A Midnight Wish
To no ones surprise, Rhysand had seen to it that Nesta and Cassian's mating ceremony would be a grand affair. This alone had caused the date to be pushed back a week.
Silks of dark blue and silver were draped through the small temple. Golden lanterns and rose petals lined the aisle, leading toward a raised dais, in which a beautiful arch of intricately woven flowers awaited. Rows of chairs faced the dais, ropes of garland draped along their backs.
The ceremony would be a small, intimate affair, followed by a reception in the Night Court palace, where guests from all over Prythian would come to feast and drink and congratulate the newly mated couple.
Elain had spent the last few days working on the arch and floral centerpieces, comprised of all white flowers with splashes of greenery. She had also helped Mor with the menu, a feast fit for a king and queen. Feyre was juggling motherhood with her High Lady duties, but still managed to oversee the invitations and correspondences.
Elain was sweating when she finally stepped back from the arch, taking one final appraising look. Nesta and Cassian would stand beneath it, swearing their vows and sealing their bond.
"It's perfect," came Mor's voice from behind.
"Is it?" Elain bit her lip. "Do you think--"
"I think you have dirt and baby's-breath in your hair, you still need to dress, and the ceremony will begin in an hour." Elain whipped around in alarm, but Mor touched her shoulder and laughed. "Go dress. I'll take care of the rest."
Indeed, Mor had already changed into a gown of deep crimson, her golden hair falling in long waves. She sparkled like a ruby from a dragon's trove. And Elain...she was still wearing her apron. And covered in dirt, apparently.
Wiping her hands on the front of her apron, she nodded. "I will be back as soon as I can."
Mor waved a hand. "Take your time. Feyre will be here any moment. And I--oh, not there," she sighed. With a flourish of red silk, she was off, heading toward where a group of minstrels were setting up. In the wrong place, apparently.
Knowing everything would be in order with Mor overseeing final preparations, Elain exited the temple and rushed across the river house grounds. Once inside the house, she went straight to her room, taking the stairs two at a time; Feyre had said she was commissioning a new gown for her, and it would be ready when she arrived.
Unsurprisingly, Nuala and Cerridwen were already there, each garbed in their traditional black, their dark hair bound in long, heavy braids. No matter how many times Elain insisted she could dress herself, her friends would hear none of it.
"I thought I was going to have to drag you up here myself," Cerridwen said with a sly grin, her dark eyes twinkling.
"I lost track of the time," Elain admitted breathlessly. "Is everything ready in the kitchens?"
"Nearly. General Cassian keeps nicking sweets."
Elain slapped a hand to her forehead. "I was supposed to make him lemon tarts!"
"It will be done," Cerridwen promised.
"Are you sure there's time?"
"Yes, yes. Now, sit," Nuala commanded, pointing toward the chair in front of the small vanity. "The tarts can wait. We have little time."
Elain rolled her eyes, but obeyed. The three chatted amicably as the twins worked on her hair, sweeping her golden-brown locks up into a loose, elegant knot threaded with tiny jewels. She normally wore it down, letting her curls fall in long waves, but Nuala had said keeping it up would compliment her gown.
Cerridwen applied a light touch of color to her face--rouge on her cheeks and lips, a little kohl on her eyes. "Lord Eris will be in attendance tonight." Though she spoke mildly, Elain knew her meaning.
"He does not trust me." And she was not entirely comfortable with the male. Not at all.
"He does not need to trust you." Cerridwen dusted a bit of blush across her cheeks. "He only needs to be charmed by you. And perhaps have a bit of wine," she amended, "for he is too clever for manipulation."
Elain almost laughed at the image of Heir of the Autumn Court foolishly drunk. No, she doubted the male would ever do anything to even remotely cloud his judgement or senses. But if she could glean any information on him and his father, of any recent involvement with that Death God...
Well. At least she could finally be of some use.
Unbeknownst to her family, she had seen something. A vision--many visions, all of the same thing. It was fragmentated and not entirely lucid, but she knew what it was.
The Dread Trove--the fourth object. Although she could never see it fully, could not even tell what it was, she knew what the vision meant. And it would require her to learn the ways of mist and shadow.
She had not dared mention the repeated vision to Feyre or Nesta. Not yet. Not until she was ready--prepared. The last time she had tried to help, she had been shot down, as she often was.
So she had gone to Nuala and Cerridwen. They had not pried or asked questions when she had asked them to show her how to move silently, how to be unseen. To her immense surprise, they had taken it a step further, giving her tips on how she could use her beauty and charm to extract information. She was no spy, but she would make herself useful, using whatever attributes she had.
