound, and started weaving a lie to go to my room.

But I didn't need it as a servant boy—High Fae, of course—walked in, face pale and eyes wide. Six pair of eyes snapped at him at once. The poor guy seemed ready to collapse. He swallowed hard a couple of times while he still got close to his High Lord. Tarquin raise his eyebrows. 

The servant bowed. “My Lord, your presence is required in the throne room.” His tawny eyes went to Rhys, and he flinched as he realized he hadn't bowed to him. But he went on, “Urgently.”

Tarquin pushed his chair back and stood. “Excuse me.”

He winnowed out without another word.

The servant remained where he was a second too long, trying to catch his breath. I wondered what was so urgent to demand the High Lord attention. My heart started beating fast.

Something's wrong.

Rhys agreed without saying nothing.

I glanced at him out of the corner of my eyes. His face was the perfect representation of boredom. But his gaze flickered a little bit too much, as if he tried to pry answers out of walls that had ears but not mouths for us. I watched the servant again, who did bow this time for Rhys. I almost startled when his eyes met mine, and lingered. Then went to Rhys'.

Tell the Cursebreaker to run, his thoughts urged, not knowing I could hear them just as clearly.

He left.

And I knew. The only reason why I should have to flee the Summer Court. My breath came up short as I turned to Cresseida. “He's here, isn't he? You did it. You told him.”

She merely blinked at me. “Who?”

I felt like choking on his name, but still said it, “Tamlin. He's here. It was you.”

“No, no. I didn't, I swear. Tarquin made us swear we wouldn't say a word.”

I didn't want to believe her. I didn't want to keep searching for a culprit. It was easier to blame her, almost as much as tightening my too steady hands on the edge of the table. Varian thought he was being discreet, but I knew his hand went to the hilt of some hidden weapon.

I didn't need to look at my hands to see the tablecloth scorched. I didn't care. All I could think of was the quiet in the manor, a cage I couldn't be thrown in again.

I couldn't. I couldn't go back.

Feyre.

I wasn't going to go back.

 

I stood, back ramrod straight, chin high and iron in my eyes. Nesta would've been proud of it, if she ever bothered to be proud of something other than herself. I walked out of the dining room, to the halls and somehow ended up in our suite. Rhys and Amred were right behind me. I hadn't heard them following me, but it figured they would. 

“What now?” I whispered. I wasn't able to rise my voice any higher, or I risked it breaking. Each second under the same roof as him threatened to break me.

“What do you want to do?” Rhys asked softly. 

I rubbed my face, not really caring about the make-up Naula had put on me. I opened my mouth, not knowing what could come out. There weren't any words for me to say. Did I want to go back? Did I want to stay? Did I want to leave Velaris to stay locked in that golden cage again?

“Get me out of here.”

I hated that my voice sounded like I was eating glass. I hated it so much. But I needed to be time to think. There were still too many tangled feelings inside me. And being there, trapped and locked up... I couldn't do it. 

Rhys seemed to be made of stone, still and silent. It brought me memories, of a High Lord at the feet of a Queen's throne. Of that one who only watched while I was being torn open from the inside. I had to remind me that Rhys wasn't him, that Rhys had fought for me, even when I couldn't do it myself. It never really registered.

“I don't want to go back,” I whispered. 

“You won't, girl,” Amren said. “Not if I have something to say about it.”

I didn't know how to react to Amren's sureness. Like she was willing to fight against Tamlin. For me. I couldn't, for the life of me, figure out why. Instead I looked at Rhys, if only because looking at Amren gave me more questions than answers. I felt lost enough. He held his hand for me, eyes shining with feeling as I began reaching for it but it was gone a second later. His face was set on a determinated expression. It felt safe, somehow.

Rhys took Amren's and I walked up to them. I was ready to appear in Velaris and pretend this never happened. But the door banged open and my insides turned to solid ice.

Lucien stood on the threshold, chest rising and falling in uneven patters. He could barely breathe, but he manahed to say, “You declare war against the Spring Court if you take her, Rhysand.”

It felt like he was cursing me. 

Rhys whirled so fast I couldn't register the movement, Amren did the same. It took me a moment to realize they created a barrier between Lucien and me. I hated it. He was—had been my friend and I hated that I felt so stupidly relieved to have them between us. I wasn't proud enough to think there weren't creatures I still needed protection from. But Lucien... It hurt more than I wanted to admit.

“Don't mess with grown-ups business, little Lucien,” Rhys hissed.

I couldn't see his face but I felt the sharp and devious grin of the High Lord of the Night Court.

Lucien clenched his jaw, chewing the words he wanted to spit at him. “Give her back.”

“Feyre is not a toy he took away from Tamlin, boy,” Amren stepped in, shielding me further from view, despite her height. “She made her decision.” 

Lucien's face lost all color befofe Amren's presence. His eyes opened wide and his fear sweeped into the suit in rising waves. He decided then to pin his attention on me, half-hidden behing the massive wall that was Rhys. A river of words flowed in my head—how could you, I'm so glad to see you, I miss you, go away, I don't want to see you ever again—but they dried on my tongue when I opened my mouth to speak them, whatever they might have been.

“Are you okay?” he asked softly, like I was some traumatized pet in need of calming.

I didn't answer, mostly because I didn't know how to. But then I felt it. Before seeing him, I sensed his hurried steps getting closer, echoing inside my skull like a war drum. My stomach tightened. 

Rhys tensed, no doubt sensing the same thing I did. Swirls of darkness curled around his hands, his fingers, on his shoulders. His control was faltering and I didn't want to admit it terrified me. But he didn't react when Tamlin appeared behind Lucien, followed by Tarquin. Both a bit red in the face. He just slid his hands in his pockets as if he tried to hide the shadows around them.

Rhys chuckled darkly. “Did no one teach you it is very rude to come in unannounced, Tamlin?”

Tamlin was just as I remembered him and yet, he wasn't. The appearance was the same, those were still his green eyes and his gold hair. But the more I stared at him, the less I saw the male I fell in love with. I could only see that eternal, unbreakable prison. The lonely days and party plans I didn't care to make anymore.

“Give her back, Rhysand,” he growled. I could discern the claws trying to get out from his knuckles.

“Rhysand? I thought we were fine, Tam. You wound me”

Tamlin bared his teeth in a gesture more animal than, well, human. As human as High Fae could be. I hated myself for flinching at Tamlin's wrath. Fool. Human heart indeed. “Feyre,” he said, as if my name was an order in itself. 

I didn't move. I only watched an indefinite spot on Rhys shoulder without really looking at it. A hundred things went through my head, of what awaited for me if I ended up in Spring again. I could only imagine Tamlin's unchecked anger. I pictured his destroyed studio, the walls stained red—I wondered if they'd be stained with other thing than paint. 

My knees shook and my gut roiled.

“Let her go, Rhys,” Lucien said.

His tone, while it was more calm than Tamlin's, it held such... entitlement. The anger I felt then made me forget to tell him that Rhys wasn't holding me.

As if he wanted to prove my point, he showed them his hands. “Does it look like I have a leash around her neck?” he spat.

Amren growled. 

Lucien stepped back. Even Tamlin, in whatever mental space he was in, seemed to realize what sort of creature Amren was. But I wondered how long that would keep him in line. And it terrified me what would happen if a fight broke out. For everything Tamlin had done to me, I didn't want to see his throat spilled on the ground. Or Lucien's. I couldn't see another corpse like that, not again.

Tarquin gave a step forwards, putting himself in the middle. “Lucien, Amren, it doesn't make sense to fight. That will take us nowhere. And I'd really appreciate if we could behave like the reasonable people we are.”

“You can't reason with monsters,” Tamlin spat.

Rhys snorted. “It's not me who's about to shift into a beast.” He put his hands in his pocket once more and tilted his head while still looking at Tamlin. “It's not me, in fact, who arrived at a foreign Court unannounced, which is punishable according to the law.”

Lucien huffed. “As it is stealing a High Lord's bride.”

Rhys bristled. And I know that wherever Lucien's words had hit, they snapped the leash on his temper. The hair on the back of my head stood on end as pure power rippled across the room. Whatever hold Rhys kept on his powers was gone. 

He gave growled. “I wouldn't have to intervene if you—”

I already knew how this ended, with someone's gut hanging out their bodies. And to be honest, I didn't know which death would break me the most. I didn't want to find out.

I gripped Rhys' arm. Because I couldn't, wouldn't live knowing I was the reason for more death.

Please, I begged him. Don't.

Rhys turned his face to mine. The rage painted in his features was world-ending. But he noticed the paleness or the fear, and it somehow was enough to appease his anger. I might have let out a relieved sigh as Rhys straightened his back and went to his original spot. He raised his chin and let his shoulders loose, as collected as always.

He focused his attention on Tamlin and Lucien. I did the same to find them already staring at me and the hand still around the High Lord's arm. Even Tarquin let surprise show in his face. I realized that, had I been someone else, chances were that I wouldn't be breathing. Rhys was a High Lord—the most powerful High Lord in history, in fact—and I shouldn't be so careless as to interfere like that. 

Tamlin glared at me, betrayal bright on his eyes. He—he didn't realize, did he? That I did it for him. That it probably saved his life. Something told me he wouldn't care either way. He never did.

I found myself straightening my back. “Stop,” I said firmly. “Just stop.”

Please, I almost say. But that's what I had said the day he locked me up and little did that help me. I wouldn't beg, not to him.

His gaze softened. “Come home.”

For a moment, I wanted to believe in the tenderness in his face. I was ashamed that I tried to, but a part of me, unbelievably unmoving refused it. “No.

The room fell silent.

Tarquin fully faced Tamlin. “It seems her decision is made.” If I didn't know better, I'd thought he tried to make a barrier between the two of us.

“How do you know he doesn't have his filthy claws on her?” Lucien hissed.

“Be careful of how you talk to me, Lucien,” he snapped. “I've been gracious enough not to kill you on sight. Your brothers weren't as lucky when they did the same, were they?”

Lucien realized at the same time I did, Tarquin wouldn't let them take me. He'd fight if it came to that. “It is clear in which side you stand, then.”

“There aren't any sides, Lucien. She said no.”

Tamlin turned his face away from me and stared hard at him. “You know the law,” was everything he said.

As if I—gods. Tamlin was hell-bent on taking me with him. Even if I said no. He—He didn't care anymore. He would have me, even if he had to keep me locked up in order to do so. He would declare a war.

Tarquin frowned. “No one will support that you bind her with our rules. She said no.”

“And how many do you think will support him?”

My head emptied. There was such a crushing silence in my mind and my back broke with its weight. Because Tamlin was right. No one would side with us and why would they? Months ago I wouldn't have done that myself.

Gods.

“N-No one has to pick sides.” I hated my cracking voice. I cleared my throat in the hopes of dissipating the sensation someone was holding me by the throat. “This—this problem is no one else's business but ours.”

As much as everything inside me quaked, I refused to let my—my friends suffer if I could avoid it. Enough was enough. 

I stepped around Rhys with my chin hig,  until I was stood in front of Tamlin and Lucien. I felt a glimmer of pride through our bond, but I didn't glanced at Rhys, though I wanted to. Because if I did, all my determination would go to hell, and I needed every scrap of it. 

I took yet another deep breath. “I will go with you.”

What?

It's the only way.

No, it isn't.

I looked at Tarquin. “No one has to get involved.” The message was not only for him.

Feyre...

The weight in his stare almost made me backtrack, but I managed to keep my feet glued to the floor. “Thank you,” I breathed. “But you don't have to intervene for me. I can fight my own battles.”

I tried to give him a reassuring smile but it felt crooked and off and wrong. He didn't smile back but I wasn't expecting him to. Tarquin only clenched his jaw and let the storm in his eyes rage. I bowed deeply to him. To my endless surprise, he bowed right back. And when his eyes found mine again, there was nothing but respect in them. It almost made me come undone and sink to my knees. 

I turned to Lucien and Tamlin. Everything I saw when I beheld them was myself banging on that invisible barrier, begging and waiting for a salvation that wouldn't come. I saw myself crying in a corner, enveloped in shadows.

My throat closed up. But I swallowed the lumps threatening to choke me. Because Rhys might not be able to pull me out again, even when he went to collect the deal we made. He would try, he would get me out, but if I broke there would be nothing worth saving.

I couldn't break. I would not. 

I clenched my fists and made myself take one step and then other, and other. Until I stood in front of Tamlin and Lucien and the things that awaited me. Tamlin offered me his hand but I pushed it away with more force than necessary. By the look on his face, one would think I'd personally kicked him in the balls. He stared at me like I had become a completely different creature. Maybe I had. Maybe it was time he realized I was no longer the scared human girl he once knew.

I went to stand next to Lucien. He offered his hand slowly. Had I known him I would've thought he looked insecure, but it was clear I didn't. I had thought he wouldn't turn his back on me. And yet, I took his hand, because thinking of touching Tamlin was just atrocious. It made me sick with repulsion. Maybe it made me a horrible person, maybe it was like spitting on everything good he ever did for me. But I couldn't say I minded being ungrateful or bitter in that moment.

It was better that way, I supposed. Being so angry that I couldn't afford to think of the tangled emotions I hadn't cared to unravel since I arrived at the Night Court.

Rhys kept his hands in his pocket and a stony expression on his face all the while. But I felt the relentlessness thought our bond. And Amren, well, the smoke of her eyes had never seemed so close to become fire.

You and I still have a deal, I told him silently. Don't think you can get rid of me just like this. 

Mor would throw a hissy fit if you don't go back to Velaris, and I think Cassian would punch me straight in the face.

I wouldn't want them to cut your favorite part now, would I? I tried to give him a smile, but that order got lost somewhere between my brain and my face.

Right.

It was kinda amazing, how these secret conversations eased the weight of the situation. Even just a little. It was yet another thing I didn't know I'd come to love until I realized I would lose it. No, that wasn't true. I was going to go back to Velaris. Rhys—I trusted he would go for me and pull me out of that hell.

He smirked. “Feyre and I still have a bargain, Tamlin,” he reminded him. “And the month is up in three days. I guess we will be seeing each other sooner than you would want to.”

“If you set a foot in my Court again, I swear—”

“You won't lock her up forever,” Rhys snarled.

“I won't take orders from a whore.”

I felt myself go cold and hot at the same time. I let out a snarl that was pure animal.

Lucien gripped my hand tight enough to snap my bones, but not quite enough to quell the violence building under my skin. He saw how much I focused on Tamlin's neck and how little I hesitated to take that first step. I was going to—

Easy, Rhys said.

My eyes snapped to him. Then to Tamlin again. How dared him? How dared him to criticize what Rhys had done when all he did was to sit at her feet like a lapdog on a leash. Didn't he know—

He doesn't and I don't care. As long as the people who matter know.

I pressed my lips together and furrowed my brows. It wasn't fair that people threw insults his way and he only took them like it didn't matter. I wanted to scream. But Rhys didn't want that. The mask he so carefully built was the only thing that kept his Court safe, away from Amarantha's horrors. If I told the truth—that wasn't my decision to make. Even if I still wanted to rip anyone who insulted him to shreds.

I made myself swallow the ball of raging fire down my throat. It was an effort to think beyond the anger, but I managed to mute it. Enough to hear the silence in the room. Tarquin stepped back, eyes wide. But I didn't have time to ponder it as darkness surrounded me. The last thing I saw was Rhys' eyes. And then lush green hills and an overpowering rose scent greeted me.

It felt like a punch in the face.

I turned around, and finally faced Tamlin.

Chapter Text

I turned on my heels with clenched fists. A cold rage sat on my bones like a winter blizzard.  

Tamlin begun speaking, “Feyre—”

“You had no right,” I said through gritted teeth. “None, Tamlin, to show up at Summer like you were picking up a package.”

He blinked at me. “What?”

I chuckled. “Oh, I think you heard me just right.”

Lucien widened his eyes and his face turned a shade paler. Good. Tamlin only watched me as if I had grown a second head, then a third.

“What's wrong with you?”

“What's wrong with me? You dare to ask what's wrong with me?

Lucien stepped in front of me and put a hand on my shoulder. “Feyre, calm down.”

I twisted my face to him, I wasn't sure there was anything remotely human in it. “Don't tell me to calm down, don't you dare.”

He took his hands away. “What have they done to you?” he said under his breath. I had the feeling he was only thinking out loud.

“That's none of your business,” I growled.

“Easy, it might look like you care about those monsters,” Tamlin spat.

I faced him again. He had to be kidding me.

“So what if I do?”

“So you're on that whore's side now.”

Again that insult and those infinite urges to grow claws and fans, to cut and shred. I bared my teeth to him.

Tamlin snorted. “And you defend him, don't you?” He frowned in distaste. “I save you from his clutches and you come here willing to rip my throat out.”

Oh, that was rich. I had to laugh out loud at that.

“That's what you think you did? That you saved me?” I asked quietly. I snorted without a note of humor in it. “You did nothing.”

It was a truth that still weighed on me. It hurt and burned those first days. But I wouldn't let it hurt me anymore. Cauldron boil me if I did.

“All you did was sit and watch while I was choking. You only listened when nightmares haunted me every single night while you did nothing.” My voice broke. “Did you ever cared or you don't give a shit now the curse is broken?”

That was low, I knew that. I felt the reverberation of my words in the way he flinched, as if I had dealt him a physical blow. Even Lucien swallowed thickly.

“I can't believe it,” he breathed. “After everything we've been thought—”

“We?” I sputtered. “There is no we to what I did for you.”

There had never been any.

“And I suppose Rhysand is way better, I suppose that he cares about you. Don't fool yourself, you're only a means to an end for him. Don't believe for a second that he doesn't play for his own agenda.”

I didn't want to question it. I wouldn't let that seed of doubt show in my face.

Rhysand didn't lock me up and turned his back on me,” I said slowly. “It's more than you can say for yourself.”

I made myself stare him in the eye. I knew I hurt him, I knew I cut deep with that. But it was the truth. In the bottom of my heart I knew that if that day had turned out different I would still be just as blinded as I had been. Maybe he'd realized that.

I turned around. I was ready for this day to end and forget of the existence of the High Lord behind me. If only until next morning.

“You're not going back,” Tamlin declared.

I stopped dead in my tracks.

“You don't own me,” I hissed.

“You are my bride and laws—”

My nostrils flared. “I don't give two shits about your laws. Rhysand is my High Lord and once he collects his part of the bargain I'm not coming back here.”

Lucien swore.

“I was clear in the note I sent.” 

“You don't even know how to read.”

I didn't bother to point out all the afternoons I spent in the library, steadily getting better at it. Because it had been easier focusing in imaginary people's demons than to face my own. I had thought they would go away if I ignored them hard enough. I had let him convince me, I had let myself believe that.

I shrugged. “Now I can.”

“Maybe you think you do, but you don't know Rhysand like I do. You don't know what he is capable of.”

“Don't talk me down like I am some fool. The one who knows nothing it's you.”

I probably shouldn't be so disrespectful. He still was a High Lord, chances that I were dead were big. But I couldn't bring myself to be afraid. Not when he looked at me like that, as if I was unable of learning. As if I was useless.

It burned, if I was honest. But I realized that Tamlin only saw what he wanted to see, when he wanted to see it. If he couldn't appreciate who I was and who I could be, then it was his problem, his lost. Even if it felt like prodding an open wound.

Silence surrounded us for a long moment. I let out a breath I didn't know I was holding for so, so long. It felt relieving, like being underwater and breaking into the surface. I only wanted to swim to the shore.

I was so tired.

“When you said you loved me,” he said, “did you mean it?”

I let my shoulders drop and looked at him in the eye. “You said you loved me, too,” I said softly. “And yet, you did nothing. You killed me more than Amarantha ever did. And that doesn't sound like love at all. So maybe you should ask that question to yourself.”

I didn't break eye contact once. Not while I destroyed whatever what was left between us. It was the only thing I owed him—us.

Tamlin opened his mouth to say something, but I talked before he could, “I don't want to hear your apologies or your excuses. Let's not fool ourselves into thinking there's something to save here.”

I left. This time, no one stopped me.


 

Alis was waiting for me in the foyer. How she knew that I was coming, I had no idea. But seeing her again eased the burden on my shoulders. I tried to smile at her, but I failed so badly she had to laugh at my pathetic attempt.

“It's good to see you,” I greeted her.

Alis gave a look over before answering, “You look better.”

“I feel... better.” Or I had until tonight.

Her eyes softened, even if her face remained impassive. I remembered that day, what she'd said to Mor as she picked me up. Please take care of her.

“Let me show you your new room,” she said.

I tilted my head to the side.

Alis' gaze went to a spot above my shoulder, beyond the open door. When her eyes landed on mine again, they wore a serious expression and arched brows. I knew that I wouldn't be staying in my old room ever again, and who I could thank.

“Right.”

I closed the door with a soft click. I inhaled deeply before walking up to Alis. She tried to go, but I stopped her with a hand on her shoulder.

“I wanted to say that, uh. I remember what you said to Mor—Morrigan that day. ”

“Oh.”

“Thank you, for understanding.”

It was disgusting, how my voice became a weak whisper. Alis covered my hand with hers. Her skin was rough but her touch was gentle.

“We can all sleep and live in peace thanks to the sacrifices you made. Don't think you don't deserve the same.”

My breath hitched. It was too much. I couldn't deal with the overwhelming, quiet rage laced in her own voice. Two faces flashed in my mind. And the feel of blood in my hands.

Maybe I didn't deserve that, maybe everything Tamlin did to me... that was what I earned. But I didn't tell her that and only let her lead the way to my new room. 


 

My door was across Lucien's. I remembered the way from that day I asked for advice to catch the Suriel. Those had been simple days, when I didn't have to worry about staying afloat inside my own head. When I didn't have to fight against my own darkness.

These two days would be absolutely wonderful.

Alis nudged me inside with a firm hand in the small of my back. I wondered if my face betrayed the things going on in my head and she decided to keep me distracted with that little push. I thanked her in silence.

I gave myself a moment to look around my new bedroom and then I dismissed it altogether. I decided that I didn't want to bother in learning the details of the room. With any luck, I wouldn't see it again.

“I could prepare a bath, if you wish.”

“No, thank you. I only wish to sleep.”

Alis watched me for a second longer, but she nodded and left in silence. Alone, the walls felt bigger and the air denser. Breathing was hard once more.

I closed my eyes. Clenched and unclenched my hands. I couldn't lose my head. If I focused hard enough in getting out, I might stand a chance of doing so whole.

I swallowed hard and slid under the covers, kicking off my shoes at the same time. I tried to find a comfortable position in the sea of puffy pillows. It felt like sleeping on the tongue of a beast poised to eat me.

A shiver licked my spine. I knew it had nothing to with the mild night air.

No, the weather had nothing to do with the rentlessness that wouldn't let me sleep. I took deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth. My heartbeat still was out of control. I felt them echoing in my ears.

I gave up with the breathing exercises way too soon. My eyes flooded with tears not a second later. Muted sobs escaped my throat.

I couldn't shove them back down.

I closed my eyes. Tears fell, making their paths down my face. It felt like a dam breaking, like a rope snapping. It felt like falling and hitting the floor until I was left breathless.

After everything I said, I couldn't find it in me to be angry and I was afraid that, that had been the only thing keeping me sane. Because as much as I resented Tamlin, I couldn't help the infinite well of sadness the anger had been covering.

So I cried, and cried, and cried.


 

It was past-midnight. The flow of tears had slowed down. Sudden ones still betrayed me when I couldn't avoid a particularly painful memory.

At that point I already felt heavy and tired, unable to think or feel beyond my own head. But as much as I closed my eyes, sleep avoided me like the plague, leaving me to my misery.

It was during one of those attempts when I heard it—boots on marble. I propped myself on my elbows with my breathing stuck on my throat. I didn't dare to move nor did I think I was capable of. I could only watch the shadow peeking through the gap between the door and the floor.

I froze.

I lost any sense of time while I stared. All I knew was the maddening speed of my heartbeats and the tightness in my gut.

Then I heard another step. Not to get in, but walking away. Even then I didn't let out the relieved sigh that was begging me to get out.

I only lay back again when I heard the faint squeak of a door hinge. Lucien, it had only been Lucien.

I went back to staring at the ceiling without really seeing anything. But I couldn't help glancing at the door, wondering if Lucien might not be the only one on the other side of my door. 


 

By the time the sun rose I felt miserable beyond compression. The heaviness in my eyes extended to my whole body and clutched it in its claws without intention to let go.

I barely managed to catch a few minutes of sleep in the night, nothing to quell the massive headache that would follow me all day. It was like a construction inside my skull.

Sunlight filtered through the open curtains. It felt like someone was burning my eyes. I closed them, willing the burning to stop or for sleep to finally come. Neither happened.

Without anything else to do—besides lying all day in bed—I threw the covers off of me and sat at the edge of the mattress. My vision went dark and nausea hit my body so hard I had to lean my elbows on my thighs and hide my face in my hands. I counted my breathes until the fatigue ceased.

This day was going to be wonderful.

I got up and trudged to the massive closet. I opened the double doors. My heart fell to my feet as I beheld row after row of dresses, dresses, dresses.

I looked down at myself and let out a sound of dismay as I noticed I was still wearing the summer dress from the night before. The hem of the skirt grazed my thighs. I hadn't cared about wearing dresses in Tarquin's palace. It was different here. Here they were only a marker of the role they shoved on me.

I should burn them, Cauldron knew I wanted to. But I had to cool my boiling blood. Tamlin already believed Rhys controlled me, setting thins on fire—as satisfactory as that sounded—wouldn't do much for my case. And I didn't want to hear whatever he had to say about it.

I closed the doors and leaned on them. I banged my head against the wooden doors a couple times. Today was forfeited to hell, which wasn't all that surprising. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. Once, twice, thrice.

I had to options, I told myself after a while. I could curl on myself like the vile, dark thing living inside my head until Rhys came for me, in two days. Or... I could go out and endure this, hold my ground.

I could do that.

I would.


 

Alis appeared half an hour later, knocking on the door. I let her in. She was carrying a tray with breakfast. She looked at me from head to toes and arched an unimpressed eyebrow.

“I looked worse when you met me,” I said with a failed attempt of a grin.

Alis set the breakfast down in a table close to the window.

“I figured you wouldn't want to eat with... them. So I brought this up.”

“Thank you.”

Alis nodded and went to make my bed. There were usually more servants to do this, but she was alone. I frowned, but started helping her in smoothing the sheets.

“I asked the other girls to not bother you,” she said after a moment of stretched silence. “So unless you call for someone, you will be left alone.”

“Why?”

“You seem like you don't want to be bothered.”

And that was that. I stayed quiet as I helped Alis in whatever way I could. She didn't object to it once, maybe she knew the small tasks were a welcome distraction. Or maybe she just needed help. Either way, I didn't mind.

It helped me order my thoughts a little bit, clear my head. I could manage.

“Do you wish to take a bath now?” Alis asked when we were done.

“Actually, I meant to ask you if you could bring me pants? I can prepare a bath for myself.”

Alis stopped. My stomach fell to my feet as I saw the serious frown on her face.

“Lord Tamlin asked us not to.”

Of course. I raised my hands and let them hang at my side while I shook my head. I breathed a humorless snort.

“Wonderful,” I murmured.

Alis watched me closely but didn't say anything else. Only nodded and left.

I stood on the middle of my room, clenching and unclenching my hands into fists, breathing hard. I stormed into the bathroom and filled the tub with ice-cold water. When I sunk in it, it steamed.


 

I had half a mind to sulk about the manor in nothing but my undergarments until someone found me pants. If Tamlin thought I would come to him and asked anything, he was sorely mistaken.

The water-butterflies flapped their wings around the bathroom without a care in the world. At least they didn't get agitated if I was annoyed, which I thought was amazing progress in control.

The tub had lost all warm by now but I remained seated with my knees close to my chest and pruney fingers directing the water animals. Just sitting there in the water, with the butterflies did wonders for my temper. It distracted me, at least.

But.

I had to get out. I had to get out of here eventually and face the fact that I was here and that I would be for other day.

The butterflies crashed to the ground.

I am here, I am here, I am trapped.

I squeezed my eyes shut and leaned my on the tub's edge. Deep breaths. I had to remember to breathe. I stared at the ceiling, only breathing.

I had to go out, I had to do something.

If I stayed here today and tomorrow, I would lose what little sanity I found in Velaris. And I couldn't. I couldn't fall just when I was getting up. I refused. This—Tamlin—I would get through this. Even if I didn't know how yet.


 

I threw myself backwards on the bed, already dressed and angry. Again.

I pressed the ball of my hands against my eyes until I could see stars behind my closed lids, and grumbled under my breath. It was the best I could do to not scream.

I found myself missing Cassian's merciless lessons at the House of Wind. It would do me good to punch something right now.

How silly of me to think the well of anger was empty or that it'd remain that way. Tamlin, it seemed, still could surpass my expectations. Whan an asshole.

But I wasn't foolish enough to go pick a fight. A Lady of Spring shouldn't be seen fighting. It was a good thing that title wasn't going to be mine anymore.  Good thing that those expectations weren't mine to uphold.

Good thing... that I had no owner.

I pursed my mouth but even that couldn't hide the growing smirk on my lips.

I jumped out of bed and went to the vanity. As I expected, the drawers were full of jewels—necklaces, rings and earrings.

I took them. 


 

The guards didn't stop me when I got out of the manor through the front door and went to the stables. I kept my chin high and my steps quick. Mostly because I didn't know how much time I had before someone reported back to Tamlin, or how long it'd take Tamlin to get to me.

Hopefully, I'd be gone by then.

I didn't stop until I was at the stables. The horses huffing and the open space around me felt like I could breathe freely again.

That was until I heard a horse's hooves getting close. I tensed just thinking it might be Tamlin. It was too early and I was too tired to deal with him.

Shit.

I searched for a solution. A glamour was out of my abilities, I wouldn't know where to start. Winnowing was a matter of luck, not to mention I hadn't had much progress since that day in the woods with Rhys.

Shit.

I eyed a horse pen. I didn't think about it twice before getting in with the animal and curling in a corner. I stayed still and hope the stench would hide my own scent.

But it wasn't Tamlin. No, I knew it was Lucien when I spied a glimpse of red hair. Some of the tension left my shoulders, but I didn't dare to move.

Lucien dismounted and got his own horse inside a stall. He was about to leave and he'd be none the wiser about my presence. I let a victorious smile to stretch my mouth.

Then Ianthe's sweet, bell-like voice came, “Hello, Lucien.”

Lucien closed the pen with a pointed click. I pursed my lips

“What is it that you want now, Ianthe?” he spat her name like it was an insult.

She didn't seem to mind. “I just wanted to talk.”

“Unfortunately, I don't and I am quite busy,” he said flatly. “If you excuse me.”

Lucien didn't sound bored, as he intended to. He sounded like what a cornered animal felt. My stomach turned over.

Ianthe hummed to herself, the sound small and pathetic. “Why are you like this with me?” she lamented. “You're so kind to Feyre. And she only yells at you! Or straight up ignore you. Has she already spoken to you? Or she doesn't deing now that she's from the Night Court?”

Feyre is none of your business, nor is my friendship with her. Back off.”

Ianthe only laughed, low and sensual. “And is it only friendship what you feel for her, Lucien?”

Lucien snorted without a drop of humor. “What are you even talking about?”

“You believe you are oh, so misterious and unreadable, but I notice. How you talk to her, how you look at her. If Feyre asked you to walk over hot coals, you'd do it without so much as a second thought.”

Lucien's voice dropped to a dangerous quiet. “I am from the Autumn Court, fire does not bother me.” But he didn't deny it, any of it.

My face heated.

“It's her, isn't it?” Her voice dropped to a tone that was as seductive as it was dangerous. “That's the reason you wouldn't even spare me a glance.”

“You are mad,” he breathed.

“I only tell what I see.”

“You only see what you want to see.”

“Well, I'm seeing you.”

I had enough. I stood on my feet and walked out, to them, making sure to be as loud as possible.

“There you are,” I deadpanned.

They were already watching the way I'd come, both seemingly frozen in place. That gave me the opportunity to appreciate the scene in front of me.

Lucien pressed against a wall and Ianthe hovering above him, a hand on his arm. The viper didn't even try to pretend it wasn't happening.

“Feyre! I didn't know you—Do you need something?” she asked without missing a beat.

I stared her down. “I wasn't talking to you,” I spat. Ianthe blinked but I didn't give her the chance to continue. “Are you ready to go?” I asked Lucien.

He didn't answer for a second. I raised my brows.

“I—yes. My shift extended.”

“Good, let's go.”

Lucien didn't move and it took me a second to notice Ianthe hadn't either. She kept her possessive hand on his arm and I was seeing red.

I ate up the distance between us. Before any of them could move I wrapped my hand around Ianthe's wrist and snatched it away. I pushed her until I got in the middle of them. The High Priestess was too stunned to properly react.

“I heard of you in the Night Court,” I told her in the calmest tone I could muster. “Rhys has told me so much about your brief visit to the Hewn City one hundred years ago. You do know how to leave an impression, don't you?”

Her eyes widened so much it was a wonder they didn't fall off her face and roll on the ground. She fought against my hold, but I only tightened my hand.

I went on, “Even with the reputation of the Court of Nightmares. Honestly, that's remarkable.” I smiled at her. “But we aren't in the Court of Nightmares.”

She gasped. “You're burning me.”

I tilted my head to the side. “How could I? I never learned to use my powers.” I let her go. And those were read welts indeed on her wrist. “Shame, I could've help you with those hideous marks. Oh, look, they're vanishing. Like they never happened.”

My eyes snapped up to hers. I let it hover over her head, this threat. I let her see every inch of the Night Court monster they believed I'd become.

Ianthe seemed torn in between wanting to rip my face off or burn me alive. I wondered if I should worry about the enemy I just made out of her.

“Tamlin—”

“I'd suggest you to leave before doing or saying something truly stupid.”

Ianthe opened her mouth to do exactly that, but I quieted with a glare so cold I could pierce her chest with an ice spear without noticing. She wasn't stupid enough to ignore that.

I watched her leave until she disappeared. Only then I whirled to Lucien. “Next time she lays a hand on you, you break her gods-dammed arm.”

His chest was rising and falling. “What have you done?” he gasped.

“What was she doing?” I shot back.

