Summary: Elain reaches out to Azriel after that dreaded Solstice night and they once again meet under the moonlight in the River House - but everything is different now (post ACOSF, Azriel’s the focalizer)
Pairings: Azriel x Elain, Elriel
Word Count: 13,300+
Warnings: This does get a bit smutty and then there’s some violence towards the end.
A/N: This is like super long. It basically has everything it’s fluff, smut and angst so yeah, something for everyone. This is probably the longest oneshot I’ve ever written, I don’t know where this has come from but it’s taken me way longer to write than any of my other stuff. There’s a lot of catharsis in this and reflection on how I think both Azriel and Elain think of the situation. You’ll also get a bit of Rhys’ pov towards the ned ;)
Preview: With Elain’s eyes closed he allowed himself to greedily devour the sight of her. Just her face alone captured his attention entirely. With his eyes he memorised the curve of her cheekbones, the specific angle of her brows, even the exact chocolatey shade of her lashes. He went over it again, and again, and again, like a worshipper devouring the holy text. Azriel needed the perfection of Elain committed to memory, because he was sure that one day his luck would run out entirely. That soon he would not be permitted to even these meetings in the dead of night, with only a thousand stars as witness to their mutilated fate.
“Elain...” He tried again; his voice softer than he had ever heard it before. The person he became around Elain was foreign to himself. He had never been someone privileged enough to both love and be loved, not like this. Now that he had tasted such passions, he found he could not always recognise himself. Because he was Azriel, and he was cursed and damned, destined to be alone, to be unloved, mutilated both in mind and morality. He could not love; he shouldn’t be able to love - and yet.
It was no exaggeration to say that Azriel’s work was of a most gruesome nature. His daily routine involved cutting into people, making them sing to his shadows, working them like a carcass in a machine until they’d spilt their guts to him before painting the walls with those same organs. As the Night Court’s spymaster, Azriel knew things that would bring kings to their knees, secrets that were interwoven into the foundations of courts, hidden information that would dissolve alliances in seconds; and yet, here he was, pacing the room like a schoolboy as he tried to swallow the fluttery ‘butterfly-like’ feeling twisting his gut.
He’d noticed the note the minute he’d entered the room. A tiny slip of paper that glowed in the moonlight from where it was perched on his work desk, a stark contrast to Azriel’s messy, tea-stained paperwork. Azriel had smelt her on it before he read it, in fact, the second he opened the door to his River House bedroom he was surrounded by her faded aroma. She must’ve breezed in and out, not wanting to overstep her bounds as she left him a note no one else was to read. Knowing her, she was probably currently riddled with guilt for entering his private space, even though, quite frankly, Azriel wouldn’t mind her invading on every aspect of his life, personal or not. Not wanting to face what her scent in his room did to him, he’d crossed the room in three strides and devoured the note in seconds; the words still rang in his head.
I need to see you.
Everything had been fine. Ever since Rhysand’s outrageous demand of Azriel several months prior, Azriel had fallen into a routine, stricter than the last, for ignoring Elain Archeron. He was working more than he ever had before, not just in quantity but in quality. Unnecessarily detailed reports were showing up on the High Lord’s desk of situations that were entirely irrelevant to the current political climate and yet, Azriel thought it was only fair Rhysand suffered somewhat from this situation too.
I’m sorry for everything.
While he was anywhere but Velaris, Elain was never anywhere else, specifically in the River House, a place he had thus far avoided with painful success. Until his High Lady had demanded he come to dinner to celebrate Nesta’s birthday, Nesta who was happier than he had ever seen her before, practically glowing with the dreaded mating bond. It still baffled him how much prevalence mating bonds had played in his life the past few years after 500 years of silence, strings of fate which seemed to only bring about the greatest happiness or the wickedest pain.
I just want to make things right.
They were so happy, all of them. Rhysand with Feyre and Nyx, Nesta and Cassian - and though he just wanted to be glad for his family, the miasma of their bliss was suffocating. Because Azriel had never felt more alone, had never been so buried in his work, so achingly tired from the unnecessary flights and dreary missions, and his harmful behaviour was turning his body into something foreign. Azriel never used to have the constant tautness across his shoulders, nor the constant black shadows under his eyes from the sleepless nights, or the aching muscles that never seemed to heal. But it was necessary – if he wanted to obey Rhysand’s order, if he wanted to maintain civility between courts, and for a plethora of other supposed noble reasons – it was necessary.
I miss you.
He just wanted her. Not in any possessive way, he just wanted to be around her. He’d come to find a specific kind of peace in her company, something about that soothed his worries and aches. So, he missed their walks in the gardens, their shared book recommendations, their inside jokes, their unspoken understanding, their healing. And above all he missed her: her smile, her laughter, the shade of her flushed cheeks, her kindness, her silence.
Azriel hadn’t realised what had been happening to him as they had gotten closer, hadn’t realised how far he’d fallen till Rhysand had pulled him out of the air. Now all that was there, was a lacking. He was busier than ever, but all around him hung the privation of her.
Meet me in the foyer when the sun sets.
So he couldn’t be around his family, couldn’t face their overwhelming joy when he was so, so alone. Maybe it would’ve been better if he had never met Elain, or at least if he hadn’t allowed himself to fall for her. But in those soft moments he shared with her, the brushes of fingertips to the sun-kissed smiles, he’d been forced to face just how alone he was, how alone he had always been. Through Elain, Azriel had had a taste of honest, unwavering love - and yet he was expected to turn his back on such a discovery, by his own family no less.
He would meet her in the foyer when the sun set. He would follow her to the ends of the Earth if she asked him to, because maybe he was just so masochistic that he didn’t mind meeting Elain only to be reminded of everything he couldn’t have. Reading the note Azriel couldn’t help but think bitterly of how the flower-grower was far more courageous than he. That she was reaching out to him after he had rejected her so brutally. Azriel jolted, flaring his wings slightly to stop the train of thought. That pained, confused look in Elain’s eye when he had said that word, haunted him. Mistake. He’d called it a mistake. Azriel raked his hands down his face and sighed.
He wished he were strong enough to either commit or drop it entirely. He wished he had it in him to do something. Azriel should’ve bitten back at Rhysand all those months ago, should’ve just dealt with this catastrophe back then rather than let it fester and rot under the proverbial carpet.
As time passed in Azriel’s knotted thoughts, the sun plummeted towards the horizon. It was a perfect summers evening, and Azriel stilled at the window to watch as the sun melted the sky into shades of pink and purple. He saw it and thought of the colour of her dress tonight, or even that dress she had worn when she’d made traditional Illyrian biscuits and demanded he tried one. He’d taken it in his pocket and only took a bite when he was alone in the shadows of a different court, and he had savoured every bite, quietly smothering his growing adoration as he did so.
Elain, Elain, Elain. His shadows whispered to him, as though they knew they would soon be in her presence. No one had ever had such an effect on his shadows, and around her he was more aware of them being a separate entity to himself. Though they were bound, around Elain they seemed to grow more confident, they acted of their own accord and would often disappear in her presence, as though his shadows knew he wished to be entirely alone with her.
Foyer...Elain...flower-grower...beautiful. Azriel was inclined to agree. And before Azriel could lose himself to shyness, the sun finally dipped behind the curve of the land, allowing a thousand glimmering stars to prickle through the endless black sky.
She would already be waiting for him, and though Azriel was nervous, he had to restrain some part of himself that longed to throw open the door and jump down the stairs two at a time. Instead, he used the shadows, stepping through them to the base of the large foyer staircase. It would be more silent this way. He wouldn’t make the same mistake of not listening to the corridors as they spoke. For Elain’s sake, he would demand the utmost privacy, even from his High Lord and Lady.