If they reported their lessons to Azriel, it was unknown to Elain. Though she suspected on this rare occasion, they did not, knowing at some point Elain would indeed come forward with what she had been doing, and why.
Even so, she was not foolish enough to ruin their alliance with Eris by pushing too hard for information. She would smile, she would be charming and subtle, and hope for a slip of the tongue.
The twins finished with her hair and Elain stood, hearing Nuala open the wardrobe to retrieve her gown. Only when she turned, it was not the blush pink dress she had expected from Feyre.
Elain gasped, a hand covering her mouth.
"The High Lady chose this specifically for you," Nuala said with a smile. "It is traditional to wear black, you know."
Black was an understatement. This gown was nothing like the plain, unflattering frock Elain had worn in the Hewn City. This...this looked like something Feyre should wear.
The gown was elegant and regal, long sleeved, cinched up to her throat. While tight in the sleeves and waist, it flared slightly at the hips, cascading into a short train. As Nuala turned the gown for Elain to view it fully, she could see the open back, the dip of it teasingly low. But what truly made it special was the ombre effect of the coloring. The sleeves were the darkest of black, and the bottom of the gown a sparkling silver. It transitioned from black to silver effortlessly. The entire gown was covered in tiny gems, making it sparkle like a star that had fallen from the midnight sky.
"It's beautiful," Elain murmured. She would thank Feyre for it later--and insist on returning it.
The twins helped Elain dress. The fabric, despite being so tight, felt like a second skin--like it was part of her. She quickly slid into silver slippers and turned to see Nuala holding two black boxes, both open to reveal the contents within. Earrings.
One was a pair of shiny black pearls, and the other--sparkling white. Lucien's pearls.
"I know, I know. But both would compliment the gown," Nuala admitted. "You decide."
Elain was not stubborn enough to deny that even Lucien's gift would compliment her gown. And she could admit that the white pearls were lovely. But white was not a kind color. White was the color of Graysen's ring. White showed too much blood. White was the frozen winters they spent in poverty.
She reached for the black pearls and fastened them into her ears; she swore Nuala smirked slightly. But she said nothing, and Elain turned, taking a final look at herself in the full length mirror, twisting this way and that.
When she moved, the gems of the gown glinted. It reminded her a bit of how--of how the necklace Azriel had bought for her caught on the light.
She swallowed a bit thickly and tried not to think of it--of him, of that night, of what had almost happened.
This was a mistake.
Elain tried to forget them, but those words haunted her even in sleep.
Nuala touched her arm, looking at her through the mirror. The half-wraith said nothing at all, but somehow that silence said everything.
The ceremony was fascinating.
It reminded Elain of a wedding, only far more spiritual. There was the tying of the ribbon--which Elain, Feyre, Rhys, and Azriel participated in, vows and promises, and an exchange of food and rings.
Nesta wore the darkest shade of blue that was nearly black, the gown modest and fiercely beautiful, the metal bodice making her look like a warrior queen. Cassian looked quite handsome himself, abandoning his Illyrian leathers for a more formal black jacket and pants.
Elain had never seen either so happy. Had never seen Nesta smile so broadly. It made her chest swell as she watched from where she sat next to Feyre. Mor winnowed away briefly to take as sleepy Nyx to Cerridwen and Nuala. They would watch him for the evening, concealed behind an impressive shield in one of the palace's bedchambers.
Elain had clutched Feyre's hand, and they both wiped away tears as they watched on. After the High Priestess finished the last of the vows, she declared that Nesta and Cassian were now mates--officially. The temple erupted into applause and cheers as Cassian swept Nesta into his arms and kissed her.
Per tradition, they were supposed to keep the black ribbon tied to each other until they consummated the bond. But Nesta said that was stupid because they had consummated plenty. Elain had fought the urge to blush, but smiled a bit as the ribbon was torn, and both Nesta and Cassian kept the ribbon around their wrists like a bracelet.
Rhys, Feyre and Mor winnowed them all to the palace's ballroom, where guests were already piling in and mingling with one another.
Gilded silver glinted along the long wooden tables, the cutlery freshly polished. The benches were covered in soft velvet, and golden orbs of light bobbed in midair, casting a warm, golden glow over the entire space. A longer, more elaborately decorated head table stood on a raised dais--for Nesta and Cassian, and their family.
Grinning ear to ear, Feyre called for attention. She gave a small speech, congratulating Nesta and Cassian, and welcomed everyone to drink and feast in their honor.
Elain had just taken her seat between Feyre and Amren when the food appeared on the table. Wild boar with plum glaze. Roasted squab. Steak and kidney pie. Boiled, buttery potatoes with herbs. Honey-roasted carrots, green beans with slivered almonds, and charred brussels with chunks of bacon. Piping hot loaves of bread. And for dessert, an elaborate display of pies, steamed puddings, and, thanks to the twins, Cassian's favorite lemon tarts.