He didn't answer. He wouldn't. I huffed, because of course he wouldn't. Did he ever tell me something these days?

I twirled on the ball of my feet and went to find my mare. Lucien, damn him, followed me. I could feel his anger rising in tidal waves but I didn't know who it was directed to.

“I didn't mean it when I say we'd leave, if your weren't aware.”

“You used to ask me to accompany you.”

I bristled. “I used to think I needed Tamlin's permission to breathe. So you'll find, Lucien, that I've changed quite a lot and that I don't need guards.”

I reached my mare's pen. Someone must've taken her somewhere, for she was saddled. The forgotten gods, it seemed, had not forgotten us.

“No, you don't,” Lucien murmured. My gaze slid to him. “Need guards, I mean.”

My head quieted as I turned his words over. He lowered his eyes. I didn't know what to answer, so I said nothing.

I only mounted the horse, being careful with the bothersome skirt of my dress. It was uncomfortable but it would do.

“Where is he?” I asked quietly.

“He'll be back by lunch.”

“Then I must go.”

I pulled the reins, ready to leave. But Lucien apparently was trying his best to be a ranging pain in my ass today. I flung a dirty look at him.

“Let me go with you,” he pleaded before I could flip him off.

“I thought you meant it when you said I didn't need guards,” I hissed.

“No, I'm not your guard,” he rushed to say. “I just... I only want to talk you. As... friends.”

That word had me hesitating, the way he said it, so unsure and tentative. I never stop to considered, where this situation left us. Because I would be gone, and he would stay. And to him, Rhys and his family were always going to be monsters. And he'd start to see me like that as well, at some point.

But maybe it was worth a try.

“What are you waiting for then?”


 

We rode in silence until we passed the manor's gate and left it behind. The wood was quiet, so my voice didn't go unheard when I turned to Lucien and begun questioning him.

“Why didn't you ever mention anything about Ianthe?”

Perhaps it was because we were alone but he let his shoulders drop. And in his face I could see how tired he really was. He avoided my gaze.

Lucien didn't speak for a long while.

I was done with that. “A thought for a thought.”

“What?”

“You tell me what's on your mind, only one thing. And I'll tell you what's on my mind. No questions asked.”

Lucien's brows furrowed, he tilted his head to the side. I could see the curiosity in his eye when he glanced at me sideways. But then his expression turned sour. He'd realized where I picked this on.

Regardless, he answered, “I'm thinking that no one would've believed it, or cared. No one other than you. But by that time, it felt selfish to put that on you.”

I felt something like my heart fracturing. Like I had been stabbed in the chest.

I focused on the horse's mane. Not knowing how to react to that, or how to quell the sudden burst of anger coursing through my body.

“Your turn.”

It took me a moment to gather my words.

“I'm thinking that we both deserved better than what we get and that I hope you leave one day, too.”

He chuckled, the sound bitter and defeated. “And go where, to the Night Court with you?”

I opened my mouth, but I closed it, knowing I would only say something stupid. And it was ridiculous anyway, to ever hope that there was a way to take him with me. I bit my tongue.

“Is it really better? Is Rhysand that good?”

“Yes.”

“Yes to what?”

“Yes, it's really better for me there. And yes, Rhys is that good.”

Rhys who never gave up on me. Rhys who pulled me out of that hole I dug for myself, even if he annoyed me to no end to manage it.

“I know you think he's got me in a thrall, but... he never locked me up. He's never made it feel like it's his decision where I want to go, what I want to wear or what I have to act like.” I felt like choking on my own words. “I can be my own person there. But here I am only what Tamlin wants me to be. And I can't do that anymore.”

I couldn't. Even if a part of me kept on screaming that I was nothing but an ungrateful piece of filth. And that, at the end, Amarantha had been right about my inconstant human heart.

I closed my eyes and told myself there would be time to deal with that. Later. Never.

“When did things go so wrong?”

Lucien sighed. “They have always been like this. You just were too in love to tell.”

“What?”

“Tamlin has always been like this, Feyre. What you saw when you first came here was all that was left of him after forty-nine years under the curse. He had given up and I think he didn't care anymore about what came next. He was ready to be taken Under the Mountain and never come back again. When you met him, he was already broken.”

I scowled. “That's not an excuse.”

“I don't try to make it sound like it is. What I'm saying is that he's not what you thought he was. Before, he wasn't all that different from now. The only difference was that he had someone to focus his irrational fear of his on. Because his life has always been controlled by others—his father, his brothers, his titles. I think having you where he could see you, where he could keep you safe in his twisted way, was the only semblance of control he had.”

My stomach churned. “Why are you telling me this?”

“Because it's disgusting and horrible. And you deserve him to kneel in front of you and ask for forgiveness. And because you're right—you deserve better than this.”

Breathing became hard. My eyes flooded with tears so fast and unexpectedly that I had to look away.

Lucien went on. “I'm sorry, Feyre. I'm sorry I played my part in it as well. I'm sorry I let it get that far.”

I inhaled. My throat became impossibly tight, because I didn't realize how much I had needed those words, that apology. It felt like Lucien had taken away a huge chunk of that burden on my shoulders.

And there was still too much for me to be carrying alone. But I thanked him for that little bit of momentary relief.


 

We heard the sounds of the construction before we reached the village. My shoulders tensed as I recalled how well it had gone the last time we visited. Gods, this plan had been perfect in my mind. If only for this tiny, little detail.

“What are we actually doing here?” Lucien asked. As if it had only occurred to him.

“Getting me clothes,” I murmured. He tilted his face to the side. “Your High Lord got into his thick skull to not let me wear pants. So I'm getting them for myself.”

“That's fucked up,” he conceded.

I shrugged. “It amuses me to think about the hissy fit he's going to throw.”

Lucien stiffened and halted his horse. I did as well.

“What is it?”

“You're playing with fire.”

I lifted an eyebrow. “I thought you said fire didn't bother you.”

“I'm serious,” he hissed. “Tamlin is impulsive on a good day, quit provoking him.”

“Wearing pants is provoking him?” I hissed right back at him.

“Cauldron, no. But you need to stop picking fights you can't win. He might hurt you.”

I was done. I kicked the horse and the animal began walking.

“That already happened,” I told him without glancing back. “And it happened exactly because I didn't want to start a fight, because I never spoke up. I'm done with that.”

Lucien rushed until he was beside me. “I know that. I just don't want to see you hurt. Tamlin is not Rhysand—he won't stop because you ask him to.”

I snorted bitterly. “He definitely isn't.”

Lucien paused for a moment. “I was scared,” he admitted. “I thought he was going to end us right there. But he stopped when you asked and... I think I can see why you want to go back.”

I blinked at him. His face went utterly blank. And I—I found myself wanting to grin.

“I can't believe I said that,” he huffed a laugh. “Gods, this has been a hard year. I need a drink.”

I pressed my lips together, but the corners of my mouth still curled upward. “We all do.”

It was the last thing we said as we arrived at the village.

The sounds of the constructions halted completely as person by person laid their eyes on us. On me. I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me as those eyes filled with awe.

I clenched the reins until my knuckles went white. I turned to tell Lucien something but he was already looking at me, searching my face for any sign that I couldn't handle this. I knew he would take me back. And I'd be damned if I allowed that.

This didn't have to be hard, I told myself. Even if dreaded those grateful glances. I could do it.

I cleared my throat as I digged my feet in the horse's side. “I need to change my jewels for money,” I explained.

“You don't have money?”

“Not yet.”

“Feyre—”

“They're mine to sell, or change, or give,” I snapped. “Unless you prefer I cross the Wall where I actually have money.”

I lowered my tone enough for him and only him to hear me. I didn't need more people knowing about my sisters. I supposed I could have explained that I had money in the Night Court, too, but that would lead to question I couldn't answer. Not when he still was Tamlin's emissary.

He rolled his eye. “Ugh, fine. Come on.”

I gave him a smug grin, Lucien gave me a filthy look in return. But he dismounted and so did I. We left the horses in a stable. Mercifully, it was Lucien who arranged the whole deal, paying a lot more than the male had asked. I stayed away, but that hadn't deterred the constant glances the guy gave me.

Lucien kept things brief and to the point. I thanked him silently. And after that, he took me to a jeweler.

“How many did you bring?” he asked me once we were inside the shop.

I reached for the heavy bag I'd hidden in my jacket. It was full, and yet it couldn't carry all of my jewels. Lucien's eyes widened.

“Did you bring your whole vanity there?”

“I considered.”

“A pair of earrings were enough, what else are you buying? An estate?”

I rolled my eyes. “I don't need neither a state or this many things. They'll only gather dust anyway.”

Lucien didn't seem to understand and I didn't bother explaining. I went straight to the counter. A High Fae male was at the other side, his breath hitched as he got a good look at my face. Right.

“I need to change these,” I said without so much as a greeting and put the bag on the glass surface.

The jeweler stared at me with wide eyes and held his breath as he saw the size of the bag.

“May I?”

I nodded. He opened the bag and peered at its content. He tried to stifle a gasp. I smiled.


 

I took half the money and gave Lucien the other part—for safekeeping, I said even if I had no intention to take it back. We didn't even get the full sum as the jeweler didn't have enough gold marks on him. The rest he would have it transferred to Lucien's bank account.

Well, if that hadn't been convenient.

Lucien tried to argue but I told him he could go and donate it if he felt so guilty about it. He only stared at me, open-mouthed, when he realized what I'd done.

I shrugged. “No one will take anything from me, least of all money, but you might have more luck with that.”

I went inside the dressing room before I knew what face he made.

“And what do you want me to do, exactly? Go throwing money in the air around the whole Court?”

I got out of my dress and left it a pile in a corner.

I rolled my eyes. “You should, but I think you're into enough trouble as it is.”

I put on the pants and buttoned the tunic I'd picked up for myself moments ago. They were similar to what I used to wear before Tamlin sent me away. The whole attire was almost as bad as the dress, but it would do.

I picked up the dress and went out. Lucien greeted me with his arms crossed in front of his chest.

“How do I look?”

He gave a once-over, twice. “Those slippers don't go well with the clothes, you look ridiculous.”

“Well, thank you.”

“Didn't you want my opinion?”

“You're always so charming, Lucien.”

I walked past him and went to pick a pair of boots. I held them up for him to see.

“Are these to your liking?”

He waved a hand. I took it as an whatever. I put them on, then picked another tunic and pants, not unlike the ones I was wearing.

I took them to the counter. The girl attending regarded me with too wide eyes and too pale face. But she hadn't started thanking me for everything I done yet so it could definitely be worse.

I tried to smile at her. “Only these.”

I offered the other set of clothes. She took them with trembling fingers.

“A-Anything else?”

I shook my head. She put the clothes in a bag and handed it to me, making sure to not touch my hands more than necessary. I tried not to take it personal. She named the price. I reached for my money and left it on the counter. The female's eyes went impossibly wide.

“N-No, lady, this is too much,” she stammered out.

“No, it is not.”

Lucien stood by my side. My discarded dress neatly folded and my zippers on top. I took them from him and put it in the bag. As much as I hated the thing, it was still a nice dress that I could convince Alis to give away. Perhaps.

“I—I can't accept this.”

I plastered a smile on my face. “Yes, you can.”

And I was gone.


 

Lucien strolled by my side around the marketplace. He was unusually quiet. But so was I.

“The rebuilding has improved a lot,” I commented. “I can see this was a very beautiful village.”

“It was.”

And yet there was still more to do. There were still many rubble where houses had been. Many scarred faeries begging on the street.

“Why?”

Lucien glanced my way. “Why what?”

“Why spend so much in banquets and jewels when people is starving?”

He didn't have an answer. I went on, “My jewels, I want you to take them and sell them. Help in whatever way you can. Please.”

“I... can't promise anything,” he said. “I'm getting knee-deep in shit for this and once you leave I'd have to lie low for a while.” I almost apologized for it, but it was him who had wanted to come with me.

“At least tell me you'll try.”

“I'll try.”


 

We didn't linger too long. Because the sun was almost at its peak and because people kept staring at me, no matter how inconspicuous I acted. I wondered if there would be a day where people would just stop recognizing my face, or if it'd stop making my knees go weak.

We were riding back to the manor, in silence for once. Every inch we got closer felt like a noose tightening around my neck. But I knew I couldn't just dissappear for the day, not if I wanted to find my new temporal room in total ruin. Or the foyer. Or the dining room. Or...

It was ridiculous. So ridiculous that I had to play along just to keep things as smooth as they could be. As if I was the problem here. But Lucien had been right. I couldn't go on picking fights I had no chance of winning. Because Tamlin could hurt me in ways I could not predict.

Still, I couldn't help the dread sitting in my gut as we neared the state.

Lucien, of course, noticed. “Remember that you are stronger than him.”

And maybe because we were completely alone here, I said, “Then why am I so afraid?”

He pursed his lips. “You are stronger in the way that matters.” Whatever that meant.

I kept quiet until we arrived at the stables, when I asked Lucien if he could spirit the clothes to my room. He obliged me.

I stopped to think about it and realized that he'd been more than accommodating today, granted, a little bit pissy at times. But still doing the things I asked. Ianthe's words echoed in my head.

If Feyre asked you to walk over hot coals, you'd do it without so much as a second thought.

I felt my cheeks go hot. But that couldn't be it. Maybe it was just a lingering sense of guilt after everything that happened. It had to be that. Because surely Lucien didn't think of me like that.

He gave me a weird look. “What is it?”

“Nothing,” I said way too fast. All it got me was a raised eyebrow.

“Out with it.”

“It's nothing,” I bit.

Lucien crossed his arms and stared me down. I found the stables in need of meticulous inspection. I thought that maybe Lucien was using his fire magic to get my face hotter by the second. There was no chance in any realm of hell that I wasn't red as a tomato.

“Feyre,” he insisted.

And damn me, but I opened my mouth. “What Ianthe said—about me asking you to walk over hot coals” —I cleared my throat— “What was she talking about?”

I really, really hoped that he would chalk it up to her being delusional or jealous. But he did not answer, and when I worked the courage to look at him in the face, he seemed as flustered as I felt.

We stayed silent for a couple of agonizingly long second.

“So it's true,” I breathed.

By the forgotten Gods.

Lucien pinched the bridge of his nose, ran his hand through his face. Anything that would give him an excuse to not look at me. I never wished I knew how to winnow so bad.

“You know what—” I began saying.

“It was stupid of me, okay?” I clamped my mouth shut. “And it was nothing. Because I knew you were our only chance. And then you fell in love with Tamlin. And then you went Under the Mountain and saved my life. And Rhysand probably knows by now. And it was horrible. Then we came back and you got engaged. And I thought that was okay. And I moved on. But—”

He was rambling. I never heard him like that, or seen him go as red. That... couldn't be healthy. But my tongue wasn't functioning well and I couldn't tell him that it didn't matter. That it was okay.

“I'm sorry,” he muttered while staring at his boots.

“You have nothing to apologize for,” I muttered back.

He scratched the back of his neck, his face going a deeper shade of red. I wondered if he would catch fire.

I laughed.

The sound bubbled out of my lips uncontrollable and bordering hysterics. I covered my mouth with a hand, but even that didn't stop it. Lucien was a shade away from the same color of his own hair. Than made me laugh harder.

“Feyre,” he moaned.

I couldn't stop. “Oh Gods, I—I didn't mean—You—”

Tears gathered in my eyes and I had to double over. My stomach was positively aching, and yet I couldn't control the outburst.

Lucien stared at me in a mortificated and dumbfounded limbo.

I bit my lip, hard. And I threw an apologetic glance at Lucien. Only then I realized he was fighting a smile of his own. That broke me again. And this time, he laughed along with me. First incredulous but then he let out a blooming laugh in earnest.

I didn't know how long we were there, just laughing as if we were drunk or high. But eventually the full on cackles turned to giggles and then to us trying to catch our breaths.

“I think I am going insane,” he stated breathlessly.

I snorted. “I think all the blood in your head might be the cause.” That sent me into a fit of giggles. “My face hurts.”

“You thought you could laugh at me and not face the consequences, didn't you?”

“Perhaps. It was worth it, though.”

He elbowed me in the ribs. I elbowed him back.

“Thank you,” I said. “I hadn't laugh like that for a really long time.”

That sobered us up a little. Lucien smiled, it was a small thing but it was there.

“Me neither.”

I smiled at him. And it hit me how much I was going to miss him.


 

We had calmed down enough when we went back to the manor. And as the main entrance loomed closer, all laughter vanished from me. I bit the inside of my cheek.

Lucien squeezed my shoulder. I peered up at him. His expression was unyielding, but he lifted up his chin and I did the same. He'd have to lie low, play along with his High Lord. He told me not to pick up a fight, but that didn't mean I had to lower my head for him.

We entered.

Tamlin was already waiting for us.

Chapter Text

My legs locked up for one terrifying moment as I beheld the wrath glimmering in Tamlin's eyes. I lowered my gaze to his fisted hands. No claws yet.

Lucien nudged me in with a hand on my lower back, when I glanced briefly at him, there wasn't laughter in his face anymore.

“And where, pray tell, were you two?” Tamlin growled.

I eyed him cautiously.

Don't pick up a fight, couldn't be that hard, right?

“Feyre isn't comfortable wearing dresses, Tamlin,” Lucien explained, ever the courtier, and peacemaker, I supposed. “She asked me to go with her and find her clothes.” It had been the other way around, but I was too busy biting my own tongue to say that.

Tamlin arched his brows. “Oh, is that so? She didn't seem to mind in Summer, did she?”

“That's enough,” I interjected.

He lowered his eyebrows. “You know you're not allowed to go out.”

“Lock me up, then.” I raised my chin. “If you want to make sure I remain safe here.”

“She was safe, Tamlin,” Lucien assured in a quiet manner. It occurred to me I should try to imitate him, if only to be over this as quick as possible.

Tamlin growled at him. But he addressed me as he said, “It's like you're trying to spite on me and everything I say.”

I was shock into laughter. “Oh, that's rich. I should respect your wishes like you did when I was perfectly clear in not wanting to be here. And yet here we are.”

So much for not picking fights.

“You will respect me,” he said in a quiet growl.

I crossed my arms and raised my chin higher. “Why should I do that?” I asked in not a completely dissimilar tone.

“Because I am your High Lord.”

I glared at him. “You're nothing to me,” I said and I almost meant it.

Mostly, he was a pain in my ass.

He stalked closer. His height towered over me as he leaned down, a snarl in his face. I didn't know if I wanted to snarl back at him or cower.

“Stop it,” I said through gritted teeth. “I am not afraid of you.”

A half-lie. My knees were trembling, and I wasn't entirely sure if it was anger or fear or a reckless mix of both. But I stood tall and met him head on. I wouldn't flinch.

His eyes cleared at my words and he took a step back. “That's not—I wasn't—”

“Yes, you were. And it won't work, you won't scare me into silence anymore.” Because that had been it, fear of his reactions, of his moods, what kept me quiet for so long.

But not anymore. Not anymore.

I had to contain my bewilderment at his hurt expression. “I—I just wanted to keep you safe, I was only keeping you safe,” he said in a harsh tone. I wondered if that's what he told himself to sleep at nights.

“I don't care what you thought you were doing, you locked me up while you were off thinking you were saving me from a threat that doesn't even exist.”

He frowned. “You can't be so naive as to think you're safe out there.”

“Believe me, Tamlin, I know very well how dangerous Prythian is,” my voice darkened. “But I'm not that human in need of protection anymore and everyone seems to get it but you.”

“Feyre—”

I put my hands in the air. “I'm done.”

I headed to my room, walking past him. Anger was building inside me and my powers were coiling, reading to strike. I had to leash them tightly. I had destroyed the foyer once and damn me if I let myself lose control like that again.

He gripped my arm. “Where are you going?”

I glared at the hand clamped around my arm, not quite processing the absolute entliment in the gesture. I looked up to Lucien, who had stiffened, a hand going to the hilt of his sword. Then I stared Tamlin in the eye.

“Take your hands off me,” I said quietly.

The voice that came out of my mouth wasn't mine. It was too calm, too grand and imposing to belong to me—me, whose heart beat too fast and whose legs wobbled under her own weight.

Tamlin pulled me closer to him, his knuckles white. My arm would be bruised later, but I didn't really feel the pain. My body went compliant under his touch.

I had done the same with the Attor, weeks ago. And when Rhys told me it had been a trap and I the bait, and I slammed my hands so hard into his chest he staggered back because I forgot. I forgot I was strong.

I didn't forget this time.

I struck.

“You will let me go,” my voice trembled with contained, cold rage.

Tamlin's eyes went impossibly wide as the order set. He released me in a second. “What did you—”

I hadn't finished. “You will not touch me against my will, never again, understood?”

He stiffened. “Understood.”

I let go of his mind, not really noticing before how tight I was holding it. He staggered a step back, he flinched. And something deep within me purred at the sight, something dark and vile I didn't want to name.

“If you bothered to care, you'd realize that I'm not as defenseless as you like to believe.”

I glanced at Lucien, his hand hanging at his side and his face pale. There wasn't a trace of the male who laughed himself hoarse moments ago, but I knew there wasn't anything of the girl he called a friend in me.

Good, because that girl hadn't let herself be strong. Good that she was gone.

“What did that monster do to you?” Tamlin hissed.

“He made realize that I don't belong to you, that's what,” I hissed back.

“He made a monster out of you, just like him.”

It felt like a kick to the gut. The rage building under my skin guttered out like a blown candle. My mouth fell open and for a second no word, no thought came to me as his words registered in me brain. A monster.

“No,” I said on a choked breath, I had to force myself to look him in the eye, “this is what you made out of me.”

I went upstairs two steps at a time. He didn't stop me, and I didn't slow down until I reached my room. I slammed the door. Only when I was alone, did I really notice how bad I was trembling.

I stood there for a long moment, replaying the words he said over and over again until I swayed on my feet. Then I sat on the edge of my bed. Hearing his voice say all those things I already told myself.

Monster. Murderer. Liar.

I was all of that.

I couldn't muster up the tears, couldn't do nothing but to stare at nothing. Remembering to breathe from time to time. Trying to summon wings that would stop me from free-falling to no avail.

There was nothing I coud do when I crashed to the ground.


Clare wasn't screaming anymore. Her vocal cords had given up, her throat was shredded from the inside out. It was a little mercy, for me not to hear it, for me not to keep telling myself her suffering was my fault.

It was ending. She would not last another day, she would not survive the night.

Rhys stood by my side, hands in his pockets and delight shining in his violet eyes. I watched him as I was instructed, as I was told. Then I looked down to Clare's maimed body.

“Are you enjoying it, darling?” he said, but the voice wasn't his. “Are you watching this?”

He held a knife.

Amarantha didn't like it when she couldn't see the damage—when I couldn't see it. Because what's the point then, my dear? So blades it was.

Rhys buried the knife between her breasts. With whatever strength Clare still had, she arched her back. My stomach turned itself into knots and my mask broke as I whimpered and closed my eyes. I turned my face away.

A hand gripped my chin and moved it so I had no choice but to see.

“Open your eyes,” she ordered.

And when I did, Amarantha's dark eyes bored into mine. A mad grin lightening her face. Rhys nowhere to be seen.

“No,” I sobbed. “Please.”

She only pursed her lips. “Stop being such a cry baby,” she grunted. “You only make it harder when you fight. You love doing this.”

I tried to fight her grip, to step back. But she held my arm and kept me rooted to the spot.

“Watch,” she ordered and I couldn't do anything but that.

I cried as I watched each shallow breath Clare huffed, wondering which would be her last, knowing that she was in this so much pain because of me. Because I was nothing but a coward.

I think I begged, but when I did, Amarantha's only response was to shove the hilt of the knife in my hand. She purred in delight.

“Finish it, love,” she whispered in my ear.

No, I tried to tell her. I tried to dug my heels on the floor and never move, but my body was a treacherous thing and I was standing closer to the table, beside her head.

Clare lifts her glazed over eyes at me and I thought there might have been relief in them. Under the hate she always regarded me with, even in her half-conscious state. She knew, of course she did, that I was the reason she was here.

Her chapped lips parted. “You might... as... well finish,” she got out, her voice as broken as her body was. “You... monster...”

I told myself it would be a mercy, as I raised the knife and held it to her neck. But I couldn't do it. I couldn't. Because I knew how deep the red of blood went. Because I knew what dying people sounded like. Because I knew how it felt to kill.

A hand gripped mine and took it away. When I looked up, violet eyes were boring into mine.

“Wake up.”


Feyre, wake up.

I woke up drenched in sweat that felt too much like blood. Yet, I was cold like ice. I gasped for air that wouldn't come.

Their faces—Amarantha's, Clare's—were too clear, too real in my head. Her mutilated body. A sob broke out of my lips before I could stifle it. I thought there might be tears falling from my eyes but I didn't feel a thing, other than invisible blood in my hands and Clare's muted screams ringing in my ears.

Monster, I was a monster.

I jumped out of the bed, straight for the bathroom. I hurled my breakfast in the toilet, my body heaving and tears coming faster. The tremors ripped my body. I felt like breaking to pieces.

Murderer.

I crawled back until my back was pressed against the cool bathtub. Curled my knees close to my chest and hugged my legs as I wept.

I couldn't stop shaking. I couldn't—

A soft caress stroke the bond. Breathe, came Rhys voice.

“I can't,” I said, repeated it over and over again. My head was spinning.

In and out, he instructed calmly. Please, do it for me.

I tried—I really did, but all I could do was whimper, “I killed them, I killed them. I'm a monster.” I hid my face between my knees.

You are not, you are strong and brave and selfless. Trust me, you are not a monster. I didn't answer, aloud or through our bond. Say it.

Faeries could lie, I knew that now. But I didn't bring myself to do so. There was no denying it.

Feyre... Say the word and I'll be there.

I wanted to agree, to damn the consequences and get out. But if I had to be responsible for more death, if I had to see another broken corpse...

“No.”

Rhys stayed quiet for a moment, but I could feel his steady presence at the other side of this bridge between us. He laid a soothing hand on my shattered shields.

Talk to me.

“I'm a monster,” I said in a broken whisper. “Everyone thinks so. He thinks so.”

It shouldn't matter to me, but it did. It burned. It hit too close home. Because he was right, so utterly right. It had been only a matter of time for everyone else to noticed it.

What happened?

“I got into his head and commanded him. He—he felt it and he was afraid. He flinched. And I enjoyed it.” Before he called me a monster, that is.

Why?

I showed Rhys the awful encounter, wincing myself at having to bring it up. It was even worse, recalling his horrified face with a cold head. What had I done?

He shouldn't have done that, Rhys told me after a beat of silence and even then I could feel the restrain in his tone. He should've known better than to push you like that, you were bound to snap.

There wasn't condemnation in his voice, none. It made me feel... not as bad. Yet, I couldn't help but to think I had crossed one line today.

You did cross a line, but you don't have to anymore if you do not wish to, he said.

“Stop snooping on me,” I muttered, if only because I didn't have an answer to what he said.

I glared at the palm of my hand, but even that felt distant from myself. Then I pressed my hands to the floor. Rhys didn't have to see me like this, if the tattoo could even do that.

Your shields are down, darling, you are basically screaming at me.

I heaved a sigh and built those mental barriers brick by agonizing brick. Even then, I felt his half-hearted chuckle.

Better now? I shot back.

You have no idea.

Prick.

I scoffed. But my heartbeat was back to its normal speed again. My head hurt like hell and I still felt like I could cry myself to sleep, but the overwhelming wave of anxiety, at least, had dimmed.

Thank you, I told Rhys as I got up on shaky legs.

I flushed the toiled and washed my mouth, spraying water on my face. I took a steady breath and tried to center myself again. I felt like I had been thrown in a fiery sea and I didn't know which way was the surface and which way was the bottom. But there, I saw it, a distant glimpse of sunlight.

I could do this. Or so I kept repeating.

Wow, came Rhys' response, is it possible that I've manage to get manners from Feyre Archeron? I am deeply shocked.

I rolled my eyes. Shut up.

I padded out of the bathroom, barefooted in the growing darkness of my room. The sun had already set, which meant I had slept the afternoon away and that I skipped lunch. Old habits did die hard.

I'm curious, did Lucien actually join you in your little adventure today?

You sound surprised.

I am, he stated but it sounded like a sneer to me. I can't remember of a time he ever stood up to anyone, least of all Tamlin. Little boy seems to have grown a pair.

He apologized .

I went to sit next to the window and watched the last of daylight. At least I was closer to leaving.

And are you ready to forgive him?

I mulled over it for a while. We had spent a good morning together, we had laughed ourselves to tears. But—

It seems pointless to either hold a grudge or keep the friendship if I'm leaving anyway.

Because no matter what, we wouldn't see each other again. I was Rhys' emissary to the human lands, but I wasn't part of his Inner Circle. I had no business attending Court meetings in the future—and that was hoping we survived against Hybern.

My chances to see Lucien again were smaller than seeing my sisters—and there was a wall between us. I bit the inside of my cheek and hoped that would to stop the fresh wave of tears.

You are crying.

I snapped my mental shields up, as high as I could. And you are still snooping. I sniffed and wiped away the moisture from my eyes. Rhys didn't answer. I guess I am gonna miss him—he was my first friend.

In Prythian?

Ever. Sometimes I think he's my only friend.

I know people who might take offense in that.

I rolled my eyes again. Such as?

Is it suffice to say Mor, Cassian and Amren have made me go into hiding? They want my head on a spike.

I blinked, then huffed a laugh. Now you're just being dramatic.

I've never been more serious in my life. They keep pestering me to bring you back. Mor and Cass threatened to go there themselves. Amren, at least, is a little more rational about it. But she still wants to bite my head off for letting you go.

I tried and failed to form a response. Part of me wanted to call bullshit but Rhys' words sounded so genuine that warmth began to spread inside my chest, against my better judgment. I would admit to myself that it felt good to know they wanted me to be there as much as I wanted to go back.

I had told him Velaris wasn't my home, but maybe it could be. One day.

I guess we'd both have to to bide our time until after tomorrow. Lest your Inner Circle cuts important parts. Maybe Azriel could help you hiding better.

Hardly. I'm telling you, my Inner Circle is plotting my demise. You should come back before they commit treason.

I grinned and tried to hide it, which was ridiculous because I was alone.

Guess I should go save them from themselves.

You really should.

I was about to answer him when three knocks broke the silence in half. I jerked, then went to the door but didn't opened it.

“Who is it?” I asked, voice somewhat even.

“Just me,” came Lucien's voice. He cleared his throat. “Can we talk?”

Lucien is here, I told Rhys. He wants to talk.

Alright, remember it's okay to set his hair on fire a little bit if he acts like jerk.

I gaped, alone in my room. How do you set something on fire a little bit exactly?

He chuckled but didn't answer and I felt his constant presence fade away. I shook my head and tried to focus again.

I opened the door.

Lucien stood in the hallway, hands in his pockets and some tension still in his shoulders. I blinked at the sudden brightness.

“Hey,” he said, watching me meticulously, like my face was a book he could read.

“Hey,” I parroted back.

I could see him fighting with his brain to find the right words. He settled with, “I'm sorry.”

I lifted a brow. “Whatever for?”

“Today was awful,” he winced a little.

“But it wasn't your fault.”

He rubbed the back of his neck. “Still.”

We watched each other for a long, awkward moment. I got the feeling he wanted something and didn't know how to ask it.

I put him out of his misery and said, “Do you want to come in?”

He nodded and I opened the door wider. He walked in. “How do you see anything?”

“It fits my Court of Nightmares aesthetic,” I told him with a simpering little smirk.

It didn't reach my eyes, but Lucien chuckled. “Very well, then. Dissolve into the shadows.”

“I wasn't—”

“I know you weren't, but you could still try.” He shrugged. “How knows what the High Lords gave you. By the looks of it, you already have fire mastered and daemati powers as well.”

I bristled a little. But his expression lacked his trademark sneer when something disgusted him.

I plopped down to the mattress. “I haven't. It's just luck these days.”

He sat at the edge of my bed, several inches away from me. “You used fire this morning, though. That was no easy thing, to be that controlled.”

When I burned Ianthe. I half wondered where she'd slithered off to, if she'd gone to Tamlin and spent the day him how much of a threat I was. He might even agree with her.

“I was angry this morning,” I muttered. “It was just luck that I didn't end up burning her hair.”

“I wouldn't call that luck,” he said with a conspiratory grin.

Well, he was kinda right.

“Has she told Tamlin what he already knows?”

Lucien grimaced. “She is not sure where she stands when it comes to you and him, but when she hears about today... yeah, you can bet on that.”

Why was I not surprised? Ianthe had always had a worrisome talent in poisoning Tamlin's head. Not that she needed much to convince him about me.

“What about you?” I asked. “Are you in trouble?”

“I can handle it.”

It wasn't an answer, but I didn't pry for more. But my chest felt constricted and tight. Guilt.

He must have seen it in my face because he added, “It was my choice to go with you. Don't look at me with pity in your eyes.”

“I do not,” I said too quickly.

Lucien didn't believe me and made it clear. But he didn't say anything about it. And so we fell into silence.

I wondered what he wanted. He hadn't come only to check up on me, that much was clear.

“I'm sorry about earlier,” he began. “I should have intervened.”

I waved a hand. “I can handle it.”

Which was why I just spent the afternoon asleep and woke up only to puke my breakfast. Lucien gave me a knowing look, but he didn't call me out, at least.

Instead he said dryly, “Well, that much was obvious.” And arched his brows.

I tried to hide the little wince. Even if Tamlin had sorta deserved it, even if he should know better than to touch me without consent.

“What is it, Lucien?” I asked. Suddenly, I didn't have the  energy to play his games. “What is it that you want to say?”

“Huh, so you're really daemati.”

My nostrils flared. “I don't need to read your mind to know where you're going,” I spat.

“It was joke,” he rushed to say. “Sorry, I didn't mean to insult you.”

I scoffed and went to stand by the window. Anything to not see his face that, for a second, reminded me of Tamlin—anything not to let him see mine and how I wanted to flinch at the words.

“Centuries old and still don't know what subtlety is,” I huffed.

Lucien was quiet for a moment. He lit up the bedroom a second after. “I'm sorry,” he repeated.

“Whatever. Say what you came here to say.”

I heard his soft intake of air and I braced myself. “He wants you to have dinner with us.”

I turned around. Lucien was already tense at what was going to be my definitely negative answer. “And why is that?”