He could see her before she saw him. She was leaning of the Foyer’s centre table, fiddling with the bouquet of flowers in a glass vase - of course she was. All he could see of her was the lower half of her pale gown and her dark golden hair, cascading down her back like a waterfall. The moonlight streaming in through the large French windows gave her an angelic glow, whereas the more sensuous light of the flickering candles painted shadows across her thinly veiled curves. Both warm and cold light coming together to worship the woman who seemed to him as light herself. At the sight of her, Azriel involuntarily sucked in a breath and felt her scent hit the back of his throat, his entire body seemed to sing from her aroma alone, as though it were his own personal drug. Dangerous, this was dangerous, to be with her and to be so alone. He didn’t care.
“Elain,” she didn’t start as he spoke into the thick silence. If she had the confidence to call him here tonight, then he must source some of his own. He at least owed her that. Delicately, Elain turned and looked over her shoulder, her beautiful brown eyes finding his and melting the whole world away.
“You came,” She breathed, her shoulders sagging slightly out of relief. She turned to him properly then, and Azriel flickered his eyes over her so quickly she might’ve mistaken it for a mere blink. But he saw her, saw what she was wearing, and some core part of his soul longed to weep at the sight of her beauty.
Elain was in a nightgown, off-white cotton and silk, with cream and dusty pink lace. Pale ribbons pulled the nightdress around her breasts and down to her naval, dipping in a slight ‘v’ before the skirts flowed around her natural curves and then dropped to the floor. The neckline was agonisingly flattering, though Azriel was sure he wouldn’t look twice at the nightdress on anyone else. Her creamy skin seemed browner in the warm candlelight of the house, and as the shadows flickered, he was aware of how her collarbones stretched out to the curve of her shoulders, how she didn’t have freckles on her chest and arms but rather a specific constellation of moles, even how her hair was impossibly thick and, if memory served him well, soft too. Upper sections were pulled away from her face in an intricate pattern of braids and ties, and yet lock after lock of pale brown hair cascaded down her back and over her shoulders, framing her angelic face. Oh, that face. Poets and painters alike would weep at the sight of that face. The small, angled eyebrows that somehow made her doe eyes bigger, the freckles across her cheeks and nose, her plush lips-
“I know that you’re avoiding me,” she began, crashing Azriel back into reality. He shifted slightly, ruffling his wings as though to wake himself up. Her voice wasn’t accusing, but calm and quiet, “I know there’s a reason why you’re never around. For a while I thought you were just cooped up at the House of Wind but Nesta says that she never sees you...no one ever sees you anymore.” Azriel stayed quiet, just holding her gaze. He never needed to speak around Elain, she had quickly understood that when he had something to say, he would say it, but till then, he was comforted by the silence. And so she continued, more nervous now.
“I don’t want to be...narcissistic...but it seems to me that you’ve been distancing yourself with everyone after what happened on Solstice and...” She shifted uncomfortably, her confidence running out as she looked down at the floor and wrung her hands. “I can’t take it. I can’t take being the person whose pushed you away and I...I think we need to talk about it - or not talk about it - I’m not sure. I just, I don’t want you to avoid me anymore, even if that means we pretend that it never happened, that’s fine. I just...”
He could tell her right now the exact reason why he couldn’t be around her. Elain, he would say, I would do anything to be around you. I would kill a thousand men just to have the privilege of your company. But I can’t, Elain. Because when I’m around you, everything turns inside out, I forget everything I’m supposed to be afraid of. I become this person around you Elain, I become someone who I’ve always wanted to be, and I don’t know how to be him, if I even can. I’m not used to this, to wanting something so viscerally it feels as though I might fall apart every day I don’t see you. Elain, I don’t know how to choose happiness, I don’t know how to be selfish in that way, and above all...I don’t know how to fix this.
“I don’t care if you don’t want me like that, not if it comes at the price of your friendship. I still...need you in my life, Az,” Elain was whispering now, her large eyes slightly glassy in the candlelight.
Azriel couldn’t help but think that Elain was evidentially stronger than him, that she could still want to be around him even if he supposedly didn’t want her. If the roles were reversed, if it had been Elain who had pushed him away, he was pretty certain he would’ve manipulated his work to make him leave the Night Court for at least several years. Of course, she was stronger than him, he was beginning to think she was stronger than them all, because of this exact trait of hers - forgiveness.
“Please...say something,” Elain’s broken voice rose through the silence. She looked at him again, tears threatening to spill. Her looking at him in such a way made something deep in his chest twist, and twist and keep on twisting.
He didn’t know what to do, so he took a step forward, and another and another, until he was a foot’s distance away from her. The whole time her eyes never left his, her hands still twisting together at the front of her beautiful, beautiful dress. He opened his mouth to speak but once again Elain had rendered him speechless. Where could he begin, how could he begin - how could he fix this?
“Elain...” was all he managed in the end, but that seemed to be enough to soothe her as her eyes fluttered shut and she breathed deeply at the sound of her name mingled with his breath.
With Elain’s eyes closed he allowed himself to greedily devour the sight of her. Just her face alone captured his attention entirely. With his eyes he memorised the curve of her cheekbones, the specific angle of her brows, even the exact chocolatey shade of her lashes. He went over it again, and again, and again, like a worshipper devouring the holy text. Azriel needed the perfection of Elain committed to memory, because he was sure that one day his luck would run out entirely. That soon he would not be permitted to even these meetings in the dead of night, with only a thousand stars as witness to their mutilated fate.
“Elain...” He tried again; his voice softer than he had ever heard it before. The person he became around Elain was foreign to himself. He had never been someone privileged enough to both love and be loved, not like this. Now that he had tasted such passions, he found he could not always recognise himself. Because he was Azriel, and he was cursed and damned, destined to be alone, to be unloved, mutilated both in mind and morality. He could not love; he shouldn’t be able to love - and yet.
“I’m sorry,” He began, his voice barely audible. And by the way Elain’s brows furrowed slightly and her mouth tightened, he knew that she knew he was talking about the last time they’d been here, in this foyer. “I wish things were different,” He whispered, now trying to memorise the exact constellations of her freckles.
“Me too,” She breathed, her eyes still closed. “I wish I was different,” She surprised him by whispering.
“Don’t...” He murmured, silently stunned, “You...you don’t know how you...” But he had to stop himself mid-sentence, had to bite his tongue between his teeth hard enough to draw blood. Because if he started to talk, he wouldn’t stop. He would tell her everything, and he wasn’t quite ready to be so vulnerable, not when he didn’t know how to be vulnerable at all.
“I...” She opened her eyes and seemed to look at him as though for the first time. After a long pause she spoke again, “I wish I had courage.”
“Courage?” Elain paused and shifted slightly from foot to foot, as though she were debating what she would say next.
“I want to be strong, like my sisters...I want to etch out my own path rather than fumble in the dark.” Azriel thought for a moment.
“You are strong, whether you perceive yourself to be or not.” He wanted nothing more than to reach up and stroke his hand along her smooth cheek, instead he dug his nails into his already marred palm and focused on the pain’s bite.
“I will never be a general,” Elain whispered, her eyes still damp, “I will never be a High Lady or a leader, I don’t care for any of that...I wish I did. You can’t imagine how badly I wish I...” Her words ran out and her eyes became slightly glossed over and detached. Again, he felt the urge to touch her, to ground her back in reality, but he just dug his nails in deeper. “I don’t belong on battlefields, though I’d always fight when the world needed me but...I’m not a warrior; and that petrifies me.”
Again, Azriel paused, taking time to absorb every word Elain offered to him under the moonlight. Azriel adored Elain, he could’ve stood there for an hour and listed everything about her that had brought him hope. How her outlook on life had been so foreign to him, so unrealistic when he first met her, that it was extraordinary now just how jealous he was of her ability to look at the morbidity of the world, and still seek out the good.
“In a world of endless bloodshed and bitterness, do not be ashamed of not wanting to be a warrior,” Azriel whispered.
