Lucien wasn't entirely sure he was still breathing. After going back inside, leaving Elain to have a few minutes alone in her little garden, Lucien had waited for Nesta to deliver her killing blow, but she never did more than glare at him. He couldn’t believe she wasn’t leaping at an opportunity to yell at him. Something must have put her in a better-than-normal mood this morning. Though come to think of it, he hadn’t seen Nesta downstairs with the rest of them when he’d hurried through the dining room to buy Elain’s seeds.
Whatever the reason, he was glad for it. He was still recovering from the shock of Elain throwing her arms around his shoulders and pressing her soft lips against the scar that ran down the left side of his face. His cheek still burned where she’d kissed him. Once again, he felt like a foolish greenboy.
When he'd stepped inside, Nesta had taken one look at him, still shirtless and sweating, and sneered.
“Why does it look like Elain’s garden is empty?” She asked Feyre. “Where are all her flowers?”
“Because it is empty,” Feyre replied, pouring two glasses of water. “The storm from family dinner night practically destroyed everything, so Lucien cleaned it up, clearing away the debris and getting it set up to plant new flowers.”
He couldn't be sure since he was still struggling to think clearly, but it almost looked like respect in Nesta’s eyes.
Feyre offered the second glass of water to him, and he gulped it down as quickly as the one Elain had brought him.
“Oh, Lucien, by the way,” Feyre said, “Rhys told me if I saw you to mention that he, Cass, and Az are having a ‘boys’ night and asked if you’d want to join them.”
Lucien was mildly intimidated about what a boys night with those three would involve and said as much.
Feyre shrugged. “Booze, raucous laughing, inappropriate jokes... I’d say if you join them they might be a bit more civilized, but... that’s a huge might.”
“Barbarians,” Nesta muttered.
Feyre gave her sister a pointed look before glancing back at Lucien and mouthing, hypocrite. Lucien snorted.
“I pity the poor restaurant owner that has to tolerate those three together,” Lucien simply said.
“Oh, no, they know better. They usually go up to the House of Wind, but if you wanted to join them, Rhys said they’d do it here.”
“Here?” Lucien looked skeptical as his eyes strayed to Elain in her garden.
“We’ll all go out,” Feyre explained. “Everyone’s been raving about the show at the theatre and the final curtain is in a week, so no better time to go see it. Afterward, we’ll probably go for a few drinks.”
“I would have thought Cassian wouldn’t want to drink again for a while, after how much he was complaining yesterday morning,” Lucien said with a smirk.
“Illyrians,” Feyre offered, as if that explained everything. “So?”
Lucien shrugged. “Why not.”
Feyre beamed at him. “Great. Now go take a bath. You stink.”
Lucien feigned offense and moved around the table to where she stood, threatening to bear hug her with sweat-soaked arms. She shrieked as she leaped backward, out of his reach, and held her two index fingers out, one crossed over the other as if to ward him away from her.
“Have I told you lately what an annoying little shit you are?” He griped with a playful smirk.
“You’re an annoying little shit.”
Nesta had been silent, arms crossed, her lip curled up slightly in disgust. “Don’t you talk to her like—”
“Oh, don’t even get me started on you,” Lucien said.
He didn’t linger to hear her retort. He just bound up the stairs two at a time, chortling softly to himself. He was sure he’d pay for that later, but his cheek still tingled from the kiss Elain had given him, and he couldn’t be bothered to care about much else.
Lucien took his time in the bath, not feeling the need to rush. The back of his neck was tender from being in the direct sun all morning and most of the afternoon. Not burnt - Lucien never burned for some reason but he would still feel the effects of the sun’s heat if he spent all day in it.
Once he’d washed his hair and the water had gone cold, he dried off and dressed. A glance at the clock told him it was still an hour or so before the girls were leaving, so he retrieved the swatch of leather Elain bought him and sat at the little desk in his room. Using his dagger, he sliced the leather into thin strips. She’d bought enough leather for him to make nearly a dozen. There was really nothing to them. Just cutting them into strips would have been enough, but he always singed the ends of them just to keep any fraying to a minimum.
Lucien stuffed a few in his pocket and left the rest on the desk. He went downstairs to find Feyre and her sisters mulling around the sitting room.
“We’re waiting for Amren and Mor to meet us here and then we’re leaving together,” Feyre explained.
Just then, Cassian and Azriel came in through the front door. Catching sight of Nesta, Cassian’s grin turned wolfish. He sidled over to her and tried to put his arm around her, but she ducked away from it. He didn't seem deterred by the rejection, leaning as close as he could and withdrawing something from his pocket.
“You left in such a hurry, you forgot this,” he murmured, revealing an earring in his palm.