“He wants to apologize,” he said carefully, considering every word. “And make amends.”

I turned around and leaned on the wall, arms crossed.

“Tell him he can start by letting me go, tell him that maybe then I'll consider bothering to acknowledge him. Until that happens I have no wish to see or speak to him again and I'm only enduring this because I will not be causing a war.”

Lucien opened his mouth but then snapped it shut. He set his lips into a hard line as he thought about his next words.

“What?”

He squared his shoulders. “I'll be honest with you, Feyre. You didn't avoid a war, you only postponed it.” My stomach felt leaden and it must have showed on my face, for Lucien's expression softened. “Rhysand is required to bring you back when the week is up. If he fails to do so, it'll be seen as if he stole you. That's an act of war.”

My heart began pounding in my ears and when I spoke, my words felt shaky. “But—I said I didn't want to come here.”

“In his presence, where he could easily control you.”

“But he can't!” I sputtered. “I have mental shields.”

Lucien looked at me with regret in his eye. “That he himself could have made.”

Breathe, I had to breathe. I closed my eyes and gathered whatever composure I had.

“There has to be a way.”

There had to be. Because if there wasn't, it meant I had to come back. It meant that I'd have to live here, forever.

Lucien remained silent as I tried to regain my breath. The edges of my vision were starting to go blurry, the world was out of focus. I had the distinct sensation of the floor tilting to the side. I was slipping, I was falling.

I walked up to him. “Tell me there is a way,” I all but begged. “Tell me how I convince him I'm not worth it enough to start a war.”

Lucien ran a hand through his loose hair. He sighed. “Talk to him tonight, Feyre. Make him realize that this is what you want, that your mind remains your own. You don't have to forgive him—hell, you don't even need to play nice. But be there, be you.”

Despair coiled low in my gut. “He'll never stop thinking of me like the person I was when I first came here.”

Lucien's eye turned unbearably soft. “I can't promise it'll help, but you can at least try. Just... consider it.”

He squeezed my shoulder and saw himself out. I listened his soft, fading footsteps. And then, when I was completely alone, I listened to my own mad heartbeat.


I brushed my hair, sitting in my vanity. I half wished I knew how to curl it into one of those complicated braids Naula and Cerridwen did. If only to keep my fingers and my attention occupied.

But I didn't, and I was left to my absent-minded brushing and the hurricane of thoughts inside my head.

I hadn't spoken to Rhys again, because I didn't want him to confirm what I already suspected; that Lucien was awfully right and my coming here had help little, if anything at all.

I can't promise it'll work, but maybe you could try, Lucien had said.

But uneasiness crept up my spine at the prospect of spending a meal with Tamlin. I wasn't sure he would keep himself in check, and I didn't trust myself to do that either.

I bit the inside of my cheek.

I decided to leave my hair down.


My knuckles were white as I fisted my hands, then loosed them. Then turned them into a fist again.

I told myself that I already came this far, it would be a waste to backtrack now. Maybe this didn't have to be bad—maybe I could just take whatever sorry excuse of an apology Tamlin gave me and try to reason with him without either of us blowing it up.

Highly unlikely, but I could dream.

And even if things did go sour, I could still go back and hole myself in my room for the remaining time I had in the Spring Court.

I pushed the double doors open.

Tamlin and Lucien were already in the table, sitting in silence so tense I wondered if I had interrupted a moment. Their eyes focused on me. For a moment I only wanted to go back the way I'd come, but my feet remained firm on the floor.

That was easy enough, the hard part was making them move towards them. I battled against myself each step I took. Until I reached the table and took a seat next to Lucien. A cowardly strategy to put him between me and Tamlin, but at least I made it that far.

I reached for a plate. I told myself I was the only one who noticed my trembling hand.

I braved a glance at the two males, whose eyes were still on me. “Well? Are you going to eat or shouldn't I have to bother to come down?” I asked.

Tamlin was the first to go back to eating, a muscle flickering in his jaw. He was going to wait until after dinner to approach the subject, then. Lucien's eyes, though, lingered for a second longer. I held his gaze, but he only nodded and focused on his own food.

I didn't dare to heave a sigh and only began adding food on my plate in silence. Only when I saw the different and admittedly very appealing meals, did I realize I was hungry. I'd had breakfast early, then skipped lunch, then puked said breakfast.

I piled food on my plate, then ate it in silence. Or planned to, until I caught Lucien's eyes wandering to me when he thought I didn't notice.

“What?” I couldn't help but to ask. Then I had to fight off a wince as my voice broke the silence so suddenly.

Lucien wiped his mouth with a napkin—his meal already finished. “You're eating,” he said mildly, politely.

He was giving me an opening. To show Tamlin I was better—that I was healing. And yet, there was a quiet awe at the small fact, as if he couldn't believe it himself.

I sipped my wine. “I supposed I am.”

“I'm glad.”

I drew a smile, not completely genuine but also, not completely forced. At that, Tamlin couldn't hide the flare of shock in his eyes.

I focused on the table, on the food sprawled in front of me. There was too much for the three of us. Even two grown males wouldn't be able to finish it in one night. It felt ridiculous to have all of this when we wouldn't consume half of it. I couldn't help but remember the beggars in the village.

“Where do the leftovers go?” I asked in a quiet manner.

It was Tamlin who answered, “The staff distribute it for themselves and their families. If there's still food left, it goes to the homeless.”

At least it didn't go to waste, but something about giving leftovers rubbed me the wrong way. And maybe Lucien and Tamlin both knew, as their manner turned wary. But I bit my tongue. Even if thinking about Tamlin treating his people like this made me see red.

I finished my meal in silence and Tamlin did too, eventually. I heard his intake of air and I knew the quiet was over.

“Feyre, I mean to offer you an apology,” he began. His eyes never connecting with me. I wanted to call him a coward, but let him continue. “The things I said today weren't fair, nor were they true. And I wasn't being reasonable.”

I stared at him in silence, waiting for him to keep going. He didn't. And when he looked up at me to see why I wasn't responding, it took me a moment to convince myself not to lash out at him.

Is that it? Your grand apology, your chance to actually try to persuade me into staying?

“I—appreciate it,” I said instead. But couldn't help the twist of my lips. We all knew I was lying.

He took a deep breath. “I want you to understand that I did it because I was worried about you. When I arrived and you weren't here I thought—” He thought Rhys had taken me.

I reached for my goblet of wine and took a mouthful. I was going to need it.

“Will you declare war?” I asked, because subtlety would take me nowhere and I honestly didn't want to pretend.

“He won't bring you back,” he said as he blinked at me like I was being the one who didn't understand the situation.

“Because I don't want to be here anymore,” I said quietly.

His face drained of expression for a second. I only stared at him, waiting. He fisted his hands.

“If you lose control, I'm leaving,” I threatened. He didn't unclench his hands, but his claws didn't appear either. I leaned back on my chair. “By the Cauldron, Tamlin, this is why.”

Lucien nudge my leg with his, I didn't know what he meant with that. But I decided to take it as encouragement.

“It's always like this,” I went on, “and it'll always be like this with you and I can't do this. This is not how I want to spend the rest of my life. I will forever be grateful for taking care for my family when I couldn't, but I won't spend eternity here because of it.”

I wanted to leave, but I remained in my chair. I had said my piece, now I needed to hear what he had to say. Lucien had promised me nothing, but he said I still could try. I was trying.

“I know you are upset about what happened and I am sorry for it, but can you really expect me to believe you want to be there? Can you expect me to not be suspicious when you changed your mind so suddenly about the Night Court?”

I fisted my hands on my lap. “If you knew me at all, you'd realize it's me, Tamlin. But you still want to believe it's Rhys controlling me rather than realize that my not wanting to be here might be your own doing.” I looked away, frowning and shaking my head.

“You have known him for months, I for centuries. I've seen him break into people's minds and they never find out. You wouldn't know if it was him holding a leash to your neck.”

I hated it. I hated I knew better and he didn't. I hated that I couldn't deny any of that, because it was probably true.

I also hated the words that came out of my mouth next, “At least his leash would stretch farther that yours. Who knows with him, anyway? He could even let me pretend I don't have one at all.”

They were hateful, hurtful words and I should be regretting them once they were spoken. But I didn't. I regretted, perhaps, that the possibility of any accord between me and him was gone. I told myself it didn't matter, my expectations were already low.

Lucien gave me a sad look.

“Good night,” I said as I got up and aimed for the door.

“No, wait,” he said, getting up from his seat as well.

I glanced at him over my shoulders. “I'm tired,” I lied, then I went to leave.

Only to find him in front of me a second later. I halted, but when he tried to reach me, his hand stopped mid-air.

“Take the order back,” he snarled.

I wanted to snarl right back at him, but I managed to keep my voice cool and collected, “No. You move, I said I'm tired.”

“Feyre.”

“Is it so hard for you to ever listen to me? Would it kill you to try it for once?”

“Cut the shit, Feyre. You're acting like a spoiled child. I apologized, what else do you want?”

My hands were shaking now. “I want you to leave me alone.” I choked on a bitter laugh. “That shouldn't be hard, you have so much practice with it already.”

I tried to walk around him, but he still stepped in front of me.

“You don't want that,” he said, as if he knew my head and my heart better than I did.

But maybe he was right in this. I didn't want him to leave me alone, not yet. I wanted to see him hurt and broken like I still was. Maybe I was a monster after all, because I laughed again, but it wasn't a pretty laugh.

“Do you want to know why I want to go to the Night Court so bad? Because it was Rhys. It was Rhys who kept me from breaking. It was Rhys who helped me with each task and in every trial. It was him who saved my life, while you” —I choked on my own words, on my own hate— “sat at her feet like her gods-dammed lapdog. It was also Lucien. Hell, it was Lucien's mother. It was everyone but you. And now you think you have a right to say what I do with my life? I don't think so. Where were you when I needed you? You did nothing. You did nothing while I risked my life to save you. You couldn't even be bothered to bat an eye at any of it. And when she killed me, all you did was kneel and beg. Did you ever lift a finger? No. No, you never did. It was me. It was me who freed all of Prythian and you don't get to tell me what I do with that freedom. You don't get anything from me anymore. So I ask you very kindly to go to Hell and leave me the fuck alone.”

Tears. Those were tears falling from his eyes, from my eyes as well. I was breathing hard while it seemed he wasn't breathing at all.

I took a step closer to him, he didn't move. “Is that a good enough reason for you?” I snarled in his face, venom still dripping from my mouth.

Tamlin didn't react to my closeness, didn't look me in the eye. He wasn't really looking at anything. I wondered if I had gone too far, but right now, I didn't have it in me to care too much.

So I only left to my room once more.


No one else bothered me for the rest of the night. Not Lucien, certainly not Tamlin.

I blew the candles and sat by the window for hours, only feeling the spring wind on my face. Sometimes I stuck my hand out, only to remind myself that I still could do it, that I wasn't trapped.

The anger had left me a while ago and I found that I was still tired, but I was also restless. When I tried sleeping I was too scared that another nightmare would attack me. Then I said it would happen even if I slept at midday. But that still left me turning around in bed.

So I sat there and stared at everything. At nothing. Mostly, I recalled what happened at dinner, the things I said and wondered whether I regretted it or not.

I think I didn't, because it hadn't been a lie. Any of it. I meant every word. But maybe I regretted how I let the anger get the better of me, maybe I regretted Tamlin's unresponsive demeanor. Because he reminded me of myself and I didn't know how to feel about that.

I leaned back on my chair and resolved to deal with it later. One thing more, one thing less. It didn't make a difference anyway.


I dreamt I was Under the Mountain, performing the last trial. Unknown eyes watched me. Two bloodied ash daggers lying next to two unmoving bodies on the floor. Someone wept deep in the crowd, but I didn't search for them.

I took a step closer and picked the last dagger, just as someone snatched the hood off Tamlin's head. He stared at me, his face as stony as ever. I stared him back.

I didn't say I loved him, I didn't cry.

When I stabbed him in the heart, he fell to the floor. And didn't move again.


The library was somewhat dusty. It wasn't dirty, but comparing it to the rest of the pristine manor, it seemed like it belonged to a different place. I decided that I rather liked it.

I found a book that half-caught my interest and went to read it in a armchair. That's how Lucien found me, deep in a book about spies and criminals.

I didn't hear him until he gasped. “You do know how to read,” he sputtered.

I scoffed at his wide eyes. “How surprising, it's not like I told you that already,” I deadpanned. He stood there, awkwardly watching at me, almost looking sheepish. “It's a book, Lucien, it won't bite if you take a seat,” I said, because I had to give him hell.

He pulled out a chair from a nearby desk and sat in front of me, almost on command.

“Right. I, uh, was told that you were here.”

I closed my book. “He sent you?”

“No, I only wanted to see how you were doing.” I believed him. He had no reason to lie anyway.

“I'm reading a book, or I was before you interrupted so rudely.”

“How wrong of me.”

A soft smile stretched my lips. “Indeed.”

Lucien blinked at me as awe lightened his face, as much as he tried to hide it. “You smiled,” he whispered.

I wanted to tell him I hadn't, or to stop saying the obvious. But I guess I knew where it came from. It had been a way too long time since I smiled and actually meant it.

If anything, it was a testament to how bad I used to be and how much better I got.

I cleared my throat. “Aren't you supposed to work or something?”

He looked affronted for a second, but then put on a smirk. “Kicking me out, are you?”

I lifted the closed book for him to see. “I was rather enjoying it.”

“So you consider a book is more interesting than me.” He put a hand to his heart. “What a travesty.”

I made a sound that could've been a laugh and rolled my eyes. “It certainly is less annoying.”

Lucien chuckled. Gods, I was already missing him. Again, that useless longing hit me in the chest. I wished he could come with me.

“How are you?” I blurted, not really thinking before I said it.

“I am fine?”

I raised a hand and held it to my temple, eyes closed. “My dark power tells me you are, in fact, lying.”

I opened my eyes and waited. His lips twitched even if he tried to conceal it. “Since when are you this dramatic?”

I shrugged. “You taught me well.”

“I suppose I did.”

We lapsed into silence once more, or rather he went silent while I waited for an answer. He seemed like he'd rather eat glass than to actually talk.

“Yesterday was a bad day,” he began with a cringe. “After dinner he—it wasn't pretty and it isn't worth repeating.”

It felt like someone threw a bucket of cold water on my head. “Did he” —I swallowed— “did he hurt you?”

I searched for any sign that he might have, but if there was any, I didn't see it. No bruises, no split lip and no tells of discomfort.

Lucien shook his head, and even then, he hesitated. I knew it was lie, I knew he'd hurt him. But the signs I was looking for weren't written on his skin.

“What did he do?” I asked flatly.

“Feyre—”

“Tell me.”

Lucien sighed. “He trashed the study, again. And the dining room. And his own room. He was yelling and then—he got so quiet.” He swallowed thickly and his eye turned distant. “I thought he—I don't know what I thought. But it was terrifying.”

I could only imagine. I wanted to reach his hand and hold it, to tell him that it'd get better. But if he stayed here... it wouldn't. I doubted it. Gods, this was already hard for him and I only made it worse.

I opened my mouth but he spoke before I could, “Don't apologize.”

“It's my fault.”

“As far as I'm concerned, you didn't command him to do any of that,” he said dryly.

“Still.” I did my best to not fiddle or play with my nails.

Lucien stared at me for a moment, head tilted to the side. “Do you feel guilty? About what you said yesterday, I mean.”

“I didn't lie,” I said quietly.

“But that wasn't the question.”

“I think I regret that any hope of convincing him is gone. And I mean, why would he believe me? I proved him right, didn't I?” I shrugged.

“You're not a monster, Feyre,” Lucien said softly.

“It's not what he thinks.”

“And what do you think?”

“I think he is right, to some extend.”

“You think you are a monster?”

“Sometimes.” Most of the time, but he didn't need to now that.

“Well, you aren't. And if you are, then you're a rather mild one, almost harmless.”

“Almost,” I huffed.

Lucien shrugged. “It's true. For what is worth it, you being angry does not make you a monster.”

I couldn't meet his eyes as I admitted, “I enjoyed it, Lucien. It felt good to make him afraid of me when I commanded him and then it felt good to hurt him. And I don't know what that says about me.”

He scooted closer and nudged me with a knee.

“It says that you are hurting,” he told me, “and you don't quite know how to deal with that. And I'm no one to tell you how to feel, or how to cope. But it's something that happens. You are not a monster, you're not even a bad person for it.”

My eyes burned but no tears spilled. I nodded and swallowed the lump in my throat. “He will still go to war, won't he?”

He took a second too long to answer, “Yes.”

It felt like a noose tightening around my neck. “Be honest with me, is there a way to stop it?”

“I don't know,” he said after a moment. “It's always tricky when daemati powers are involved. You could tell the other High Lords how much you wish to leave, but there will always be the possibility of them thinking Rhysand is controlling you.”

“If Rhys really wanted to keep me to himself he could just make Tamlin agree. No threat of war. So could I for that matter.”

“And why don't you?”

“Because I don't want to cross any more lines,” I mumbled. Lucien didn't say anything for a moment, contemplating my words.

“There are many libraries in the Day Court,” he said, “and its High Lord is good friends with Rhysand. Maybe he'd ask for help with him. And worse comes to worse, that's a vote in your favor and then you have Tarquin as well.”

I leaned back and rubbed my temple with a hand. “That still leaves Autumn, Winter and Dawn.”

“My father despises Rhysand, but we can still hope he hates Tamlin more,” he offered with a crooked smile that resembled a cringe more than anything.

“We?”

He shrugged. “Look, I appreciate you and you're a dear friend of mine, but you're not worth a war.”

The corners of my lips twitched. If only Tamlin was of the same opinion. I sighed and got up, book still in hand. Lucien looked up at me.

“Thank you,” I told him. “For listening when no one else would.” He said nothing when I pressed a kiss to his cheek.

Then went to my bedroom. He didn't come to me again.


I was awake and dressed before sunrise. My hair was braided back by Alis, whose only farewell was tucking a loose strand of hair behind my ear that wasn't actually there. I might have called her out if I hadn't been so busy fighting back my own tears.

She left me alone after that. And when I went out, I didn't see her again.

I waited at the front door, guards watching me. It was for them that I pretended not to shake. The least I needed was them thinking I was scared, either of Rhys or Tamlin.

Speaking of which.

He came out a few minutes later, Lucien nowhere to be seen. I didn't acknowledge him. I didn't acknowledge the dark bags under his eyes, or his messy hair, or his wrinkled clothes.

But he sneered at me anyway. “You can't even wait, can you?”

I didn't answer, just kept my focus ahead. Rhys would come in any moment. I'd be gone in any moment.

“I'm talking to you,” he hissed.

I swallowed. “I have already told you what I wanted to tell you,” I answered quietly. “You only make it harder like this.”

“You think I'm being territorial and overprotective, but I'm only trying to keep you safe,” he said. As if I hadn't heard that already, over and over again. “This isn't like you. You are acting like them. What you did to Ianthe—”

“Maybe you should ask her why I did what I did,” I hissed, “and have her thank the Cauldron that I don't know how to control my powers better.”

I exhaled sharply.

“Think whatever you want to think, Tamlin, I'm past caring. But don't believe that I will apologize for defending the people I love.”

I saw him raise his hand. I took a step away, but he didn't touch me. His nostrils flared and claws almost appeared. I watched him clench his hands.

“You would really hit me, wouldn't you?” I asked in a quiet manner.

It didn't surprise me, not really. But knowing it without a shadow of a doubt was a different matter entirely.

Tamlin flinched. “I—”

I put a hand between us and looked away.

“Don't even. You sicken me.”

He began speaking, but shadows gathered in front of us. His words turned into a snarl.

My knees were weak with relief as Rhys walked out from a pocket of shadow. No smirk, no smart remark. Nothing as he read the tension between Tamlin and me. His shoulders were tense and his own hands hovered over his hips, as if he was ready to reach for weapons that weren't there.

“Tamlin,” he said evenly. But I noticed the rage under the diplomatic mask.

My feet moved on their own accord. Tamlin held an arm in front of me. I recoiled away as if he was set on fire, a snarl already building in my throat.

“I will offer you a bargain,” he stated. “Free her from her bargain and I'll give you anything.”

“You stupid fool,” I spat in a vicious whisper.

Rhys eyes were alit with wicked amusement, one corner of his mouth curled up. And for one terrifying moment, I thought he might name a price.

“How about,” he purred, oblivious to my heart hammering my chest, “you jump off a cliff and I break the bargain righ here right now?”

Tamlin stiffened, but Rhys didn't pay him any heed. He held a hand for me. And I wanted to cry, then to smack him upside the head for scaring me like this.

I ran down the stairs, my boots thudding on the marble.

You are a gods-dammed prick.

Rhys attention was focused on me. His lips twitched. You didn't think I would agree, did you?

I didn't answer, I only took his hand and held tight as if it was a lifeline in the ocean. I was leaving. I didn't want to say it out loud, lest this scene dissolved in smoke and shadows. But my heart felt too real pounding in my ears, Rhys felt real too.

“A week,” Tamlin said at my back. I bristled.

I looked at him over my shoulder with murderous intent.  “Go to hell,” I spat. Then looked at Rhys. “Get me out of here.”

He squeezed my hand, shadows gathered around us. And after a moment, we were gone.

Chapter Text

I hadn't let myself believe that I'd come back, not really. But as the foyer of the townhouse materialized in front of me, I realized with a jolt that I was here, that I was back.

I inhaled deeply and gave the place a once-over. Rhys loosed his grip on my hand and I stepped away from him, breathing in the familiar scent of the house.

“I'm back,” I whispered. I turned to Rhys, tears pricking my eyes. “I'm back.”

Rhys didn't smile, but his face softened. “You are.”

I sucked on a breath. My vision lost focus and my knees turned weak. I might have fallen to the floor if Rhys hadn't put his hand on the small of my back. I glanced up at him, trying to convey the gratitude I couldn't express with words.

He led me to the living room and gestured for me to take a seat. I did. What state must I be in for him to not comment on my lack of contrariety? Not a good sign if he couldn't even tease me.

“I can ask Naula or Cerridwen to prepare some tea if you want,” he offered softly.

I nodded. Rhys looked at me for a second too long before he disappeared into the kitchen. I swallowed hard and kept my attention on breathing evenly. I rubbed my hands on my pants, letting myself focus on the texture of the fabric.

I was fine, I was in Velaris, I was safe.

Rhys came out of the kitchen, carrying a tray with a steaming kettle and a pair of teapots. He set it on the low table in front of me.

I raised an eyebrow. “High Lord and servant? How many other talents have you hidden from us?” I teased, even if it felt like playing pretend.

Amusement lit up in his gaze as he took a seat next to me. “That's for you to find out,” he said with a small smirk.

I rolled my eyes. I went to pour myself a cup of that marvelous-looking tea, but Rhys beat me to it. 

My hands halted halfway, he only gave me an almost sheepish grin. “Let me.”

I frowned but held my hands up. “Alright.”

I watched him fill one teapot for me, then one for himself. The smell of it was just about divine. He handed me my cup, then took his own to his lips.

I narrowed my eyes. “You are being unusually kind,” I said, then took a sip. “And unusually quiet.”

“I thought you could use the silence,” he said mildly.

Indeed. But it still felt... odd to just sit there and drink tea like two old ladies. Though that description fitted him alright. I kept those observations to myself and put all my efforts in focusing on the heavenly beverage.

But I finished my cup too soon, and the house being so quiet unnerved me. “Where's everyone?” I asked.

Rhys put his own teacup on the tray. He swallowed before answering, “We—Amren and I, actually—thought it might be better if you weren't immediately pestered as soon as you arrived.”

I remembered how I'd been the first time I came here, how Rhys gave me the option to go to my bedroom instead of throwing me to his family first thing.

“Thank you,” I said quietly.

Rhys didn't talk for a moment, he only scanned my face looking for something amiss. I raised my brows at his staring, only then he cleared his throat. “Are you okay?”

Yes, I wanted to say immediately, but my tongue rebelled against the lie. I bit my lip and tightened my grip on the cup between my hands, not enough to shatter it but it still grounded me as I felt I was shattering myself.

“I knew you were going to bring back, but I didn't let myself believe it,” I admitted. “And now that I'm here, it doesn't—doesn't feel real.”

I inhaled sharply, but my eyes burned and I had to turn my face away from him. Rhys didn't mention it, he remained quiet beside me.

We stayed like that for a while, long enough for me to hold myself together again.

“I pretended,” I told him, “I wasn't afraid. But, by the Mother, I was. I was terrified that I wouldn't be able to get out again. That he would trap me again. I—”

I sobbed.

It was so sudden it wrecked me to my core. I came undone, all my shattered pieces scattered to the floor with no hope for me to put them back where they belonged.

I was shaking, tears fell from my eyes and the air felt thin. I hid my face between my hands and wept, I didn't have it in me to care about Rhys seeing the mess I'd gone back to in only three days. But Rhys didn't mock me, didn't sound disappointed as he scooted closer and put an arm around me.

“It's okay,” he said softly. 

I slid my arms around his waist and wept harder on his shoulder. Rhys only held me, stroking my hair, drawing soft lines across my back and murmuring soothing words.

“I don't want to go back there,” I whispered.

“You won't, I promise.”

I drew back, my face no doubt swollen and splotchy. I didn't care. “He will declare war. And I—I won't be the reason to start a war. I can't.”

But I couldn't go back, either. I didn't know what I wanted him to tell me, didn't know what could possibly come out of his mouth that would calm me.

Rhys knew that, knew that we were at a dead end. He took my teacup from my lap and put it on the table, then he held both my hands in his own, so tenderly I almost broke down crying again. I sniffed lamely.

“We are going to figure this out, okay? We will not start a war and you will not go back. I promise. I don't break my promises, Feyre Darling. So take a deep breath and ready that sharp mind of yours because I'm going to need your help with this.”

I knew what he was doing, keeping me distracted, giving me something to work for so I'd be too busy to despair. And yet, I nodded and wiped my tears. 

“I'm okay,” I declared.

I was not, not even close. But he pressed a kiss to my forehead. 

He looked me over and nodded as well. “You are okay.” But as he said it quietly, it seemed that he was telling that to himself more than me.


I slept the whole morning. I still had nightmares, bloody and frightening ones, but I didn't wake until past noon. I lay in my bed for a long moment, simply reminding myself I was in Velaris. It was more calming than it should be.

However, I had to get out. This was the most rest I had in the last days and I was done with being in a bed, for a while at least.

I padded to the bathing room and took a long, relaxing bath. Until my stomach began to ache and demand food. I was drying myself when I peeked at the pile of cloth that was the Spring Court attire I was wearing.

I put it in the rubbish bin. I closed my eyes and narrowed my focus on my power, in the ever-changing well inside me. I told Lucien it was a matter of luck, of my feelings. But it didn't have to be. These powers were mine, I was their master. I was in control.

Still, when I set the clothes on fire, I left a dark mark on the sink. I cringed, but watching the thing burn—I hadn't felt this free in a long time.


I walked silently through the house, wearing leggings and a sweater that actually felt like myself. I was going downstairs when I heard Mor's reproaching voice. “And now he know as well,” she said. “This is getting out of control. You better find a way to fix this, Rhysand.

“I know, Morrigan,” Rhys snapped. “Thank you for reminding me of what I already realized.”

I felt like I was listening to something I shouldn't. I cleared my throat. The two cousins wiped their heads to me, standing at the bottom of the stairs. Mor's face was pinched with annoyance, but it melted away as soon as she saw me, replacing it with a smile so big it was almost blinding. She all but ran to me. I wasn't fast enough to reciprocate her embrace.

“I'm so glad to see you,” she mumbled next to my ear.

I tried to hug her as well, because I was also happy to see her, but she pulled away before I could. She pressed her hands to my cheeks, like you would do to a child. It felt... oddly reassuring.

“How are you, honey? You look... more or less the same.” Which still was pretty skinny still, even to my standards. “When did you get here? I missed you so much. Gods, I'm going to rip Rhys' head off and crown myself High Lady.” She hugged me again, this time giving me time to actually hug her back. 

I caught Rhys' eye from over her shoulders, an almost smug expression on his face. I told you so.

I was speechless for a moment. At Mor's effusive greeting; at feeling that this was right, that maybe I could belong here. All I could do was embrace Mor—my friend—tighter. 

“I'm glad to see you, too.” 

She pulled away, beaming at me. I couldn't help but give her a tiny smile of my own in answer. Her grin widened.

Mor gripped my hand. “Come, let's have something to eat. I'm starving, what about you? Did you have breakfast?”

I shook my head and let her drag me to the dining room. With a snap of her fingers, the table filled with food. And I just about drooled at the smell. 

Rhys followed us and took a seat. Mor and I did as well.

“My cousin,” Mor began with a sharp tone, “forbade us from coming to you. I only got to come in because of official, boring court business. But we are all over ourselves to have you here again. Even Amren, don't let her fool you.” She rolled her eyes.

I chuckled breathlessly. I tried to keep from showing on my face, but her words felt like being tucked into bed, like snuggling in front of a fire with a blanket on my shoulders and a cup of hot chocolate between my hands.

I caught Rhys gaze again. I told you so.

So you keep saying, I narrowed my eyes at him. 

I wanted to roll my eyes, but I went to Mor instead. “What is getting out of control?” I asked while I began adding food to my plate.

I felt more than saw Rhys stiffen. 

Mor gave him a withering glare. “Our esteemed High Lord's stupidity, of course,” she said briskly. “Nothing you need to worry about just yet. Though Cassian might shove him off a balcony if it keeps growing. He could use someone to vouch for him, but if you want to do the shoving, none of us will object.”

She was mad, that much was clear. But the way she phrased it made me keep my questions for myself, at least for now. I had never seen her angry at anyone. Annoyed, yes. But this felt different.

“Alright, I'll consider.”

I glanced between them, trying to read the tension coming from her and the resignation coming from Rhys, as if her anger was well-deserved. I wondered what he did to make cheery, joyful Mor this mad. But whatever it was, she pushed it away from her face and turned to me, that tension leaving her when she regarded me.

“So, how are you?” she asked, her face softened, became more open.

I swallowed a piece of bread. “I am... better.”

She stared at me for a long moment, her expression solemn. “I'll do whatever it is in my power to make sure you never set foot in that damned Court, unless that is what you want.” It felt like a promise, an oath.

I pressed my lips together and nodded. Then looked at Rhys, who watched us quietly. “Even if you have to shove him off a balcony?” 

Mor smirked at me. “Oh, no. I'd give you the honors. Then we both run away from these High Lords nonsense. I am, by far, better company anyway.”

I chuckled. “I don't doubt it.”

We finished lunch—breakfast for me—with little to no conversation. Even then I noticed the pocket of silence coming from Rhys. I wondered at it, but didn't pry. Yet.

“What do we do now?” I asked after too much quiet. It was unsettling.

“About what?” Rhys asked, finally.

“About the Book of Breathings, Hybern. About... the Spring Court.” My shoulders sagged at the mere mention of that forsaken place. “What now?”

Mor laid her hand on mine. I looked at her, she smiled sadly. I went to Rhys again.

“We will focus in the situation in the Spring Court first, then we can plan a way to steal the Book of Breathings,” he said slowly. I frowned. “Don't look at me like that.”

“I think you waste time. I am here now, we should find a way to sneak in.”

His eyes flashed. “Why do you speak like you're not going to be here for much longer?”

“Because we only have one week,” I told him quietly. He opened his mouth but I spoke first. “I want to stay. But if he threatens to go to war...” I let the words hang in the air, I couldn't finish it.

But I'd go back. Rhys didn't deserve to lose his armies in this, in me. Specially when he only tried to help me in the past, even if I wasn't aware of it at the time.

“This is why we focus on it,” Rhys got out, his voice sounded strangled.

“What if we only waste time? What if we do not find a solution? Then you are left to wait until next month, wasting time Amren could use to translate the Book.”

And that was counting on my actually surviving the three weeks in between visits. 

Mor squeezed my hand, when I turned to her, her face was hard and yet, it held a sort of softness in it. “It's not a waste of time when it comes to you,” she told me, her tone serious but not unkind.

Too much. It was too much.

I snatched my hand back, let it drop on my lap. Hurt shone in her gaze, but she didn't let it show more than an instant. My breath hitched.

“I haven't fought in a war before,” I managed to get out, through my obstructed throat, “but focusing on one person sounds terribly pointless. What good does my presence bring when Prythian is destroyed by the Cauldron?”

The anger came back to Mor's face, not directed at me but at Rhys. The simmering wrath in her eyes reminded me the sort of female she was. Third to the most powerful High Lord in Prythian history, strong enough to go against Amren and come out alive. It kept me still. But then she turned to me. I wanted to bolt, but I remained sitting. She must have noticed, because her face softened. She was still angry, but not at me. Not at me. 

“I promise,” she told me, “that you don't have to go back to the Spring Court. And I promise you that there won't be a war over you staying here.”

How can you promise? I wanted to ask, how could she be so sure. But she focused on Rhys once more, her face unyielding.

“You better find a way to fix this,” she said. “I'm around if you need me, Feyre. Or if you want to join in the coup we're staging,” she added with a wink in my direction.

And yet, there was a tension to her steps as she walked out and left us alone. I watched the way she left until I heard the front door opening and then closing with a pointed click.

Well, damn.

“What did you do?” I asked Rhys without looking at him.

“I'm an idiot,” he admitted. 

When my eyes slid to him, he was wincing. I didn't have it in me to laugh—he really did look miserable. “But why?”

“She thinks I could have avoided it all.” That wasn't fair. He rubbed the back of his neck. “Letting you go was a mistake.”

“Because you fought?”

“Because it hurts you.”

My mouth popped open, but it took me a second too long to say, “I can handle Tamlin. I can handle it.”

“You barely slept these days, barely ate,” he said, softly. “You can handle him, but at what cost?”

My sanity, my health. Possibly my safety. I could only do so much against Tamlin, he was a High Lord after all. And thinking of controlling him again felt disgusting. Maybe he deserved to be ordered around, just so he learnt what it felt like. But I didn't deserve the emotional toll it'd take should I be the one to do it.

I slumped on my chair. “I don't want to talk about him anymore.”

And Rhys seemed like he didn't either because he waved a hand. “Very well, what do you want to do, then?”