“But I’m useless,” Elain quickly interjected, “I have all this power, I feel it stirring in me and there is no part of me that wishes to manipulate it or-or exploit it.” Elain’s hands came up and danced in the air as she spoke, another quirk of hers he’d both memorised and adored. Azriel thought again, long and hard, before he spoke.
“I’ve been around a lot longer than you, and from what I’ve learnt of people is...that they’re horrible,” Azriel watched as Elain’s eyes widened and drank in his words and something twisted in his chest. People didn’t look at him like that when he talked. His brothers would wink and laugh with him, his enemies cowered and flinched, those whom he bedded would smile slyly or watch his mouth as he murmured dirty things in the dead of night. But no one looked at him like that, as though he were reciting poetry, as though he were beautiful enough to say something worthy of those big eyes and parted lips.
“You wouldn’t believe the horrors I’ve seen, or the court secrets I’ve uncovered. The way people, particular those in positions of power, treat each other, treat those around them and those below them - it’s tragic. It’s merciless and cruel.” Elain was still drinking him in, still hanging onto his every word.
“I think over the centuries, I myself became desensitised to the horrors of power and politics. Especially given my start in life. When you were human I understood your naivety, your belief in the good of the world, especially after your riches had returned and your life was content.
“But what I didn’t understand was how you continued to believe good after everything you went through. After facing the most brutal torture from the Cauldron itself...you still chose to believe in the wonderful and I-I didn’t understand that. Because I couldn’t do that. Because I’d never believed in the good of people the way you do...I had never even believed in the good of myself.
“Please don’t think that kindness is something small, or something that can be overlooked. Because when the world is little more than ruin and rubble, kindness is all we have left. We’ve just been alive so long that we forget about it, us Fae, we’ve spent so much of our lives at war that it’s easy to forget why we’d even engage in such bloodshed. It wasn’t till I met you that I was reminded that such things as tenderness and humanity even existed outside my family, and once the wars were about defending those virtues rather than snuffing them out…I just, I can’t help but think that if there were more people like you in the world, maybe Prythian wouldn’t succumb to carnage every few decades, just so that the heartless noblemen of this land can feel something.”
Azriel hadn’t meant to speak for so long, in fact, he didn’t quite understand where the words had even come from. They were true, of course. He did whole-heartedly believe everything he had just said, he just hadn’t realised how much he’d ached to say it aloud. Elain was still staring at him wide-eyed, and then there was the worst thing of all, a single tear spilling over her damp eyes and trickling down her cheek.
“I’m sorry I didn’t mean to-”
“No,” Elain whispered, suddenly reaching out and sliding her palm into his from where it was hanging limp at his side. Electricity shot through his arm, and he forced himself to look at her in the eye as he tensed his legs so that they didn’t crumple underneath him. “No, it’s good I’m, I’m glad you said it I...”
But again, words seemed to evade Elain as she looked up at him. Azriel was now hyperaware of her how close she was, of her smooth palm that fit so nicely in his own. His body often reacted on its own accord around Elain, and he had spent months leashing his desires into chains, beasts that could only come out in the dead of night. But since that dreaded Solstice night last winter, everything had changed.
Life these past few months had consisted of the battle between two extremes. Either he was drowning in the way his body seemed to ache and beg for her, his mind obsessing over their stuttering relationship as though it were a philosophical debate. Especially since he now knew that some part of her wanted him and had wanted to kiss him even with her mate sleeping upstairs. The fact that he now knew what her scent tasted like, how her voice sounded when it was breathy and desperate - it all fuelled the fantasies that haunted him the moment he made it back to his room. He could be on the other side of Prythian and somehow the presence of Elain Archeron would find a way to him.
The other extreme was complete and total deprivation. The reality that he hadn’t seen her for months, that she would soon exist more in memory than experience. Even though his fantasies of her were so visceral, so tangible, the reality that she was not in the room with him always came crashing down by the time his head had cleared - and then he’d feel more alone than ever before.
But when he was here, with her, the argument ceased. The torture and the pain, the writhing mind and aching debates, it all fell into beautiful silence. And so, looking at her now, he was unable to help himself. And without thought, he reached up and tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear as he murmured under his breath, no more than a whisper, “Elain Archeron...saviour of the cursed and damned...”
As Azriel’s fingers grazed Elain’s cheek, a horribly confused and upset look twisted her face. She seemed to freeze at the contact and Azriel halted at her discomfort, internally berated himself for pushing her too far, for being so arrogant in thinking he could touch her in such a way.
“I...Azriel...I don’t understand,” Elain’s breathless voice seemed to caress him, and once more he found himself tensing his legs so that they wouldn’t give out under him. “You don’t want me...you said it was a mistake...” Azriel stilled, and he caught her eye in a moment of alarmed sobriety.
“You and I both know that’s not true.”
He couldn’t stop the words before they spilled from his lips. It didn’t matter how soft, how quiet, his voice was, the words were innately harsh and something deep against his spine lurched at the thought of her hurting her - of hurting her again.
But Elain didn’t flinch. Her eyes, instead of widening in shock, stayed stoically still and calm. And then Azriel watched as those honeyed eyes he loved so much lapsed darker and darker, the floral musk of her arousal drifting to him like a moth to a flame, the same scent he’d been dreaming of for months, the memory of it alone making his body achingly hard and taut, as though his own skin existed only to respond to the call of hers.
The scent surrounded him, sending blood to his cock which was now throbbing viscerally against the seams of his leathers. His arousal had never felt so tight before, so extreme and sudden. He felt it, heavy in his lower abdomen, twisting and knotting his guts in both pain and pleasure. That was familiar, that he’d felt a hundred times before, but for Elain Acheron his whole body seemed to sing. His blood burned under his skin as it pounded through his body, whilst his heart was light and fluttery in his chest, as though it might edge up his throat and fall from his lips. His eyes felt heavy lidded as though he were drunk, and even though he were standing stoically still, even though he hadn’t done anything yet, he found himself short of breath.
He had never wanted something more - never. Not Mor. Not a job. Not a secret, not information. Not salvation, not mercy. God, it seemed as though in this instant, Elain had invented want for him.
He would beg for her. Right now, in the foyer where he’d first tasted this personal drug. Had Elain not been holding him up by her eyes and a single palm he would already be on his knees. He moved to fall down before her, like a worshipper at a temple, when movement at her mouth caught his eye. Azriel watched as her delicate, pink tongue slowly dragged along her lower lip to wet it as she blinked innocently at him. Azriel’s resolve was gone in a puff of smoke.
Fuck Rhysand. Fuck Lucien. Fuck the Mother, the Cauldron, the world. Fuck anyone who stood between him and Elain who he knew, he knew, wanted him as badly as he wanted her. Because of course she did. Because whatever this was, whatever was happening between them, was otherworldly and impossible to ignore.
And good luck to them, was the last though Azriel had before he leaned in. Good luck to anyone who ever dare stand between him and her, because he’d kill them - he’d fucking kill them.
Despite his body beating like a drum for Elain’s melody, he did not kiss her right away. Once he’d accepted that he would kiss her, once he’d come to that inevitable conclusion it felt like a thousand doors of golden light opened before his eyes, and it took everything he had to not sob with joy.
All those fantasies he had revelled in for the past year that had been shrouded in a miasma of fantasy and shame, rolled through his mind clear as day. He could kiss her lips. Those soft pads of blushing rose that he had already committed to memory. Or he could trace down and press his lips to the sensitive spot between her neck and shoulder, a crook of intimacy that he’d already figured out from watching her protect it with her hands when someone stood behind her. He could kiss her temples, her cheeks, her throat - every fucking inch of her.
Now that his resolve had snapped like an elastic band stretched too far, he found that he was finally free. Looking at her he hadn’t realised how long he had taken, how slowly he was leaning in until Elain’s fingers suddenly gripped the leathers across his chest and her brows furrowed as she pulled closer to him, her eyes dark and desperate, her mouth wet and parted as she half-gasped, half-whispered, “Please....Azriel...”