Nesta’s eyes grew as wide as saucers as she snatched the earring out of his hand and grabbed his wrist, pulling him inches from her face. “If you utter another syllable, I will eviscerate you.”
“Aww, Nesta, I love it when you talk dirty,” Cassian purred.
Nesta turned purple.
“On second thought,” Feyre said quickly, “I think it’s best if we wait for Mor and Amren outside.” She grabbed her sister by the arm and steered her toward the door.
Elain followed, looking back over her shoulder at Lucien.
Have fun. Lucien said through the bond as he winked at her.
She just shook her head with a tiny smile on the way out the door. You have fun.
Once they were gone, Rhys chuckled as he said, “They’re going to have to invent a name for the color Nesta turned.”
Lucien hadn’t even seen him come in; he’d been too surprised by this turn of events with Nesta to notice much else. Rhys produced four lowball glasses and a bottle of amber liquor. He twisted the cap off, poured an equal serving into all four glasses, and set the bottle aside. He picked his up and sat in one of the armchairs. Cassian and Azriel followed suit, sitting on either end of the sofa. Lucien claimed the other armchair.
He felt slightly awkward with these three. They had known each other for centuries and were more like brothers than friends. Lucien was the outsider.
“What do you guys typically do on these nights without the girls?”
“Usually, get rip-roaring drunk and find ways to embarrass each other,” Cassian supplied.
“So what you’re saying is, you provided us with plenty of material to get started then?” Lucien gibed.
“Yes, Cass, please enlighten us on what that was all about?” Rhys prodded.
Cassian shook his head. “Not getting it that easy, boys.”
Azriel and Rhys exchanged glances, both grinning wickedly.
“Oh, no,” Cassian paled as Rhys grinned even wider. “No, no, no, that’s not fair!”
“What’s not fair?” Lucien wondered.
“Usually,” Rhys explained, “it’s just playing cards and having a few drinks. Cassian tends to exaggerate things if you couldn’t already tell. But tonight, Cass has brought this on himself really. He could have just told us.”
“But now we get to find out the fun way,” Azriel added.
“What’s the fun way?” Lucien asked, not sure if he wanted to know.
Rhys didn’t answer him. Instead, he said, “I’ve never tried to fly upside down and busted my ass in the process.”
Cassian shot him a dirty look as he took a sip of his drink.
Lucien nodded with understanding. He’d played this game before, a lifetime ago when Tamlin had still remembered how to have fun. “To make sure your rules are the same as when I played,” Lucien said, “whoever’s done the statement has to drink. If no one has done it, then the original speaker drinks?”
Rhys pointed a finger at him, "Yep."
“I hate you,” Cassian growled.
“Surely, you’ve gone through just about every question possible, considering how long you three have known each other,” Lucien remarked.
“For the most part, we have,” Rhys agreed. “But we haven’t played this in... help me out, Az?”
“At least seventy-five, maybe a hundred years,” Azriel guesstimated. “And I’ve never used my wings in part of a pick-up line.”
Rhys and Cassian glared at him as they both drank.
“I’ve never stabbed myself in the ass from improperly sheathing my sword,” Cassian said with a snort.
“That was one time!” Azriel protested as he took a drink.
Lucien realized the disadvantage he was at, since these three knew plenty of incriminating details about each other and he knew practically none. He didn’t let that discourage him though. Until he learned their individual mishaps, he’d just have to take broad, general shots at all three of them.
The three Illyirans looked expectantly at Lucien. He swirled the contents of his glass around as he considered. “I’ve never measured my wingspan.”
“That's not— He doesn’t even have a wingspan!” Cassian objected.
Rhys just threw his head back and roared with laughter before taking a generous sip from his own glass. He pointed at his brothers. “Drink, you assholes. You know you have.”
Cassian and Azriel both took sips from their cups.
“Not wasting any time before playing dirty, I see,” Rhys said appreciatively.
“Why? Should I be expecting mercy as the newcomer?”
“Not a chance,” Cass chortled.
“Good. Take your best shots then,” Lucien challenged. He really had nothing to hide. He felt no love for his family, save for his mother, so let them take shots there. He lamented the loss of his friendship with Tamlin, but the High Lord of the Spring Court had made his bed and now he had to lie in it. If Tamlin saw it as a betrayal or personal attack for Lucien making a home in the Night Court, then to hell with him.
“I’ve never been stuck in a gilded mask for almost fifty years,” Rhys said with a glance at Lucien that was both taunting and apologetic.
“Fuck you very much too,” Lucien said sarcastically, making a vulgar hand gesture toward Rhys as he drank, though he smiled appreciatively. He'd told them to take their best shots.
Rhys snickered as he said, “Your turn, Az.”