Rhys flew us to the House of Wind. He set me onto the balcony with gentleness and waited until my legs regained their strength from the flight—I was way too proud of how little time it took me each time.

Then we went up to the courtyard we  used to train. I felt excited when I picked up the sound of steel against steel from up the staircase. It was an effort not to run the rest of the way.

I reached the threshold and I stopped, watching Azriel and Cassian spar. It was truly an spectacle of strength and coordination and gracefulness. That was until Cassian spied me standing there and lost focus.

Even Rhys flinched as Azriel knocked him to the floor and held the point of his sword to his throat. The shadowsinger gave him one of those rare smirks.

“Pretty faces are going to be death of you, brother,” he said with quiet laughter in his voice. Then he turned to me, a kinder smile playing in his lips. “It's good to see you again, Feyre.”

I nodded.

Cassian pushed Azriel's sword away from him with a scowl and got up. “Ah, come on. Don't be like that, Feyre is more than a pretty face,” he said, throwing a wink and a smirk in my direction.

I snorted and made my way to them. “Thanks, I guess.”

“You won't be thanking me when we're done training,” he told me, a dangerous glint in his hazel eyes.

“I wouldn't expect to.”


Cassian was merciless in his lessons, which I thanked him for. My legs wobbled and I couldn't raise my arms above my head. But the Cauldron knew it felt good to punch something for an hour straight. Only one-two punches until my arms burned. 

If I didn't know better I'd think he knew how much I needed that.

But as little compassion as he showed me during the actual training, he kept me company when I was too tired to seek Rhys out to take me to the Townhouse. We rested on a chaise in the courtyard, sipping water from time to time. 

I wiped the drops of sweat from my brow with an arm. Cassian snorted, the comment hanging from his smirk. Very ladylike. I gave her a pointed look. Even if it wasn't all that intimidating, he kept his tongue in check.

“You did good today,” he said instead. “If you keep it up, you might knock Rhys down by the end of the year.”

I rolled my eyes. “But not you?”

“Now, now, don't get greedy.”

I remained quiet for a while, drinking water and letting my heart pick up its normal speed again. “Do you really think I could hold my own against a High Lord?” I asked, my voice too small.

Cassian didn't answer right away, but his gaze was knowing. I regretted asking already, but it was too late to take it back now. “Yes,” he said, “maybe not in a fight, not yet anyway. But you're smarter than any of them and believe me, that's what matters at the end.”

Some part of me thought he was right. Tamlin was dangerous and easily angered, but he was predictable. That would've help me if I had fought with him before. But I had no idea, and the prospect of going against him gave me chills. 

I had to hope it didn't come to that. 

I slumped on the chaise. Cassian was about to say something when Amren walked to us, a no-nonsense expression on her face. I didn't even hear her approach. 

“Rhysand needs you in the meeting room,” she told us. Then she focused on me, her gaze softened ever so slightly. “You need to eat more, girl. You will take someone's eye out with those bony shoulders.” And left. 

I blinked. Cassian howled with laughter and for once, I wanted to do so as well.


Rhys summoned us all, by the looks of it. Azriel was already sitting at the table. He'd changed out of his training clothes and was using his Illyrian leathers. Amren was in a nearby stool, cleaning her nails and looking bored already.

Mor was there too, in her usual leggings and sweater, tapping her fingers with no actual rhythm whatsoever, even if she might have thought so.

She smiled at me, but even then it still looked like a grimace. Not good. At least she didn't seem pissed anymore. I wondered how much that would last.

There was only one person missing from this meeting. As if my thoughts were a summoning, Rhys appeared the same way Cassian and I had come from, carrying a pile of books so tall they almost hid his face.

“Good, we're all here.” I watched him put the books on the table.

“You interrupted my training session with Feyre, this better be important,” Cassian said with a rogue smirk.

“It was more of a gossip session,” I replied dryly.

Amren snorted, not looking up from her nails. “Don't mind him, girl. He'll take any excuse to stay away from books.”

Even Azriel snorted, but I was painfully aware of Mor's lack of reaction. She had never been one to simply not make fun of Cassian. Azriel perhaps, but Mor was downright worrisome.

“It is important,” Rhys answered and proceeded to look directly at me. I wanted to shrink. “The Spring Court situation,” he announced. That sobered us all. “Feyre?”

I took a deep breath. “Tamlin believes you control me,” I said, not being able to meet anyone's eyes. “He thinks you hold my mind.”

“That doesn't make sense, you are daemati too,” Mor chimed in. “And Rhys taught you how to shield your mind.”

“I never—they don't know what he taught me. They didn't even realize I learnt to read.”

I dared to look up, to their somber faces. I didn't know how to deal with that, so I watched Rhys instead. But his expression was as dark as the rest of his Inner Circle, if not more so.

Amren sighed. “I hate to say it, but that's fair.”

Rhys winced and Mor seemed to be about to protest. But I intervened before a fight could break out, “How we do prove you aren't?” I asked Rhys.

“I swear an oath.”

That should be easy enough, right? He could swear it and be done with it. But why wasn't he readying to winnow us back and end this situation?

“But?” I just knew there was one coming.

Rhys pursed his lips, but it was Azriel who answered, “But you are still his fiancée. And even if Rhys swore, there's still the possibility of him demanding you back or risk a war.”

“But I broke it up,” I blurted.

Mor bit the inside of her cheek before saying quietly, “By law and protocol, you don't have a say in it. Once you accepted the engagement, you became his.” It felt like a kick to the gut. My skin went clammy and my knees weak, even sitting. “And a High Lord's possession—”

Feyre is no one's possession,” Rhys cut her off with lethal calm. “That's what the books are for. We are going to do our research and form our case. Tamlin will call a High Lords meeting and that's when we hit him the hardest.”

It sounded like a solid plan, but it didn't feel like it. Maybe if we were humans, maybe if Tamlin wasn't a High Lord. But High Fae were territorial creatures and Tamlin would not stop until he got what he thought was his.

“What are the probabilities of us winning?” I asked.

Rhys didn't answer me and I knew he wouldn't because he didn't want to lie. But was too stubborn to admit that—that the chances of me staying weren't good.

I went to Amren. If I could count on anyone to be blunt with me, it was her. “What are the probabilities.”

“Very slim, girl. Unless the fool has a sudden change of heart, he still has the right to take you back.” Or declare war if Rhys didn't hand me over, yes. I was beginning to see how this worked.

Cassian stepped in, “But this is Feyre, she was Made and she is the Cursebreaker. If anyone can be the exception it's her.”

Rhys nodded. “That's a valid point.”

“That's wishful thinking, Rhysand,” Amren snapped. “Males like Tamlin just don't stop and as much as he is a hideous prick, they will still prefer he have her instead of you.”

“As his bride, not his prisoner,” Mor added sharply.

Amren waved a hand. “High Lords don't care about what happens behind closed doors and Feyre is of no consequence to them.” Her unearthly gaze set upon me, she tilted her hear to the side. “Unless they learnt of her adquired powers. They might protest against Tamlin having her for himself.”

“No,” Rhys and Mor said in unison.

I stiffened. I knew they meant well and I probably didn't want that to happen, but them deciding over me... “Why not?” I asked too quietly.

Mor opened her mouth, but Rhys talked first, “We didn't mean it like that, Feyre,” he began. “The thing is I don't think we are ready to face that. It'll put a target on your back and as of right now, your biggest strength is remaining a stranger to anyone.”

I'd heard this one before and I had to grit my teeth at it. I had to remind myself that he wasn't undermining me, he was giving me his honest opinion. Honesty, he was only being honest.

But I still wanted to scream.

Mor cleared her throat. “Besides, it helps little to the actual issue. If they protest against Tamlin having you, then they will openly revolt against Rhys.”

Fine, fair enough.

I slumped back on my chair and picked up a book from the pile but didn't open it. A genealogy book, by the looks of it. I played with the leather cover absentmindedly.

“What about the Book of Breathings?” I asked once more. “In the case I'm leaving at the end of the week, then stealing the Book of Breathings should be a priority. So Amren can decode it while I'm... gone.”

“Absolutely not,” Rhys said. I rolled my eyes. “We find a solution to this and the next week we can plan for the Book.”

“You know I'm leaving if Tamlin doesn't change his mind about a war, you're wasting time.”

He stared hard at me, unyielding. “Fine, suppose we go to Summer tonight. Suppose something goes wrong and they find out, we lose the only ally we have in this. We go to that meeting not only alone but with a new powerful enemy, as if our odds aren't bad already.”

“If I have to go back, then so be it. But I am done with people dying because of me.” My voice broke and my lower lip wobbled, but I managed to school my expression.

“You can't go back.”

You don't have a say,” I got out through gritted teeth. “This is my choice, Rhys, whether you like it or not.”

His nostrils flared and a muscle twitched in his jaw. “Very well. My choice though is to stay.”

I was breathing heavily. “You're a gods-dammed jerk, Rhysand.”

I snatched the book I picked earlier and stormed off.


Cassian and Mor kept me company at dinner. I didn't know where the others had gone to after I left the meeting room made a fury. I found a secluded alcove and began reading the genealogy book until my eyes ached. Still, I found absolutely nothing that was remotely useful to this situation.

Rhysand didn't seek me out and it was Cassian who flew me down to the Townhouse, Mor in tow. They stayed with me the rest of the evening, chatting among themselves, mostly leaving me to my reading.

They said goodbye to me after our shared meal, Mor strongly encouraging me to send for her if I needed something. I promised her I was fine but that I would if I needed her. Only then she left.

And I was alone again. Even though I was exhausted from training with Cassian earlier and my muscles were sore, I felt restless and fidgety. So I sat in front of the fireplace and began reading once more.

But the words didn't seem to register in my head. I still had to sound most of them in my head, still had to reread complete sentences to understand them. It was still good progress, considering where I was months ago. That didn't mean I wasn't frustrated at my slow pace.

I wanted to throw it away. I wanted to throw it at Rhys' head. He deserved it. Who knew, maybe he'd get his priorities straight after that. But Rhys had left me alone for the day, preferring to be wherever it was High Lords went to brood and ignore their housemates.

I leaned back on the couch, my head on its back as I breathed deeply. I should sleep, sleep was good to learning I heard sometime. In the morning I would understand better, these inked words, this mess of High Lords and laws and war.

Eighteen years old Feyre's only worry was to eat that day and not be eaten by wild animals. Twenty years old Feyre had to remember to get out of bed most day and not be swallowed by this new, frightening world she had fallen into.

Maybe I had not left the forest after all, maybe I only walked further than I should have and was now lost and trapped.

Or maybe I needed to sleep and stop indulging in these useless, dark thoughts.

I heard a soft creak of the floor when I was about to get up. I whirled immediatly, not that surprised to find Rhys standing in the foyer.

“And here I thought I had unintentionally kicked you out,” I called from the living room. His steps faltered and he peeked in to see me sitting there.

He arched his eyebrows. “You're still awake.”

“I can't sleep, so I thought that I better do something useful.” I put the book up for him to see. I almost wanted not to, if only so he could not see how little I had read uptil now.

“I was researching, too.”

“Did you find anything?”

He took it as an invitation to join me in the couch, the cushions dipped under his weight. Only when I got to see him closer, I noticed his messy hair. As if he had spent the whole afternoon running his hands through it.

“I don't know, maybe? Just a bunch of jerks whom didn't understand a no. But things weren't so bad before, the females were able to leave if they wished.”

“What changed?”

“Many wars,” he said with a tired tone, “many people believing the females needed to be protected by males, thus the males having ownership of their wives and brides because of their investment in them.”

“That's disgusting,” I whispered.

Rhys nodded.

If someone could pull this card was Tamlin, after taking care of me, of my human family and the all the things he bought me. The things he protected me from. Granted, I was taken by force and I didn't asked to be taken care of. If I had been in danger, it was his fault in the first place. And there were many things he didn't shield me from. He didn't save me from dying, didn't even try.

I owed him nothing and that was that. He did things for me, but I did things for him as well, a great many more than pouring money on my family. I wasn't ungrateful for thinking it, or so I tried to convince myself.

“I feel dumb,” Rhys said suddenly. I startled a little but I raised my brows at him. “I was ready to have you arguing the moment you saw me, if I'm completely honest.”

“You thought I was asleep, didn't you?”

He shrugged one shoulder. “Will you call me a coward if I say that I did?”

I pressed my lips together, though I didn't know if it was because I wanted to smirk or chastise him. “Most definitely.”

His eyes flashed with amusement and he let out a short laugh. But then he sighed and leaned completely on the couch, his shoulders were down and his expression turned somber. I didn't remember the last time I'd seen him this tired.

"You are dumb, you know?” I told him. His violet gaze flicked to me and it was my turn to shrugg. “You really are out there searching information for me when there's a literal war brewing in the horizon. Dumb is too small a word.”

His eyes fluttered. “Here we go again.”

“Rhys, you can't put me above your Court or Prythian.”

Rhys turned his face to me, his gaze so piercing I was tempted to look away. “And you can't put yourself beneath everyone else.”

I had to mask the many emotions that raged inside me at those quiet words. And I was angry again, because he had no right to know me that well, he had no right to strip me bare with only one sentence.

“Like calls to like. You and I are one and the same.” He froze and I had to wonder how often people called him out his bullshit. Certainly not enough if this was his reaction.

“You think I'm a hypocrite for telling you this.”

I scowled. “Hell if I don't.”

His mouth popped open but nothing came. He huffed a laugh and I was about to ask him what was so funny when he reached my face and smoothed my brow. I batted his hand away.

At that, he snorted. “Can we do this tomorrow? I promise you can bite my head off after I have my tea.”

Rhysand.”

Fay-ruh,” he sounded the syllables of my name.

I scooted closer and punched his arm. He groaned dramatically, but maybe all his pain wasn't faked if the surprise he sent through the bond was any indication. I had way too much satisfaction over the fact.

Rhys sighed. “You are so mean to me,” he lamented. “So mean to an old man like me, how evil from you.”

“This is serious,” I muttered angrily.

He sighed again, but this time all playfulness left his body. “I know. I know, Feyre.”

“Then why?”

“Because I care for you,” he breathed, as if he was begging me to understand.

But I didn't. I couldn't think of any valid reason for him to do so, just like I couldn't stop my next words, “I care for you, too.”

It felt like a damnation somehow, to admit it. But it was true. I cared for him, for this family that had half-adopted me, for this place I was growing to love.

“And that's why I don't want you to suffer for me,” I whispered. “And this Court, this city... I am not more important than this.”

Something crumbled in his face. Dared I call it understanding, that I was right in this. And for the first time it occurred to me that this might be troubling him, that maybe he was letting his personal feelings interfere in the matter and he knew.

I wished he comprehended what I could not say. That in this wretched world, this place had been a balm to my bleeding soul. That putting it at risk, that losing it now would shatter me more than being locked up.

Rhys chuckled. “You're being a better High Lord than me right now, you put me to shame.”

“Wherever would you be without me smacking some sense into that thick skull of yours.” I raised an eyebrow. He smiled, but didn't reply. “Is Mor still mad at you?”

At that he grimaced, “You weren't the only reason I kept away this evening.”

“What happened after I left?”

“She was here when we left Adriata, and once she saw you weren't with us, I think she realized what happened.” He breathed heavily. “Amren had to throw wards around the house so she wouldn't winnow to the Spring Court.”

My mouth popped open as I let out a shocked exhale.

“Sometimes I think she loves you more than me,” he laughed a little but it faded a second later. “It wasn't pretty. Amren had to hold her back because she really seemed ready to punch me in the face.”

“Why?”

Rhys rubbed the back of his neck. “Mor is very... protective of the people she cares about. And she has a very soft spot when you are concerned.” My confusion must have shown because he added, “She went through rough shit when she was young, younger than you, even. And it rubs her the wrong way to see you in a situation that it's not unlike hers. She knows what it is like and will do anything in her power to save you that time experience.”

I knew what it was like, the sense of kinship with people that had gone thought the same thing you had. I remembered the water-wraith in the Tithe and how it hadn't been pity what compelled to give her my jewels, but understanding and knowing how I wished someone had reached for me when I needed it.

I peeked at Rhys from the corner of my eyes, he was staring at the fire across from us with a pensive expression.

I wondered if something similar drove Rhys to act like this with me, to help me. I wondered if he, too, wished someone had reached out for him when he was trapped and powerless to help himself.

Nonetheless, I was glad he reached for me when I needed it the most.

Chapter Text

Two days passed, dreadfully slowly and fast at the same time. It'd catch me unaware how frozen time seemed to be and then suddenly I was in bed at night, another day closer to my impending doom.

We found nothing, even as we all focused on it. Nothing helpful, that is. The only thing I learned was that when you messed with a High Lord's possession, you were as good as dead. It was clear whom the other Courts would support, if these history books were any indication.

Rhys said that once he swore he didn't control me, I could sway their opinions if I explained how bad things had been with Tamlin. He said that if I could get Lucien to tell the others it would help a lot. I didn't think I would be able to, but Rhys said that I could just bat my lashes at him and it would be done—a fact that he teased me mercilessly with after I worked up the nerve to ask him if he knew anything about what Lucien confessed me days ago.

His teasing was well-intended, I knew that. It didn't mean I had to like it. But I realized he only brought it up when he noticed my trembling hands and quivering bottom lip—the prick knew exactly what he was doing and I didn't know if I wanted to be mad or grateful for it these days.

And then there was Amren. Where Rhys was encouragment and hopefulness, Amren was blunt and to the point. And didn't fail to remind us how pointless this was, even if she helped. Some part of me wanted to shut her out completely and let myself believe there would be some miraculous answer to this problem. But I knew deep in my heart that Amren was completely was right.

Amren was old, she had seen the rise of the Courts. If someone was familiar with the laws was her and she made it very clear each time she could bring it up.

I wanted to pretend it didn't bother me. But by the Cauldron, it did. I often found myself glowering in her direction. Then I stopped before she noticed it, because I knew deep in my heart I wasn't mad at her but at my own wishful thinking. Her blunt honesty reminded me I was a fool for thinking that something would save me from this.

“Rhys can afford a war,” Cassian told me that morning after training. “The Night Court is the largest territory in Prythian, we can manage. Besides, it seems like you made an ally out of Tarquin. It doesn't hurt that he has an armada and that he's a step away from Spring.”

“You know what's a step away from Spring as well? The Wall. The same wall Hybern is poised to destroy, and once there's no High Lord of Spring, who's to stop him from invading?” Because I knew, I knew the Night Court, mostly left undisturbed in the last fifty years, would win against the scrambling, half-destroyed Spring Court.

And Tamlin wouldn't surrender even if he found himself swarmed by Night Court soldiers, he was stubborn like that. He'd have to die. One of them would have to die to end it. And as much as I talked about the Wall and Hybern, I knew that I didn't agree because I didn't want Tamlin dead. 

Cassian was quiet as we walked to the dining room at the House of Wind. We've been training since I came back, he had been very insisting that I learned self-defense these two last sessions, which I was thankful for.

“Maybe you could go back, hit him hard enough in the head until he gets his bullshit together or until he decides you're more trouble than it's worth it,” he offered, a half-grin gracing his mouth.

I huffed a laugh. “I'll think about it.”

We reached the massive dining room I had first met them all in and took a seat. As usual, Azriel and Mor were already there, both drowning in a book each. They didn't look up as I sat next to Mor.

“Something yet?” I asked.

She sighed while she put a leather bookmark in her book and closed it. “Did you know that a female's powers tend to be more uncontrolled?” I didn't. “That's because they're stronger, but these sorry excuses of males are so petrified of them that they teach them to leash it instead of master it.”

“Seems like a very male thing to do,” I said dryly.

Mor clicked her tongue. “It is, but it's still not very helpful.”

I had to fight the wave of disappointment washing through me. Mor was already doing everything she could, staying awake until high hours of the night. I heard that from Cassian after I noticed her absence. I didn't want her to push herself further even if a part of me screamed not enough, not enough, not enough.

“I really don't know what we're looking for,” Cassian admitted, sitting besides me.

“Precedents,” Azriel said without glancing up. “A loophole in the laws. Anything.”

Cassian didn't say it, but I saw the words in his eyes. A needle in a haystack. Dread was already coiling tightly in my gut.

“Sometimes I wonder if it would be easier if someone just went into his head, rearranged some things...” he went silent at my incredulous look and Mor's glare. He shrugged. “We all think it.”

If the flash of annoyance in Mor's eyes was any indication, she had. Admittedly, I had. Rhys most definitely had. Still, I couldn't believe he seriously proposed that. 

“The easier path is the path of cowards, brother,” Azriel remarked pointedly.

“Maybe I'm just lazy,” Cass shot back.

Mor reached around me and smacked him upside his head, hard. “Maybe you're just an asshole.”

“Perhaps, but I have good ideas from time to time.”

“That's the worst idea you've come up with in the last five hundred years.”

“I wasn't present for those, but I'll have to agree,” I cut in with a grimace, then sighed. “Tamlin already believes I'm a monster as it is. I really don't want to deal with it anymore.”

Whatever easiness in Cassian's demeanor ebbed away at my words. “He called you that?”

I nodded, my lips pressed together. It was not true, he said it himself, but I it still stung. I only hoped they couldn't see that written on my face. 

But if Cassian did, he didn't show. He let out a clipped, short laugh. “A monster,” he repeated. “The prick has a nerve,” he said lowly, but I heard it clearly, heard the anger in his voice. Too much anger, hate even. Older than me. 

“What do you mean?”

“He never told you how he became High Lord, did he?” Mor asked quietly at my other side.

“He told me a rival Court killed his family. Then Rhys told me it had been his father. Why?”

The three of them shared a fleeting glance with each other, before Mor said, “Ask Rhys how he met Tamlin, he'll tell you.” I wanted someone to tell me right now, but I knew Mor wouldn't yield.

Then Amren stormed by, taking our attention to her and the subject was momentarily forgotten. She carried two books she slammed on the table, a couple of seats away from Azriel. Finally, she noticed our staring which she answered with a warning glare before she began devouring her book.

I glanced around Cassian, Mor and Azriel, perhaps a bit relieved that they seemed as clueless as I was. Very well, it was one of those days.

Rhys walked in a few moments later. I was startled by his appearance, his messy hair and tired eyes. He... looked like shit. Not even I looked that bad, and considering I still awoke in the middle of night with sweat covering my body, that was saying something. 

But then again, I had barely seen Rhys these days. According to Azriel, he'd spent all these days holed up in the library underneath the House of Wind and only came out at this time to share what he'd found with us. Sometimes I wished I could drag him out and make him sleep eight hours straight, but when I stood on top of the stairs that would take me there I always hesitated.

“Rhys, you look like shit,” Mor stated as soon as she saw him. Which was true, but the bluntness in her words beloged to Amren.

Still mad, then.

“Why, thank you, Morrigan,” Rhys replied smoothly, unbothered. 

Nothing seemed to bother him these days and that worried me. It was not as if he'd just brushed it off but rather as if... it didn't register. Rhys didn't seem like himself lately, I didn't remember a time I'd seen him so disheveled.

I got up at the same time Rhys sat in his usual seat, and went to the farthest chair available. After we shared anything relevant we found—which was never much—we did some reading together. And even if I could read now, I still felt self-conscious enough to not want neither of them watching me struggle with long words so closely.

“Anything new?” Rhys asked as an opening.

I didn't miss Amren's annoyed huff. Mor seemed very inclined to comment on it, but thankfully, Cassian cut in, “I've been reading about the Peregryn.”

Confusion must have written on my face, because Azriel explained to me, “They are winged people from the Dawn Court, like the Illyrian, but their wings are feathered.”

“Their culture it is very different from ours, though,” Cassian told me. “Their females are considered superior in most circles. Holy even. It caught my attention and I decided to learn more about Dawn Court culture as a whole, and while neither gender is considered superior or stronger, the females are treated remarkably better, in comparison with the rest of the Courts.”

“What does it matter if Feyre is not a Peregryn?” Amren asked, perhaps a bit too harshly.

“That Thesan might not be inclined to support Tamlin if he knows how he treated her,” Cassian replied pleasantly. I think the fact he didn't raise to the bait irked Amren more than she let on.

Rhys hummed. “It's something to consider.”

“Dawn is a neutral Court,” Amren said. “There is no guarantee they take a side. Same with Winter and Day, good friends with Helion or not. They are still recovering from Amarantha to help you with it.”

“And what have you found, Amren?” Mor seethed.

“Absolute bullshit, that's what,” the small female spat. “I've told you, this is point—”

“If you don't care to help us, get out. You're not helping matters.”

I tensed. 

There was a gleam in Amren's unearthly eyes, something dangerous. “Blinding yourselves to the facts doesn't either.” She shot a glance in my direction and those eyes became less unyielding, more open. “Go ahead and hate me for it, Morrigan. But Feyre needs to hear it and none of you is going to tell her.”

Rhys and Mor stiffened at the same time, I'd wonder at it, if I wasn't so busy despairing. Because she was right and we were fools, and I should have pushed Rhys for the Book of Breathings. 

“What can we do, then?” I asked as evenly as I could, but my voice was shaky.

Her silence was answer enough.

Nothing. I could do nothing. They could do nothing. The week would be up and I'd have to go to live with Tamlin. I would have to marry him at some point and give him heirs. Ianthe would encourage it, if only to see me being miserable. And Lucien would try to make it better while no one else was looking, but it wouldn't be enough. 

I opened my book on a random page and tried to read it, so I couldn't focus on my shaking hands and the hole that was opening underneath my feet. But the words merged together and I couldn't understand. I couldn't understand when things got so fucked up. 

I hid my face between my hands, pulling at the roots of my hair. Breathe. If I could only just breathe.

“Feyre?” Mor called, voice laced with worry.

I stood, throwing my chair back perhaps a bit too harshly. I moved to one of the windows and watched outside, to the mountains beyond. “Amren is right,” I whispered. “This is pointless.”

A chair scraped on the floor, light steps came closer. When I turned, Mor stood in front of me, quiet rage shining in her eyes. “Don't listen to her,” she whispered, loud enough for only me to hear it. “She doesn't know what she's talking about.”

“Doesn't she?” I breathed. “Isn't she old enough to know these things? To know this is hopeless?” I clenched my hands tight.

Mor didn't answer. I closed my eyes and took one deep breath—one breath, that's all I gave me to hold myself together. When I opened them again, I had to fill them with a determination I did not feel.

I walked past Mor, not daring to look at her. No, my attention tunneled out to the High Lord still on the table. Rhys watched me warily as I came to stand beside him.

“Teach me how to break wards,” was all I said.

He blinked. “What?”

“Stop... this, go home and teach me how to break wards.” My lower lip wobbled, but I clenched my jaw.

I knew what would happen the second I put a foot in the Spring Court. Something crumbled in his face as he understood as well. “Feyre—”

Don't. Don't look at me like I'm someone you can't save. I don't need you to, Rhys. What I need is that you to teach me so I can do it myself.”

Silence. He was silent and I wanted to roar at him, at Mor, at Tamlin. At this blasted world I had been thrown into. 

“Breathe,” he finally said.

I had enough. “I don't want to breathe,” I hissed. “I want a chance to run when he locks me up, again.” My voice cracked at the end.

My heart was hammering a way out of my chest and my eyes burned with unshed tears. Someone was choking me, gripping my neck so tight I couldn't get air in.

Please.”

Please. That was what I said that day when I begged to be left out. And then I was trapped, and I couldn't get out. 

I heard a muffled curse nearby, but when I tried to find where it came from, I found nothing, nothing but darkness all around me. Darkness like my cell Under the Mountain.

Amarantha was dead. Amarantha was dead and she couldn't torture me. She was dead. She was dead. But Tamlin would lock me up, just like she had. Forever. Until I was so broken I wouldn't even try to run, to end it. He—

A small, delicate hand gripped my chin and made me look down. Silver eyes stared up at me, glowing in the darkness. “Leash it,” Amren demanded. “You own it, not the other way around.”

I shook my head. “I don't know how,” I croaked. 

“Imagine it like a spool you dropped, you have to pick it up and reel the thread,” she instructed, her tone wasn't unkind but it wasn't soft either.

I was shaking badly. But I listened to her and did as she told me. I rallied the dregs of my energy and sucked the powers in, within myself. Suddenly, I could feel the sunlight, see the massive dining room, hear the complete silence around me.

Amren still held my face, still watched me, assessing. “He will lock me up again,” I said in hoarse whisper. 

Her delicate features turned to ice, her brows dipped and a small snarl left her throat. “No, he won't.”

She stepped back, to look at Rhys instead who stood closer to me than he was before. “Tell her,” she commanded. Rhys froze, his eyes widened. And through our bond—fear. The likes of which I'd never feel from him. But if Amren noticed, she did not care. “Tell her the truth.”

I heard Cassian curse. My attention went to him, his jaw was slacked. Even Azriel had paused, froze. And Mor—oh, she was pissed.

She stormed towards us—towards Amren and she pushed her back, away from me. I stopped breathing as Amren bared her teeth. But Mor did not back down.

“You are overstepping,” Mor hissed, taking another step closer. They were face to face. She looked frightening, towering over Amren with a wild anger written clearly on her face.

But Amren didn't cower. She merely answer, “She has a right to know.”

“It's not your place, it's not your call,” Mor said with a quiet venom.

At that, Amren bared her teeth again. “You weren't there to see her shaking like a gods-dammed leave in winter when she left with that murdering piece of filth.

“We were trapped for fifty years and we would have been for many more if it wasn't for her, do not think I will allow her to be as trapped as we were.” A look at Rhys. “Even worse.”

“What are you talking about?” I didn't understand, I didn't understand.

“Rhysand knows a solution to this problem he hasn't told you yet.” My mouth fell open as my gaze fell on him. “One in which Tamlin wouldn't have a right to claim a war anymore, or you.”

A solution he hadn't told me about yet. Something Amren and Mor knew. Something he kept from me.

My heart throbbed painfully in my chest.

This—I knew this feeling. It's what I felt when Lucien didn't save me from the Naga, it's what I felt when Tamlin locked me up. Betrayal, so hideous and filthy and low. 

“What is she talking about,” I said. Demanded.

Rhys lowered his face, his body tensed like he was ready to run. Run away from me. He'd only done that once, in that balcony Under the Mountain.

Rhys.”

“Can you leave Feyre and I alone?” he said finally, not meeting anyone's eyes. His voice was thick with an emotion I couldn't place.

I felt the rest of the Inner Circle focus on me, shocked. Almost gwaking. Cassian was looking between me and Rhys, Azriel was downright staring at his High Lord. 

But Mor cut in before I could let my own panic and pain get the better of me. “Let's go,” she commanded, no room for argument.

They moved, whatever surprise washed away by Mor's order. Amren didn't look at me again as she left, but Mor gave me a worried glance before she walked out of the room, the Illyrian farther into the hall beyond.

I listened to their fading steps until even my Fae hearing couldn't pick the sound anymore.

I focused on Rhys again. “Start talking.”

He clenched and unclenched his hands, his stare put wholly on the table, not on me. Never on me. I wanted to call him a coward, I wanted to demand answers. But I waited, waited until he began speaking and then I wished he hadn't.

“I am your mate,” he said softly. 

For a moment, I had the distinct feeling I was dreaming. Because of course I must be. A human girl, a poor human girl, who went into Prythian to find her mate—a gods-dammed High Lord. Those Children of the Blessed's bullshit was rubbing off me. It had to. I had to be still asleep. I had surely slept in and I needed to get up because I needed to hunt food for that day.

I had to wake up.

But as I stared and stared at Rhys, I realize that this was real. 

Mates.

Some part of me knew it to be true, some deep, buried part of me just knew. But couldn't manage to process it, to accept it.

I laughed, because I didn't know what else to do with myself. “That's impossible,” I laughed again. “That isn't true.”

Slowly, his gaze reached mine, so full of sorrow. “It is.”

I knew that. I knew that a bargain couldn't be this powerful, no drop of power that could let me past his shields without me wanting to go in. And the jealousy, the inability to stay away. I knew.

I laughed once more and then I stopped. I was dizzy, there wasn't enough air going to my lungs, my brain. There wasn't enough in the world for me to breath.

Mate.

Mate.

Rhys was my mate.

And Mor knew. Amren knew.

“How long—” I choked on my own tongue “—have you known?”

He looked away, as if it pained him to see me. “Feyre—”

“A month ago? Two? My wedding day?”

“Since I met you.”

I was almost as if he struck me in the chest with a spear of his power. I staggered back and half turned, one hand pressed tighly against my chest where I felt an old would ripping open again.

I had my reasons to be out then. Do not think, Feyre, that it did not cost me.

My mind was trying to piece itself back together, all these little facts that I had overlooked. That he had oh, so cleverly worded so they didn't seem meaningful. Too much, too much.

“Say something,” he whispered at me. He begged.

“Why didn't you tell me?”

I hoped for an answer, one that wouldn't leave me feeling like he was cleaving me in half. But Rhys stayed quiet, and the more I waited, the more I realize that answer did not exist.

My lower lip wobbled, but I pressed my mouth into a firm line. “Why didn't you tell me.”

“Because—because I was afraid.”

“Ah.” Where had I heard that one before? 

“Because if she'd known, she would've—the things she would've done to you—”

“She died six months ago.”

“And you loved him, you were going to marry him.” Until he crashed the wedding. Until I said no. “And then everything happened, and you are still healing and I thought it was selfish to push a mating bond on you. I thought—”

“You thought I couldn't handle it,” I said flatly, looking straight ahead. “You thought, you were afraid, you couldn't. You, you, you! It's all about you, isn't it?”

“No, Feyre, I—”

“It's always about what you males want, what you think it's right for me.” Tears sprung to my eyes again, searing my cheeks as they fell. “It's all about you,” I whispered.

“Don't. Stop comparing.”

I whirled to him. “I thought you were different. I thought I could trust you.” Rhys flinched, like I had struck him. Good, that's what I felt too.

“I am nothing like him.”

“Aren't you, though?” I said, my voice vicious and my words poisonous. “I shouldn't—I shouldn't be surprised. Of course you wouldn't tell me!” I let out a bitter laugh. “Why would you tell me anything at all when it's better to keep me in dark altogether, right? Who needs Feyre to know things anyway.”

“Feyre, please—”

I stormed to him. I barely reached his chin but that didn't stop me from smacking his chest, burning tears falling from my eyes. “Why? Why?”

