Lucien was exhausted. He was curled around a measly fire in the cave he and Feyre had run to so many months ago. He had debated whether or not to use it to travel to Autumn, but decided that of the two courts, he was safer in Spring.
He doubted Tamlin would send anyone after him, but if he’d gone to Autumn, he was sure his brothers would come sooner or later. Possibly not Eris, since it seemed he was finally growing a backbone and standing up to Beron. But the others were bloodthirsty savages that wouldn’t be satisfied until Lucien no longer breathed.
Which he was having a hard time doing at the present. Every breath sent searing pain through his ribs. At least two were definitely broken, and half a dozen more were bruised. He could have healed himself, but he worried that he wouldn’t have enough energy left to winnow. Even then, he doubted his ability to winnow more than a mile or two at a time in his current condition. Tamlin had effectively beaten the shit out of him.
But he had let it happen. Just as Feyre had. Tamlin had to see the consequences of his rage with his own eyes in order for him to ever learn from it. Even then, Lucien doubted whether he would change. Some things just festered and burrowed too deep to ever be fully undone.
He had been resigned to wait in this pathetic cave for a few days until his ribs had begun to heal before trying to go back to the Night Court... until he heard her.
Come home. Come home to me.
He bolted to his feet and winced sharply.
“Not smart, Lucien,” he said aloud as he gingerly lowered himself back down to the ground.
To hell with waiting for his ribs to heal. He would winnow through the pain. It was a small price to pay for the reward that waited for him in Velaris. He tried to stand again, but his vision swam and the contents of his stomach threatened to resurface.
He took several deep breaths until the nausea subsided. Peering out of the cave opening, he could see it was starting to get dark. It wouldn’t be wise to travel at night, injury or no injury, and especially in the Autumn Court. He forced himself to untie his bedroll from his rucksack and spread it out on the cave floor. He delicately rolled onto his back and closed his eyes.
Before he drifted off into a night of fitful sleep, he sent a short reply through the bond, just so she would know he heard her.
Wild horses, dove.
He had promised that even those couldn’t keep him from her. And if they couldn’t, neither would a few broken ribs.
Lucien woke only a few hours later to a hand covering his mouth. Instinctively, he snatched one of the daggers from his baldric, sending searing pain shooting through his chest. The stranger countered the blade with one of his own.
“Shh!” Azriel hissed, slowly lowering his hand from Lucien’s mouth.
The Illyrian was crouched down, his wings splayed out wide enough that they blocked Lucien’s view of the cave mouth.
“Azriel? What are you doing here?” Lucien winced as he sat up.
“Feyre sent me,” he breathed, sheathing Truth Teller without a sound. “What the hell happened to you?”
Lucien clutched his side as he stood up gingerly. “Tamlin.”
Azriel only nodded. Lucien was suddenly grateful that Feyre had sent him and not Cassian, who no doubt would have wanted to hear all the details. But Azriel only eyed Lucien’s pack in the corner, the bundle of wings still tied securely to it.
“How bad is it?”
“A couple broken ribs,” Lucien answered. “Some bruised. The sonofabitch dislocated my jaw too but I handled that.”
“How were you planning to get back like this?”
“Winnow through the pain. I didn’t care,” Lucien muttered.
“You’d have been near dead by the time you made it back to Velaris,” Azriel said.
“It would have been worth it..."
"Not if you didn't make it back."
"So, why did Feyre send you all the way here?”
“I believe her exact words were, ‘I don’t care if he’s gotten the wings yet or not. Go bring that stubborn jackass back here immediately.’” Azriel gave him a wry smile. “I didn’t think it prudent to disobey a direct order from my High Lady.”
“No, that would have been most unwise,” Lucien agreed.
Azriel had folded his wings in tightly behind him and was peering out of the cave entrance. “You weren’t followed?”
“I think Tamlin might have withdrawn his sentries for the night. Or told them not to come after me in any case.”
Confusion fell over Azriel’s face. “Why would he do that?”
“Because I made him feel like shit,” Lucien answered. “So the least he could do is let me leave his territory without interference.”
“How positively diplomatic of him.”
“Tell me about it,” Lucien grumbled.
Azriel seemed to be considering. “Can you heal yourself?”
Lucien winced, as if the mention of his injury caused his broken ribs to throb extra painfully. “I can, but then I won’t be able to winnow.”
“Do it,” Azriel commanded. “I can winnow us both back.”
“You’re sure?” Lucien sounded skeptical, but Azriel nodded as his seven Siphons glowed blue.
“There’s no point in you struggling in pain for days when I can get us back in an hour,” Azriel insisted.
Lucien couldn’t exactly argue with that logic. He grit his teeth and focused his energy on his aching ribs. It took less than a minute. He breathed in and upon exhaling, his chest didn’t sear with pain. He bent over to pick up his pack, Azriel watching him carefully.
Lucien offered the pack to Azriel. After all, there were Illyrian wings wrapped up and bound to it. Lucien didn’t know all of the etiquettes around their wings, but it seemed right to offer for an Illyrian to return them home.
Azriel held up a scarred hand and shook his head. “Absolutely not. You took a beating to retrieve those wings. It should be you who returns them to Rhys.”
Lucien shouldered the pack as Azriel made a comment about extinguishing the remnants of the fire, just to ensure they erased as many traces of their presence as possible. Lucien nodded and using the power bestowed upon him through his mother, he drew the very last spark out of the smoldering embers, leaving nothing more than a few bits of charred wood.
Azriel nodded his satisfaction and extended his hand. “Come on,” he said as he jerked his head north. “Best not keep her waiting.”
As he grasped the Illyrian’s arm, Lucien knew it wasn’t Feyre he was referring to.