The walk back to the townhouse was relatively uneventful. They stopped once for Elain to buy a vibrant pink daisy from a small cart.
“They’re almost out of season,” she explained as she tucked it behind her ear.
Lucien gave her a look that was part wonder and part curiosity.
“Are you wondering why I bought a flower that I have in my own garden?” She guessed.
Lucien started. “Well... yes, actually.”
Elain smiled wistfully. “I see flowers the way people see art. Twenty artists could paint the same image, yet they would all be different. Each artist has their own style. Cultivating a garden is very much the same. Depending on how each person tends and nurtures their garden influences how the crops and flowers grow.”
Lucien was looking at her like he’d never seen her before. She nervously tucked a section of hair behind her ear just for something to do with her hands. She wanted to take his hand again but had no good excuse for doing so. Even though she’d initially grabbed him to avoid them getting separated in the crowd, once his fingers had laced between hers, her stomach had done a backflip.
She rubbed her fingers together at the memory of how the callouses from decades of wielding weapons had brushed roughly against her smooth hand. Though she worked in a garden every day, she wore gloves to reduce the amount of dirt that ended up beneath her fingernails.
She wished he would take her hand, but she strongly doubted he would. Thus far, he’d been nothing but gentlemanly, respecting the distance he seemed to think she needed. She couldn’t blame him... since his only other interactions with her had been so tense and strained. But that had been before she understood what she was and how to control it instead of letting it control her. She still had a long way to go before she could confidently say she was in control of her abilities, but... she was constantly improving. At the very least, she wanted to have a life here in Prythian now.
For the first time, she wished for the mating bond so she could subconsciously tell him to take her hand. The moment she thought it she felt her face heat, and not from the sun. She was debating whether or not to just throw caution to the wind and take his hand again when he casually slid both of his into his pockets as they walked. Elain cursed her own indecisiveness.
As they neared the townhouse, Elain could hear the raucous laughter of Cassian and Rhysand. She pushed open the wrought iron gate that surrounded her tiny garden and the sun caught on her ring again. The Cauldron must have maintained a personal grudge against her, she thought, as the light reflected directly into Lucien’s eyes.
They flashed with heartache and sorrow. It was gone when she looked again, but the thought he’d unknowingly sent down the bond came rushing back to her. She suddenly felt nauseous again. Lucien, to his credit, showed no outward signs of any discomfort as they entered the townhouse.
Cassian halted mid-sentence when they came walking in. His eyes went from the shopping bags Lucien carried to the flower tucked behind Elain’s ear.
“Oh, I so wish Nesta was here,” he chortled.
Feyre elbowed him in the ribs. “You thrive off of chaos, Cass.”
He shrugged and said, “Guilty as charged.”
“Honestly, by now Feyre darling, you shouldn’t be surprised,” Rhys said, amusement dancing in his violet eyes.
Lucien excused himself to carry his parcels up to his room. Elain’s eyes followed up all the way up the stairs until he rounded the corner into the hallway and out of her sight.
Cassian was reminiscing on some story from his and Rhysand’s training days when Cass had caused some manner of ruckus. Elain wasn’t paying attention. She grabbed Feyre’s arm, a bit harder than she meant to, and hissed, “I need to talk to you. Now.”
Elain was pacing back and forth in her room. Feyre had erected one of her air bubbles or whatever it was that kept their surroundings sound-proof.
“Feyre, you have to tell him,” she blurted.
“Tell him what?” Feyre’s confusion was painted clearly on her face. “What happened?”
“I... I felt, no not felt. I heard his thoughts.”
Feyre looked slightly surprised but reasoned, “That’s not uncommon, as I understand it. Rhys could hear a lot of my thoughts, especially in the beginning before he’d taught me to build my mental shields. And that was months before I accepted the mating bond or even knew of its existence.”
“But I don’t even know how to talk or communicate through it.”
Elain was on the verge of tears. She didn’t know why this was affecting her so strongly. He’d only been here for... she had to stop and think. Two days? Had he really only been back for two days? Perhaps these mating bonds were more serious and complex than she’d initially thought. She felt like he'd been back for weeks. She had already grown so used to his presence around the house. Around her. She shook her head. It was too soon. She still didn’t know what she wanted. Or felt. She was still trying to figure herself out on top of everything else.
“What is it that you think I need to tell him?” Feyre’s voice was steady and soothing.
Elain closed her eyes and breathed deeply. Even with Feyre’s wall of air, she could smell faint traces of it. Of him. Sunlight, oranges, and sandalwood.
“About why I’m still wearing the ring.” Even as she said it, she pushed it in circles with her thumb.
Feyre blinked. “Don’t you think that’s something you should tell him?”
“No!” Elain was wringing her hands. “I—I can’t. Not yet.”
“I’m not saying you have to decide how you feel right now. But I just think it would mean more if it came from you.”
“Feyre, you didn’t hear it... You didn’t feel it,” Elain insisted. “It felt like someone wrapped their fist around my heart and squeezed until it threatened to burst. And not in the good way.”
“Take a deep breath and tell me exactly what happened.”
Elain breathed in deeply and exhaled. She explained about lunch and the sunlight catching on her ring. “And then he said— well, I guess he thought it but it was as loud and clear as if he’d said it directly to me. He thought that he would rather take the beating he got Under the Mountain for helping you than see me wearing this ring.”
Feyre paled. “By the Cauldron...”
“Please, Feyre,” Elain begged. “Please... I—I need more time to sort through things and to know him better but... I can’t bear to see that look on his face ever again.”
“Oh—Okay,” Feyre stammered. “I’ll talk to him.”
Elain threw her arms around her sister and let out a shaky breath. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”