Azriel considered, shadows curling around his shoulders. “I’ve never slept with any of the Archeron sisters.”
Lucien’s stomach somersaulted.
“WHOAH, AZ!” Cassian exclaimed. “Let’s not waste time with petty bullshit questions, let’s just jump right on in, shall we?”
Rhys took another gulping sip and smacked his lips loudly, as if anyone in the room had doubted what his response to that question would have been. Cassian glanced between Azriel, Rhys, and Lucien and said, “Fuck every single last one of you,” as he drained his glass.
Rhysand roared “I KNEW IT!” and Azriel just rolled his eyes at the two of them. Having noticed that Lucien hadn’t drank, Rhys patted his knee sympathetically.
“Oh thanks, that’s not at all patronizing,” Lucien grumbled.
Rhys just chortled.
Cassian opened his mouth to take his turn, but Rhys cut him off. “Oh no, you have to give details now.”
“What are you, a girl?” Cassian fumed. “Hell no.”
“Has it hit yet?” Rhys asked.
“Why do you think I’m trying so godsdamned hard?” Cassian said as he let out a breath of frustration.
“She’ll come around,” Rhys said. “It seems to snap for us long before it happens for them. Maybe it's because they've been Made and not born Fae. I don't know. But all I know is they don’t seem to feel the months of suffering that we have to endure waiting for it to hit them.”
Lucien knew what he meant. He’d felt the snap of the mating bond the moment he’d picked up Elain off that soaking wet floor. He could only hope she hadn’t felt it yet. The alternative...
“I can confirm this,” he offered, tipping up the glass and drinking what was left. He savored the burn it left in his throat.
Cassian and Rhys both looked at him. Rhys’s expression was more sympathetic whereas Cassian’s was one of mutual understanding and suffering.
Azriel surveyed them and declared, “Damn, am I glad I’m not in either of your shoes.”
“Okay, enough emotions and sappy shit,” Cassian insisted. “Let’s get back to ragging on each other.”
They each took turns coming up with wild, inappropriate, vulgar statements, causing each other to take drinks. They’d gone four or five more rounds before the game had somehow turned into a roast on Tamlin.
“He’s such a pretentious ass,” Cassian said after Lucien had told them about Tamlin’s throne of roses and thorns.
“Oh, and how many of the other courts still do the Tithe?” Lucien wondered.
“None. Spring is the only one,” Rhys answered.
“Because Tamlin is a fucking prick,” Cassian supplied.
“Not to mention, he had one chance to get Feyre out Under the Mountain and what did he do? Tried to fuck her instead," Rhys growled. "He never even looked at her the whole time until he had a chance to put his hands all over her. Selfish bastard."
Lucien hadn’t known about that but was sorry to admit that he wasn’t surprised. Lucien had often thought Tamlin had given up too easily Under the Mountain. He’d understood when Tamlin had maintained a mask of indifference before Feyre had given up her name, but once she’d agreed to the trials, Tamlin should have acknowledged her at least. But he’d sat by Amarantha’s side, mute and submissive, while Feyre had suffered endlessly.
Cassian and Azriel both looked surprised.
“I’m not exaggerating,” Rhys insisted. “Ask him.” He motioned to Lucien.
“He did,” Lucien confirmed. “I’m not sure how much Rhys and Feyre have told you, but the only reason Feyre made the bargain with Rhys at all was because—”
“Because that bitch had Lucien beaten to within an inch of his life for helping Feyre in her first trial. He couldn’t fucking walk, let alone heal her,” Rhys finished, cold rage burning in his eyes.
Cassian gaped open-mouthed and Azriel swore under his breath.
“And Tamlin wouldn’t risk going down to Feyre’s cell,” Lucien added. “Even though he had ample opportunities to because...”
Lucien gave Rhysand a nervous glance. Rhys gave a grim smile and said, “They know.”
Cassian and Azriel nodded, sparing Lucien from having to say it. That Amarantha had been entertained and distracted by Rhys, so Tamlin could have gone down to Feyre and at the very least, healed her.
“I’m sorry I called you her whore,” Lucien said solemnly to Rhys, who gave a dismissive wave of his hand and just said, “It’s fine, everyone did.”
It wasn’t fine. But Rhysand wasn’t going to show how much it truly got to him, not even to his closest friends. His brothers. Lucien doubted anyone saw that damaged, broken side except for Feyre.
“But in some sick twisted way, I guess we should be grateful that he didn’t,” Cassian said. “Otherwise, our High Lady might still be with the prick.”
“She got her revenge though,” Lucien reminded him. “After Hybern.”
“Oh, I wish I could have been a fly on the wall to see that,” Cass chuckled.