He did moan then. A low, throaty sound that escaped him at the sound of his name intertwined with her breathy gasps. He snapped.
He had intended to savour every second of kissing her, but the moment his lips touched hers, he felt fire. Elain’s hands ran up his chest before intertwining themselves in his hair as she pulled herself against him and he moaned again, the second time in a minute, into her mouth. Because he could feel her, all of her, pressed against his hot throbbing body. The soft pressure of her breasts, the bones of her hips, even one of her legs had tucked between his own, the sides of their knees brushing together. She was going to kill him. She was going to fucking kill him.
And then there was her mouth. Softer than petals, and so obviously hers in taste and touch. Every time their lips brushed, every time he felt her perfect breath mingling with his own, shivers erupted across his body. Unable to stop himself he brushed back her hair before firmly grasping the side of her neck, his hand was so large against her velvet skin that he knew he could probably hold her entire throat in one hand. He put it there as an ode to the last time he’d been here. He’d put it there as a fuck you to fate.
His other hand curled around her waist and pressed against her back where - and he moaned again - Elain’s exposed skin greeted him.
He wanted to take her right her. Wanted to lie her down on the carpet and bury his head between her thighs as he had done so many times before in his fantasies. How he ached to taste her, all of her, to pin her writhing thighs back with one hand and wrists with the other. He wanted to look at her perfect angelic face as he made her sing sinful sounds for him. Wanted to make her toes curl and back arch as she came on his tongue. Again, and again, and again.
Elain tugged slightly on Azriel’s hair and he was thrust back into his body, back into the present, and he had to stifle another moan because those thousands of fantasies had nothing, nothing, on this.
In response to Elain’s needy tug, Azriel bent slightly and curled a hand around the back of each of her thighs and hoisted her up against his chest. Elain, much to his delight, snapped her legs around him as he lifted her against his chest, their lips still ferociously dancing. He only had to walk a few paces to set her against the edge of the lobby table, but that particular move was one that had been haunting him more recently of late.
He went to pull away after she was set down on the wooden tabletop. He wanted to see her, with her hair ruffled and her cheeks flushed, her lips swollen and her chest heaving. He wanted to commit that image to memory because there was still some part of him that could not believe this was real.
But as he moved to step back, Elain caught him off guard as her legs tightened from where they were wrapped around his hips, something of a growl arising from the back of her throat as she fisted his leathers and pulled him against her. Azriel obeyed her, like a puppy on a leash, leaning his hands against the table, either side of her hips, in order to stay standing.
She was flushed against him once more. Her breasts pushed against his chest which felt suffocated by the Illyrian leathers, he ached to have her skin brushing against his own, but all in good time. He slipped his tongue into her mouth then and revelled in the juxtaposing thrill and relaxation of exploring her in this way. But there was still an inch of space between their hips. He didn’t know why he left it there, even when Elain dragged him against her, perhaps it was because he knew the minute they were aligned in cardinal perfection, there would be no turning back. He would be hers and vice versa, and she would be his muse and his priority, and he would put her before everything - even his High Lord.
To steady himself, Azriel made the mistake of taking his hand and bracing himself on Elain’s thigh. What he was not expecting was for his palm to find the soft, exposed flesh of her leg from where her dress must’ve mischievously ridden upwards when he had lifted her.
Purely on instinct, Azriel moaned and drove his hips forward into her core, earning a breathy sigh from them both as they finally found an inch of friction in their writhing. There was only fabric now. Measly layers of fabric that came between them.
“Fuck...” Elain gasped into his mouth and some outrageously animalistic part of him growled in satisfaction at having pulled a sinful swear from her angelic mouth. Azriel kept one hand against the wood near her hips to stay steady, to stop himself from grounding his hips into her like an uncontrollable beast, the other stayed on the warm, smooth flesh of her exposed thigh.
Slowly, he began to trace rough circles with his thumb on her inner thigh earning a flutter of breathy sighs to dance from her lips which pleased his soul to no avail. Azriel parted from her lips and began to pepper kisses along her jawline as he torturously inched his thumb up, inch by inch with each circle. When Azriel began to kiss and suck on the spot just below her ear he allowed himself to peek at her as he worked.
Her head was tilted back slightly, her throat bobbing as high hums fluttered from her. If he could paint he would paint the perfect blush of her swollen lips. If he were a poet he would turn her breathy moans into the sweetest of sonnets. And then she tugged on her bottom lip with her teeth as a soft moan escaped her and he had to look away, if only to stop himself from reaching down and fisting himself at the sight of it.
With his head turned Azriel hissed out of surprise as his thumb rubbed against a sticky sweetness coating her inner thigh. God she was wet. And as he rubbed further, coating his thumb in her essence, he had to bite his cheek as to not come in his pants like a schoolboy. Azriel stopped rubbing circles in favour for taking his first finger and tracing back and forth over the highest point of her thigh, slow and torturous as he familiarised himself with the feel of her. His heart threatening to beat out of his chest when his fingers brushed against a lacy frill at the apex of her thigh. Tilting his head Azriel was able to husk into her ear.
“What do you want Elain?” His voice was low and breathy before he caught her lobe between his teeth. Another shuddering gasp floated from her lips.
“I want you to touch me...and I don’t want you stop,” the sound of her voice so mingled with pleasure and need was almost enough to undo him. “Ever,” She went on, “Not until I don’t know my own name.”
She was going to kill him. Growling in satisfaction he rewarded her answer with one quick brush over her lace underthing's, the touch was like electricity for them both. Elain physically tremored as Azriel finally brushed where she needed him most, and Azriel shuddered at the contact with the girl of his dreams.
“Please, Azriel,” Azriel stilled for a moment, wondering how she would react to his instinctual next move. His particular flavour of making love.
“Say that again,” He said slowly, his voice barely more than a brutal, low husk. As he spoke Azriel allowed some of his power to ebb into the words, the siphons a top his hands guttering as they came to life. It felt slightly wrong to use such a voice on her, the one he so often used with enemies, but Azriel watched as Elain’s lips parted, her pupils expanding as her breath grew heavy in response to his dominant voice. Oh, Azriel couldn’t help but think in agonising awe. Maybe his deep assumptions, the ones that only haunted him in that void he entered before he fell asleep, were true. That Elain, the purest of sisters, was also the filthiest.
“Please, Az,” Her voice was breathy and pleading, but there was something alight in her eyes as she begged him.
“Good girl,” Azriel couldn’t stop himself from husking as he peeled back the top of the lace. They both stared unwaveringly into each other’s eyes as Azriel dipped his hands along her, not touching just hovering. He held his hand there, an inch away from where she needed him most, waiting until she almost whimpered before he slid a single finger slowly through her folds.
Her reaction was blissful to see. The way she bit her lip, her back arched, and her eyes fluttered shut. Azriel moved with her, his own mouth parted, and brows furrowed as he stroked her again.
“Don’t close your eyes,” He murmured in his voice of steel, “Look at me.” Elain’s eyes snapped open, and it was his turn to be caught off guard. Gone was the hazelnut colour, even the sensuous black he had somehow lulled them into, what met him was the colour of bright honey and her eyes, they were glowing. They stood out like gemstones being pierced by golden light. It was then that Azriel began to take note of their surroundings and realise that the thrumming was not just happening inside him but all around him. Ripple after ripple of raw, ancient power was bleeding from Elain, fizzing into the air and turning the entire foyer into something alive and electric. A shiver ran along Azriel’s entire body as his own powers itched to sing in harmony with hers; cobalt energy rising to meet her golden light.
Her folds were dripping, and he was having an internal debate on whether or not to rip off her underwear. On one hand he would have better access, he would be able to pleasure her better, and he could even push her back against the table and lower his head and taste her. On the other, he couldn’t stand being disconnected from her for a second.
