Elain woke just before first light, groggy and bleary-eyed after she and Feyre had stayed up until well past two in the morning. Even though she would suffer for it today, she was glad Feyre had come to her room. She couldn’t remember the last time she and her sister had just talked... like sisters are supposed to. Not stressing over where their next meal was going to come from. Just talked.
The first thing she noticed was that the sheets were the wrong color. Elain’s sheets were white but the sheet and matching pillowcase beneath her head was dark green. She rubbed her eyes and sat up. She recognized his scent not even a second before she saw him, sleeping beside her.
Lucien. Her mate.
Heart beating wildly, Elain slid out of the bed as quietly as she could and with rushed, quiet footsteps, retreated back to her own room.
She just couldn’t understand it. Two nights in a row she’d somehow meandered or otherwise transported herself to his room. She was just grateful he hadn’t woken up. She had no idea how she would explain that.
She took several deep breaths once she was back in the safety of her room. It was too close to dawn for her to go back to sleep. Not that she would have been able to, in any case. She sat down at her vanity and began brushing her thick wavy hair just for something to do until Nuala and Cerridwen came in. She’d told them she didn’t expect them to come every morning, but they said they enjoyed the routine and her company.
Elain thought about some of the things her sister had told her last night. About how Lucien had become Feyre’s first real friend in Prythian (after he'd set her up with the Suriel). How he’d become an unintentional matchmaker between her and Tamlin. Elain detested hearing about that brute but reminded herself that if Feyre hadn’t loved Tamlin first, all of Prythian would still be under the tyranny of Amarantha. Elain had felt a tug at her heartstrings when Feyre told of her time Under the Mountain and how Lucien had helped her (and suffered greatly for it). Feyre told her about how she’d found out that the only reason Lucien hadn't come to heal her, leading her to make the bargain with Rhys, was because Lucien had been whipped so fiercely he couldn’t walk.
And then Feyre had told her about Lucien trying to find her, to bring her back to the Spring Court, on Tamlin’s orders. Elain had physically shuddered when Feyre had said, “Gods, I can’t imagine what it was like during those months. Living with Tamlin was already a volatile thing but when I left him... I honestly feel terrible for leaving Lucien to deal with that.”
“Do you think Tamlin...” Elain had faltered, not willing to voice the rest of the question.
“Do I think Tamlin took out his rage on Lucien?” Feyre had asked, voicing it for her.
Feyre’s eyes had turned dark. “Yes... I do. And it makes me sick.”
Elain had felt physically ill. “Why would he stay there? Why would he stay with someone who treated him that way?”
Feyre had sighed and said, “Lucien hasn’t had an easy life. Tamlin was... is... his friend and for someone who doesn’t have a lot of those, it’s hard to make yourself admit the bad parts. You just want to focus on the good parts but eventually, even that isn’t enough. Anything more than that... It’s his story to tell, not mine.”
Elain had understood that. At least the part about it being his story to tell. She wanted to know more, but only when he was willing to share that part of himself with her.
The sun peeked through her window as dawn finally broke. Elain hadn’t even noticed that Nuala and Cerridwen had come in and were rifling through her wardrobe.
“Good morning,” she said to them with what she hoped was a light, cheerful tone. Her mind was heavier than it had been lately.
“Mind in the clouds today?” Nuala teased.
“Something like that,” Elain replied with a tiny smile.
Cerridwen held up a dress with a lot of lace appliques, but Elain shook her head.
“I’m going to be in the garden for most of the day, so let’s go with something practical.”
Cerridwen nodded and kept searching the wardrobe while Nuala started braiding Elain’s hair. She hated her hair getting in her face when she was constantly bending over and tending to her garden. Cerridwen brought over a much more plain but pretty shift dress and Elain’s favorite apron to wear over it. She nodded her approval.
As Nuala finished with her braid, Elain gestured to the strip of leather on her vanity. “Use that, please.”
Nuala picked it up as if it were one of the worms that wriggled through Elain’s garden. “This? But it doesn’t even match the dress. There’s a ribbon that’s the exact same shade—”
“This one, please.”
Nuala huffed as if the strip of leather had personally offended her. Cerridwen just giggled.
Once Elain was dressed, she slipped her feet into the clogs that Rhys and Feyre had given her for when she was gardening. She crept down the hallway, careful to make as little noise as possible. It was still early enough that everyone else in the house was still asleep.
Her blood heated as she passed Lucien’s door. She resisted the urge to stop and listen to see if he was awake yet. Instead, she quietly made her way down the stairs and out into the tiny garden outside the house.
She had a much larger garden up at the House of Wind, but she made sure that didn’t need as meticulous attention since she couldn’t get there every day. She set to work with pruning and clearing away any stubborn weeds that kept resurfacing.
As the morning sun burned off any lingering dew, Elain’s brow began to sweat. She generally hated getting dirty or sweaty... unless it pertained to her garden. There was something fulfilling about working with her hands to encourage new life to bloom.
As the morning wore on, she saw the rest of the house inhabitants bustling around the sitting room. Feyre barely stopped to grab a muffin off the counter before summoning her wings and flying off for the House of Wind, no doubt to train with Cassian. Elain hadn’t even seen Rhys. No doubt he’d winnowed away to wherever he needed to be. Elain really hoped she could master that skill one day. Not everyone could do it, but she’d willingly trade her “skills” as a Seer for the ability to winnow.