“Because I love you and I'm a coward, and I'm selfish, and I didn't want you to run away,” he screamed. His own voice wavering. “Because I had to hear how you wished the mating bond snapped into place between him and you. Because I never know what is going through your head and I feel like I'm one move again from making you see what kind of monster I am. And I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.”

He loved me.

I recoiled away from him.

He loved me.

Mate.

My mate.

I stepped back, slowly. Like a frightened animal staring at the hunter. Rhys noticed it and his expression shattered, the same way something inside me shattered. He opened his mouth, likely to call my name, but I shook my head.

“I need to get out of here,” I breathed.

And I ran out the door, tears falling freely from my eyes. I thought I heard sobs behind me, but my own drowned them so throughly I couldn't hear anything else.

I reached the training ring. I hated the sunlight, I hated that my skin felt warm when I was so hollowed out and cold inside. But the others were there. I didn't care that they stopped talking as soon as they saw me and my wet face.

I went to Cassian. “Get me out of here,” I whispered.

He didn't hesitate to pick me up and launch us to the sky. I hid my face in his chest, more tears falling as I left the House of Wind and my mate behind.


Cassian couldn't winnow, or it wasn't an ability that came easy to him. So he flew us all the way to a beach miles away from Velaris. He didn't say a word to me, didn't ask, didn't pry. But he stayed with me.

We sat on the sand, the chill wind whipping my hair this way and that. My tears had dried a while back, the flight clearing my head. The distance... it made it better. As if my problems couldn't reach me here. 

“I didn't learn to swim until I was thirty,” Cassian said suddenly.

“Really?” I said quietly.

“Yeah. In the Illyrian mountains it's a death warrant to go swimming and I was old when I came here to Velaris, so it took a while.”

“I learnt when I was twelve,” I told him. “It was terrifying and almost drowned myself a couple of time, but I managed.”

You taught yourself?” He sounded flabbergasted, I nodded. “Damn, Feyre, you're tough. Mor had to push me to the deeper side and I had Az flying above me like a vulture in case I drowned. He actually had to pull me out once.”

I snorted. “You Illyrians are just over-grown babies,” I muttered. “What is it like swimming with the wings?”

“Faster. It's a damn shame they don't teach that in the Illyrian camps.”

Indeed.

I was about to reply something when someone winnowed behind us. I knew because I sensed the power. I tensed all over, but when I glanced over my shoulder, it was Mor standing there. I was still taunt like a bowstring, but at least it wasn't Rhys.

She looked at Cassian. “You can go,” she said. 

But Cassian didn't move, he only looked at me with raised brows. I nodded, only then did he stood and took flight.

“I didn't realize I was being babysat,” I muttered once he was out earshot.

“You aren't.” Mor sat down with me, in the same spot Cassian had been in. “It's freezing here.”

“It's not that bad.”

“Your nails are turning purple.” She gestured with her chin to my hands that held my legs close to my chest. “If you were human you'd be on your way to hypothermia.”

“I'm not human anymore,” I told her, perhaps a bit too harshly.

“I know,” she conceded quietly.

“What do you want, Mor?”

“You weren't back yet and I was worried.”

“I was with Cassian.”

She snorted lowly. “That isn't very calming.” I didn't answer. “You don't want to see him, do you?”

Yes. No. I wanted to yell at him some more. I wanted to cry. “Maybe it's for the best I don't,” I answered instead. 

“He's at the House of Wind,” she told me. “He'll stay there if you want to go to the Townhouse. He won't bother you.” I turned to her, brows raised. “But if you don't want to be there, I have an apartment the other side of the Sidra no one knows about. Or we could go there, I let you shove him off one window and then we go away.” She gave me one crooked grin, full of mischief but also full of understanding. 

I looked forward again, to sea. I let my chin rest at the top of my knees. “Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why are you helping me?”

“Because many decisions have been taken from you and I find that unacceptable.” She sighed. “And because you are a friend.”

“Because I'm his mate?”

Mor remained silent for a moment, opening and closing her mouth before cringing a little bit. “I'll admit that I might have not been as... welcoming to you when I met you. You were his fiancé after all and—the story between our families is long and it doesn't matter now. The point is I might have been wary of you when you first came, but no, you being his mate has nothing to do with the fact that I like you. Cassian and Azriel didn't know until today, so don't think it is because of that either.”

I was stunned into silence. Mor chuckled, but didn't say anything.

I sighed. “Why did he tell you?” Why did he tell you and not me? 

“I don't think he planned to,” she began quietly. “Those were his first words to me, after fifty years without seeing him. 'She's my mate.' He was—I'd never seen him so panicked. He'd told me all of it. And I was mad because he'd said your name before he told me he missed me.” She chuckled again.

That happened after our talk Under the Mountain, when he stumbled away from me. Was that when it snapped for him? He had looked shocked. But he'd told me he knew since Calanmai and—

“And Amren?” I asked, because my mind was starting a cycle of madness I was not ready to get into. 

“She's got a keen sense for these things, I think she smelled it off you when she met you.” I remembered that first dinner, when she'd sniffed me and her eyes lit with surprise. And Rhys had nodded. The bastard. “For what is worth it, it wasn't her place to do what she did. Even is she was right about you needing to know. It just... it wasn't the way.”

No, it definitely hadn't. “Would he have told me, though?”

Her gaze hardened. “Yes. I would have made him.”

“This is why you were mad at him, isn't it?”

She cringed, but nodded.

“I don't want to stay at the Townhouse,” I told her.

She grinned. “Then come stay with me. It'll be like a sleepover.”

“I never had one of those.”

“Me neither!”

I couldn't help but snort.


Mor's apartment was exactly how I thought it be. Elegant in its messiness. There were papers everywhere, books sitting on every available surface. 

“You mean to tell me no one knows about this place?” I asked as I looked around.

“Maybe Azriel,” she told me from the kitchen, “but he's too polite to come here without an invitation. So he pretends he doesn't.”

That sounded about right. I sat on the couch, my hands on my lap and waited until Mor came back with two glasses and a bottle of wine. So it was that kind of evening. But I didn't complain as she filled one for me.

I drank deeply. “Thank you.”

“It's okay,” she said softly as she drank as well.

I felt the shift in her and I had to roll my eyes. “Don't start.”

She raised her free hand. “I said nothing.”

“Sure you didn't.”

She stayed quiet and I did as well. We drank half the bottle like that. I hadn't consumed faerie wine since I was human and I was still half-surprised I wasn't drunk yet. I thought about the Summer solstice, about those nights Under the Mountain when only a goblet was enough to knock me down. Simpler days indeed. 

“I hated him,” I said, staring at the bottle on the low table. Mor didn't say anything. “He did many things to ensure that.”

“Do you still hate him?”

“I wish I never stopped.”

What I wished was that I hadn't been so stupid as to trust him in the first place. Maybe then I wouldn't be feeling like the stitches on my soul had been torn open.

“He had to flirt with Cressida, you know? I was so jealous.” I chuckled. “I guess it makes sense. I don't know. How does it even work? I'll go insane with jealousy each time a female gets close? Am I—stuck with it?”

“With the mating bond?”

“With this confusion with everything regarding him. Is it the bond or is it me? How do I know where the line is? How does he? He said—he said he loved me.”

I groaned. 

Gods, Rhys loved me. And I had—whatever it was I felt for him. Gratefulness or attraction or more. I didn't know and it was driving me crazy.

“A mating bond does not mean love,” she said softly.

I winced even if I tried not to.

Love. Tamlin loved me too and he locked me up. And Rhys, he'd kept this from me. Out of fear, selfishness, it didn't really matter in the end. He still hid it and I wasn't sure if that was something I could forgive easily.

“You don't have to accept it, you know that, right?”

“Isn't it supposed to be some sacred gift from the Cauldron?”

“It is, finding you someone who is your equal when there's so many people in this world.” She waved a hand.“But only if you want it. If you both want it. Besides, you were human, if someone decided to not worry about faerie things it should be you.”

I took a sip of wine, then sighed. “What if no one believes it? What if the others think it's him still controlling me?”

Rhys was powerful enough to make someone believe it. That stressed me out. Not because I worried he had done that to me—I knew he wouldn't—but because I was supposed to be his equal and I didn't know what that meant.

“He will swear it, you know? That he doesn't and won't ever control you.”

I wave of exhaustion hit me. My shoulders slumped and my eyes felt heavy. “I want to sleep,” was my only answer.

Nevermind it was barely eight. Mor, Cauldron bless her, didn't call me out on it and simply showed me my temporary new room. It wasn't anything too luxurious, but it had a big bed and for all I cared, I was in heaven.

“There are old clothes in the closet, use anything you want,” she explained. “My room is the one at the end of the hallway if you need anything.”

I nodded. Mor's only goodbye was to squeeze my shoulder and to give me a small, sad smile. Then I was alone again.

Alone and in silence, the day's event caught up with me and hit me over and over again. I sat on the edge of the bed, not being able to focus on nothing in front of me.

Mate.

I had a mate. Rhys, High Lord of the Night Court, was my mate. The male I hated for a long time, who I believed was my enemy. Who I began to consider a friend. I didn't know how I was supposed to feel, or to act now. I ran from him today, after he told me—gods.

I hated this whole situation. But mostly, I hated that I didn't know what to do next. I felt like I had been thrown into the wild sea in the middle of a storm. I felt powerless, and small, and angry at my helplessness. I couldn't do nothing against the waves pulling me under, nothing but to be dragged to the seafloor.

And I cried. I cried because I could do nothing, becuae I felt like a child wanting to be an adult. I cried because I wanted parents that I didn't have, that couldn't keep me safe from the horrors of the world. I cried for the sisters that wouldn't soothe me after my nightmares, that wouldn't wipe my tears and tell me everything was going to be okay.

I cried because I wanted to go home and I didn't know what that was anymore. 

Chapter Text

My eyes were bloodshot the next morning, but Mor didn't mention it when I went out to have breakfast with her. She didn't say nothing for a stretch of time, actually. We only stared at each other. I was getting ready to bolt back to my room, when I noticed she was not looking at me, but at the clothes I had chosen.

A stripped, high waisted pants with a tucked in long-sleeved shirt in the same desing. The only thing that actually fit me, in fact.

“Uh, I hope you don't mind,” I began awkwardly. “It was the only thing my size.” 

In normal circumstances we were actually very close in size, but considering that my body still hadn't recovered from how I mistreated back at the Spring Court. 

My discomfort seemed to be enough to snap her out of it. Whatever that was about. “Oh, yeah. I just—uh, I didn't realize those were there. It caught me by surprise, that's all."

“These don't look like you at all,” I commented, trying my best not to narrow my eyes at her. 

Her eyes widened and her cheeks flushed. “Well, I have to change my style every century.” I eyed her suspiciously. She went on regardless. “I've actually been thinking to dye my hair another color, or cut it.” 

And just like that, she redirected the conversation elsewhere and her weird behavior fell to the back of my mind as I heard her talk about the many hairstyles she was torn over. 

“I don't know, maybe black or brown, or white. What do you think?” 

“Not red,” I muttered.

Her face turned grim. “I know.” 

I didn't know why, but I said, “It was hard for me, those first months, to be near Lucien.” 

“I understand.” 

“Maybe a golden-brown?” I offered. 

“Like yours?” 

I shrugged. “Maybe a little darker.” 

“Now that's an idea!” 

We finished our meal in no time, Mor carrying most of the conversation while I tried to pay attention—and failed as I kept on spacing out. The same thing replaying in my head over and over, a thought that kept me awake for hours. 

She noticed, of course, and was done with being ignored. “Alright, what is it?” 

“Nothing.” 

She arched a perfect brow. “You're ignoring me for nothing? That's harsh.” 

“Maybe.” It was obvious she didn't buy one bit of my bullshit and she let me know in the unimpressed stare she focused on me. 

A beat of silence passed through us, and I gave up. Mor knew when not to press and when to, and this seemed the latter.

“I need you to be completely honest with me, okay?” 

Her expression acquired a sense of seriousness I didn't like but that I needed right now. She nodded.

“What are the chances of us winning against Tamlin without—without revealing we are…”

I couldn't let myself finish that sentence. 

Mor didn't answer. Her face closed up too quickly for me to tell what could be going on through her head and her eyes glinted, like a kid figuring out a complicated puzzle. 

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, she sighed and put up a business face. It was hard to remember sometimes, that she was Third, that just as Amren, she also knew how to navigate these political waters that I was drowning in.

“Tamlin's fears are not... completely misplaced.” It pained her to say it, I noticed, but she continued, “The Night Court has a reputation. And… well, it's not so far-fetched that he thinks Rhys is controlling you.” 

My throat felt tight when I asked, “And after he swears he doesn't?” 

“There are many ways you can get someone to do what you want to,” she said softly. “And we all are very skilled when it comes to it.” 

“But he doesn't have any—” I cursed under my breath, the realization dawning upon me like a bucket of freezing water. “My sisters.” 

Mor nodded grimly. 

“So the chances—” 

“Aren't good,” she completed for me.

I slumped back in my chair. “The only way to avoid a war is if we reveal we are mates,” I repeated in a whisper. Any more loudly and it sounded just too real.

“There might be some maneuvering to do,” she offered. “But the odds are not in our favor in this one.” 

My breath caught in my throat. I didn't look at her, because the compassion in her eyes might as well break me. “I have to think about it,” I mumbled. 

“I'll leave you to it, then.” She stood. “I have to attend some business and stuff, but I'll be back for dinner. We are at the other side of the city, so it should be safe to go out if you need to.” 

“Alright.” 

“See you later.” I didn't bother answering and waited until Mor winnowed out.

I let my head fall to the table with a loud thump.


I told Mor I would “think about it”.

I did nothing of the sort.

After trying to distract myself from the mess my life had become in such a short period of time—and failing—I decided I was brave enough to take a walk. There was always the anxiety of hearing the flapping of wings that made me look over my shoulders constantly. A stupid fear, I told myself. If Rhysand was stupid enough to seek me out, I could just tell him off and he would leave. He wouldn't push himself on me like that. I trusted him that much. 

I thought you were different , I told him yesterday. It was meant to hurt him. It was also a lie. 

He'd leave me alone if I asked, just like he'd left me alone those first three months after Under the Mountain, and all those nights with Tamlin, when my mind was unprotected… 

I huffed a breath.

So much for not thinking about it.

Mor said the truth, though. I was in a very far, very unknown part of Velaris and I couldn't decide if I was relieved or scared I would get lost.

I walked aimlessly for a while, content to let the calling of vendors and the smell of spices drown out the rest of my turbulent thoughts. People's gaze didn't linger, didn't know what was going on outside this city. Not anything concerning me, at least. Out here I could pretend I was just another average person, doing whatever it is average people do. 

I was happy doing just that, until someone fell into step with me, almost making me jump out of my skin. Not because of the suddenness, but because of the wing-shaped shadows casted upon the ground. 

I snapped my head up, but it was just Cassian. 

“Son of a—” I growled. “What the fuck? Are you following me?” I hissed, mindful of the strangers around us.

The prick had the nerve to raise his eyebrows at me, looking for all the world like he couldn't understand why I was startled. “Why, Feyre, this is where I come to buy clothes.” 

“I didn't realize people sold Illyrian leathers in Velaris,” I remarked flatly. 

He waved a hand, not bothering to dignify an answer. I groaned, but dragged him away from the stares that followed his appearance and the wide eyes my name caused. So much for not being noticed. 

“So here's where she hides,” he commented, almost conversationally, as if he tried to steer me off course.

And damn him, it worked.

“I have no idea what you're talking about,” I said curtly. That earned me a chuckled.

“You could be a great courtier someday, but that day ain't today.” 

“What do you want?” I finally snapped. I was so not in the mood for this.

“A fight with His Prickly Highness and you think you can weasel out of training?” He raised a brow. “Absolutely not.” 

I blinked at him as I realized it hadn't occurred to me that I had to train, out of all things. It sounded ridiculous to spend a couples of hours training with Cassian, with everything else was going on. That bit of routine certainly didn't fit with the chaotic mess that was my life these days 

“Right now? You want to train right now?” 

I couldn't keep the disbelief out of my voice. Cassian only shrugged. 

“It's not about what I want as much as what you need.” 

“And what is that?” I was getting tired already. 

“You tell me.” 

“What does that even mean?” 

He was silent before he spoke. “It means that if you need to stay in bed for a few hours or days, that's fine. Or if you need to only walk around, that's fine, too. But if you need to blow some steam or to tire yourself before going to sleep, I'm here to help you.” 

I was robbed of a reply, gaping like a fish out of the water. Which I kind of was. I squinted at him, at the open and careless demeanor, wondering what he could gain from it. 

Nothing at all, I realized. He'd go out of his way… for me? 

I didn't let any of that show on my face, instead choosing to consider his offer, the knowing gleam in his honest eyes that came with it. Like he was aware just how bad I needed to get out when things overwhelmed me. 

“Tell me you aren't meddling for him,” was all I said. 

It was met with a frown. “No, never with that. I know you don't want to talk or see him, and he won't go up there if you're at the House. But if you don't want to be there either, we can find somewhere else to train.” 

“Are you sure?” I asked in a too small voice. Rhys would leave me alone if I asked, but it was a situation I rather avoid altogether. 

“Yes.”

“Promise me,” I demanded, my voice unyielding. 

His face hardened as he understood what this was. A show of trust. I trusted him and trusted that his world would remain true. He nodded once. 

“I promise.” 

“I don't have any clothes, though.” 

He offered me a hand, a small smile grazing his lips. “I think I can figure something out.” 


The twins, it turned out, were up at the House of Wind and were the reason I got to wear my usual training clothes. Likely brought from the Townhouse. Likely were my—mate was right now, likely aware of where I was. I resolved not to dwell on that. 

“You look like yourself again,” he said to me when I met him again in the courtyard.

“Those weren't so bad. I rather liked them, actually.” 

Cassian snickered. “I'm surprised she let you wear that. I would've thought she'd been dressing you up until you ran away from her.” 

“What does that mean?” 

“It means Mor needs more females friends.” 

“I've got the feelings she could convince you to be her doll if she wanted to,” I said dryly.

Cassian chuckled. “Certainly. She's convincing like that.” 

Something in the amused twinkle in his gaze told me there was more to it that just putting Cassian in ridiculous dresses, but he made me run laps around the courtyard as a warm-up and I forgot to pry.

Once he deemed me warmed up, he picked up the sparring pads. It was one of those days, then.

“He can't touch you,” Cassian told me as I wrapped my hands. “But his guards can. And as a fool as he is, Tamlin knows strategy. He will make sure his guards are trained against daemati, so compelling them might be out of the question.” I... hadn't thought about that. I hadn't even thought about going back, after yesterday. “And even then, you should never rely on your powers alone. Not that I'm against you setting those pricks on fire.” 

How do you set something a little on fire? 

I shook my head to clear it, then nodded at Cassian. “So punches it is.” 

“A good punch can be as distracting as setting the person's hair on fire. So yeah, punches it is. For now.” 

I didn't mind.

I began throwing one-two punches. Only when my arms started to burn I realized he hadn't told me how many before we moved to something else. This prick.

“So, when you punch this hard, whose face you imagine?” he asked after a while.

Tamlin's or Rhysand's.

“You have two punching pads, don't you?” I gave him a pointed look, and he shut up. He let me exhaust myself without another word.


It took us longer than usual to finish it up, and when we did, I could barely walk, barely do anything more than to plop down on one armchair. Cassian passed me a bottle of water, he wasn't even winded. But at least there was sweat on his forehead. I would take whatever I got.

“You did good today,” he said. As he had this whole week. I told him as much, and he chuckled. “Well, you've been doing good the whole week.” 

“Thanks.” 

“Nonsense, that's all you. You are a pretty good student.” 

“Doesn't hurt that I have a pretty good teacher.” 

“I aim to please.” He bowed at the waist and when that got him an eyeroll, he snorted. His face, however, turned serious a moment later. “You look tired.” 

“We just finished training.” Our most gruesome session so far. “You don't exactly go easy on me.”

He gave me a half grin that left as soon as it came. “True. But I didn't mean it like that.” 

Ah, so there he was going. I groaned. “You're worse than Mor.”

These busybodies would be the death of me.

Cassian put his hands up, showing his palms. “Hey, I'm just saying that if you need to talk it out with someone, I'm all ears. Or if you want to rant. Or if you want me to sit here in silence. Whatever you need, Feyre.” 

I wanted to tell him not to bother with me, that I was okay. But he seemed so earnest and his claim surprised me so bad that my defenses crumbled for a moment. I found myself wanting to pour everything out, to tell him how lost I felt. 

It must be nice, I thought to myself, having him as the older sibling I never had. And then I shut my mouth without realizing I had opened it to begin with. 

Cassian wasn't my brother. He was Rhys'.

“I'm fine,” I said instead. 

Fine was my favorite lie these days, it seemed.

I think he was going to call me out on it, but Amren saved me from it by walking up to us. “Good, you're here,” she said by way of greeting. 

Cassian lifted a brow. “Need anything, sweet Amren?” 

“I was talking to Feyre.” 

“You need me?” I spluttered. 

Amren scoffed. “Of course not. You said you wanted to learn how to break wards and I can help you.” She shrugged. “Do you still want to?” 

I was so startled I could barely answer, “I—yes. Yes, I do.” 

“Come, then.” 

Amren turned on her heels and went inside the House, not looking back to see if I followed. For a moment I didn't, too stunned by her offer. It was Cassian who pushed my shoulder and brought me back from my surprise, cocking his head to where Amren had disappeared. 

I was on my feet a second later, uttering a quick goodbye and following Amren with my still shaky knees.


Mor was eating when I arrived at the apartment. She gave me a once-over and grinned mischievously. “Rough day?” I only had energy to nod once and to sit down across from her despite my screaming muscles. I was so tired it was a wonder my eyes remained open. “Eat something before sleeping.” She snapped her fingers and a plate appeared in front of me.

I dug in without a word. Training with Cassian had left me exhausted, but it was actually Amren who had drained me. Which shouldn't be surprising. Putting wards up and tearing them down was hard, and Amren wasn't a lenient teacher exactly. 

“Cassian tracked me down this morning and took me to the House of Wind,” I told her, weary and all. 

She blinked once. “He came here?” 

“No, I was out. But... it's likely that he knows the apartment is in this area, I'm sorry.” I winced a little, but that might just be my protesting body. Gods, I needed to sleep. Desperately. 

She waved a hand. “It's nothing. I'll just find somewhere else. It's a game we've been playing for centuries.”

I rested my head on my hand, munching absentmindedly. “Why do you do it?” 

“Having a secret place?” I hummed something that sounded like a yes. My vision was blurring at the edges, but I fought to stay awake. Mor chuckled. “Wouldn't you like to know?” 

I might have mumbled something along the lines of actually, I would. But my eyes were shutting fast, to what Mor only chuckled again. “I think that's enough. Let's get you to bed.” 

She took my hand and tugged until I was standing, the sole reason I remained upright was the hand tightening on my arm. I barely felt us winnow to my room, barely registered the snap of her fingers that changed my clothes for pajamas. It was so soft and inviting. 

I think Mor helped me lay down and put the covers on me, but I couldn't tell for sure. I was fast asleep a second later.


Next morning I couldn't move. Even blinking was an effort. By the Mother, everything hurt. I had to fight myself to at least sit on the bed. 

I groaned, but I was determined to talk Cassian's ear off about not letting me pushing myself like that ever again. What had he been thinking in letting me do something like this? 

I was stiff and sore all over, but I made it to the table. Granted, I almost whimpered as I sat down and my face was pinched with agony. Mor, who had been in the kitchen, peeked with a amused smile.

“A little bit sore?” 

“Nothing I can't handle,” I answered tightly. 

Mor disappeared. When she came back she had a tin in her hands that I prayed was for the soreness. She tossed it at me and by some miracle I managed to catch it midair, causing both mine and Mor's brows to arched. My arm, however, cried out at the sudden movement.

“Nice reflexes,” she told me. “That's for the pain.” 

“Thanks.” 

Mor waved a hand, like it was nothing, and then went to the kitchen again. She brought two plates with her, one she set down in front of me and the other across from me. She then brought two cups of something steaming.

“I made this,” she announced, “but I'm under no illusion that I'm a decent cook, so feel free to spit it if you need to. But please don't break my heart.” 

“I'll see what I can do.” 

Honestly, the scrambled eggs weren't half bad and there wasn't much Mor could ruin. Cheese, bread and salad. The tea, though. It had too much water, but I gulped it down. 

Mor, though, was only able to take a sip before she gagged and set her cup down. “That was horrible.” 

“It's not that bad.” 

“You liar.” 

My lips curled up. “I would have figured it out that after five hundred years you would know how to cook, if I'm being honest.” 

“We are all helpless in a kitchen. The twins are a blessing,” she admitted. “Amren, I get it. But the rest? Pathetic.” 

I took another sip. I convinced myself I was drinking... flavored water. “You are included in that group.” 

“Excuse you, I'm the leader of that group,” she stated proudly, her chin held high. “Maybe I'll try to get them to learn as a family hobby. Cauldron knows we need it. What about you, though?” 

“Me? Completely hopeless.” 

“Then you should join us.” 

My smile faded. I focused on my plate again and swallowed. “Considering I stay around.” 

“Don't think like that,” she said softly.

“It's what it is.” 

“We're still trying, you know? To do it legally, without bringing the mating bond up.” I hid my wince at her blantant mention of it. 

“Why bother? I already have an out, if I really want it.” I shrugged, picking at the salad with my fork.

“There are many reasons for not wanting to accept a mating bond and whatever they are, they're yours and yours only. We will still help you. You don't want to accept it, that's fine.” 

You don't want to accept it.

The words hit me like stones to my face. Because... because I never considered that I could accept it. Or reject it. Mor must have picked it up because she asked, “Do you?” 

“What?” I managed to mumble. My tongue felt leaden in my mouth. “Do I what?” 

“You don't want to accept it, do you?” 

There were many things I could have said, but words evaded me. So I said nothing, because I had no answer.

Didn't I? Did I? The truth was that I didn't know. I had no idea if I was ready to bound myself to someone, even if that person was Rhys. Especially if it was him. But we were kind of stuck together already. I was working with him to stop Hybern after all and I—I had no other place in Prythian.

So even if we pulled this thing off, I still had to stay with him. But to be his mate…

Mor took pity of me and didn't push it, but my head couldn't stop spinning and spinning. She stood, a sympathetic smile on her lips. “I have to go. See you at dinner?” 

“Sure,” I muttered.

“Tell Cassian to leave you in one piece.” 

“I'll try,” I said. 

With that, she winnowed.

I leaned back and I didn't move for a long while.


The hours passed and I still didn't move. My legs and ass ached from sitting for so long. The watered down tea had gone cold ages ago, the plates on the table were sticky with the leftovers I supposed I had to wash. 

I had to get up. 

But the hours kept passing, and I didn't.


Someone knocked on my door softly. Twice. I buried myself under the covers and stifled a groan. Mor couldn't be back this early, the sun hadn't sunk on the mountains yet.

“Come in,” I called, my voice hoarse despite my best efforts to conceal it. 

The door opened but I didn't turn around. My chest felt heavy and each approaching step was like another stone on top of the rest. The bed dipped behind me as Mor sat.

“You're early,” I whispered as I turned to face her. She perched on the edge of the bed, wearing the same clothes she had this morning, her hair was up in a bun.

“I'm done for today.” 

I might have let it pass if not for the brief flash of annoyance in her eyes. She covered but not quick enough for me to miss it. “Did something happen?” 

She waved a hand. “Just got stuck with a bunch of assholes today, nothing I can't handle. What about you?” 

I breathed deeply. “What about me?” 

“Are you okay?” 

I closed my eyes and held the covers tighter. “Why wouldn't I be?” 

“Cassian and Amren asked for you. I didn't know she had offered to teach you.” 

“They must be mad I didn't show up.” 

“They aren't,” she assured me. “They're just... worried. Well, Amren was a little bit annoyed, but you know how she is.” A small smile.

I couldn't smile back. So I only stared at her, at her rich brown eyes so open and caring. “You were with them today.” 

It wasn't a question, but she still answered it. “Yeah, we—had lunch.” The hesitation spoke more than her words did. 

“You fought.” 

Mor didn't speak for a moment. “Yes.” 

“Because of me?” Another heavy silence, considering, careful. “Did you fight... him?” 

“I had an argument with him,” she corrected me, “because he was being unreasonable, not because of you.”

“Why?” Mor looked away. “Tell me why,” I insisted. 

She rolled her eyes and sighed. “He wants to talk to you but I won't tell him where you are. We had a pretty bad argument about it.” 

I sat. “And he…” 

“He won't come here, nor will he seek you out.”

I let my shoulders fall, with disappointment or relief, I wasn't sure. But at least I still had... I didn't have time, either.

In two days, the week would be up. In two days I'd have to make my decision. Go back to Tamlin, to that golden prison. Or to stay, to tell everyone, to be Rhys' mate.

At least his leash would stretch farther that yours. Who knows with him, anyway? He could even let me pretend I don't have one at all.

Well, he certainly had, I thought bitterly to myself, even if I felt like I was swimming in mud for doing so. This wasn't a leash Rhys had put on me. Not something he could control. And... he had been willing to let me go, despite his feelings for me.

I am nothing like him.

Aren't you, though?

He wasn't. That was maybe the worst part, that he didn't believe it, either. He believed he was worse and it was pretty much my fault.

“Mor, I don't know what to do,” I whispered. My eyes found hers. “I don't know what to do.” 

I was like a rabbit trapped in my own snare, just waiting for the knife to slit my throat. I shouldn't be here. I should be home, with my human sisters and my human father in my human town. Far away from Fae politics and Fae bonds.

Out of the corners of my vision I saw more than felt Mor's delicate hand covering my own. I raised my eyes to hers again, to her compassionate, dark eyes.

I opened my mouth but no words came out, nothing but uncontrolled sobs I couldn't stop. I covered my face with my hands and curled my knees to myself. 

I wept like a little girl, because that's what I was, at the end. A little girl trying to claw her way in a world of beasts with larger claws than hers. I realized I was tired of that, of scraping a day more, of surviving. Just to survive the next one. I was tired of counting down the seconds until my torment started. Tired of this world that kept on robbing me the chance of living—not surviving, living

Mor wrapped her arms around me and held me while what little pieces of me I managed to to put together came tumbling down, crashing to the ground like crystal figurines. 

I wondered how long I could do this, how long before I wasn't able to do build myself up again. Before I didn't have the will to do so any longer. It was like being buried alive, like trying to dig my way up while paying attention to not let parts of me behind.

Sometimes I didn't know if I was making my way up, or if I was digging my grave deeper. 

She let me cry on her shoulder for as long as I needed.


 Mor slept with me that night.

Well, she slept while I stared at the ceiling, dried tears staining my face and leaving my chest hollowed out now that I got them all out. They say crying makes it better, but that was just a heaping pile of bullshit. I wasn't any closer to the answer I needed than I had been before. 

At least I didn't feel like the seams of my soul would come apart at the seams anymore. Tears could do that much. I hadn't been lied to in that regard, at least. 

“Would it be so bad?” Mor asked suddenly. I jerked, startled by the breach of the silence. 

“What would?” 

“Being his mate, is it so bad? Being one of us, too. Part of the family.” 

I turn my face to meet her sleepy eyes. She watched me in return, not a shadow of reproach but a sort of openness that was inviting. Welcoming. She wanted me to be one of them, maybe as bad as I longed for it, too. 

“No, it wouldn't.”

“But?” 

“But I'm not ready,” I whispered. “To belong like that to him or to anyone else. It feels too… permanent. And I want—I don't want you to just accept me because the Cauldron saw fit to make us mates. If I'm going to have a place with you, I want to earn it for myself.”

It was the truth, stark naked out of my mouth. A shallow breath left my lips as the phantom weight lifted. For a moment, at least. It'd come crashing down again in the morning, but saying it made it feel less constricting. 

“You have,” Mor said smoothly. “Every day since you came to the Night Court, you have wormed a spot for you in our patchwork of a family. You think we would still bother if you were just his mate? We don't care about you because of him, we care because you're you.”

“Mor, I hardly—” 

You visited the Bone Carver just two days after arriving in Velaris, you retrieved the ring from the Weaver's cottage, you went back to the Spring Court just to keep us from war and plan on doing so again.”

I couldn't bear to look at her, so I looked away. To the window and Velaris beyond, to the stars scattered through the skies. 

“And if that wasn't enough,” she continued as my silence got longer and longer, “You threw a shoe at his head when he crashed your wedding. That's nothing to scoff at.” Despite myself, my lips twitched. Her eyes shone with delight. 

“Go to sleep, Mor,” I said softly.  

The covers rustled and hissed as she found a position to do just so. “Right back at you,” she muttered, already sounding half-asleep. 

Her words soothed some of my worries. But as I listened to her slowing heartbeat, I knew I wouldn't be so lucky. 

Chapter Text

I managed to sleep, at the end. After more hours of stewing over my options and upcoming decisions. Even failing to act meant someone else choosing for me and that I couldn't accept. 

So I turned it around in my head until it felt like making my way through a swamp with my legs and arms tied. That still left me with way too little sleep. Something Mor wasn't afraid to point out. 

“I'm pondering sending you back to bed,” she told me first thing in the morning. 

“You can try and see if that accomplishes anything,” I muttered as I passed her by in the kitchen. Really, the place was meant for one person which made it a tight fit. 

Though for Mor was advantageous to bump her hip with mine. “Don't underestimate my ability to glue your eyes shut,” she shot back, a devious glint shining in her irises.

I just served me a glass of water and rolled my eyes. She seemed unfairly cheery today, while I felt like sleeping the day away. But that might have been my own crankiness speaking. Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing to have my eyes glued for a couple hours and get the sleep I desperately needed but was too proud to admit.

“Cooked breakfast today, too?” 

“Bought breakfast,” Mor corrected me, a finger held in the air. “I've learnt my lesson.”

“I'm sure you did.” 

Mor gave me a betrayed glare but pushed a plate of food and a glass of juice my way regardless. My stomach growled a protest due to the lack of nourishment. That was enough to send me to the table with no other word.

Mor joined soon enough, she didn't bother to push down the moan of delight at the first bite. “I'm never eating my own food again until it tastes like this.” 