Whilst he debated, he slowly raked his finger up her again before finding that small bundle of nerves. When he caught it with his fingertip and began to drag slow, luxurious circles over it, a throaty, guttural moan escaped her lips. He bit his cheek again. He wondered if anyone had fucked her like this and again, that pride bloomed when he realised that he might be the first. Not her first, but the first person to show her the true ecstasy of pleasure.
“Oh fuck, oh fuck,” Elain gasped as her head fell forward on his shoulder. Azriel allowed the eye contact to break, too absorbed by the feeling of having Elain writhing under his fingers to care.
He’d always thought that he could die a happy man if ever he was blessed enough to experience such a joy as Elain Archeron, but now he realised what a stupid notion that was. Because Elain wasn’t cause for death but cause for life. He’d live for Elain, Azriel realised. Elain who was writhing and mewling into his shoulder as he slowly brought her to the ecstasy she deserved. She was close and following this he would winnow them away to either his unused apartment in central Velaris, or deep in the gardens on this summer night, where they would be entirely alone, and everything would be perfect. And once they’d had their fill on the pure bliss of one another they could talk about everything, and they’d find a solution and they’d work it out, and everything would be okay - and then Rhysand walked in, and everything came crashing down.
Some part of Azriel’s hazy mind had been aware of the movement deep in the house but it had been so, so inconsequential compared to what was in front of him. And his shadows, well his shadows were nowhere to be seen, not with golden light quite literally thrumming from Elain. There had been no warning, and as Rhys met Azriel’s eye when he still had his fingers flush against Elain some primal part of Azriel reared its head.
In an instant Azriel’s siphons were spluttering to life as power surged through Azriel, his wings instinctively flaring as wide as they would stretch, so that the cresting talon of each wing scraped into the polished walls. Rhys, who was standing at the edge of the foyer, an unrecognisable expression scorched into his face, was a threat at that moment, and the whole world seemed to still as Azriel slowly came down from the high of his arousal.
Slowly, Azriel removed his hand from Elain’s underwear and smoothed down her skirts to cover her legs, all the while never moving his eyes from Rhys. He didn’t care if he was in for the doghouse, didn’t give a shit about what consequences his happiness had just induced - Elain came first.
And right now, even though it was a ludicrous thought, Azriel was preparing himself to protect Elain from Rhysand. Elain’s whose nightgown had slipped down her shoulder, whose eyes were wide as she glanced over her shoulder at her brother-in-law, exposed and vulnerable just as she’d been on the worst night of her life.
“Azriel,” Rhysand finally spoke and Azriel shifted slightly to pull Elain closer to his chest. “My office...now.” It seemed as though all sense of formality had dropped as Rhysand’s High Lord voice billowed into the room. Azriel didn’t speak, didn’t move either, just shifted his eyes to Elain whose face was blanch and confused.
“Can’t this wait?” Azriel asked, his voice low and full of strength. Instantly he realised that he should’ve worded his question better. He didn’t want time in order to finish off what he and Elain had begun, but rather to give Elain a moment to breathe, for her to fix her dress and smooth her hair, for her to do whatever she needed to do before she was forced to face her family. Rhysand’s eyes darkened, and he entered the room in a low stride, both hands digging deep into his pockets. Azriel moved instantly, stepping around Elain to put himself in front of her as Rhysand approached.
Without a word Rhysand came closer and closer, and Azriel continued to stretch his wings to cover Elain from whatever vitriol was about to be thrown his way. But Rhysand didn’t say anything, he didn’t even move suddenly, just reached out a single hand until it was barely touching Azriel’s arm as darkness surrounded them both.
Before Azriel even had a chance to realise that Rhysand was winnowing them away – away from Elain – they were standing in his office, and Azriel couldn’t help but shake his head at the slight Deja-vu of the whole situation. Except this time, he wouldn’t be bounding himself in shackles, he’d be setting himself free, whether Rhys wanted him to or not.
Azriel was standing in front of the large mahogany desk of Rhysand’s office whilst it’s owner moved behind it, one hand still in his pocket. Already the air in the room was taut with energy, as though the very air were cowering in the face of the upcoming argument. And still Azriel’s mind was still thinking of the girl in the foyer, her name like a mantra beating through his body,
“Put your cock away Azriel,” Rhys immediately spat in response to the ripples of cobalt energy rippling from Azriel’s form. Azriel didn’t deem the childish comment with a retort, though his arousal was already gone, and quickly replaced by the tautness of anger and frustration. His shadows had returned to him now that he was away from Elain, and they were writhing uncontrollably around his legs and back.
Azriel stayed standing, folding his arms over his chest just for something to do. It was then that Rhys sighed heavily, leaning against his desk and hanging his head. He wasn’t as tired nor as desperate as when they’d last spoken like this - of this. No, now Rhys had everything. Everything he had ever, and could ever want, and now his fight lay in protecting the paradise he had found in Feyre and Nyx. Whilst Azriel was still in the dark, still alone, still secretly in agony - they were not the same.
“I gave you the simplest of orders,” Rhys sighed like a disappointed father and something brutally aggressive awoke in Azriel. How dare he, how dare Rhys speak to him like that?
“I know,” Azriel said, his voice indiscernible and calm. Rhys swung his head up to glare at Azriel, something emotional lingering in his violet eyes.
“You know? Then, Azriel, why did you take it upon yourself to disobey me?” Azriel’s grip on his biceps tightened.
“Elain is...” Azriel began before he had to lower his eyes. What was Elain? How could he explain to Rhys the inexplicable way he felt about the angelic gardener? The effect she had on him, it was both irrational and yet made perfect sense. And right now, he could barely focus with knowing that somewhere in this house she was looking around confused, wondering what the hell had just happened. “She’s important to me. More than you realise.”
“She has a mate.”
“That is irrelevant-”
“Irrelevant?” Rhysand looked as though he might laugh and Azriel once more gripped his arms tight enough to bruise. “I thought I made it perfectly clear to you Azriel that the bond between Elain and Lucien-” Azriel growled at his name, Rhys ignored him, “-is paramount to the civility between us and not just the Autumn Court, not just the Spring Court or the Day Court, but also the Band of Exiles and the Human realms.”
“And have you ever wondered if maybe Elain deserves better?”
“Better than Lucien-” Rhys practically squawked.
“No,” Azriel growled, allowing his anger to show, “Better than us. Better than a family who reduce her to little more than a political pawn-”
“She is my sister,” Rhysand spat, standing up straight with a newfound intensity. “Don’t you dare question my treatment of her, don’t you dare suggest I don’t care for her.”
“Are you truly so out of touch that you do not see the shackles you’ve tied around her wrists?” Azriel uncurled his arms, “You’ve stripped her of any choice-”
“This is not about choice!”
“This has everything to do with choice!”
“Elain is a valued member of my family but also of my court. As her High Lord, I have made a difficult decision but one that will undoubtedly strengthen this us in the now impending war. It was a tough decision and if you want me to be the bad guy, fine, I’ll be the bad guy, but you will obey my orders as this is the best choice for Elain.”
“Then why don’t you ask her,” Azriel growled, grappling with the internal leash on his powers, “Why don’t you actually include her in the decisions you’ve made about her life.”
“I don’t know what you’re insinuating,” Rhys flicked invisible lint from his suit, “But Elain is a valued member of these discussions.”
“Then why isn’t she here?” Azriel husked quietly, full of venom. Rhysand apparently didn’t have anything to say to that, so Azriel went on. “You claim to value choice Rhysand, and yet you’ve stripped Elain of not just her own volition, but the simple knowledge of the choices made about her life.”
There was something bitter clanging through Azriel as he spat the words, he knew what it was, it was a word - hypocrite. Because whilst Azriel was fighting for Elain, really he should be allowing for Elain to fight for herself. He should’ve left the office the minute Rhysand winnowed them and searched for Elain. He should’ve told her, all those months ago, about why he could no longer be around her. And that’s why Elain deserved better, better than Rhys and better than him, because even now they talked of her rather than with her.
