His mother was here. In the Night Court. In Rhysand’s townhouse. By the Cauldron...
Lucien stood frozen in place, hand still clutching Elain’s, with his mouth hanging open.
“Hello, son,” the Lady of Autumn said with a strong voice. Though she appeared nervous and anxious, her voice never quavered or broke.
All other conversation stopped dead as the rest of the Circle whipped around to see the newcomer.
“How in the Cauldron’s murky depths did they get her here?” Amren hissed. She glanced at Elain appreciatively. “You, girl, are not to be underestimated.”
Lucien took a tentative step toward his mother. Elain loosened her grip on his hand, no doubt to let him greet her on his own, but he squeezed her hand and tugged her with him.
“Mother,” Lucien said, his throat bobbing. “Why are— What did— How are you here?”
Lucien tried to do a mental tally of how long it had been since he’d seen her. The brief encounter Under the Mountain barely counted, since their every move had been watched and scrutinized for traces of treason. Fifty years since the masquerade and nearly two hundred since Jesminda... too fucking long.
He released Elain’s hand to wrap his mother into a tight embrace. She let out a tiny sob as she hugged her youngest son fiercely. He was over a foot taller than her, but she still hugged him as a mother hugs her son - arms wrapped around his neck and pulling him down onto her own shoulder. She wiped her eyes and sniffled once he let her go.
“How?” He asked again.
She gestured to the group of people in the sitting room. His friends. “Well, I don’t know all the specifics, but Rhysand’s spymaster came to me with a note from Feyre explaining it all.”
“Won’t he notice you’re gone?” Lucien’s voice was laced with worry.
“Not for a few hours. Rhysand helped put on a very convincing glamour.”
“How did they even get into Autumn without him knowing?”
“Eris,” his mother said gently.
Mor’s eyes grew wide and even Lucien scoffed with disbelief.
“Azriel reached out to Eris,” Rhys explained. “Told him what we wanted to do. Turns out the alliance we made with him at the Court of Nightmares paid off. So long as he has our support, he's willing to help us here and there. He went to your mother and explained our plan and she agreed to it.”
“The glamour will only hold for a few hours,” Azriel warned. “I’ll have to take her back before it wears off.”
Lucien didn’t care if it was five minutes or five hours. He glanced around at his friends and swallowed thickly before saying, “Thank you. All of you.”
“Don’t thank us,” Rhys said with a shrug. He pointed at Elain. “This whole thing was her idea.”
Lucien’s head snapped around to Elain. She had her hands folded in front of her and was looking down shyly. He barely registered his mother letting go of him as he stepped back over to Elain, slowly and deliberately.
“You said you didn’t care about your birthday," she rushed to explain, "so I didn’t want to make you tolerate a party with gifts and all of that nonsense if you didn’t want it, but... I just thought—”
She broke off when Lucien wrapped his arms around her tiny waist and hoisted her into a crushing embrace. He held her as tightly as he dared without hurting her. He buried his face in her honey-brown hair and whispered, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Elain’s delicate arms wrapped around his neck as he held on to her and refused to let go.
He wondered if it was possible to fall in love with the same person more than once. If he hadn’t already been in love with her, this would have been what made him fall for her.
He could practically feel Nesta’s eyes burning holes into the back of his skull, but he didn’t care. He set Elain down, taking her hand in his once more. He seemed to have forgotten that Elain hadn’t even accepted the mating bond yet. It didn't matter. The gift she'd given him was nearly as good. He led her back over to where his mother stood, who gazed up at him with tears in her eyes.
“Mother, this is Elain,” he said, slightly breathless. “Elain, meet my mother Anlyn, Lady of the Autumn Court.”
His mother pulled Elain into a warm embrace. “Thank you for your kind heart,” she whispered to his mate. “I cannot ever explain what this means to me.”
She released Elain and took Lucien’s face in her hands. She seemed unwilling to let go of him for more than a few moments at a time. “Oh, my dear son,” she wept.
The others appeared to be silently taking their leave, allowing Lucien to spend the next few precious hours alone with his mother.
Rhys and Feyre went upstairs as Amren announced to them that she was going back to her own apartment. Cassian tugged Nesta’s arm and convinced her to go... somewhere. Mor and Azriel also headed upstairs, the later pausing long enough to say to Lucien, “We’ll be on the patio upstairs. I’ll come down when I need to take her home.”
Lucien nodded his understanding. Elain turned to follow the rest of them upstairs, but he grabbed her arm.
“Stay.” He hadn’t meant to make it sound like a command. “Please?”
“Oh, I don’t want to intrude. I thought you’d want to catch up and—”
Please. I'd like for her to know you.
No, no, this was for you.
Please? He sent the pitiful pout through the bond.
For a little while, she conceded. Then I’m going upstairs. You need to spend some time, just you two.
Lucien sat on the sofa and his mother sat across from him in one of the armchairs. He tried not to show his surprise as Elain settled on the sofa, feet tucked beneath her and leaning slightly against Lucien’s side. The full skirt of her dress fanned out, covering her knees and draping over the edge of the sofa.
“Elain, you are Feyre’s sister, is that right?” The Lady of Autumn asked as she admired Elain's dress with an approving gaze.
“Yes,” she said in a tiny voice.
“Your sister sacrificed her identity for my Lucien.”
Elain nodded. Between Feyre and Lucien, Elain knew most of what occurred Under the Mountain.
“I’ve never been more afraid in my life than at that moment when I thought Rhysand was going to destroy my beloved son.”
Elain said nothing. Lucien didn’t think he could say anything.
“And now you, blessing that you are, have brought me here, to a miracle of a city where he is not only living but thriving." She wiped her eyes again. “A mother isn’t supposed to have favorites,” she said, addressing Lucien, “but you have always been mine.”