I chuckled. “And who's to tell you it tastes abhorrent so you can get there?” 

“Don't worry about that, I just need to bat my lashes and it'll be done.” She waved a hand and gave me a smile she would surely use against that unsuspecting bastard.

Cassian, most likely. 

“I believe you.” 

She winked at me. And with that said, we enjoyed our breakfast in silence.

For as long as it lasted.

I felt it, the undercurrent tension to her shoulders and the shift in her, her expression becoming that of a politician. A mask of calm.

Mor waited until I was finished, at least. 

I wiped my mouth with a napkin and stared at her. She inhaled deeply. “There's something you need to know,” she began and when she saw I wasn't showing signs to run away at any given moment, she continued. “Tamlin summoned a High Lord's meeting.” 

“Oh.” I knew that would happen, at one point or another. 

“That's not all,” she went on. A deep breath, a considering silence. I didn't want to admit my heartbeat was going crazy. “He wants to make Rhys end the bargain.”

Each droplet of blood in my veins froze. My insides roiled. “But he can't—the bargain it's between us. He can't break it, can't intervene like that.” 

“He can't,” she said carefully, “but he can pressure Rhys to do it, saying you should have been released from it when you died. And because—you belong to him, as far as everyone else is concerned, the others might support that. I'm sorry, Feyre.” 

“I don't belong to him,” I growled. I wasn't some lost pet he wanted back. 

My frozen blood was boiling. 

“I know.”

I was going to tear him apart. Suddenly, it didn't seem such a bad thing, to get rid of him. How dare he? To lay a claim on me like I was a possession, a mere object. 

“There's something more,” Mor kept on, careless of the painful throbbing in my chest each time she delivered more news. “I hate to be the one who asks this of you but—we need your answer. We need to know what you want to do about the mating bond.” 

I was on my feet before I knew it, pacing back and forth. My hands shook and I let them, for once I didn't care about it. “You need me to tell you who I belong to. Because it's either one of them, right?” 

“It's not like that,” she protested quietly, still sitting. 

“Then how? Because the only way I stand a chance of proving I'm not Tamlin's is to tell everyone I'm Rhys'.” And that was equally outrageous, whatever I felt about the mating bond aside. “It's all about what these males possess,” I muttered bitterly. 

Mor seemed inclined to protest against that, but her features softened. Neither of us had realized how tensed she got. I knew—knew it was unfair to compare the two. And I knew Mor was protective of her family. But it was hard to care in that moment. 

“You think Rhys would lay a claim on you like that?” she asked in her not-soft-but-not-unkind way of hers. 

“No.” 

“What do you think, then?” 

“I don't know, okay?” I snapped. “I have no idea what to think when it comes to him, because ever since I met him it's been with a mask on. And right when I'm beginning to think I trust him, I realize that he's been lying to me since he met me. Just like everyone else has since I killed that gods-damned wolf!” 

It wasn't my intention to shout at her, or to cry. And yet, there I was doing both. In her defense, Mor remained quiet at my outburst, choosing to look at me in silence instead. My breathing was ragged and came out in pants. 

“I'm sorry, I didn't mean to yell,” I said lowly. 

“It's okay.”

I wiped away the tears and gulped a healthy amount of water before sitting again. 

Mor, again, only watched me in silence. “The truth is I don't know what to do,” I admitted. “The only thing I know is that I don't want to go back nor do I want a war. And you'd think accepting the mating bond would be the logical choice but…” My voice died mid-sentence. 

“But you don't want to accept it.” 

“I don't know what I want,” I whispered. And it was the truth. I didn't. 

Didn't have the slightest idea as to what to feel when it came to this, beyond the betrayal at being kept in the dark for so long. I couldn't imagine myself being Rhys mate for eternity, but I also couldn't imagine what I'd do with myself next month. My future was so uncertain that the idea of a mating bond—something so permanent and lasting—seemed laughable. 

“This is all so confusing and each option I have seems to have a potential to become a heaping pile of disaster.” I chuckled bitterly, hysterically. “Some more than others.” 

Like going back to the Spring Court and being released from the bargain. Someone might end up in pieces. But that might not be me and that would break me in ways Tamlin couldn't. 

Mor considered everything I said with that same political mask that was beginning to unnerve me. It was unsettling seeing her usual passionate, energetic demeanor replaced by the stoicism of a queen. 

“So you don't have the luxury of good choices,” she finally said. “What do you pick then?” 

I considered the answer for a moment. “The lesser evil,” I muttered.

“Which would be?” 

My nostrils flared. “The mating bond,” I bit out. “Rhys is the lesser evil.” It was almost funny how those words sounded coming out of my mouth, when not so long ago, they would have tasted like a lie. 

“Then?” 

“Then I'm supposed to just accept it like that?”

Mor only leaned back on her chair. “I didn't say that.” 

“What are you saying?” 

“I'm saying that you could reach an agreement with him. If you two talked.” She shrugged. When she saw the face I made, though, her mask cracked a bit and concern shone in her eyes. “I wouldn't want to rush you under normal circumstances, and I'm really sorry that I have to. You deserved a chance to make a huge decision like this without anyone breathing down your neck. Not when your future might be in line. I understand your anger at this being your one getaway when you most likely feel like it's another sort of cage. But right now, you don't have time and you don't have another choice.”

I hated that I already figured that out and still was like being crushed under a boulder. There wasn't really a way out but that one. 

I looked away. “I can't.” 

“Why?” 

“Because it's too much, too big to decide just like this. Suppose I accept it. Then what? Will I be the Lady of the Night Court? Bear his heirs?” The idea was simply ridiculous. I had to laugh, laugh like a cackling mad woman. 

I cursed Amarantha's name up and down, and hoped she was suffering wherever she was. This was her fault. I was supposed to be hunting, not wondering whether I should be the Lady of Spring or Night, trading titles like they were heavy, burdensome jewelry. 

I ran my hands through my hair, positively furthering the nest-like appearance it had. “I'm going insane.” An understatement, really. 

“Okay, you're panicking.” 

“I'm not.” 

“Are too,” she answered back with soft reproach somewhere. To be fair, I kind of was. 

“It's so ridiculous. How on earth did I land myself into these Courts, I—” 

In one swift movement Mor was up and in front of me, her hands on both armrests of my chair and her face close to mine. “Stop that,” she said in a low, strong voice. “You're fretting and it'll get you nowhere. I'm sorry you have to go through this but it can't be helped. You're worried about what your role as his mate might be? Don't tell this to me. Go talk to your mate, smack him upside the head for deceiving and sit down to figure it out, both of you.” I flinched at her unyielding words, her commands. “You're scared, I know that. I know it must overwhelming for you to be in the middle of this all, but you can't fall apart right now. You need to choose and need to do it fast. So go to him, give him hell and let him tell you his story.” 

“There's a story now?” I asked without breath. 

Mor straightened up, her eyes flashed with a knowing gleam. She drew a small smirk for me. “There is, and I'm not going to be the one to tell you so don't even think about asking me.” 

I frowned. Great. There was a story, one that might explain the how and the why of our relationship, whatever it was in that moment. 

Mor flipped her long hair over her shoulder. “Think about it,” she told me and then winnowed. 

I didn't promise I would. And yet, once I was alone, it was everything that occupied my mind. Hear his story. The story that would explain how he knew what I was to him before we met. He'd gone to the Spring Court in Fire Night for it… right? All this time, he'd known. When I faced my trials, when we struck the bargain. When I was dying and he screamed my name, making me wonder why he sounded like he cared. 

Gods, I'd seen through his eyes when I was dead. I had hold onto that bond without realizing it.

Loosening a frustrated growl, I got up and changed my pajamas for training clothes. Mor was right, fretting wouldn't help. But staying in wasn't any better. So I went out and surely enough, Cassian was already strutting about in the market where he ambushed me two days ago. 

“Still looking for Illyrian leathers?” I asked him as a way of greeting. 

“Looking for a responsible student, do you have any idea where to find one?” he shot back with smirk. 

I narrowed my eyes at him, flipping him off. Of course, he only laughed and offered his hand to me.

Of course I took it.

“What have you prepared for me today, General?” 

“Absolute hell.” Another smirk and we were airborne.


It was hell.

Not so much because of the training itself but because of my inability to focus on Cassian's attack. The ones that I was supposed to dodge or block. I had a beautiful bruise on my cheek because of it, blue and purple and green. It would fade, Cassian assured me. Still hurt, though. 

At least it made me focus. To some degree. 

“That bastard doesn't pull punches, does he?” Amren greeted me. 

“If he didn't, I think I might be knocked out,” I replied dryly while I tried to sit without wincing too much.

Something in the way Amren looked at me told me she knew how bad everything hurt.

“If you say so,” she drawled. “Don't think I'm holding back with you for it.”

And she didn't.

Amren said I had a natural talent for spells and shields and wards, just as much as I had talent being daemati. It wasn't that different, she explained. It was like breaking through the shields of someone's mind. But while mental shields tended to be bricks and walls, wards were… woven. My job was to find which thread would unravel the proverbial tapestry. 

At first it was easy. Amren would put wards around objects and I had to undo them. But sometimes she'd put one on the door and I had to pretend I didn't break into a cold sweat each time she did so.

Those weren't as simple. 

“You have to get that fear under control,” she said each time. “A blast of power in your panic might not be enough. And if it is, it'll take a toll on you.”

I gritted my teeth and nodded. Eventually, I was able to move from room to room until I finally stood on the courtyard. Only until I was outside, could I breathe again. 

“You did good today,” she told me. And then promptly left. Expected, coming from her. 

The upside of training with her was that she just didn't let me concentrate in anything else, didn't give me the time to. At the cost of my mind feeling like a puddle at the end of the day. 

Perhaps that's why I was considering Mor's earlier words, considering following her advice. Not a decision I should make when my thought were so muddled, probably. Then again, I shouldn't be standing on a balcony, either and yet, there I was. 

Azriel appeared not so long after.

“Hello, Feyre,” he said as he approached. 

“Hi.” 

He came to stand beside me. “Cassian is busy right now and asked me to fly you down.” 

I turned to him with raised eyebrows. “Where is he?” 

“With your sister, delivering another letter.” No response yet, then. One thing less to worry about at least. 

One thing of many. 

“Ready to go?” he asked me. 

The sunlight was almost gone, the sun having set not so long ago. Velaris was beginning to awake under the purple and pink sky. It was beautiful, this city. And if I didn't answer soon, I stood to never see it again. 

I shouldn't be making decisions in when I was so exhausted. But I already had. 

My heart throbbed in my chest as I gripped the balcony rail so hard I feared it would give under my hands. The words I meant to say swirled inside my head, just outside my reach each time I tried to get them out. Once, twice. They didn't come. 

Azriel waited patiently while I fought against my own hesitations. He didn't comment on how I was getting tangled in them. 

But hesitating wouldn't help and quite honestly, I was done hiding from Rhys. I wanted answers. I wanted the whole truth. So in a moment of recklessness I simply decided that I wouldn't hesitate anymore. 

“Take me to the Townhouse.” 

Azriel raised his brows. I had the feeling it wasn't very often someone took him by surprised. “You're sure?” 

Of course not. The conversation that waited for me down there wasn't something I could ever get ready for. But I'd never gather enough courage to walk there by myself, making each step towards my—mate. Perhaps having Azriel flying me there was cowardly on my part, but it would give me less chances to backtrack. 

I had to do it, so I lied and nodded. “I'm sure.”

It was everything Azriel needed to scoop me up and take me to what promised to be the most difficult conversation of my immortal existence.


Azriel was unnaturally quiet as we flew, even by his standards. If I didn't know better, I'd say that he didn't want anyone to hear us approach. Including the boom of his wings sounded muffled. 

He set me carefully on the roof. I nodded at him but his voice stopped me short, “Feyre, wait.” 

I looked back at him. “Yes?” 

“I know what Mor told you,” he said in a low tone. “But you know that you don't have to do this, right? If you're not ready, I mean.”

“Don't make me rethink this,” I begged him in a pathetic mutter. “I have half a mind to run back to Mor's, but I have to do this. If only because he owes me answers.” 

He scanned my face like a book he could read, his shadows swirled around his ears. Whatever they were telling him made him step back and nod. 

“Thank you,” I told him in earnest. 

“Good luck.” 

He disappeared. I blinked at the spot he was standing one second ago. I didn't even know he could winnow. 

Whirling on the ball of my feet I went inside, telling myself that I was owed some answers. It didn't have to mean nothing. We weren't going to marry and he wasn't going to put a crown on my head and a small chair next to his throne. 

Just answers. Hopefully a plan for this damned meeting, too. 

The hallway was shrouded in darkness. The only light coming through the open curtains from neighbor houses. And of course, the faint candle-light coming from the first floor. I knew where he was, at least. 

The floor didn't creak under my feet and I didn't dare breathe too loudly. In part because I didn't want to call his attention. In part because I was too busy listening the small sounds coming to me: the crack and pop of the logs in the fireplace, the tap-tap-tap of his foot on the floor, the rustle of the pages of a book. 

I came to a halt on top of the staircase, hesitating to take that next step. 

No, I berated myself. I wanted—deserved to know. I flew down the stairs without giving me a chance to regret it. To hell with stealth.

But when I opened my mouth, not knowing what might come out, Rhys raised a hand, his back to me. “If you're trying to make me sleep, Mor, let me tell you it won't work.” 

My muscles locked up, the air got stuck in my throat. I didn't believe it would hit me this hard. I'd known what I was coming to—who I was coming to. But being here, this close, knowing now... it hit me then. 

“Only a fool would try to make you do something you don't want to,” I breathed. 

The bond went taut between us. I yielded a step into the living room, Rhys turned his face to me, eyes going so wide it was a small miracle they didn't fall out their sockets. And then he stopped, as frozen as I felt. 

“Feyre,” he muttered lamely. “You're here.” 

I snorted, humor nowhere to be found. “Yeah, no shit.” 

Rhys didn't have anything to say to that, it seemed. I might have been smug about the fact that I finally managed to shut him up if I wasn't so busy controlling my heartbeat.

Gods, I was nervous. Out of all things. My eyes couldn't stay in one place, everywhere was good to look at as long as it wasn't him. In two seconds, I already noticed how a more than healthy amount of books occupied every available surface. 

“Are you drunk?” I asked when my eyes landed on a glass of some sort of liquor sitting on top of a pile of books. A very generous glass. 

“Not enough for this conversation,” he muttered. 

I decided to ignore it. “I see that—” I swallowed “—you've decided to inaugurate your own library. What happened to being High Lord?” A pathetic attempt at conversation if there ever was one. 

Rhys, damn him, snorted and gave me a tight, crooked grin. At least I wasn't the only tense one.

“Well, I've been awfully lonely since you decided to stop holding on your end of the bargain.” And there I thought I was the lame one. His flirty line almost made me loose a groan. 

“If memory serves me right, you said I had to live with you at the Night Court. Not at the same house. Be glad we're in the same city, actually.” 

Surprise flared in his eyes. He looked like he was about to refute my argument, but he had nothing on me. I was free of him as long as I didn't leave the Night Court. Rhys ended up snorting. 

“I guess I deserved that.” 

That sobered me up. “Believe me, that was kind,” I muttered lowly. 

The bond shivered with remorse. “Feyre, I am so—” 

I raised a hand at which he shut up immediately. “No. Not yet.” Rhys clamped his lips and stared at me, waiting. If I didn't know better, I'd say he dreaded whatever I was going to say next. But I only settled with, “What have you found these past days?” 

He swallowed before replying, “We've settled with discrediting Tamlin in front of the other High Lords. We hope that is enough to make him relent. To scare him enough to not go to war with us.” 

“But there wouldn't be a war.”

A sly smirk, if not a bit shaky. “He won't know that.” 

“That's actually pretty smart,” I conceded. “How do you plan to do that?” 

I leaned on the threshold, arms crossed over my chest. My fingers drumming against my arm. 

I realized what I was doing a second later. I was squirming, I was acting like I had something to be nervous about. Talk about foolish. If someone had to suffer through this, it was him. So I stood upright again and let my hands fall to my sides. I went to take a seat the same way I had managed to get there at all, not giving myself a chance to second-guess. It didn't escape me how Rhys track my every movement. 

A long silence stretched between us, in which I only stared at him. Dared him to say something about it. 

He cleared his throat. “With you,” he answered at last. “The bullshit he tried to fill your head with—it wasn't entirely untrue.” I blinked. “The people do love you. Losing you would be devastating after so much destruction. If we manage to convince the High Lords what danger he is—was to you, it's very likely they will not stand with him.” 

“Even if I'm part of the Night Court?” 

Stunned silence. 

“You are?” he whispered. 

“I'm your Emissary to the Mortal Lands, am I not?” A challenge and question in itself. 

Would I still be part of this Court despite what I now knew—what the rest of the world would know soon, as well? Somehow, I didn't believe he'd sequestered me for it. Not after sending me to two of the most dangerous beings Prythian, anyway. But things tended to have many unseen twists lately and I needed an answer. 

“If you still want it,” he told me, “the job is yours.” 

I didn't dare let out the relieved sigh I was holding. “Good.” 

More silence followed. I bit my lower lip as I tried to form my next question, to finally address the glaring issue here. But it was so hard to organize my errand thoughts. 

I ended up asking something else entirely. “How did you and Tamlin met?” 

Rhys didn't react for several seconds, beyond blinking at me like I had asked for the secrets of the Cauldron. “That's—that's what you want to know?”

My cheeks heated as I boiled in my own cowardice, but I didn't so much as look away. “Mor said that if I asked you'd tell me.” 

Amother challenge and question. Whether he could—would be honest with me. For once. I wanted the truth, no masks, no acting. 

Rhys avoided my gaze. “It's not a nice story.”

“I don't expect it to be. Tell me anyway.” 

A muscle flickered in his jaw. His eyes turned distant, vacant.

“I'm supposing he never got around to tell you the whole story.” I shook my head. “Alright. He was born when the war started. He was younger than me, but when he matured he seemed… decent, for a High Lord's son. Better than Beron's children at the Autumn Court. His brothers were just as bad, though. Worse. And they knew Tamlin would take the title someday. Being hunted for it—I knew what that was like. In the Hewn City, everyone knew just how powerful I was, even at a young age. The only one who could compare to my power to some extent was Mor, and she was untrained at the time. Many people tried to get rid of me. My father was old enough to prevent another heir from him and my sister was well-trained in how to hide how powerful she was as well. That left me dealing with no shortage of assassination attempts. So when I saw how his brothers treated him—I knew. So I befriended him. Sought him out whenever I could. We were friends. The same way you and Lucien are, closer even.” 

That—that I was not expecting. It must have showed on my face, if the way he smiled sadly at me was any telling. 

“My family knew. And disapproved,” he went on, a cold look in his eyes. “But his father was threatened by it. By me. With good reason, since he was weaker than both of us. So to prove he wasn't—” He cut himself short. It was a moment before he could continue. “My mother and my sister were to visit me at the war-camp. I was supposed to meet them, but I was busy that day.”

I wasn't breathing properly. Not as the pieces started to click in my head. I was glad I was sitting. 

“And they—his father and brothers, and Tamlin himself—they murdered them anyway. They heard from Tamlin, from me where they would be. Where I was supposed to be. It should have been me.” A mirror to my words that day I wept in front of Cassian. 

I was going to vomit. 

“They ripped their wings and sent their heads in a box as a message. My father—he was mad with grief. When he found out… I lied when I said it was my father who killed his family. I went with him. It was me who held his brother's mind while I teared them limb by limb and left nothing but hollow shells. My father had already killed his and when I got to his bedroom, I realized he'd killed his mother, too. He'd promised not to, that we weren't that kind of males. But he did it anyway.

“He tried to kill Tamlin, too. But I stopped him outside the door. Maybe it was because of whatever was left of our friendship, maybe because I knew there wasn't anyone else to be High Lord. I don't know. My father wasn't thinking straight and while I was distracting him, Tamlin walked out the door and smelled the blood on us. He killed my father in one blow. 

“We both looked at each other, both newly-crowned High Lord with our families lying in pieces around us. And I ran away. Winnowed my father's corpse to the Hewn City and wondered how it all might have turned out if I hadn't stopped him.” 

I stared at him, my hands and knees trembling. I felt a lump in my throat that no matter how much I tried to swallow, it wouldn't go away. 

“You know, I always thought my father's own insanity was what killed him. What made him a true monster at the end.” He stared at me. “But I think I might understand now. Even in that makes me a monster, too.” 

There were no words left in me that could do anything to ease the grief seeping from his voice, coating his gaze. In that moment, I didn't seem to care that he lied to me. Not as I got up from my seat and took a place besides him. My hand found his and held tight. 

“You are many things,” I said softly. “A liar and a deceiver, that's for sure. But a monster, you are not.”

“That's easy for you to say, you don't really know—” 

“You are not.” 

“I've done things,” he whispered. 

“I don't care. You're not a monster any more than I am. We're equals, right?” I raised a brow. 

His gaze pierced my heart with its intensity but I held it nonetheless. He was the first to break, taking his eyes and his hand away from me, cradling it against his chest. 

“I am sorry, for what is worth it. I shouldn't have hidden it from you.” 

“No, you shouldn't have.” I breathed deeply. Maybe I was pushing too much with this, all these stories I wanted to hear but I still made myself say, “How? How did you know?” 

Rhys didn't react at first and I thought he wouldn't speak. That I came here for nothing. He didn't so much as hold my intent stare, preferring to look at anything that wasn't even near me. Anger flared but I worked hard to shove it down. 

“You want to hear everything?” he asked after too long a moment in a hoarse whisper. 

That's when I noticed his shadowed eyes, the mist of memories lingering in them. My heart slowed down, then skipped a beat as I realized that the answer might be more than I could chew. 

I nodded anyway. 

“Tell me everything.” 

It took him a moment, a long one. 

“I was captured during the war. By Amarantha's army.” 

And so he told me. Of his capture, his rage and wish for revenge. How he got himself trapped in that cursed mountain. How he paid for his father's sins by… by serving her. Becoming her whore. How he kept Velaris and his family a secret. 

Horror coiled in my gut as his story progressed. My eyes stung and his were lined with silver as he began talking about the dreams—glimpses he saw. 

Flowers on a table. 

I caught myself gaping at him. He continued his story, nonetheless. 

“I kept this visions for myself, they helped me—reminded me that there was peace out there. That someone felt safe enough to paint flowers on a table. It reminded me what I was protecting, here in Velaris. That even the darkest pit of hell couldn't shadow that.” An intake of air. “One year ago you had this dream that was clearer than others—and I was watching as a woman slit your throat while the Bogge chased you. I realized that you were in Prythian but I couldn't tell who you were, where you where you where, despite waking up everyday with your scent fresh in my nose.” 

There was nothing in my mind to say to this, about how we met. What he did to those faeries that tried to—

There you are.  

I sucked on a breath. 

I've been looking for you. 

Not a lie to keep those creatures away from me. 

Thank you for finding her for me

“I hoped I'd never see you again, so you'd remain safe. Away from her—from me. The things they'd do to you—mate or not…

“I couldn't put you through that. And then you were there the day after Solstice. Looking at him like you were on the verge of breaking the curse. I didn't care that you were the one who could save us, Amarantha was going to kill you. So I did the only thing I could think of and scared you, to show him that he was powerless to keep you safe. As powerless as I was. But I had to ask for your name because I was selfish.” A bitter, flat laugh. “I wasn't going to tell her your name, but you lied and I thought well, all the better for you. I was holding your mind and you had the courage to lie to my face. So I walked away, and hurled my guts up after.” 

My chin quivered. 

“I still see her—Clare. What they did to her, that could've been you. I still wonder what sort of monster I am, if I so readily gave someone's else life to keep you away. I tried to make it better, I took all the pain away and made her scream on cue, but I couldn't stand it anymore. I slid into her mind and ended it. She didn't feel anything they did to her. But I still see her.” 

My eyes welled up as tears fell from his eyes. Rhys was shaking, his hands, his voice and his lips. 

“I thought it was over. You were gone, my people was safe. What did it matter if Tamlin lost? If we were all doomed? But then you came back.” He took a shuddering breath, his lashes fluttered against his cheekbones as he collected himself. When he spoke, his voice was raw, “I have never felt such a terror as did, Feyre, when I watched you strike that bargain. Every little thing I saw from your eyes, all of it, it came back to me. And I could only think how she'd delight in breaking you apart. I could only watch as they beat you, unable to move because if I did, then I would have done something really stupid like defend you. Like take you away. Everything I had done the last forty-nine years would crumble and all for a human girl whose name I didn't even know. It was madness. And you hated me, you thought I was a monster. But then you said your name and it was like a question I didn't know I've been asking all my life.” 

One corner of his mouth curled upwards, but his gaze remained on the low table in front of him, distant and unresponsive. He still hadn't looked at me. 

“That's when I decided I couldn't stand by anymore and that I was going to fight against her. Anything it takes, I told myself. You would be our chance at freedom, or my ticket to death. Either way, I'd had enough. So I watched your first trial and found my way in with you, through the bargain. A way to keep you alive, to defy her and to send a message to those who bothered to hear. And to—to get revenge on Tamlin and to use him against her.

“I remember when I announced our bargain to him you thought he says for the rest of my life as if it's going to be a long while. You weren't the only one who realized that. And so it began.” 

The parties, the paintings, the wine, the everything. I ran a hand through my hair, mindless of the strands that came loose. 

“For the first time, I believed we could get through it. But your first trial came and she started torturing you.” His voice caught at the same time I choke on my breath. “Something snapped then. Seeing you like that, bleeding and broken… I knew what you were. I knew you were in love with another male, that you destroyed yourself for him. And that it didn't matter. If you were going to die, I was going to die with you. And while I picked the knife to kill her, all that I could think was my mate, my mate, my mate.”

Rhys turned his face away from me, so I couldn't even see his profile. His chest and shoulder shuddered. I put a hand on my chest, as if it would be enough to ease the ache I felt when he let out one sob. Exactly one he allowed himself. The sound was small and vulnerable. It made me want to scream, to grieve. 

“But then she broke your neck,” he whispered, his voice strained that it was a wonder it didn't break. “And I felt you die.” 

I thought he might have said something else, but he stayed silent. We both did. The logs in the fireplace cracked merrily, it was almost mocking. I touched my face, only to find my cheeks wet. I hadn't realized I was crying. 

When Rhys turned back—back to staring at the low table, that is—his face was tear stained. He pressed his pointer finger and thumb to his eyes. Breathing hard, I watched him wipe tears from his face. Distantly I thought I should too. 

“I felt you there, flickering at your end of the bond.” I didn't miss the shaking of his voice. “So I held onto it, onto you. I willed you to hold on, as well. Because we were all there and we could bring you back. So she died, and you came back. And—” He cut himself off, shaking his head. “In the balcony,” he continued sharply, “I almost told you everything but you were so sad and tired, and for once you looked at me like I wasn't a monster. So I told myself that whenever I saw you, I'd free you of the bargain. But transforming you into Fae, it heightened the smell of the bond. I'd known it existed but it hit me then. Really hit me. If I stayed another second, I would take you with me and damn it all. That's why I left.

“For the next three months I convinced myself you were better off, that you hated me. But I felt you struggle every night, I felt your sadness and despair. And yet I told myself you were happy, that you were going to marry him. If that was what you wanted, I had no say in it. You earned that for yourself. Even if we were mates.” He took a deep breath. “I planned to get drunk with Cassian in your wedding day. But then I felt your fear and panic, I heard you beg someone—anyone—to save you. I winnowed and had not idea who I was supposed to be, only that you were there so thin and so pale and so wrecked. I wanted to kill him but I had to get you out, to make sure you were all right.

“Seeing you like that was like a slap in the face. I decided that I wouldn't tell you any of it, and I wouldn't let you out because I had to try, try to make it better. One week at a time if needed to be. But you came back worse and I didn't know what to do to pull you out of it, I didn't know how to help and it killed me.”

“The day he locked you up—I would have killed him if he had been there. But I already broke so many rules in bringing you here. Amren told me that if I got you to admit you were my mate, it would save me the trouble of Tamlin waging war on me. But I didn't care as long as you got a chance at healing. I still honestly don't care.”

He meant that, too. I knew he meant every word. 

I leaned back, loosing the breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding. 

“So that's it,” he finished in a whisper. 

“Thank you,” I whispered back. “For telling me.” 

“Don't thank me, you had a right to know.” 

“No, I had a right to know we're mates, not to your story and you still told me. Thank you, for confiding me with it.” 

He sighed. “What now?” 

I chewed on my answer before voicing it and even then, I still hesitated. “I left because I was scared,” I admitted. “I was scared and angry. This turned my world on its head. It overwhelmed me, it still does. You have no idea. Because I… I don't know what you expect from me.” 

Rhys raised his eyes to mine at last and despite the insurmountable urge to look away from his hard, violet gaze, still lined with silver, I stared at him. “Nothing,” he said without a second thought. “I expect nothing from you. Nothing you're not ready or willing to give.” 

“I don't know what I'm ready to give you, or if I'd be willing.” For now, all I could give him was honesty. 

Because I love you and I'm a coward, and I'm selfish. 

My words and his hung between us, and neither of us reached out, content to let them fall and look away. 

So be it. 

I closed my eyes tightly before speaking again. “I want to help in this war. But I can't—I won't stand any more lies. Not when it concerns me. Teaching me to read, the thing with the Attor, this. I don't expect you to tell me your Court's business, but I want honesty. If you can't give me that, then I'm done. I'm tired of the lies.”

The true test, I supposed. Rhys wasn't Tamlin, but if he couldn't be honest with me then it didn't matter. I was done. 

“I'm not a pawn for anyone to move how is most convenient to them,” I said quietly. “So don't treat me as such and I will work with you.”

“Okay.”

I glanced at him from the corner of my eye. “What?” 

“I'll be honest with you. No more lies. I promise.” 

Relief flooded me, but I wouldn't let it show. I merely nodded once. “What happens when everyone else knows?” 

His gaze darkened. “You get a target at your back and a price over your head.”

Same as with Tamlin, but that was to be expected. I didn't want safety, I wanted freedom. And Rhys would give it to me—he had to if he wanted me to stay. 

“You don't want them to know, do you?” I asked him. 

He hesitated before answering, “No.”

“Good, because I don't want that either.”

Rhys turned his head to the side. “You don't?” he asked carefully. 

“Not if it can be helped. It'd be more easy for me and for you not to worry about would-be-assassins if no one knows. It'd give me more time to learn how to defend myself, too.” I was under no illusion I knew how to. Yet. A well-placed punch wouldn't save me forever. “But if it comes to that and it's the only way, then I'm willing to reveal it.” 

Rhys looked into my eyes a moment too long, I didn't know what he was searching or if he found it, but he nodded at last. 

I stood, my legs slightly shaky. “When is the High Lord's meeting?” 

“Day after tomorrow.” One day later after the bargain time was up. It figured. “We can all discuss it in the morning,” he offered. 

I nodded. “I'm tired,” I announced. 

Rhys stared at me and I stared right back. 

It was as if time slowed down for us. We got stuck, then, into each other. I felt it clearly. The pull, the unavoidable way we gravitated towards each other. It was magnetic and intoxicating. There was a little voice in my head telling me that it was okay, that I should give in. 

I took a step back, the pregnant atmosphere shattering around us.

No. 

I walked away before I could do something I might regret later. 

And then I stopped right under the threshold, one last glance back at Rhys. He still sat there, his back to me and his shoulders down. I watched him reach for his neglected glass of brandy and knock it back. 

“Rhys?” 

He didn't look over his shoulder. “Yes?” 

“I still haven't forgiven you and I won't forget for a long while.” He stilled. “But if I had to be someone's mate, I'm relieved that it was actually you.”

Chapter Text

The last day of the bargain was spent in one of the studies up in the House of Wind. We spoke about strategy and allies. Well, they talked and I listened. I had to admit I was awfully out of my depths in this. Stealing from the Weaver, that I could do. This? Not so much. 

It's just another sort of hunting, Rhys had told me through the bond. You get used to it

Eventually, perhaps. Not when I had one day to absorb as much as I was able to. Mor kept throwing me sympathetic glances throughout the day. 

“If it makes you feel better,” she confided me, “Cassian doesn't know how to act in these either and that's why he sits most of them out. If he had his way, he would just beat everyone to a pulp.”

I snorted. “I wish he had his way.”

“Ah, don't we all?” she sighed. 

I chuckled. “Fair point,” I said while I slid on my undergarments, the little unmentionables Rhys mocked me about, then threw a robe on.

Mor was already dressed, makeup on and hair done. It made me wonder how early she woke up. I always wondered what was her secret to look so peachy at these unholy hours of the morning. 

Naula sat me on the vanity and got to work on my hair while Cerridwen put cosmetics on my face. “Honestly, Feyre, these gatherings are just a competition to see who can out-roast who,” Mor said. “You're a natural at that.” 

I raised my eyebrows. 

Mor's devious grin coated her words, even if I couldn't see it. “Unless I've been misreading all that bickering with my dearest cousin.”

“They're High Lords, Mor.”

“And Rhys isn't?” 

I opened one eye and shot her an unimpressed look. “ He's Rhys.

Mor chuckled. “Fair point.”

I almost rolled my eyes before I remembered the fresh kohl on my eyelids. I didn't want to consider what Cerridwen would do to me if I ruined the makeup, so I settled for sighing. 

“Advice for real, though?” Mor continued. “Just walk in there like they ought to bow for you and the battle is half-won. Remember and remind them that they owe you, each one of them.” 

It was easy for her when she was a queen in all but title. Me on the other hand… “You'd think that debt was paid when they brought me back.”

“No, I wouldn't.”

We fell silent as the twins worked their magic on making me look like part of this court. Court of Nightmares aesthetic, indeed. 

“And it's done,” Naula announced after minutes of silence. 

Deciding the kohl was dry enough, I dared to open my eyes in time to see Mor hopping to her feet and coming to stand behind me. “Perfect as always, Naula.”

“Thank you, Lady Morr—” I caught Mor giving the wraith a look , to what she only sighed. I could relate to that. “Thank you, Mor,” Naula replied.

Mor drew a little smirk on her red lips. She was looking at me with exasperation when she said, “Never let them put a lady in front of your name.”

Cerridwen was applying some blush on my cheeks so it felt safe to admit, “They never have.”