“You are to stay away from her,” Rhysand said at last, glaring out the study’s window almost as though he was ignoring Azriel.
“I can’t do that. Not anymore,” Azriel husked, and Rhys paused, catching Azriel’s eye before he hastily looked to the side and raked a hand through his hair.
“I told you, Azriel. I told you to stay away from Ly-” Both Azriel and Rhys’ eyes widened at the name that nearly fell from Rhysand’s lips. A revelation occurring to them both as the name Rhys’ long deceased sister was brought into the room. “Elain,” Rhys corrected himself, acting unbothered by his slip. “I told you stay away.”
Azriel didn’t know how to respond. He’d spend hours in training rings, on long haul flights or espionage ventures thinking of this specific argument. The way he’d tell Rhys all the things he should’ve said on that Solstice night, about the disservice they were both doing to Elain, about how it was outrageous of Rhys to demand Azriel put politics before his happiness after, well, everything.
After Azriel had spent 500 years alone with only a doomed infatuation with a woman who would never love him back. After Azriel had always favoured to be alone, to suffer in silence, to take the blame, and now he finally had an out. After Azriel had to put up with both his brothers finding their perfect happiness, Rhys himself almost starting a war by perusing and protecting Feyre.
Why was it so different for him? Why was it the moment Azriel had happiness within an arm’s reach there were a thousand excuses for him not to have it? What was so poisonous about his desires? About him?
“She’s not Lydia,” Azriel said at last. It was a low blow. Especially since Rhys had so clearly tried to cover up his slip a moment ago. “For one, you would never treat Lydia with such little respect. Elain is her own person and I’m not going to fight with you, or Lucien, or anyone for that matter like she’s some kind of prize.”
This argument was too real. Of course, they’d had arguments before, all three of them had. Azriel could remember a particularly nasty one between Cassian and Rhys where they hadn’t spoken for a year, Azriel bouncing between them like an owl. But this wasn’t a brotherly squabble, not when the stakes were so high.
Rhys sighed, still not meeting Azriel’s eye as a muscle in his jaw ticked. It seemed as though the High Lord also understood the irregularity of the dispute, or maybe he was just furious at facing his own errors, at his spymaster criticising him on failing someone so important on a matter which Rhysand prided himself on - the volition of the women in his life. After what happened with his mother and his sister, to find out he was now failing his new family must be driving him mad.
“You just can’t keep it in your pants can you Azriel?”
It may have been less shocking if Rhys had just leaned over and stabbed Azriel in the gut. His words clanged into the air with a sour metallic taste, and for a moment Azriel lost his breath, his jaw slackening as his shock registered before he could swiftly cover the expression with the mask of steel he’d perfected. The silence following the comment was perhaps worse than the blow itself. Now it was Azriel who couldn’t stand looking at his brother. He didn’t care if Rhys looked apologetic, didn’t care for him at all.
“Do you really think so low of me?” Azriel’s voice was deathly quiet, before he finally shifted his eyes up to see the raw regret plastered on his brothers face.
“No, I-” A vicious knock came at the door then, interrupting whatever apology Rhys was going to throw his way.
“Open the door,” Came Elain’s voice, more brutal than he’d ever heard it before. Something electric shot through Azriel at the sound of it, of her. If anything, her voice was a reminder that this was real, that his hair was tousled, and lips swollen because of Elain-fucking-Archeron.
Rhys didn’t move for the door, so Azriel did. Turning around, he walked the length of Rhys’ office to the large double oak doors and pulled one back without hesitation. He knew she deserved to be here, that she should’ve been here from the start.
Azriel was so set on opening the door for the sake of justice and fairness that he momentarily forget that it was Elain on the other side, and the sight of her made his breath stop in his throat. Her hair was still ruffled from where he had raked his hands through it, and her lips still blushed from where he had tugged on them with his teeth. There was also a faint flush of her cheeks, either from their previous activities or from running through the River House searching for him and his brother.
Something electric and charged ran the entire length of his body at the sight of her - not arousal, something deeper. And by the way her glowing eyes drank him in, he knew she felt it too. Azriel stepped aside and let her pass into the office and walk up to Rhysand’s desk. As he followed her, something bitter twisted in his gut - whatever was blooming between himself and the gardener was a thing to celebrate. Such love, light and warmth in his life which had thus far consisted of cold loneliness was a joyous and wonderful thing. And yet he was made to feel ashamed of his happiness, by his brother. His own damn brother.
“What’s going on?” Elain spoke in her traditionally soft voice, but even Rhys must’ve picked up and the unwavering steel that seeped from her tone, so similar to Nesta’s pitch.
“Nothing, Elain. Just a dispute between myself and Azriel. It’s nothing you need concern yourself with,” Rhysand’s easy smile warmed through his cheeks and Azriel was sure he was going to punch him before the night was out.
“Don’t lie to me Rhysand, it’s not a good look for a High Lord,” Elain spoke smoothly, folding her arms over her chest as Azriel had done moments ago. Rhys’ expression only flickered in response. “Now, what’s going on?” Elain asked again.
“Well,” Rhysand began, “Me and Azriel have been discussing you actually, you see, your bond with Lucien is unfortunately paramount to a lot of peace and unity between our court and others.” Rhysand looked blankly at Evie as he spoke, completely dethatched from the emotional anger he’d unleashed on Azriel moments ago.
“Is this about me breaking the bond?” Elain said, her voice smooth like honey, healing the sparking energy in the room as Azriel and Rhysand had geared up for a fight. Something about the question twisted Azriel’s guts. It was her terminology; it was all wrong. There was no such thing as breaking a bond, one could reject it and render the attachment limp and lifeless, but breaking a bond was only achieved in death, and even then some believe the bond to continue in the next life. It was just a reminder that Elain knew nothing about this world, Lucien had placed the acceptance or rejection of the bond in her hands, but she did not even know what either option would truly entail. Her education, it was another thing they’d all failed her on.
“If you wish to reject your bond with Lucien I, nor anyone in this court, will prevent you from doing so,” Rhysand said smoothly, “However, given the current political climate, I must say it would be best to leave this till after the war.” Elain did not look away as she thought.
“I don’t want the bond,”
“That’s perfectly okay-”
“No,” Elain interrupted, “I don’t want the bond at all. I don’t want to have to accept or reject anything - I just don’t want it...you....you don’t know what it’s like, to be pulled apart limb by limb, and be remade against your will, to find yourself destroyed and then re-crafted by something as unapologetic as the Cauldron itself. I was violated to the most extravagant degree and when I finally came around, when I finally managed to find something recognisable in myself, months after that night, I came around to find that I had been reduced to some ancient claim a stranger possessed over me. You are all kind, and you all mean well, but I know you all see myself as his.
“It was on the worst night of my life, the night when I had been pulled apart till I was only vessels and blood, he called me his. He is not a bad person I can see that,” her voice wobbled slightly then, “He is kind and witty, he’s working harder than any of you for the forgiveness of my sister. He doesn’t deserve…” She choked up slightly, but cleared her throat to cover it up, “He’s not bad…but this bond is terrible, it’s worst then terrible, it’s suffocating. And when I think of that bond, tied around my ribs like some kind of violating shackle, I just think of how it felt to suffocate on black water...that’s what this bond means to me, it’s a violation on top of a violation. So, to hear that to you, this bond gives you a political advantage, that you get a gain out of it and that you wish me to continue living in torment I...
“I wish I could be sorry about feeling this way, but I don’t. I have stayed quiet, and I have played the role you needed me to play. I keep out of your way; I busy myself with the gardens and dinner and I do everything I can to not bare my teeth every time he visits. But I...” Her wide, damp eyes turned to look at Azriel, “I have found something living in the never ending grave of my life. After I found myself again, all those months after the Cauldron, it felt as though it was only then I emerged from the black water. After I found...” She trailed off, stilling holding Azriel’s eye, “...I was not just out the black water, but back on the ground.”