After the last bit of dessert was devoured, the tables were cleared and the music began. One of the tables was converted to a gaming table for cards and dice. Servants kept wine and beer flowing, carrying trays of hard cheese, bread, and fruits. It was not to be a ball, but more like a night in a very luxurious tavern--just as Nesta and Cassian had wanted.
Elain of course recognized many of the guests. The High Lords of Day, Winter, and Summer, all with their retinues. Surprisingly, quite a few Illyrians had come, dressed in their fighting leathers. Some laughed and joked with Cassian like old war buddies, but others looked like they had been forced to attend.
Elain had known Lucien would come, but she still made a point to avoid him. To be fair, he did not seek her out, and seemed content to hang around Vassa, Jurian, and perhaps a bit surprisingly, Eris. Unfortunately, this made it fairly difficult to catch the Heir alone, as Elain had no interest in initiating conversation with that group.
There were some faces she did not know at all--nobles and generals that Cassian must have known. She sometimes forgot his rank in their court, how he oversaw Rhysand's armies. But when she saw him fight on the battlefield, she quickly remembered.
Elain smiled and made polite conversation with many of the guests, frequently checking with the servants to make sure they were plenty stocked in the kitchens, and making sure they did not need anything. After listening to a very loud, very drunk Helion tell a story that made her cheeks flush, she found Nesta talking to her two friends--Emerie and Gwyn, if she recalled correctly. This was the first time Elain would meet them, something she had greatly been looking forward to.
"There you are," Nesta said, catching sight of Elain. Turning to her friends, she said, "This is my sister, Elain Archeron. Elain, this is Emerie and Gwyn."
"I have heard so much about you both," Elain said, smiling widely. Her eyes landed on Emerie first, remembering Nesta's description of the female, and then slid to Gwyn. "I am so--"
The goblet she was holding slipped from her hands, clattering to the ground. Wine splattered at her feet, some of landing on the hem of her gown. Every thought suddenly emptied from her head. She blinked--and blinked again. Over and over, trying to process what she was seeing.
She heard Nesta's voice as if from a great distance, moving closer and closer, until she finally snapped back into herself.
"Elain. Elain." Nesta shook her by the arm, a bit roughly. Concern filled her voice. Concern, and worry.
Before Elain could respond--and she was quite certain she could not--a laughing Cassian emerged from the crowd.
"Finally," he said. "I was looking for--"
His laughter died as Nesta interrupted him, speaking lowly to Elain. "Did you have--did you have--" She didn't finish, but she didn't need to.
And Elain finally dragged her gaze away from Gwyn's throat--from where a very familiar necklace now glinted against her skin.
"No," she managed to say. The word came out pained, scratchy. She cleared her throat. "I'm sorry, I just..." Her voice trailed off. She couldn't find the words. Could barely speak over the roaring in her ears.
She looked back at Gwyn. The girl looked as concerned as Nesta had sounded, her open, kind face scrunched in an endearing sort of way. She was very pretty, Elain realized suddenly. Golden and coppery and warm.
It felt as though the room was shrinking. Or Elain was growing. Why was it so hot? Why was the music so loud?
With immense effort, Elain mastered herself enough to plaster on a smile only Nesta would know was fake. "I am so sorry," she said to Emerie and Gwyn, without looking either of them in the eye directly. "I forgot I need to check on the wine."
"It is so lovely to meet you both," Elain rushed on, interrupting her sister. Before Nesta could say anything else, she turned abruptly, moving blindly through the crowd, needing to escape, to find air, to breathe--
And nearly ran straight into Azriel.
He steadied her, gripping her elbow briefly before practically yanking his hand away, as though she had burned him. Although she could feel his dark presence, as she always could, she had not allowed herself to really look at him tonight. Even when their hands had nearly touched when wrapping the ribbon around Nesta and Cassian's wrists, she had willed her eyes to stay focused on that black piece of thread. But now, coming face to face with him, she had no choice but to look.
Like Cassian and Rhy, Azriel had neglected his Illyrian leathers in exchange for a fine black ensemble that showed every hard line of muscle, his wings fanned out behind him. Though no shadows were seen, he looked every bit the part of a dark prince. He was so painfully beautiful that it hurt to look at him.
He must have seen something on her face, because his eyes darkened. "Elain, what hap--"
He froze, his eyes catching on something over his shoulder before flitting back to Elain. His normally perfectly guarded face shifted before he could stop himself--shock, guilt, regret.