Mor gaped. “You little traitors.”

Cerridwen snorted. “Says the one who didn't want me to put on her makeup and then came to rub it in my face. What are you doing here, again, Lady Morrigan?” I didn't miss the way they glared at each other, while Naula seemed like she wanted to become shadow and disappear. 

I'd never heard any of the twins bicker with anyone, let alone someone from the Inner Circle. It was all sorts of fascinating. 

“Well, it's Feyre who needs the spotlight today. Not me. And look at what an amazing work you've done, she looks positively terrifying.” 

And indeed, when Cerridwen moved just so I caught a glimpse of—somebody else. There was no way that woman in the mirror was me, not with the sharp angles and the dark gaze. I looked every bit like the wicked thing Tamlin feared I'd become and I found myself quite liking it. We'd wear masks today, I knew as much, but this one felt like something I might get used to. 

“Oh,” was all I could say. 

“Oh, indeed! Those Spring fools don't stand a chance,” Mor said, a delighted grin growing bigger by the second. 

Despite my best efforts, a smirk found a way to my mouth. “They don't, do they?” 

Yeah, I could certainly get used to it. 

Naula finished my makeup by painting my lips in a deep shade of red. Once that was done, the twins helped me into my sparkling, black dress. The bodice clung to my figure, still sharp in places but on its way to healing. A statement to how neglected I had been. 

“I really liked the other one,” I said. “It's a shame I can't wear it there.” 

I had never cared about dresses and jewelry, but the other one had been a dream made of blue gems. A shame that I couldn't wear it without sweltering myself in spring weather. The short-sleeved one I wore with its billowing, light skirt had been the logic choice. 

Mor winked at me. “There'll be more occasions to sweep these males off their feet.” 

Naula laughed quietly while she searched for something in my jewelry box. The sight of it made me think of Lucien and my other little mountain of jewels. I hoped he was alright and that he was able to keep his promise. 

She pulled a pair of earrings, a necklace and a diadem. I had never seen those. Part of me still sighed and wondered how much money I could snatch by selling them, how many months I could go by. Just the diadem, the gemstone in its center, would have secured me months of not worrying for food in the Mortal Realm. 

Clothing is just a different sort of armor , I sternly reminded myself, for a different sort of battle. 

Naula handed me the earrings. I put them on while she arranged the diadem on the braided coronet. Rhys and his unhealthy habit of putting me on crowns. If he was trying to convey a message, it was going unheard for the foreseeable future. 

Naula stepped back at the same time Mor got a closer look. “And that's it,” she announced, fastening the necklace around my neck. 

“Well? Get up,” Mor asked. “I need to see you in all your magnificence.”

I was like a kid modeling dresses for my mother. I gave Mor an eye-roll but did as I was told, going even as far as to walk from one end of the room to another, twirling when Mor asked me to. So this was what Cassian meant that day. Ridiculous, no doubt, but Mor's eyes were glowing with delight at the swirling skirt so I indulged her. 

“I need one of those whenever I'm intimidating my asshole of a father. But Rhys refused to tell me where he gets them from, the prick.” 

I chuckled and bit the inside of my cheek, as I been prone to do whenever we were in the same room, or someone so much as mentioned him. Things weren't… exactly bad between us. But I couldn't say I wasn't upset still, upset and confused. Having the rest of the Inner Circle discussing the matter of our bond so openly only added insult to the injury. 

“So I look good?” I asked. 

Mor gestured for me to get close, as I did she said, “You tell me.” 

I stood in front of my reflection. And well, she was right, I painted quite the terrifying image the people in the Spring Court tried to push on me. From the dress with its sharp cuts to the makeup and the shadows it casted on my face. I looked razor-sharp and ready to cut someone down. 

More than that, it was the eager gleam in my eyes, like I couldn't wait to wreak havoc with these High Lords. Watching myself in the mirror, I felt like I could do anything I wanted if I only dared. For the first time in forever, I felt confident in myself. 

I was Tamlin's personal brand of hell given flesh. And maybe—just maybe—I liked the idea a little bit too much. 

Mor was right. 

They didn't stand a chance.


Cassian and Azriel waited for us in the living room. Somehow, it didn't surprise me that they were the first to get ready. Their usual flying leathers looked more elegant somehow, pristine even. I had to remind myself that these were two greatest Illyrian warriors. Ever. They definitely looked the part. 

At least, Azriel did. Cassian's expression broke into a grin as he saw me. He whistled. “Well, well, look at you,” he drawled. “That poor prick won't know that to do with himself when he lays his eyes on you.”

Which one? I almost asked, but decided against it. “Dressed to kill, right?” 

His grin widened. “I knew I liked you for some reason.” Mor snorted beside me. “I suppose you look decent,” he told her. Decent was not the term I would have used. Breathtakingly dangerous was more like it. 

“No surprise in that.”

Azriel huffed a laugh. 

“Where's Amren—and Rhys?” 

“Amren should be here at any moment,” Azriel informed, ignoring the way I said Rhys' name as an afterthought. “Rhys must be pampering himself still. He's even worse than Mor,” he added dryly, though there was humor in his eyes as he regarded her. 

“I'm early,” she protested. 

I felt like letting out a sigh. Any minute I could I could spend without the constant awkwardness that came with his presence, with so many things still unsaid between us, was a minute I jealously treasured. 

“He can't decide between between his ebony and jet black tunic,” Cassian said. “Must be so hard being him right now.” 

I snorted. “However can he decide?” 

While I'd rather eat glass than to willing expend more time with him than strictly necessary, mocking him was something I was able and enjoyed to do. The least he deserved, really. I didn't hate him, but there was enough irritation left in me that I wasn't above a little bit of pettiness. 

“Alright, my children,” spoke Mor, clasping her hands. “Let's go pick a bottle.” 

I frowned. “You're drinking?” 

Mor noticed the perplexed quality to voice and simply waved a hand. “It's somewhat of a tradition. We have one drink before any court function we know it's going to be stressful,” she explained. “Come. You'll need one, too.”

She took my hand before I could protest and dragged me to the cabinet where Rhys kept his alcohol. She looked at it with a pensive expression, pursing her lips as she considered. “I don't know, what do you say?” she asked Cassian and Azriel, who followed us. 

“Let Feyre pick one,” Azriel proposed, shrugging when I turned to him. 

“I don't know a lot about liquors,” I said. 

Cassian shrugged, too. “Everything in it is very old and expensive, there's no wrong choice.”

I wanted to decline, but after a moment of thought I shrugged as well. I picked one randomly, holding it up for them to see. “This one?” 

Mor looked positively delighted, she and Cassian gave me equally mischievous grins. Even Azriel drew one of his rare smirks. The three of them shared a complicit look, but Cassian snatched the bottle out of my hands before I could ask. 

Only when he handed us one glass with a knuckle-length of the amber liquor, did Azriel explain, “That was the most antique one.”

“Will I get all the blame?” 

Mor snickered. “Even if we did, Rhys knows better with us. But he'll understand.”

If Cassian's smug expression was any indication, I knew she was right. Nothing to do now, might as well earn the blame. 

I was about to drink when Azriel raised his glass. “To the High Lords and their over-the-top dramas.” 

Cassian came next, “To Feyre, who's going to end them or I'm an awful teacher.” I broke into a grin. 

“To the balls of the poor bastard who tries to stop her,” Mor finished. 

They looked at me at the same time. I considered before raising my glass. “Here's to me and hoping my sanity makes it.” 

We clinked our glasses together. “Bottoms up, children,” Cassian said. 

I pinched my face as the burning liquid made its way down my throat, to my stomach. This was no faerie wine. Cassian laughed quietly at me. It was kinda annoying that he didn't move a muscle in his face. 

That's when Amren arrived. She wore a grey dress—no surprise in that—and a necklace of red rubies matching her red lips. The piece pulled at my memory. I had to give it a second look. “Didn't know you had those preferences, Feyre,” she purred when she noticed my stare 

Mor choked on her remaining alcohol. 

“Where did you get that necklace from?” I blurted, my cheeks burning bright red. 

Amren smirked lazily. “It was a gift—from a friend.”

“Since when do you have friend?” asked Cassian. 

Well, I wouldn't have said she and Varian were friend. But if Amren herself confirmed it who was I to judge? 

“Did you think I could survive five hundred years with only you for company? Please, Cassian, I didn't think you were this stupid.” 

“You hurt me, tiny Amren.”

“You say that like I should care.”

Mor groaned. “Stop it, you two. We don't have time for this.” 

Neither of them seemed willing to let it go easily. Rhys chose to come walk on us that same second. I stiffened without meaning to, a fast-becoming usual thing to do whenever we were in the same room. We all decided to ignore it. 

“Really, Cassian?” Rhys asked when he noticed the bottle on the table. “If you were going to open it, you could have done it whenever you could drink it all. Now I'm just disappointed.” 

“Don't be.” He smirked. “Feyre did it.”

I glared at him with a promise of revenge. He seemed to forget I was prone to lose control with my fire magic and that hair could burn. 

Feyre isn't the one who's been stealing me bottles since we were twenty,” he said flatly, an eyebrow raised. But his eyes fell on me and a corner of his mouth curled up. “But you have to start somewhere.” 

“I don't know what you're talking about,” I said evenly. 

Rhys nodded twice. “I'm sure you don't.” 

I was deeply tempted to flip him off. But I held back when I realized that we were sliding back into our old dynamic of push and pull. If I had to be honest, I missed it, the easy way we had when it came to talk—bicker—to each other. And yet I held back, I stayed away. Because since our conversation it was more pull than push and it drove me kind of insane to feel it all the time. 

I settled down with rolling my eyes. Rhys on his part filled one very generous glass. “If you can't beat them…” he sighed with a forlorn face that morphed into thoughtfulness. One second later, he raised the glass. “To the scraps of my sanity and the heaping pile of bullshit were getting into that might as well make me lose it. Cheers.” 

My jaw fell open as I registered his words. He—he just didn't say that. I wanted to scream. Mor glanced at me over the brim of her second glass with sympathetic eyes. I almost scoffed. 

Mates indeed.


Rhys winnowed us all to the front of Tamlin's manor. 

If being around him made me hold my breath for a second, coming back to the Spring Court was like sitting at the top of a mountain and pretending I wasn't choking on the thin air. I bit the inside of my cheek hard enough to draw blood. 

I hadn't noticed how tense I got until someone—Mor—put a comforting hand on my arm and I almost jumped three feet in the air. She took her hand back. There was worry written clearly on her face when I looked up at her. 

I stopped, I realized. And with me, the others had, too. Mor's steady and assured gaze repeated the same thing they all told me the past week. You don't have to deal with this, let's go and we'll take care of the consequences. 

Those consequences were war. Death. It was enough to make my feet move. Mor and Rhys fell into step beside me, offering their support in silence. While Azriel, Amren and Cassian followed close behind, offering silent protection should I need or ask for it. 

We reached the grand staircase, two guards standing watch. I looked down and swallowed hard. It was stupid, I had no reason to do that. But the shame coursing my veins made me stay that way. I felt five heavy set of eyes falling on me. 

I hated that they had to see it—this version of me. Rhys had seen it. Mor, too, to some extent. But so many things had changed over the last month that being like this felt like a bad dream. It was very much real, though. And the idea of going back to square one was unbearable. It was even worse to think I might have disappointed them somehow. 

A presence tapped on my mental barriers. I lowered them enough for Rhys to give me his message. Keep your chin high, he told me, don't let him think he defeated you. He hasn't and he won't. 

Funny how the last time he told me something similar I had been determined to save the person who was now making me act like this. The Eddies of the Cauldron swirled in many unseen, unpredictable ways. 

You're stronger than him , he went on. He can't contain you and that terrifies him. He's not scared of me—he's scared I might teach you he can't beat you. Now it's time to show him you've already learnt. 

I looked at him and he looked back, words of encouragement burning in his eyes like stars. He was right. He was right. So I raised my chin up and walked up those stairs. 

Maybe the air was thin. But I had wind magic now. I could make my own air to breathe. I just needed a little reminded. It was because of that, perhaps, that I gave in and told him, Librarian, servant, motivational speaker and High Lord. So many talents in there. 

He flashed me a smirk. 

I think I began to return it but it died down not a moment later. Lucien waited for us in the foyer. 

I didn't stop this time, but it was painfully obvious how I faltered one step and how my breath hitched. Lucien. By the forgotten gods, I wasn't ready for this. 

We had parted way in amicable terms, despite the fact that we lived at opposite ends of Prythian and that our Courts were enemies. But that was different, that had been just me. The Feyre that was angry and resentful, the Feyre that was his friend. Not this Feyre, member of the Dark Court, emissary of its Dark Lord. 

Just a matter of time, a crawling voice hissed. Just a matter of time before you become a monster to him, too. 

And I would have to let him think so, because I had to fit in with the picture Rhys showed the rest of Prythian to keep questions at bay. It was a mystery already that no one actually knew where I lived in the Night Court. 

Rhys stopped in front of Lucien, I didn't need to give another step farther than that. “Little Lucien,” he greeted in a purr. 

Lucien gave him a blank stare. Still, he bowed deeply, without so much as a glimpse of deference in the gesture. When he stood straight again, his gaze fell on me. His eyes, both metal and flesh, drinking up the details of my appearance like fine wine. I wanted to wince when he looked up at the diadem on my head. It made it seem like I was crowned, just like Rhys was. 

I was already so tense that my muscles seemed likely to snap if this went on a second longer. I wouldn't look to the sides or over my shoulder to see what face my friends were making, but I felt like Lucien was one wrong look away from being beaten up. 

Whether he realized it or not, he only raised his eyebrows. “Well, I'll be damned. Black suits you, makes your eyes pop.”

I felt like letting out a huge sigh. But the stunned little laughter was just as good.  “Must be a cold day in hell,” I muttered. 

His expression was mildly amused as he replied, “Indeed.” 

But it faded not a moment later, the easiness between us ebbed as the reality around us sank like a stone in a lake. We shared an equally knowing, tired glance. 

“Is he—there?”

Lucien winced. “He's the host.”

I snorted bitterly. “Was worth asking. I hoped he liked his dramatic entrances enough.”

Lucien looked over us, his eyes traveling from one to the other. I assumed that when his face paled a shade was because of Amren. He was brave in not letting it show too much just how scared he was. Mor chuckled lowly. 

“This way,” he indicated, one hand showing the way with the smallest of trembles. 

He turned around and led the way to a wing of the manor I hadn't been to often, but knew regardless. Back when I bothered to know my surroundings, when I cared. 

“I'm surprised to find things still standing,” Rhys commented by my side. “Should I take it as a good sign?” 

Lucien aimed a flat look at Rhys. “You should know better.” 

I had the very distinct feeling of being the child of a fighting marriage, an unsettling experience of being right in the middle. Both figurative and literally. That was just great. There was no lost love between those two and they didn't make efforts to hide it. 

I eyed Lucien carefully before saying, “Take it as a sign that he didn't throw his tantrum this side of the house.” When he flinched, I knew I was right. 

There wasn't any noticeable bruises on him, but a week was long enough for a faerie to heal. On the outside at least. 

Someday. Someday I was going to make Tamlin pay for all of this. 

Lucien stopped before turning around the corner that would take us to the huge meeting room. He faced us once again. “Helion is an ally already,” he stated plainly, “and whatever you did or said those days in Summer, it was enough to make Tarquin side with you.”

“We didn't do anything,” I muttered. “He's just a decent male.”

“Don't expect the rest to be.” He nodded. When he talked again, it was to Rhys, “If you're smart about it, you can get Thesan to support you. But don't expect anything from my father. And you should know by know not to even try with Kallias.”

The High Lord of Winter. I had known their relationship was strained but something in the way Lucien talked told me there was more to it. My brows knitted together as I glanced at Rhys, his face closed up and his shoulder tense. 

“I had no part in any of that,” he said gravely. 

At that point, I was openly watching them with hundreds of questions ready to spill out of my mouth. Mor was the same when I glimpse her face out of the corner of my eye. 

“What are you talking about?” 

Rhys didn't answer. He turned his face away. When it was clear that he wouldn't speak Lucien did, “The two dozen younglings from the Winter Court.”

My breath whooshed out of me, Lucien's words were like a kick to the gut. I forgot about that bit of information, I forgot that the blight meant Amarantha. And by extension, it meant Rhysand, too. 

“I wouldn't do that,” Rhys breathed. “Even you should know that.” 

Lucien stared Rhys down, nothing to give away his thoughts. “I wouldn't have befriended a human,” he said evenly, gesturing in my direction. “And I did. Fifty years is a long time to change, Rhysand, for better or worse.”

Rhys opened his mouth and closed it, no sound coming out of him. I'd never seen him like that, choking on his words, on the glaring grief written so clearly in his eyes. The wide-eye look Lucien gave him told me he hadn't either. But I knew Lucien, and knew that he wouldn't believe him based on what could be acting. 

“It's not me who you need to convince,” he went on. “I didn't stop you for that.” 

“What is this for then, boy?” Amren snapped behind me. 

“Tamlin put up wards and shields today, he had someone from Day reinforcing them. If something goes wrong, he's not letting you take Feyre away.” He paused a moment, his eyes pausing on me briefly. “I don't trust any of you. Specifically you, Rhysand. But she does and you're a clever bastard, so I hope you have a plan to get her out if things go badly.”

We had one, if everything else failed. But that Lucien was suggesting it at all… Treason, I realized with a jolt. We were an enemy Court and if someone reported, say, some priestess, Lucien would land himself into a lot of trouble. A lot wouldn't begin to cover it. 

“Are you giving me advice, Little Lucien?” Rhys asked, the question half-breathed. It spoke volumes of his shock. 

Lucien stared at him for the longest moment, one corner of his mouth quirking up. “Why would I do that?” 

And he turned around, leaving me gaping after him. It wasn't a cold day in hell, it was an actual blizzard in there, I thought as I watched him go. 

I wasn't expecting that either. 

I think none of us had. But there was no time to ponder it further because Rhys turned to me, glancing around they all did too, one question easily read in them. Are you ready? 

Truth to be told, I wasn't. Just like I wasn't ready to have a mate. And yet, I still went to Rhys and talked it out. I could do this, despite the fact my dress felt suddenly tight. He can't beat me, he can't control me and he can't contain me. No one could. I was strong and I could go through this, I could do it. 

I nodded and rounded the corner, they followed me without a question, Rhys and Mor easily keeping the pace beside me. Lucien held the door open at the end of the too long and too short hallway. And beyond—people. People who stood and watched as we approached. 

Mor's advice echoed in my head. Walk in there like they ought to bow for you. It was hard to remember when my knees wobbled under my skirt. A game of play-pretend, like when I snuck into my parents' bedroom with my sisters and we put on Mother's clothes, pretending we were grown-ups. But if I faltered, if I failed, the consequences would be greater than a broken shoe and a scowling. 

You'll be okay, Rhys reassured me softly, even if his face was a mask of boredom at the edge of my vision. At this point is a matter of whether we can get out without revealing too much or not. 

A safety net. That's what the mating bond was. It was almost sacrilegious to treat something so rare and precious like that, little more than a tool, only to keep my peace of mind. Not that it seemed to be working very well. My palms were sweaty and the gems on my bodice didn't seem to be the absorbent type. 

Not even Tamlin can fight this, I repeated to myself. I'm safe. I'm free. 

I didn't feel like that when we walked past the threshold under the scrutiny of six High Lords and their courtiers. My skin crawled as their eyes fell on me. It was almost a relief when I had to stop and bow low. Almost. It was too short for me to get myself together. Not that I wanted to bow much longer for people who would knowingly leave a female in the hands of an abuser because he thought she was his. 

The place fell silent while Lucien took his seat next to Tamlin and a servant girl, pale and shaking, guided us to our spot at the massive, circular table, next to an entourage of armored winged Fae. The Peregryns. Dawn Court. High Lord Thesan. It was him who meant the difference to me, him who I had to convince. 

Not Rhys, they warned me yesterday. Me. I was already at disadvantage by being associated with him, with them. So I couldn't rely on them to appeal their mercy. 

Tarquin sat at our right, Varian and Cresseida flanking him. He was staring between Rhys and me, his turquoise eyes piercing. I dipped my chin and lowered my eyes for him. He reciprocated the gesture. 

From then on, it was easy to distinguish the other Courts. I recognized Beron and Lucien's brothers next to Thesan, a fact that no doubt the male next to him wasn't very fond of. Winter sat next to Summer. High Lord Kallias and the female with the same shade of white hair next to him were wrapped in fur-lined, fine clothes. He was the only other person who didn't stare openly at me, but at Rhys. 

He made a show of ignoring it, but I knew. I felt the remorse and guilt and grief. It was heartbreaking to see. 

That left Helion, High Lord of the Day Court, whose powers might be the one thing that could break me free if things went to hell. His lips stretched into a lazy smirk, with his head tilted slightly to the side and his dark, intense gaze on me, it was honestly a feat not to swallow hard. He looked at me like a car would to a mouse. 

But maybe holding his gaze would be easier than to meet Tamlin's. I knew he hadn't torn his gaze away from me since he saw me coming. So like the coward I was, I looked elsewhere. To Ianthe sat at his right, her eyes ablaze when she examined my attire. I thought she was going to spit fire when it was me, not Amren, who sat beside Rhys. A sick sort of satisfaction came from seeing the envy flare in her eyes. 

The others raised their brows, but only Beron let his face twist in open disgust. I ignored it. 

“Well?” Rhys inquired, half-bored already. “Here we are. Might as well stop wasting our time. Feyre darling and I have busy schedules.” His half-smirk was met with silence. 

It wouldn't last long. Tamlin's restrain onle went so far and Rhys made it seem like an artform to piss people off. 

Tamlin breathed deeply before speaking up, his face so like what I saw in the Tithe, “You know what you did, Rhysand.”

“I really do not,” Rhys drawled. 

“You took Feyre away and have been keeping her in the Night Court, against her will.”

Rhys leaned back but words poured out of me before he could say something. “You wouldn't know a willing woman if she slapped you in the face,” I snapped at him. 

His eyes looked green from the distance. Like the still-life paintings on the halls, of things long dead. “You wouldn't know your own thoughts from his.”

I stared him down before answering, a cynical brow arched up. “Of course I can tell. It was definitely him who made me want to run after you lock me up like a prisoner.” 

The air tensed. 

“Ah.” I glanced at Helion, who watched Tamlin with an unreadable expression. “So the rumors are true?” 

My eyes fell on Tamlin, watching him closely, daring him to lie. We stared at each other until he went to Helion. “That is not relevant,” he simply said. Like it was nothing. I never wanted to beat him up so hard. 

Tarquin spoke before I could, “She seems to think it is. And I'm inclined to do the same.”

The look that passed through Tamlin's face made my blood curdle. He became a stranger in front of my eyes. “You would think whatever wins you an alliance with the Night Court,” he spat. “So young and so ambitious already.”

“Do not make the mistake of condescending me,” Tarquin all but hissed. Never had I heard such fury rippling in his voice. “This isn't about an alliance. What you did to her was wrong.”

“And what he's doing is okay? Look at her, she looks like them. It's a gods-damned miracle he didn't put her in one of those dresses he seems so fond of.”

Beron narrowed his eyes, considering me. “He does seem to prefer putting her on crowns still. Maybe that's why she left.”

Their attention fell on me at once, like they shared one mind. It was a feat in itself not to sink into my chair. Calm, I was calm and Beron was just a bastard. “If you believe my clothes are the pressing issue her, Lord, you haven't been paying attention,” I replied coolly. 

My words elicited chuckles hidden behind hands across the table. I realized a little too late that I might find my head on fire, if the way Beron glared at me was any indication. Rhys didn't seem too fazed about that, as he sent his amused laughter down the bond. I'm afraid I have to bring you to all meetings from now on, he told me.

“I'm afraid to say Feyre is right,” he said. “I'd love discussing how breathtaking our Cursebreaker looks today. I mean, look at her. She doesn't look like her bones are going to protrude from her skin anymore.” He shot Tamlin a simmering glare, despite the seemingly easiness of his tone. “The point, however, is that I'm not going to stand by while you, Tamlin, decide to take her prisoner under the pretense of an engagement. Say again, where's even that hideous ring of yours?” 

There was no remorse as I said, “I threw it to the fire the same day he locked me up.”

Not necessarily true, but close enough that it wasn't a complete lie. My powers would remain secret as long as I could keep them that way. For once, Tamlin and I agreed in something. What I did not understand was the baffled expresión on his face. 

Surely he'd seen the melted gold on the floor, right? I glanced at Lucien. The guilt he tried to hide told me everything I needed to know. “It's true,” he told Tamlin, thought we all heard it clearly. 

The betrayal that flashed in Tamlin's eyes gave me a twisted sort of joy for a second. That's what it feels like , I wanted to say, don't you love it when the people you trust hides things from you? But then I realized what this meant for Lucien. And then I was afraid because I had no idea what Tamlin would do to him—if he'd punish him. 

“My point still stands,” Tamlin said after a moment of silence, his eyes not leaving Lucien for another second. “He's clearly influencing her thoughts.” 

“Why are you so convinced of that, Lord Tamlin?” asked the female next to the High Lord of Winter. 

Vivianne, I recalled, Lady of Winter and an old friend of Mor. Her blue eyes were made of solid ice as she examined me and then Rhys, as if she could see through us. It certainly felt like that. So I didn't know what to feel when she only showed us distrust. 

“She doesn't act like this,” he explained. There was something in his voice that made me grit my teeth as he did so, like he had a right to speak about me. “Feyre was never a violent person and she's attacked me twice, over an insult for a male she hated not so long ago. Tell me you wouldn't feel suspicious if it was your husband.”

“You forget that Feyre is as Fae as you and me,” Mor spoke, her seriousness barely covering the distaste in her voice. “Our instincts make us react differently than human.” 

One of Lucien's brothers perked up at her, his eyes narrowing in curiosity. “What is your point, Morrigan?” he asked. 

Tension filled our part of the table as the male addressed her, but Mor still answered, “I'm just saying that we are protective of those we care about.”

“No,” Lucien said. “Feyre's always been like that, capable of being vicious when the people she cares about are in danger.” 

Fury the likes I'd never seen flashed across Tamlin's face as he turned to his emissary. “What?” 

Lucien did a good job at acting oblivious to it, but I could only hold myself back so I didn't take him away. “You told me she threw a knife at you when you collected her to protect her family. As a human. So it's not really as surprising that she goes these lengths to protect whom she cares about.”

The implication of Lucien's words didn't go unnoticed. For a lot of people. Not for Tamlin, who scented the air, looking for damning evidence. Even when he found none, the ire in his glare didn't recede. He laughed bitterly. “Should've known that cock was that convincing,” he spat. “It persuaded Amarantha, I'm guessing this was cake.”

“Watch how you speak of my High Lord.” Azriel's words went quiet. Too quiet. 

Tamlin didn't care, as he chuckled again. “I don't even think it's your fault, Feyre. He managed to fool all of Prythian, it is no wonder he fooled you. But know that it isn't true, anything that he's promised. He's an expert at it, poisoning your mind with his thoughts one by one. Until you can't even tell the difference. He'll make you believe you're oh, so important. But you're just one mean to an end and once he's done with you, he will simply discard you.”

All I was able to do was blink at him as my head went silent. 

“Just like you did after I broke the curse?” I said quietly. 

He was mad. I realized it with such a clarity. He was mad and he would drag me with him if I let him. Tamlin flinched, as if it could keep the truth away. That didn't stop my flat words from silencing the whole room. 

“You keep talking,” I breathed, “keep telling me of how Rhysand is going to control my every thought and every word that comes out of my mouth, that he's going to lock me up and use me like his slave. But you're only describing yourself.” I glanced at Tarquin. “How many times did I go out in your Court?” 

Tarquin looked taken aback by the odd question, but recovered fast. “Several,” he said. I thought Tamlin might pass out at that. 

“You didn't even let me out of the house,” my voice darkened. “I don't need to be Fae or human to receive that, my right . I don't need to fuck Rhysand or to be controlled by him to be angry about it.” I narrowed my eyes at him. “If you knew me at all, you'd know that I find it unacceptable and that I wouldn't allow you to take that away from me. You would know that this isn't about him, this is about you . I was Amarantha's prisoner, I'm not going to yours as well.” 

When I looked around, gazes of horror and understanding were exchanged between the courtiers and advisers. My heart stuttered. Yes, I was locked up like you were for fifty years. Don't let it happen again. Tamlin winced, leaking back into his seat, I knew my blow had struck deep and true. But the stunned silent didn't last long. 

“He is—” 

I slammed my fist on the table, so suddenly that Thesan's lover flared his wings in surprise and alarm. “I don't care,” I growled. “I don't give a shit what he is or what he did! Stop hiding your mistakes behind his!” 

Tamlin stared at me with wide eyes. “My—my mistakes?” He blurted. “Maybe the wine hurt your your memory, but I remember. I watched what he did to you, what he made you do in front all of us.”

“Do you also remember how he's the only reason I'm alive or your sudden good memory needs to be freshen up?” I held my left hand up, the eye on my palm staring at him. “You see this? This is why I didn't die. So go ahead and pretend you're offended on my behalf, that still doesn't change the fact that you did nothing and you have no right to decide how I should feel about anything. ” 

Stay quiet, stay quiet. Understand, I chanted for myself. Understand me for once. Rhys sent waves of encouragement and awe through the bond, though his face remained bored. 

I breathed in. “Stop it already, Tamlin,” I all but begged. “Focus in your people and let me go .”

His eyes were glued on me for the longest minute in my life. I let myself have hope. Maybe, just maybe I could get through his thick skull. But if he was good at anything, it was at disappointing me. 

“Could've fooled me there,” he snarled at Rhys. “Manipulative slut. Let her go right now.” 

And just as easily, he swept my pleas under the rug, never to be heard again if he had his way. I slumped on my chair, my shoulders curved inwards. It was really simple for him, wasn't it? I wanted to cry out in frustration as I realized that I could talk his ear off until I was blue in the face. It wouldn't change a thing. 

Things went quiet around me. 

“This is getting tedious,” Helion drawled, one finger tracing idle circles on his armrest. I could barely hear him. He glanced sideways at one of his companions with a long-suffering expression. “High Lords are ridiculous, don't you think?” The male next to him didn't offer an answer. Helion sighed. “Say whatever it is you want, Tamlin, before I get up and leave.”

I scowled. Jerks, both of them. 

“I demand Rhysand gives me my fiancé back.” No better than a child with a lost toy, I thought distantly. “And to absolve the bargain between them that should have been broken when she died.” 

Never—never had I such an urge to roar at him with all the rage lighting my body. But it was all slipping from my grasp, the will to keep on fighting him. It was pointless, it made no sense. He was never going to listen to me and as long as he had his way, he wasn't going to let me be heard. And in the others' uninterested faces, I knew they didn't care. 

“Our bargain extends for the rest of her life, so as long as she lives, the bargain stands,” Rhys said smoothly. It was hard to hear him over the silence blanketing my head. “But you're welcome to try and break it on your own. In fact, I deeply encourage you.” And be struck by the magic of the bargain when it didn't work. “The first part of your demand, I'm afraid, I can't fulfill given that I'm not Feyre's master. You should remember that neither are you.”

“Drop the act, you and I both know that you not care for her. You only want to provoke me. Congratulations! It worked.” 

Rhys threw his head back with laziness, letting it fall to the side as he told Tamlin, “Things don't revolve around you, whenever will you learn? This is about her.” 

“What do you care?” he scoffed. 

That question again. I wondered how many people had asked that from him. Not many if his reaction was to completely stop, as if he couldn't quite process the wrath that it elicited. I felt it before he showed it in his violet eyes. It could raze the world down. 

“You'd find,” he said, his tone laced with violence, “that I very much care about the future of the person who got me—who got all of us out of that forsaken mountain.” I glanced at the people sat around us, how they stilled at the barely contained rage emanating from Rhys. “Don't think for one second that I'm not grateful for it. Not that you would understand, you were out here sitting on your ass while the rest of us rotted down there.”

“Bold words from her whore,” Tamlin spat. 

“Call me what you might, the facts remain.” He narrowed his eyes with feral focus. “Did you ever visit her cell? A little bit of hay, a bucket, a coat Lucien stole to keep her warm at night and nothing else. She spent three months in there. I'm not about to allow her to spend a second more in another cell, as comfortable as it might be.”

My breath got stuck on my throat. I was surprised to see the sentiment reflected on the faces of the others. And—shame. That was shame assaulting my senses when I casted my powers outwards. Like they couldn't believe it was Rhysand, out of all people, who called them out. 

It was Cressida who spoke first, to my endless shock. “Feyre has given enough,” she said, looking directly at me. “It's time we give something back. Something that is hers to begin with.”

My choice. 

I looked around, trying to guess their thoughts. Please, please. Tarquin would support me, that I knew. And Helion was Rhys' friend, so he would as well despite his jagged barbs. It was Thesan who worried me. He and his companions had been silent through the whole debate, their expressions giving nothing away. 

Even Lady Vivienne looked more inclined to step in on my behalf, despite the still distrust etched clearly across her face and her court's. But I knew they wouldn't help, it was too much a hope to have. 

There was a beat of silence before Thesan spoke, slowly and deliberately, “May we have a word with you, Feyre?” 

I sartled a little at being addressed so directly. Tamlin took advantage of my surprise. “No,” he dictated.

I didn't dignify an answer to that, didn't even spare him a glance. “We?” I asked Thesan. 

“Without Tamlin or Rhysand,” he clarified. “Unless you mind.”

“I do not mind,” I answered and hoped it was a wise decision. I worked under the assumption that opposing Tamlin was a good a signal as any. 

It's okay, Rhys reassured me. They probably want to speak to you without us hovering. You're doing great. Better than great. 

How much are you enjoying this? 

Seeing you rip into him so effortlessly? Plenty. 

Of course he was, the prick. At least one of us is enjoying it. My voice sounded strained even in my mind. 

Picking up on my current mood, he sobered up. It'll be over soon, Feyre. You're getting out. 

I wanted to believe him, desperately so. But as the meeting went on, I had a sinking feeling that Tamlin wouldn't let me go. We were going to have to reveal the mating bond, I could make peace with that. What terrified me was that, even then, he wouldn't let me leave. That none of them would care. 