Nesta had popped her head out long enough to say good morning and that she was going back to Amren’s. Elain had joked that she ought to just move in with Amren since she spent practically all of her time over there anyway. Nesta’s expression darkened and Elain suspected that she was the reason why her sister hadn’t moved out.
By the time the sun had reached its peak, Elain was covered in dirt and sweat and wishing she’d remembered to buy a wide-brimmed hat yesterday. She used the back of her hand to wipe her forehead. Despite the heat and her disheveled state, this was where she was happiest. She started humming to herself, a melody she remembered her mother singing to her and her sisters.
As she hummed, the lyrics of the song came back to her, drawn up from some distant, near-forgotten memory.
“I have no use for rings of gold, I care not for your poetry,” she sang softly. “I only want your hand to hold, I—”
“Only want you near me.”
Elain jerked her head up from her roses and saw Lucien standing in the doorway. She flushed with embarrassment at being caught singing. And yet...
“You know it?”
“My mother used to sing it when she thought no one could hear her,” Lucien explained.
“I thought no one could hear me,” Elain admitted shyly.
“And I thought you might be hungry,” he said as he offered her a plate of various fruits and cheeses. "Feyre said you likely skipped breakfast and came straight out here."
“I am, actually,” she admitted. She’d gone straight to her garden without breakfast and her stomach had been growling for the past thirty minutes.
She sat on the stone bench and cleared away her gardening tools to give Lucien room to sit.
“My mother used to sing it too,” Elain said. “I wouldn’t have guessed that anyone here would have known it.”
“Evidently, we aren't as different as we appeared.”
Elain pursed her lips. “I suppose not.”
She ate quietly for a few minutes, all of Feyre’s stories from last night swimming through her head.
“So, which ones are your favorites?” Lucien asked, gesturing to her flowers.
“Oh, I couldn’t possibly choose,” she immediately answered, even as she surveyed her little garden, considering. “The lillies,” she whispered. “But don’t tell the others.”
Lucien drew his finger across his lips. “Your secret is safe with me.”
Elain leaned over to point at the tiger lillies. “Those, especially.”
Her braid fell over her shoulder when she leaned forward. Lucien eyed the strip of leather he’d given her the day before and gestured toward it. “Seems to be coming in handy, then?”
Her hand automatically went for the tail of her braid. “You can have it back if you want. I can use ribbon.”
He made a dismissive gesture. “You keep it. I can make another.”
Elain absentmindedly fiddled with the dangling ends of the leather strip. She didn’t want to admit it, but she was relieved when he told her to keep it. She couldn’t explain why something so simple and insignificant mattered. But it did. She ate a few slices of melon as she twirled the end of her braid around her fingers.
“If you’re going to stay out here the rest of the afternoon,” Lucien said, “you probably ought to eat more than just this.”
Elain raised an eyebrow at him and, surprised by her own daring, challenged, “Are you my keeper now?” The second the words left her mouth, she remembered her conversation with Feyre last night and regretted them.
Lucien looked horrified. “N—No. I—I’m sorry,” he stammered, “I shouldn’t tell you what to do.”
She pushed lightly on his shoulder and said, “I was just teasing you.”
He relaxed, but not fully. He still had doubt painted on his face.
“It was in bad taste,” Elain apologized. “I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have anything to apologize for,” he muttered.
She folded her hands in her lap, making sure she covered her left hand, and that iron ring, with her right. The gesture did not go unnoticed.
“I suppose I should eat something more sustaining than fruit,” she conceded. “I’m nearly finished anyway.”
Lucien nodded and began to rise. He was halfway to the door when t he idea popped into her head. Before she could talk herself out of it, she said, “Do you like seafood?”
“I do,” Lucien said slowly, pausing with his hand on the doorknob.
Elain fidgeted with her apron. She began speaking in a rush. “There’s a restaurant right on the Sidra that has the most delicious scallops I’ve ever tasted. It’s not too far from Deidre’s and... well, she said she’d have a few of your garments ready today. I was thinking we— well, that is to say if you wanted to, we could stop for lunch on the way to her shop? But we don't have to if you don't want.”
She kept her gaze intently on her lap as she inhaled deeply. She had no idea where this courage and assertiveness had come from. She had never been like this with Greysen. She’d barely even spoken to him when he’d courted her. She’d just worn her pretty dresses and curtsied at his father’s estate parties and had been the epitome of a lady.
And I would have been barely more than an arm decoration, she suddenly realized. If Tamlin hadn’t provided for them after taking Feyre away, and they’d still been living in their pitiful cottage at the edge of the woods, Greysen would have never even given her a second glance. He would have sneered down his noble nose at her and their poverty. She deserved someone who would give her a second glance, who would care about her interests and which flowers were her favorite and not her social status, who would look at her...
... the way that Lucien was looking at her now. The corners of his mouth turned up in a smile and his russet eye full of amazement and wonder - as if she’d just told him some monumental universal truth instead of asking him to join her for lunch. She marveled at how so much could be conveyed through just one eye.
“I love scallops,” he replied.
Elain beamed at him.