A small silence settled over the room as Azriel and Elain found themselves quickly lost in one another again, Rhys was merely glancing between the two, his mind whirring as he tried to click together the puzzle in front of him.
“I tried Rhys…I really did,” Azriel finally whispered into the heavy silence, still not looking away from his beloved. “I’ve done everything short of chaining myself in the dungeons to stay away, but I can’t.” It wasn’t until the words had left Azriel’s mouth that he realised his error. And it wasn’t until Elain’s brows furrowed and her eyes moved to Rhysand, that he felt his heart drop.
“What?” Elain whispered. One of the thousand questions she no doubt harvested. Azriel couldn’t look away from her, couldn’t meet his brothers eye. He had this awful feeling now twisting his guts, the feeling that everything was about to come crashing down.
“I ordered Azriel to stay away from you,” Rhys said evenly. Always the honest man.
“I...what?” Elain spluttered softly, her eyes narrowing on Rhysand. “What?”
“He called me away on solstice night when I was about to kiss you, that’s why I stopped.” That’s why I called it a mistake. Elain’s eyes burned even brighter and Azriel wondered if he should’ve held his tongue. If he should’ve just waited to have this conversation tomorrow where whatever ancient power that was stirring in Elain had calmed down. Now Elain’s glowing eyes seemed to fill the room with golden light, even the black night shrouding Rhysand’s figure ebbed back and inch.
“What?” Elain’s voice rung out, the magic in the room quickly turning volatile.
“I am sorry Elain; I didn’t mean to meddle with your private affairs, but with Lucien under the same roof it would’ve been too risky for those in the house. He could’ve invoked something called a ‘blood duel’.” Of course, Elain didn’t know that, of course none of her friends or family had taken the time to explain that to her.
“You…you sanctimonious dick,” Elain spat. Had it been any other day, Azriel would’ve had to fight an astonished grin at hearing the words on her lips, but not tonight, not when everything was turning so morbid in front of his eyes.
“I’m sorry Elain, I truly am. But I’m not just your brother-in-law but your High Lord and I cannot risk my entire court for the mild infatuation of a-”
“Don’t speak to her like that,” The words were writhing in venom as Azriel spat them out. He would go down with her.
“No, Azriel, you don’t speak to me like that,” And with that Rhys’ last straw was gone. In an instant his power was billowing into the room in clouds of black smoke. Rhys acting in such a way in front of Elain, who was already vulnerable, her dress already ruffled and her eyes wide in alarm, made Azriel furious.
“I am your high lord, Azriel, and I gave you a direct command and you have disobeyed me-” Without thinking Azriel’s own icy power rose to the surface, his siphons lighting on fire at the surge. If Elain was frightened by their display of bottomless power she did not show it, perhaps as her own fire was still burning vividly behind her eyes, perhaps since she knew she had more power than them both.
“Have you ever thought perhaps you stepped out of line by asking such a thing of me?” Azriel had never heard his voice so loud and angry before. He didn’t do this. His arguments were stoic and brutal, but mostly silent. He never fought politics - he carved into people who were in chains, and when there was an argument he stayed in the shadows and listened.
“You are my spymaster-”
“I am your brother!” Azriel’s choked sob echoed into the room. “Do I not deserve to be happy?” Rhysand at least had the decency to flinch, to reel back and allow his jaw to slacken in shock.
“Of course, you deserve to be happy brother,” Rhysand’s voice was low and strangled, “But this isn’t just romance – it’s never just romance – this will be a battle-”
“And I’m willing to fight!” Azriel roared, his hands slamming into Rhysand’s desk, his power causing the entire house to shudder, right down to the foundations.
“Azriel,” Rhys’ voice was deathly quiet, “I need you to calm down.” For a moment Azriel didn’t understand, his mind was so focused on Elain, on his own shuddering heart and writhing powers that he simply could not comprehend the words that came out his brothers mouth. Finally, the message registered in his mind and he became aware of his shadows, flourishing and filling the entire room, crawling over the windows and blocking out all the light. The only way he was seeing Rhysand was via the golden glow that came from Elain’s eyes. Disgust racked through his body at the sight of the manifestation of his swirling pain, but before he could do anything, the leash on his powers snapped.
“Azriel-” The next series of events was a blur. Power billowed into the room in a quick explosion, God knows whose it was. Perhaps it was initially Azriel who had finally lost control on that leash on his Illyrian gifts, perhaps Rhysand moved to repress Azriel’s powers with his own, premature or not. Maybe the quiet Elain had had enough of the noise. In an instant, a cocktail of three brands of magic billowed towards each other before exploding outwards, sending a wave of pure, unhinged chaos through the room, the house, and the whole of Velaris.
They all were thrown back from each other, Rhys flying up and landing on his feet, bracing himself against the ornamental globe as his wings appeared and flared. But even he, the most powerful High Lord in history had his knees bent and his arms raised as he braced himself against the fizzling aftershock of the ancient power that tore through the air. Azriel’s centuries of training kicked in as he was catapulted the length of the room, his own wings flared to slow his flight before he caught himself on the doorframe, the weighty wooden doors having flung open, it took an immense amount of physical upper body strength to keep himself upright as the wave of power subsided, his teeth grinding together as his muscles screamed.
But he wasn’t aware of the pain of his screaming muscles, wasn’t thinking about how his wings were in danger of being shredded by the power that ripped through the room. There was only one person, that his entire being seemed to lurch for as his mind screamed her name over and over. Elain.
He had seen as her pale form was flung away from him towards the cabinets, had heard the shattering of glass over the howling in his ears. Of course, he and Rhysand were okay, they had centuries of power and training under their belts but Elain…Elain didn’t have training, and she had flown through the air the fastest, taking the brunt of the powers rebound, her small form crashing into the case of Rhysand’s prized artefacts.
The minute Azriel had control of his own body and wasn’t being thrust back into the hallway, he winnowed to her, stepped into the shadows with a haste and urgency he’d never felt before. Wrong. He’d felt this fear before, he recognised it’s taste from the poisonous memories of that night Elain had been ripped away from them, leaving behind nothing but a vacant cot and warm sheets. Memories of that night often haunted his dreams; how ridiculously lucky they had gotten that they had reached Elain minutes before the King of Hybern got his hands on her. In his dreams he was too late. In his nightmares he fails her, and by the time he and Feyre find the tent she’s already gone. Sometimes there’s a body, and sometimes his unconscious mind is kind enough to just leave behind her lingering scent. That night he learned what it was like to truly fear, to have the blood leave your body, to feel the world still.
And that’s what the world did as he stepped onto the other side of the shadows. Elain was crumpled on the floor underneath the large bay windows, moonlight streaming into the mutilated room and illuminating her still form. It was as though the starlight was searching for her, reaching out to her with hands made of silver shadows.
Glass crunched under Azriel’s boots as he took a step forward, and another, and another. Because he could scent it before he saw it – the blood. The sour metallic taste that clogged up the air, interwoven with her own delicate scent. Wrong, it was so wrong, to have Elain’s scent fused with that of blood. She was facing away from him, crumpled on her side in a foetal position, and he could see her arms, her beautiful nimble arms so like the legs of a doe, limp on the floor and marred with what seemed to be a thousand cuts.
Her blood was black in the moonlight, and was colouring her beautiful, beautiful night dress. The roaring in Azriel’s ears was nothing short of explosive. And before him he saw a black wave, taller than the Ramiel, heading straight for him. One that was made of self-loathing, anger, frustration and agony, and as he dropped to his knees in front of Elain he felt it wash over him, burying him deeper in himself than he’d ever been before, and he knew he would not resurface.
Slowly, as not to hurt her further, Azriel rolled Elain over onto her back and into his lap. With shaky fingers he pushed back her hair, just as he had done less than an hour earlier. Her eyes were shut again, but this time he didn’t look at her face for beauty, but for a sign of life.