"It's--it's not--" She had never heard him stumble over words as he tried, and failed, to find them.
"It's fine," she said, saving him the trouble. She looked away, trying to look at anything other than his handsome face. “It’s fine,” she said again, and made to move past him.
Azriel caught her elbow again, halting her. "You don't understand."
"I understand perfectly." This time, a bit of strength had returned to her voice, and she forced herself to look at him.
"No, you don't." For some reason, rage flashed in his eyes. Rage, and guilt, and something else. "It was a mistake."
Elain laughed bitterly. "Yes, you've said so."
Regret flashed in his eyes. "That's not what I meant."
"Then perhaps you should try saying what you mean."
"I wish I could," he said quietly.
Silence fell between them. They stood there, staring at one another, as though trying to read what the other would not say. It occurred to Elain suddenly how it must look. They were standing painfully close, leaning toward one another, Azriel's hand still gripping her elbow.
As though he also realized it, he let go of her and stepped back. Hung his head slightly, his jaw locked tight, as though he were fighting some internal battle.
Elain swept past him without another word, feeling too many questioning stares she feared she would be forced to address. Too long she and Azriel had been playing this game. Lingering glances, a brush of their fingers, his hand grazing the small of her back. But--
This was a mistake.
This time, Elain let the words wash over her, propelling her through the tent. She would not flee--that would only speculate rumors. Instead, she found a passing servant and grabbed another goblet of wine. But this only made her glance down and sigh. The bottom of her beautiful gown was splattered with dark, red wine.
She stared at it, but then, quite suddenly, it vanished. Confused, Elain looked up--and found Eris staring at her. He lowered his hand and smiled. It was not kind, but one of dark secrets and forbidden fantasies--it was a smile of knowing.
He had seen her and Azriel. Although nothing had happened, they had stood too close. Stared too long.
Eris's eyes twinkled and he saluted her with his own goblet. Not because he intended to wield that information against her, but taunting that he could.
This time, she did seek to escape, but Rhys directed everyone to the terrace to watch an elaborate display of fireworks.
Elain was herded outside and to the railing. She gripped the cool metal with a hand and watched in awe as bright bursts of light filled the sky. Pink, green, blue, white. They scattered across the night sky like colorful stars.
She felt, more than saw, him approach. He stood so close their arms touched. But Elain did not move--did not look away from the fireworks. Considering everyone was crammed onto the terrace, their proximity was not suspicious or unusual. Unless you were looking too deeply.
Eris would. Lucien would, too. Not that Elain cared. He had no claim to her, Fae customs be damned.
Still, Elain found herself needing to speak.
"Eris saw--" She drew herself short. She had almost said Eris saw us. But there was no us. There was nothing to even see.
But Azriel just said, keeping his voice low, "I know. I'll deal with him."
She didn't want to ask what he meant. Of course he would not kill him--they needed Eris as an ally. But would he threaten him? Torture him?
Again, for what? Nothing had happened.
Elain wondered how many times those three words would repeat in her head. How could they be so true, and so wrong? How could everything and nothing change between them? Sometimes she wondered if she had imagined it all. If she imagined the times he would sit in her garden, reviewing reports, while she worked. Or when he would catch her eye at dinner, and linger just a little too long.
Had all of that been an imagination? A cultivation of her own desires?
This was a mistake.
"I can't stay long," Azriel murmured. Perplexed, Elain was about to ask him why, but he went on, "I'm sorry. For all of it. I didn't mean...My intention was not to hurt you."
But he had. Terribly so. And she had not expected it--not from him. That was what hurt her most. And worse than that, despite that hurt, she missed him. She missed his dry humor, his steady presence, his comforting companionship.
This was a mistake.
"It's fine," Elain forced herself to say.
"It's not, though. I wish..." He let the words fall, clenching his jaw. He looked so out of sorts, so unlike the cool, calm Spymaster that he was.
Elain didn't know what to think, and she knew this would not be the time or place to figure it out. Not with so many people around. And not when this night was not about her, but Nesta and Cassian.
So she said nothing, and because it was dark, because everyone's attention was on the fireworks, she moved. So, so slowly, until she was leaning against him.
Azriel went very still, and then she felt him exhale. Shift, so that she was leaning into him entirely. She fought the urge to slip under his arm, to let him pull her close, to get lost in his scent of mist and cedarwood.
He would vanish soon, and her heart with him. But for now, Elain would look upon the flashes of light, and she would wish, too.
Note: Ahhh how I can't wait for the longing and tension. I might do a part 2. Writing this made me realize how difficult it's going to be to explain the necklace situation. lol Oh Az, best of luck, buddy.
57 notes · View notes