“It was magnificent,” Lucien admitted. “She played him. And me, if we’re being honest.”
“Like a fiddle?” Cassian asked hopefully.
“No. Fiddles are expensive and hard to play. She played him like the cheap harmonica he is.”
Azriel snorted. Cassian and Rhys roared with laughter.
Cass was clutching his sides as he said, “I agree with Rhys’s earlier pronouncement. Please stay forever.”
Lucien planned on it.
“Alright you boozehounds,” Rhys said, still chuckling, “we’ve been through five bottles of whiskey already.”
“That’s it?” Cass hiccuped.
But Lucien had to side with Rhys. Rhysand was many things, but a bad host wasn’t one of them. And these bottles of whiskey they’d drank weren’t the cheap, watered-down garbage. They were expensive, high-quality bourbons that were much more concentrated. He regretted the headache he’d have in the morning but it would be a small price to pay for what he’d gained tonight.
Friends. Aside from Tamlin, Lucien couldn’t recount the last time he’d had friends. And Tamlin had become a poor excuse for one. Lucien felt no remorse about the insults and jabs that had been made at Tam's expense. Maybe that made him a prick. But Tamlin deserved it.
Just then, the front door opened and the three Archeron sisters came gliding in. From the high-pitched laughter and unsteady steps, it would seem they’d gone out for drinks too. Feyre gave Rhys a warm smile and Lucien realized that she must have told him through their bond that they were on their way home. Perhaps that had been why Rhys insisted they stopped at the five bottles they'd emptied.
Nesta and Elain lingered by the stairs while Feyre came over and gave Rhys a gentle kiss.
“I’ll be up shortly,” Rhys promised her.
Cassian was wagging his eyebrows at Nesta, who was pointedly ignoring him.
Nesta stomped up the stairs, Elain pausing to glance at Lucien. He gave her a lazy smile. Feyre nudged Elain and whispered, “I told you he’d be fine with them.”
Once the girls were upstairs and out of sight, Cassian raised his empty glass to Lucien in a salute. “Nice job, by the way.”
“Excuse me?” Lucien stood up and stretched. Gods, he was going to feel like shit tomorrow.
“On that garden,” Cassian clarified. “What you did for Elain... even Nesta was impressed. Which only set the bar outrageously high for me, so thanks.”
Lucien regarded him for a second. “You’ve got wings, I’m sure you can manage.”
Cassian snorted. “You’re funny, I’ll give you that.” He rose from the sofa, seemed to reconsider, and flopped back down onto his stomach, wings splayed out with one draped over the back of the sofa and the other just barely grazing the floor.
Azriel stood and shook his head. “Cassian had a point, though.”
Lucien involuntarily tensed.
“She spent a lot of time there immediately following the defeat of Hybern,” Azriel said. “I won’t insult you by saying you have no idea what it means to her, because I feel like you do.”
Lucien nodded, his throat bobbing uncomfortably. If there was any male he had competition with, it was this one. And he was giving him... praise?
“It’s the only place she seemed truly happy,” Azriel continued, "Until..."
“Until what?” Lucien's stomach was in knots. He should have drunk so much.
“Until you came back. She didn’t smile that much before.”
“I’m sure it has nothing to do with me...”
“It has everything to do with you,” Azriel insisted.
“Look,” Lucien said, pulling at the back of his neck, “I just want her to be happy, whatever that means.”
“You misunderstand me,” Azriel said. “Elain and I are very alike in a lot of ways. Call it kindred spirits if you want. She is a dear friend to me, but that is all. I too care about her happiness and I hope she finds that with you.”
Lucien released a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding as some invisible weight disappeared from his chest. Lucien felt undeserving of these males’ friendship, of the camaraderie they had already offered him and the kindness they’d shown him. He had immediately perceived Azriel as a threat when he would have known he wasn’t if he’d just taken the time to talk to him.
Cassian had fallen asleep on the couch and at some point, while Lucien and Azriel had been talking, Rhys had gone up to bed.
“Will you go home, or...?”
“Rhys is something of a mother hen,” Azriel said with a chuckle. “He has a room upstairs for Cass and I if we ever want to stay over.” He seemed to consider a moment as they climbed the stairs. “If you ever tell him I called him that—”
“Oh, I’ll never breathe a word,” Lucien promised. “I don’t want to find out what those shadows would do to me.”
Azriel chuckled again as Lucien entered his room and quietly shut the door behind him.
As he lay in bed, strangely enough, it wasn’t Elain that Lucien thought of. It was Cassian and his volatile relationship with Nesta. He wondered if Nesta knew Cassian was her mate and just refused to acknowledge it or if she didn’t even know yet. Either way, Nesta was Cassian’s mate. Poor bastard.