“Elain…” He whispered; his voice was softer than petals. She did not stir.
“Elain…” He murmured again as he bowed his head and pressed it against her chest, sticky blood rubbing against his cheek as he did so. For a moment it was all silent, and Azriel felt the world drop away, felt himself falling through bottomless black water only to never resurface.
And then there it was. The familiar ‘thu-thump’ beating slow and steady in her chest, the sweetest melody Azriel had ever heard. But before he could revel in the relief of Elain being alive, movement at the side of his eye made him snap his head, turn up his top lip and let loose a nothing but feral growl. It was his brother, and a small wave of shame rolled through him at having behaved in such a way to someone whom he owed so much.
“Azriel…” Rhysand’s voice was soothing, calm, “She’s having a vision…look, Azriel look. She’s okay, she’s just having a vision.”
And so, he looked again and yes, she was having a vision. Behind her eyelids Azriel could see her pupils flurrying side to side as though she were engaged in some riveting dream.
She’s having a vision; she’s having a vision. His shadows chanted to him, running up his back and whispering in his ear. It didn’t soothe him, but rather caused the cloud of anger around him to disappear, so that he was numb again. Some movement deep in the house pulled at his attention, but it was like a ribbon trying to move an ocean, there was nothing for it to hold onto.
And soon both men were turning to the worst thing of all: Feyre and Nesta, standing at the doorway looking at their sister unresponsive in a pool of blood, both primed and ready to kill.
“Get away from her.” Nesta’s voice clanged through the room like steel as she strode forward, seeming to fill the broken room with her strength alone. As she moved she revealed a slightly dazed Cassian behind her, still dressed in his night clothes and yet armed to the teeth, clearly having been awoken in a haste. Rhys took a step back, there was too much power, too much energy, in the room already, provoking Nesta would surely lead them all to their sudden deaths.
Then there was Feyre, walking into the room behind her sister, quiet but observant, the perfect High Lady. She seemed to assess everything around her. The tautness of her husband’s stature, the silent flood of emotions that seemed to be rippling from her spymaster, Elain’s shallow breaths and bloodied night gown. After a moment of quiet assessment, she moved forth to the stoic and emotionless figure of her shadowsinger.
“Azriel,” Rhys recognised Feyre’s tone as she approached his brother, it was the tone she used with Nyx, motherly and soft. Azriel pulled his eyes from Elain to look at Feyre vacantly. “It’s okay, everything’s going to be okay…but I need you to let me take her.” Azriel’s mouth contorted in pain as he pulled Elain slighter closer to his chest.
“I know,” Feyre whispered, dropping to her knees next to him, not caring that her own silken nightgown was turning splotchy and red. “I know it’s hard but everything’s going to be okay. She’s my sister, and I as your High Lady will not let anything harm her.” There’s no need, Azriel thought bitterly as he looked down at Elain’s deathly pale skin, her abuser is here, right in front of you. The only harm you need protect her from, is me.
But he didn’t say any of that out loud, he wasn’t even sure his voice would work for him in that moment. Azriel didn’t quite hand Elain over to Feyre, rather he just let his arms go limp around her, and Feyre was able to scoop her sister out of his arms as though they were passing Nyx from one another. Every instinct Azriel had was screaming at him to take Elain back, to at least look at her unconscious form in Feyre’s arms as they moved away from him, but he kept his eyes on the floor, now kneeling to only the pools of Elain’s blood.
Voices began to erupt around him in hushes whispers, he could distantly hear Rhysand guiding his subjects through the plan, explaining to them what had happened whilst withholding the reason why. It was all numb to him as he continued to float under that black wave, sinking deeper and deeper, their voices were above the surface and so they just sounded warbled and strange.
But one movement did catch Azriel’s eye. It cut through the room’s silent chaos like a knife, a figure appearing at the ruined doorway that caught Azriel’s attention the same way an earthquake would. It was him.
“What happened?” Lucien growled out and something roared in Azriel. He knew that tone of voice, could smell the mate-tarnished anger that was rolling out of him. That animalistic claim on the woman Azriel had nearly lost himself in only moments ago. That’s why he was here, because he would’ve felt the energy down the bond, because even though he was at the other end of Prythian with his own family, he had that claim.
“She’s okay,” Feyre breathed softly as she lifted her sister up into her arms, “Her cuts are already healing, it looks worse than it is. She’s just had a vision so it might take a while for her to come around.” Feyre’s voice was so like her husband’s, even and balanced, reassuring everyone in the room that everything was okay, even if that were not necessarily true.
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
Azriel didn’t want to hate Lucien, even now he could see that the Autumn son was grappling with the bond that was no doubt screaming at him to rip his mate from Feyre’s arms and winnow them both to the other side of the continent. Azriel knew, because he felt it too. Like Elain he didn’t really hate Lucien, he hated the bond, hated what it told him about himself, clear as day, that he wasn’t worthy of Elain. And though some part of him already assumed just as much, no one was so self-deprecating to not at least hold of a sliver of hope in the face of such agony.
“She’s fine,” Nesta snarled at Lucien, one hand on Feyre’s shoulder, the other on Elain’s pale and bloodied forehead as she guided her sisters towards to mutilated door frame. They were right to take their sister away from the scene, God knew that no one there could help Elain now.
And so Elain disappeared around the corner, and Azriel slowly brought himself off the floor, trying to ignore the sight of his marred hands, covered in her blood.
What...even...Cassian’s voice swam into Rhys mind, dripping in confusion and concern. Did you and Az have a fight?
Rhys put off audibly groaning. Whenever he and Az fought it was normally not difficult to keep Cassian oblivious, he didn’t always pick up and stuff like that and sometimes it was just easier to deal with debates behind closed doors. Not to treat Cassian as his and Az’s overgrown child, it was just that Cassian was never meant to be a mediator.
It’s complicated, Rhys reported back keeping his voice level and calm - his High Lord voice.
I’ll let you off for tonight but, Rhys, you have to let me help you. Especially when it comes to Az. He was right of course, just like Azriel had been.
Deal, Rhys shot back, for tonight I need eyes on Az, I don’t care if he pushes you away I need someone with him at all times, at least until Elain comes around. We’ll re-group then. Cassian didn’t respond besides the smallest of nods. He stayed where he was, more awake now with his eyes trained on their other brother, and Rhys knew Cassian wouldn’t take his eyes off him for the foreseeable future.
Rhysand couldn’t help but sigh, it’s not as though Azriel or Lucien were aware of him to notice. This was a mess. Worse than a mess, it was a catastrophe. Everything Azriel had said was right but, he had broken his order, he had defied rank in a way he’d never done before and that squeezed something deep in Rhysand’s gut. Above all he needed to be able to trust his friends, so that when push came to shove he’d be able to make the tough decisions and his friends would let him go into the belly of the beast. But tonight, that had changed. Everything had changed.
And Elain, Elain who he had nearly called by his sisters name, she’d stood up for herself tonight. And then there was the situation of her powers, savage and rippling out of her like a beast. He had tasted those powers when they’d tore out of her, and they were ancient. The same power that was interwoven in the very fields of the earth, concentrated in the form of the sweetest girl of all. Rhys knew at least a thousand fae who would pay a hefty price to possess Elain, a hundred who might be willing to go to war - and then there were the Fae who would claw for her hand, the noblemen who would see her for her potential offspring. Rhysand physically shuddered as he sent his wings away.
Yes, tonight had been a catastrophe all right.
Rhysand looked away from Cassian’s half-hidden grimace and turned to the two males standing off, the blood of the woman they were unspokenly fighting over still pooling across the hardwood floors. Lucien glaring with restrained anger at Azriel, his masculine mating bond clogging up the air, whilst Azriel wore an impenetrable mask, hiding the bottomless torment and agony that was no doubt running rife in the shadowsinger, as he stared at the weeping puddle of Elain’s blood.
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