Thesan got up, halting my hopeless threat of thought. “Tamlin, if you don't mind.”

He sneered as if he indeed minded, but gestured sharply at Lucien. He wasted no time to get on his feet. 

All the High Lords stood, except Tamlin and Rhys, one of their companions joining them. I stood as well, alone. It hit me that I was going to be alone with five High Lords. Four of which I didn't know. One who was Lucien's cruel father. 

Nineteen years of human fear came crashing down on me. But I remained standing. I made it this far, this was no time to back down. I've got this. After Amarantha this is cake, right? 

That's the spirit, Rhys replied dryly. 

I sent him a mental image of me flipping him off, but I didn't take my eyes off the High Lords who moved for the door. It was an effort, but I made myself walk with them without looking back. A moment later, I felt a presence next to me. I had to grip my nerves by the neck and shove them down until they stood no chance to rear their ugly head. 

It was only Lucien, I realized as I glimpsed red and gold. Neither of us said anything, not while leading the High Lords, but I tried my best to send him my worry and gratitude at him standing up for me. I wanted to talk to him, very badly, but I didn't dare to use my daemati magic so close to the others. 

So silence it was as we took the High Lords to a different room, well away from the one we had been in. To my unending chagrin, I realized this was the lady of the house's work. I cursed inwardly. Colorfully. 

We stopped in front of a double door. Lucien pushed it open and moved to the side, one hand gesturing inside. I stood beside him and watched the Lords walk in. Some might say it was good manners, I knew it was my last chance to catch my breath. 

My heart throbbed in my chest as the last person, one of Lucien's brothers, who didn't spare us one glance, walked in. 

I squeezed Lucien's hand quickly, shooting him one last nervous look. He squeezed back. I let go before I had a chance to think better of this and go back. 

I walked into that room, another meeting room enough to fit for all of us. There was another round table, in which all of the High Lords were already sitting. Waiting. 

As the door clicked closed behind me, did I truly realize how alone I was. 

Helion, like the bastard I was slowly noticing he was—no wonder he and Rhysand were such good friends—was the one to bring it to attention. “Are you scared?” he purred. 

I stared at him, then at the others, even if my insides quaked. “No,” I lied and took a seat. 

Chapter Text

Sitting alone in a room full of the most powerful males in all of Prythian was a nerve-wracking experience I had no wish to repeat nowhere in the near future, but I shouldered through the first, long silence until Thesan had mercy on me. 

“I asked to talk to you for two reasons, Feyre,” he began, his brown eyes set on me. “The first one is Tamlin, the second one is Rhysand. I see that what happened between you puts you on edge and I want to hear your story without interruptions. Or outer influences.”

I nodded once, slowly, even though he hadn't asked any question. But I didn't dare to speak for fear my voice would come shaky. 

“What worries me, more than anything,” he went on, “is the possibility of taking you from one abuser's hands to another's.” I had no idea which one was which, and something told me he had no idea either. “Was it true or false, I agree with Rhysand's earlier words. I'm deeply grateful for everything you did for us, Feyre. I wouldn't like to see you trapped the way we were.” 

It was a good sign, I thought, that he cared. I should say something, but there were no words that seemed appropriate. Thesan didn't seem too offended for it, as he only turned to Helion. 

“If you don't mind.” 

Helion nodded and focused on me. Where his amber eyes were had been mocking and cold, now there was only a sort of seriousness that had me freezing. He stood, his robe-that-was-not-a-robe swishing carelessly with the movement. I realized that he was approaching me and I couldn't help getting up, too, taking several steps back. 

He stopped, almost behind Thesan. The Peregryn besides him tucked his wings tight and stayed still. “As Thesan said, we are worried Rhysand might be controlling you,” he explained, his voice impossibly calm. “Before you answer our question, we have to make sure it's you who's talking. For which there are certain spells that would cut any link between you and him, were there to be any. Is that okay with you?” 

My mouth went dry. Any link. Any bond. “What kind of spell?” I asked quietly.

“One I'm going to throw around you, like some sort of shield.” That was the wrong thing to say. I had enough of being shielded. Maybe Helion noticed it, because his gaze softened ever so slightly. “I give you my word that once we're done here, no spell will stop you or contain you.” 

He was an asshole, despite him trying to sooth me or whatever it was he tried to do. But he was Rhys' friend, so I had to trust it was safe to trust him. I nodded, hoping I was making the right decision. 

“It won't hurt, but you'll feel tingling,” he warned me. I nodded again. 

It was over before it started, barely seconds. I really expected more. I would have doubted the spell was in place if I hadn't felt the tingling, or if I wasn't able to see the threads around me myself. It was supposed to be all, but Helion remained standing there, his eyes intent on me. My stomach turned in on itself. Shit. It was an effort to keep my breathing even, but all I could ask myself was what he'd seen with his gifts? 

He cocked his head to the side. “Fascinating,” he murmured. 

“What is?” asked the male that accompanied him. I couldn't hear him quite well over the beating in my ears. 

Helion stared me for another second too long with those amber eyes focused on me. I didn't dare move. “Nothing,” he announced with a small smirk. “There's nothing on her, not even scraps.”

But his expression was knowing. I knew I was deep in shit. What I didn't know was what he glimpsed, exactly, but that he'd seen something. Cauldron boil me. I sat in my solitary chair, nauseated and barely holding myself together. 

Beron, unknowingly, pulled me out of it by scoffing. “There are more ways to skin a cat,” he said. “If Rhysand wanted to control her, he could.”

I scowled before I could control my expression. Helion grinned mischievously. “Somehow, I don't think so,” he purred looking at me with delight. 

Beron regarded him with clear disgust, before extending me the courtesy. Vivienne talked before it escalated. “With all due respect, Lords , you are wasting your time.” I had the feeling she was trying hard not to roll her eyes. It made me like her instantly. “Unless you intended to bicker over matters we cannot answer with any measure of reliability.”

Yes, I most definitely liked her and could see why she and Mor were good friends, even if I had no idea where that friendship stood after Under the Mountain. I couldn't say the same of Beron, though, who gave her a filthy look that said enough of his opinion on how or when females should speak up. Never, if I read him right. 

Kallias, noticing the dark stare, stiffened. “I recommend you to think of how you'll speak to my mate, Beron. And to remember she's a valued adviser in my court.” A threat if there was any. 

I wondered if Rhys would have to do the same for me someday. The thought didn't sit well. 

“Lady Vivienne is right,” Tarquin intervened, giving a nod in her direction. “We're here to get answers. Particularly, I would like some, to finally clear all these rumors.” 

He looked at me, the others following suit. My shoulders tensed. It was Kallias who asked me, “What happened here after Under the Mountain?” 

I drowned in the flood of memories from those first days. It took me a moment, but I made myself talk. “I wouldn't go out of my room in the first weeks. I rather spend them sleeping, crying and vomiting after I woke up from the nightmares. I never—I had never killed anyone. Not like that. And what I did—the last trial affected me.” That didn't begin to cover it. “I was ashamed, so much that I rather not deal with people's gratitude. So I stayed in. But then, at night when it was dark, it started to feel like a dungeon. I couldn't take it and started to go out.” A bitter laugh. “Or asking for permission to do so. I was told I'm in great danger of being harmed by Hybern, or Amarantha's followers, or—you.” 

It was a low blow to Tamlin's image, to having him mistrust his fellow High Lords like that. But in that moment, I didn't care being ruthless. 

Many eyebrows were raised at the statement when I glanced around. Beron—what a surprise—was the one to comment. “You did end up with one of Amarantha's creature, though.” 

“Your sons cheered while Rhysand threatened to wipe Lucien's mind,” I pointed out flatly. “If I had to end up with someone I'd rather be him and not you.”

Beron's eldest son perked up, giving me one long, unreadable stare. “We had to play games to survive there, Feyre.” He spat my name like it was an insult. The same name he would have readily given Amarantha, had he known it. 

I rolled my eyes. “We all had to, if you weren't aware.” And Rhys had been playing the most dangerous of them all. 

“Is that why none of us was able to remember who made up his Inner Circle?” he shot back. 

I stayed quiet, a fact that Beron and his hateful son seemed too pleased about. I felt like I proved them right. Shit

“It is quite strange we weren't able to recall their existence, considering their individual reputation. His General and the Shadowsinger, wiped out from memory just like that. And Morrigan, a war hero and my former fiancé. You would think I'd remember. Not to mention his monster of a Second, a tell for naughty children.”

I didn't speak, even as the information shocked me. 

“Really makes you wonder, doesn't it?” Beron pushed. “Not only did he keep them safe and hidden, they were totally forgotten as if they never existed. The question is how?” 

“I fail to see how that's any of your concern or how it affects the matter at hand,” I snapped. Beron sneered at me, but I didn't so much as look away. 

“As much as I'd like to know that special story,” Thesan sighed, “I really want to know Feyre's story and be done with this.” He looked at me and nodded. “Please go on.” 

I sat up straighter, my stare lingering on Beron for a second too long, before continuing. “Tamlin did let me out. At first. With a guard in tow. But then it was two, then five and suddenly the place was swarmed with them. In addition to Lucien and Ianthe. It became less burdensome to just stop trying. I've had enough of being watched and monitored. But that had already proved to be disastrous for me too. So it was a vicious circle, a game where the only one winning was him.” I breathed deeply as I recalled the next part. “The day he locked me up, there was interference at the western border. I couldn't—couldn't take it anymore, the silence, the guards, the everything. So I asked him for to let me go with him, to let me do something for once, only to get the same answer. No, always no. But I was done and I would go with or without his permission and when he saw that… he decided he would rather have me broken than not having me at all.” For the first time, I looked down, to my hands interlaced on my lap. “It felt like Under the Mountain over again,” I whispered. 

No one spoke for a moment that I used to get my wits together again. I felt bare with the truth so laid out for everyone to see. It was a sort of vulnerability I had never experienced before, but a necessary one in order to gain their sympathy. 

I looked up, throwing my shoulders back like I'd seen Nesta do many times before. I was met with serious, joyless and distant gazes. I recognized it in them, the broken bit in me that might never heal and might never leave that place. They, too, were haunted by the memories. 

“And then?” asked Thesan's lover in a quiet tone that reminded me of Azriel. 

“Then Morrigan got me out.” I didn't miss the fleeting look that passed between him and his High Lord. “And Rhys offered me a choice: to stay there and work with him, to stay and figure out what I wanted to do with my life or to bring me back. So I decided and accepted being his emissary. We went to the Summer Court and then Tamlin appeared out of nowhere, threatening war on Lord Tarquin.”

“And that's all your job entails?” Kallias raised a brow. “Being an emissary?” The implication had me gritting my teeth. 

“You could simply ask me if I've slept with him, Lord,” I replied coldly, knowing in the back of my mind that it didn't do me any favors to be so brash. 

But it was getting very hard for me to ignore it. I highly doubted people made Lucien the same questions about Tamlin. 

Vivienne lowered her head and breathed deeply. Her shoulders shivered before she could suppress it. When she looked up again, she was perfectly composed but even her neutral expression couldn't hide the amusement in her blue eyes. 

“That question was out of line,” she uttered. “It makes no difference whatsoever who you decide to share your bed with.”

“Of course you'd say that, Vivienne,” scoffed Beron's son. 

All amusement drained from her face. “Would you like to elaborate on that, Eris ?” I did not imagine the temperature dropping in the room. We all tensed. 

Eris didn't answer, choosing instead to dismiss her altogether. She narrowed her eyes at him, a promise of violence written clearly in them. 

“Would you describe your relationship with Rhysand?” Thesan spoke. The others looked at him, before looking at me, expectant once more. 

“He made sure I hated him since the start,” I began. “He did a lot of things to me, most of which I don't remember, to ensure that. But he kept me alive and kept me sane as much as he could. And when I called for help, he was the one to extend a hand.”

“You seem to trust him,” Helion said in a considering way. He supported his chin on his hand. I hated how he looked at me and felt like he held all the cards. 

“I do.”

“That's just naive,” Eris condescended. “You're no better than a child.”

“Do not condescend me, I have been through things you will never be no matter how old and wise you like to think you are,” I clipped. “I know what he is and what he's capable of. But so far, he's never tried to impose himself and his wishes on me. That's more that I can say of Tamlin.”

Eris tilted his head to the side while watching me, his eyes mocking. I glared at him. 

Thesan cleared his throat, calling attention to himself, but he addressed me. “I would like to discuss things with my fellow High Lords. If you don't mind,” he added gently. But I understood the dismissal for what it was. 

I stood, then bowed deeply before getting out of there without looking back.

The door shut with a click being me, and then nothing. For a while there was no sound, in the hall or inside my head. I knew the signs and I knew I was spent. 

If the High Lords sensed my presence still there, they must have thrown some kind of shield to keep the sounds contained, I noticed. I should walk away. 

I should move. 

Don't stop now, don't stop, keep moving. 

My shoes were loud in the silence of the long hallway. It grated on my nerves until a second set joined me. I didn't bother to look, knowing it was Lucien. We reached a painting and stopped. The vibrant colors didn't do anything to me, they were just there and that was that. 

“You have that look in your face,” Lucien murmured. When I did turn to him, there was sadness in his face. 

“I want it to be over already,” I murmured back and went to the painting. 

Flowers. It was a painting of flowers. Wasn't it tiring to have flowers around all the time? Lovely as they might be. Cauldron knew I was sick of them. 

“It's almost done.” Lucien sighed. “So how was the experience?”

I let out a snort at the lame attempt to change the conversation. “If I'm not in the same room as them all again it'll be too soon. Maybe I'm still human but—they're so powerful.” I frowned. 

“So are you.” I gave him an extended look. He knew that I couldn't show my powers, and that I was nowhere near their level. He went on anyways, “You're like their love-child, you know?”

I cursed colorfully, to what he chuckled. “That image will never leave my mind,” I groaned. 

Lucien gave me an shit-eating grin. “You're welcome.” He almost look boyish. In that moment, I couldn't help but notice he looked nothing alike his father or his brother. 

I went back to staring the painting. 

“Your family is a joy, by the way.” He snorted. “Would you believe me a bad person if I say I would push them off a cliff if given the chance?” 

To my surprise, he laughed. “I'd believe you a bad person if you wouldn't.” When I glimpsed him out of the corner of my eye, he had a small, amused smile on his lips. 

“They're assholes.”

“I know.” 

A pause. 

“Lucien?” 

“Hm?” 

“You deserve better.”

He didn't give a reply. Again, I didn't know what I expected from him. To tell me that he would come with me into a court in which I still was figuring out my place. A court that he hated. My shoulders dropped. 

“Do you think he will let go?” I asked quietly. 

“I don't know what he'll do these days,” he whispered. “It's like I don't know him anymore.” The sadness in his voice threatened to swallow me whole. 

I felt something resonate deep inside me, watching him look at the painting with such insurmountable grief. He was mourning. Just as much as I was—for the person that I'd been and the person that I had loved, and didn't exist anymore. They were both gone. And Lucien was left here, with their ghosts haunting the halls. 

I reached his hand and interlaced our fingers together. There were no words that would make justice to what we felt. He glanced down at our joined hands, then up at me. His smile was far too small.

“I hope we can see each other after this.”

Lucien lowered his head and shook it, huffing what could have been a laugh. “Believe me, you don't. I'm not going to be your friend after this.” I scowled. “Though I have to admit,” he added, “that I'm awfully curious to see you eviscerate people like that again.”

“Even if that turns out to be you?” I grinned up at him. 

The smirk he gave me back wasn't reassuring.

 


 

The High Lords spent the better part of an hour deliberating between them, time that I used to stay with Lucien in the hall. Mostly hearing how things had been last week. The image he painted in my head wasn't calming, but it wasn't surprising, either. Ianthe poisoning Tamlin's head like the viper she was and Lucien trying to do damage control. Tamlin not caring for his court while he raged at my absence. The staff was terrified and he feared they might leave if things didn't get better. 

Each word from his lips wanted me to drop Tamlin in one of the pocket-realms Rhys was so fond of. And to take Lucien with me. I could convince Rhys to let him stay, the real issue was Lucien himself. I could hear him saying he wasn't a pet for me to keep, if I so much as proposed it to him. 

I almost caved in and asked him anyway, just when the High Lords walked out. Whether the interruption was fortunate or not was unclear and the urge to kidnap Lucien fell away for the moment as I tried to glimpse what had been their resolution. Their faces only showed various degrees of aggravation. 

Me and Lucien walked them back to the meeting room in silence, opening the doors for them and letting them get in first. Then we did. 

Rhys was the first thing I saw. He looked positively murderous, but when he saw me, his face broke into a grin. “Finally, some good company.” 

I did not appreciate that , I shot down the bond, though I didn't dare to react outwardly. Too many people watched me. 

But it's true, it was hell in here. 

Hell was trying not to roll my eyes at him and let him know as much. But he didn't say anything as everyone was again sitting at the table. The air felt dense, harder to breath it. I fisted the skirt of my dress. 

Feyre, I don't want to freak you out, he said. 

Great way to start a sentence. 

There are guards in here. 

My heart jumped a beat. What? Where? I tried hard not to let it show, but my skin felt clammy. 

They're glamoured. Act like nothing is happening, don't react. Easier said than done. 

How long have they been there? 

I spread my magic around the room, a sense of awareness Amren had taught me to use. There were the usual wards, then there were some more. Lucien hadn't been bluffing about that. But it was all. 

I don't know. I didn't notice it either, Rhys told me. Amren did. It's a very powerful spell, like the one around Velaris. 

I tried again, to little avail. My mind was starting to feel like a puddle, much like when I first started shielding my mind. Helion? 

I don't think so.

I didn't, either. If it had been him, in theory, I should have been able to feel it. Right? What now? 

If we have to fight our way out, we will. I looked at him, he winked. That dress might be a problem, though. A shame, because you look absolutely delicious in it. 

And there it was. You couldn't let it pass, could you? No, he could not. He might just die if he let an opportunity to be a flirty prick go to waste. I wanted to sigh. But Thesan cleared his throat and all thoughts of glamours and Rhys' obnoxiousness faded. 

“Tamlin,” he began, “we would like to know your version of the day Feyre left.”

Mor and I shared a glance, our annoyance matching each other's. I cringed just considering what sort of bullshit he was about to spew. 

“I was away on court's business the day Feyre was taken.” Taken . His precious little accessory stolen. “Fifteen minutes at most and Night Court vultures started to circle around.” The disgust he showed Mor made me want to get in front of her, but she simply let the corners of her mouth curl up. “Only one person of my staff was left unscathed. The foyer was destroyed and my sentries knocked out.”

“The same sentries that are dead now,” Azriel added quietly. 

I widened my eyes at him, then at Mor. She hadn't killed them, that was one of the details I remembered from that cursed day. “What?” 

“Lord Tamlin slaughtered them once he realized you weren't here anymore,” he clarified. 

My eyes widened as the horror of what Tamlin had done sunk in. I stared at him, disbelieving at first. But it wasn't all that surprising, was it? The more I thought about it, the least it shocked me. 

I chuckled without a drop of humor. “And we— I am the monster.” 

“Is that true?” Tarquin asked in a dangerous tone, his eyes stormy. 

I watched as the uncertainty enter Tamlin's eyes, I wanted to believe there was regret there, too. Somewhere. The table broke into murmurs the longer he failed to answer. Azriel's information was correct. My chest caved in. All those guards had annoyed me, smothered me. But they were doing their jobs and—and now they were dead. Like Andras was. Maybe I hadn't been the one to do it, but I might as well have acted like the arrow Tamlin shot. 

My eyes burned. 

“There you have it,” Tarquin went on. “What more proof can you need? That's the person you want to leave her with? No better than a wild beast,” he spat. Never had I heard such disgust coming from him—compassionate, sweet and perhaps a little bit too trusting Tarquin. “What happens when they have a disagreement?” 

The knowing look on Lucien and Rhys didn't go unnoticed, not by far. I swallowed hard, remembering the times I saved my hide by the skin of my teeth. But had I been human, had I not had the powers I had, I wouldn't have been so lucky. They realized that. Even Eris looked at me differently. It didn't pass me by how he glanced at his mother next to him, or how her somber demeanor matched mine. 

“Has he hurt you?” Cresseida asked me, softly. But I didn't mistake the horror in her eyes. She had pushed to bring me back that first day, I remembered. 

“No. Not yet, anyway.”

“That's unfair, Feyre,” Tamlin protested weakly. 

I stared him down, my brows dipping and my nose scrunching. “You raised your hand to me once, that tells me enough of what sort of male you are.” 

“I would never hurt you,” he whispered, almost—pained. 

“You and I both know that's a lie.” 

He paled. It was as incriminating as the story about the study. Mother knew what would have been of me if my powers hadn't flared and protected me. 

“Ach, this is so dramatic,” Beron drawled, leaning back on his chair and rolling his eyes. “What do we care for one female? She's his at the end of the day. Particularly, I couldn't care less what happens now to her. Our debts have been paid. Let him keep her. If she's so feisty as you make her out to be, she might kill the bastard and go back to her new keeper.”

Bastard. Self-serving, hateful bastard. 

Tarquin was of the same opinion and wasted no time in letting it be known. “You're a coward, Beron,” he hissed.

The other High Lord gave him a blank stare. “Say what you might, boy. There are lots of businesses in my court to take care of. I'm not wasting time in fixing a lover's spat that will fix itself after they fuck.” 

I clenched my hands. Tarquin scowled but didn't deign a reply. Maybe he realized it was pointless and that Beron would die a bitter asshole. Instead, he turned to Tamlin. “I don't support you, nor what you tried to do to her. The Summer Court stands with Feyre”

My breath got stuck on my throat. Even if we had been counting on him supporting us, hearing it made my heart throb. 

Helion cleared his throat next. “I don't support you,” he told Tamlin. “Not for what you did and not for stripping away her right to choose. The Day Court stands with her. Don't be a fool and let go before you bring ruin to your people.”

I didn't dare to move for fear things would crumble to ashes, for me to realize it wasn't happening. Yet, I turned to Kallias, the smallest seeds of hope growing. He and Vivienne shared a long look, having a conversation none of us was privy to. I half-wondered if that was what it looked like for Rhys and me. She sighed after a moment, glancing at me before clenching her jaw and lowering her head. 

Nothing grows on winter, I reminded myself a bit late. 

“I'm sorry, Feyre,” Kallias told me. “But I can't leave you with—with him in good conscience.” Even Tamlin was surprised by that, thought it was covered with satisfaction soon enough. “Let it be clear that I don't approve of your treatment of her and I should not offer aid if you decide to pursue a war.”

Fine. That was good enough. Kallias wouldn't offer armies, and sure as hell Beron wouldn't either. This was good. But the votes were even now, and there was the chance Thesan would side with Tamlin.

My stomach felt heavy as I tried to tell myself we still had the mating bond. A safety net. 

I looked at Rhys, but he kept his eyes on Kallias. Guilt. It was so clearly written on his face, like it had been in my soul. Like it still was. This isn't on you, stop. 

Isn't it? 

I don't blame you. 

I hoped that was enough for the guilt to subside. Even if just a little. Rhys had been through a lot of shit, most of which no one knew and probably would never know. This was not something he should carry with him. 

There's still chance, I told him. It was for him as much as it was for me. 

As one, we all looked to Thesan. But he only stared at me with calculating yet kind eyes. Then to Rhys. It was on him who he kept his stare on the longest before he addressed Tamlin. “For someone you claim to love, the treatment you've given Feyre has been poor, putting it nicely.” My heart stopped dead in my chest as he glared at Beron. “Our debts will not be paid as long as we are free and she isn't. The Dawn Court stands with her.” 

Tamlin snorted. “You can't possibly believe she's free with him, ” he spat out. 

“I haven't seen her make the face she makes when you're around because of him,” he shot back. “But let Tarquin tells us, he's seen far more than I have.” 

“There are scars you can't conceal,” he said. “And you caused hers, Tamlin. No one else.”

“So I'm the bad guy now?” 

Amren snorted. “Act as offended as you like. But I've known Feyre for a month and I've never— never seen her so pale and so scared as she was the day you appeared at the Summer Court. Unannounced, may I add.” She fixed him with one unsettling stare. “Ironic. That in our Court of Nightmares, you are hers.”

Tamlin clenched his hands on the table, his teeth gritted. 

“No witty comeback?” Amren kept pushing, one brow perfectly arched. 

“Put a leash on your Second,” Tamlin growled at Rhys, but he simply leaned back on his chair and watched Amren with amusement. 

Amren smirked at him in a way that reminded us that the bastard who brought a leash anywhere near her was dead, and that she dared him to try. “A preference running strong, huh? I'm sure you'll make one perfect husband someday.” 

I realized what she was trying as a vein on Tamlin's forehead seemed about to pop. Working him into a fury so he would dug his grave deeper and deeper. It was insane. Each second that passed was a second he grew angrier and more volatile. If he attacked her, it was over for him. 

Lucien saw that. “Tamlin,” he begged. “Please let her go.” His metal eye whirred as his flesh one searched for his gaze. “You saw it, I saw it. She'd sooner slit her own throat than stay here. Would you really force her?” 

Maybe it was that last question, the bit of uncertainty in it that did it, but I knew Lucien had made a mistake when all that murderous rage focused on him. “You're on his side, too?” Tamlin sneered at him. “Maybe you also want to give yourself to them like a cheap slut.”

Lucien couldn't get away enough even though he tried. “Open your eyes,” he whispered, half-snarling and half-wincing. “The only way she'll be with you is if you tie her to the altar and even then, she'll just spit in your face!” 

The slap happened too fast and I was too far away to stop it. Still, I felt it reverberate in my bones. I hopped to my feet, Rhys next to me. Then everyone was standing too, tensing and readying to jump in front of their respective High Lord. But I only had eyes for Tamlin. 

Don't kill him, Rhys warned. As much as I'd love to see that, I don't think that would go well for us. 

The reminder, for the first time perhaps, was necessary. Last time I felt this anger boiling right under my skin, Tamlin had insulted my mate— my gods-damned mate —and called him a whore. But this was different. Lucien was right. I was vicious when it came to the people I loved. Vicious, in fact, didn't begin to cover it. 

“You do love to prove us right, don't you?” Rhys drawled. 

I didn't care for his taunts, not when Lucien held his left cheek and the scent of blood hit my nose. My breathing came in pants when he held out his hand, watching the red liquid with disbelief. I couldn't help but to stare at the four bloody gashes crisscrossing the scar on his face. When I looked down at Tamlin's hands, they ended in claws. I felt like growing my own, like tearing him into ribbons. To hell with hiding, to hell with diplomacy. I wouldn't stand by. 

If it wasn't for Rhys putting a hand on the small of my back, I would've damned it all to hell. I hadn't realized how much I was trembling until his steady touch grounded me. 

Tamlin glared at Lucien with reproach, as if he had been the one to push him over the edge when it had been him who willingly jumped. But Lucien had a faraway look and didn't pay him any mind. I'd seen that look too many times in the mirror. My heart shattered. 

“Did you all lost your mind?” Tamlin bellowed. “You're going to believe his lies just like that? She doesn't even know her own thoughts anymore, look at her! He's molding her to be the same twisted thing they all are, manipulative monsters and murderers.”

I wouldn't flinch. No. Even if the insult cut deep, I was too angry to hurt. All my focus was on not killing him. 

“Tamlin,” Helion intervened with a tired sigh. “You know the procedure for these cases. I know for a fact he's not controlling her.” 

Tamlin scoffed. “You don't need to activately hold someone's mind to control them.” He glares at me. “I would know.” 

The order I gave him and never revoked. I almost forgot about that. Fuck. He was going to out me, wasn't he? The High Lords' interest peaked when Tamlin's anger was directed at me and not at Rhysand. 

Rhys groaned, rolling his eyes. “Is there a way for me to prove it to you that her actions and thoughts are wholly hers?” 

“Release her from the bargain to start with,” Tamlin sneered. “It all began because of it.” 

No. I widened my eyes. 

Rhys smirked. “And what do I get out of it?” 

It was an effort not to openly gape at him, but keeping the reproachful glare off my face was impossible. You're going to do it. 

Please, I need you to trust me.

My eyes were full of terror. I shook my head. Rhys. 

“What?” Tamlin barked. 

“What do I get out of it?” Rhys repeated slowly, patiently. Tamlin didn't answer and the others didn't break the silence. “It's gotta be a fair trade. Not that you are near as precious as she is. But guess what? I think you'll make do.” 

What? ” 

Rhys turned to look at me, considering, before going to Tamlin. “Relax, I don't want you anywhere near my home, not even for only a week. But… you'll owe me a little favor I should collect to my convenience. A small price to pay for her freedom, don't you agree?” 

He stared at me and I stared right back. Rhys tilted his head to the side as he reached for a loose strand of hair and tucked it behind my ear. I hissed as his fingers came in contact with the sensitive skin of my neck. 

Damn you, I hissed through the bond as I realized he made me play into his plan. I knew what it looked like, the way he'd seemed to take away my liberty Amarantha had taken his. 

I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. 

I didn't move as his finger ran down the length of my neck, then my arm, tracing the swirls of the tattoo. “And just because I'm that generous,” he continued, his gaze wholly on me, “in addition of breaking the bargain, I'll give you my word Feyre will be forever safe from my—influences. My powers will sooner strike me than to put so much as a doubt in her pretty head.”

They need to know or we've got a war in our hands, he told me. 

And they have to know it's completely me, I finished. A head-ups would've been nice, though, I accused him. He didn't wince on the outside, but the feeling was conveyed in the I'm sorry he sent me. 

“I'm not going to owe you anything so you can just ask me to give her back,” he growled, but he was considering. The way he spoke about me as if I wasn't in the room, as if I was some valuable object and not a person had me wondering how could I be such a fool to fall for him. 

Rhys smirked. “My favor does not include her, or your crown for that matter.” Wow, he really overlooked that. It spoke volumes about how much he cared about his court. “So, do we have a deal.” 

Lucien glared between the two High Lords and me, I could hear the alarms blaring off inside his head. For a moment, it seemed like he might consider the possibility of Rhys controlling me all along, but his eyes fell on me. He knew. We both knew and saw Rhys lay his snare. And yet, after everything, he still tried to warn his friend and High Lord. 

Tamlin growled at him. 

That's when I decided that he deserved it, all of it. I really hoped Rhys would pull something nasty for him. 

“We have a deal.”

I felt nothing, unlike when Rhys and I struck our bargain. But then he turned to me, a satisfied gleam in his gaze as he said, “I released you from our bargain.”

Only then did my arm began tingling as the tattoo vanished, from the elbow to my fingertips. I felt bare without the ink covering me.

You didn't have to do this now, I told him. 

I didn't? 

No. I glanced at him, then back at my hand. You never specified when you would do it. 

Our bond shook with laughter. Take it as a token of good faith. 

He was unbelievable. It was an effort not to let it show. Much. I had to hope my disbelief could pass as shock. 

All of it, however, was cut by Tamlin's gasp of disgust. I looked up at him to see him staring at his tattoo-covered hands. Where mine had extended to my elbow, his were drawn from his fingertips to his wrists. The design was different from mine, too. But the style was too familiar for them not to be Illyrian markings. 

I doubted they were for luck and glory. 

Rhys kept his smirk, but Tamlin only snarled at him before addressing me. “Come here,” he grunted. 

There was a liberating sort of satisfaction when I stared into his eyes and said, “ No .” 

The way Tamlin's features twisted in confusion, then anger, then pain as he finally realized with a shadow of a doubt that it wasn't someone else's words coming from my mouth but mine. There was still a lot he needed to pay for, everything he did to Lucien and his court, but this was a good start as any. 

“What?” He gritted out. 

I raised my chin. “You heard me—I said no.” And because I couldn't help the bit of cruelty I added, “Are you satisfied now?” 

“We made a deal!” he barked at Rhys. 

He shrugged. “And I'm fulfilling it, I would be dead if I wasn't.” 

It tugged at something, the way he spoke. So surely, so calmly. As if it never he'd never cared to try control my mind like that. Then I felt silly—of course he wouldn't. 

“Those are Illyrian marks,” Rhys continued. Cassian, two seats away, had the same mirthful smirk plastered on his face. “But I supposed you were able to gather at least that much.” 

Take them off.” 

Rhys sighed, shaking his head condescendingly. “A deal is a deal,” he sympathized. “But I suppose that now Feyre's proven her point, we're done here.”

That's when thing started going to shit. 

“Like hell we are,” Tamlin growled and stormed towards us—me. Passing by Autumn and Dawn made a fury. 

My heart leaped and I recoiled back, colliding with Mor. She grabbed my arm and kept me steady as my knees began to tremble like a newborn fawn. The powers under my skin roiled, building up ready to defend myself. Thesan and Beron backed away, herded by their companions, giving Tamlin wide-berth and a direct path to us. Until he realized Cassian wasn't moving to take Rhys out of the way and neither was Amren. 

Both males squared up, Cassian's wings tucked in tight and Tamlin's claws curling. But it was Amre whom he kept his stare on. He was dead, I thought. Or he would be, should she decide so. 

And even if she wasn't there, the aggression coming off in waves from Rhys was enough to let us know who would walk away from that fight. “She is mine. You're mine, Feyre! And you're coming back home.” 

It was a mistake, but I jumped back behind Azriel. My throat closed up, and I understood something right then. I hadn't feared Tamlin because I was human, but because he wouldn't hesitate to get what he wanted even if I was harmed in the process. He wouldn't hesitate even if he broke me, because he simply did not care. 

“You're mine ,” he repeated in a growl. “The laws are the laws and you're not leaving.” 

I opened my mouth, to tell him off, to ask him to stop or both, when something tugged at my senses. A spell. Several. Each covering someone. I unraveled them with a blast of power, shredding as if it was a knife. 

Chaos ensued in the room as at least a dozen of guards appeared out of nowhere. Around us—me. The panic hit me so fast that I barely felt myself punch the first guard that approached me, but I did hear his nose break. 

The second one was too close, too quick for me to properly defend myself. And Azriel, whose first instinct was to protect his High Lord, who was already protecting his brother's back realized he couldn't reach me before the male did, before he could touch me with his outstretched hand. 

I saw it play out, he would winnow me within the wards and then he would take me by force if necessary. Until we were out, until he could vanish me somewhere only Tamlin could get me. And it'd be over for me. 

So I damned it all to hell and threw a ball of fire in his direction before winnowing away.