Elain shifted at his side. He reached down and interlaced his fingers between hers. The feeling of her hand in his felt like the most natural thing in the world.
“Is it because I’m the only child you had with Helion?”
Elain tried to cover up her gasp with a cough but Anlyn didn’t stutter or balk. She maintained her composure as she said calmly, “Know that I never kept the truth from you out of malice. I did it to protect you. So long as you were ignorant to it, Beron could never use it against you. But aside from that, you have always been different from your brothers. You’ve never had the crazed bloodlust that they all inherited from their father.”
Helion is your father?
Yes. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.
You don't have to apologize. How did you find out?
My wonderful new friend Bryaxis brought me that tidbit of information.
Elain said nothing else through the bond, but Lucien could practically feel her reassuring embrace through it.
“Have you always known?” Lucien asked her.
“Yes. A healer came to me while I was pregnant and she knew of a... method to determine paternity. I’ve never had the courage to tell him though.”
“But Beron found out anyway, didn’t he?”
“Yes,” she said with a sigh. “After that, I had to swear never to see Helion again. Or else Beron would punish me by punishing you.”
Elain sucked in a breath that sounded like a hiss.
“That was exactly how I felt too,” Anlyn said. “He lost any lingering love I had for him when he threatened my son to obtain my obedience.”
“Why do you stay with him?” Lucien demanded. “He has no more leverage over you. Leave him.”
Anlyn gave him a sad smile. “I wish it were that easy.”
“It can be,” he insisted. “Yes, it’s terrifying to start over in a new court. Believe me." He tried to keep the bitterness in his voice to a minimum. It wasn't her fault that he'd been run out of his home court. She had even tried to reason with Beron about Jesminda.
"But you are the strongest female I have ever known," Lucien went on. "If anyone could do it, you could.”
Lucien’s mother looked around the room and gestured toward the walls. “I'm told they call this the Court of Dreams and I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that you ended up here. You always were a dreamer with a heart of gold, son. I hope you’ve finally found a place where you feel you belong.”
Lucien hoped so too, more than anything. They chatted softly for a while. Lucien told his mother of his search for Vassa on the continent. Elain talked of growing up as a mortal and the struggles they endured. She gave a severely summarized account of being Made, all the while Lucien never letting go of her hand. Thankfully, Anlyn hadn't asked any questions during that part of their shared narrative. After nearly two hours had passed, Elain nudged Lucien through the bond.
I’m going to go out to the garden. Give you a moment alone with her.
You’re welcome to stay.
Elain stood from the sofa and so did Lucien’s mother. He watched in silent amazement as Elain embraced his mother as if they’d known each other for years. The two females he loved more than any others in the world. And from first appearances, they seemed to adore one another. Lucien waited for the other shoe to drop. Things this good didn't happen to him. Moments of joy were almost always followed by tragedy. It was his lot in life.
“I’m so grateful to you, dear,” Anlyn whispered. “You will never know what this has meant to me.”
“I'm so glad to have met you," Elain said genuinely. "I hope to see you again."
“By the Mother’s grace, you will, my dear,” Anlyn replied.
Elain excused herself to her garden, leaving Lucien and his mother alone.
“She is a treasure,” Anlyn said.
Lucien didn’t say anything as he watched Elain kneel in the garden, spraying the tiny buds that were just barely breaking the surface of the soil with water.
“Happiness looks good on you, my son. I haven’t seen it in so very long I feared I never would again. Not after Jesminda.”
“She didn’t deserve what happened to her,” Lucien said darkly.
“Neither did you,” his mother murmured. She pursed her lips as she considered what else she wanted to say. “Has she accepted the bond yet?”
Lucien blinked. “How did you—”
“Call it a mother’s intuition,” she shrugged. “Give her time. She will. It’s easy to see that you love her. Have you told her yet?”
Lucien hadn’t taken his eyes off of Elain through the patio door. “She knows.”
Anlyn glanced outside. Elain was talking to her flowers, encouraging them to grow. “Yes, I do believe she does. Still, take it from a female. We like to hear the words all the same.”
He would tell her. When he was certain she was ready and willing to hear it. Even though his heart ached every day, every moment he was with her. He refused to do anything, say anything, that might make her feel pushed or pressured.
“Have you ever encountered yours?” Lucien wondered. “Surely Beron isn’t—”
“Oh, Cauldron no,” she agreed. “Helion is mine.”
Lucien’s mouth fell open. “But then... Does he know?”
“I’m honestly not sure,” she said with a soft laugh. “I didn’t realize it until you were about ten years old, so it’s likely not.”
“It’s not too late you know,” he proposed. “I’ve got pretty powerful friends now. We could relocate you here. Or to Day if that’s what you wanted.”
“I’m not going to make any rash decisions,” she said, displaying the wisdom that age and hardship had taught her. “But I will promise you that I’ll consider it. Now that I know you’re safe and happy, the time may be approaching for me to bid Autumn goodbye.”
She turned her head toward the stairs as Azriel appeared at the bottom. Lucien stood and she pulled him down to her once more. “I love you, son. I’m so grateful you’ve found a place to call your home and friends who love you as you deserve.”
She kissed his cheek and fussed over the length of his hair. Lucien's throat bobbed. It had been so very long since his mother had doted on him. He was a grown male who'd been to war and back, but he would never be too old for his mother's affectionate touches. He'd always thought he got more attention than his brothers because he was the youngest, but now, he supposed it was because he was the only child his mother bore from her true love. Her mate.
“Happy birthday, my son," she said as she kissed his cheek once more.
She took Azriel’s outstretched hand and they disappeared.