Coming Home: Part Thirteen
Cassian landed on his ass for the third time that morning.
Nesta had woken him before dawn, a knife in each hand. There was probably something wrong with him that his first thought was how glorious she was, how fierce she looked armed, instead of that she might have decided to murder him.
She’d been spending days with him and Rhys, talking to the female legion about their needs, their wants. The end result was that Nesta, human to the bone, had demanded a quorum to make sure the entire legion was alright becoming holy soldiers.
The answer was so positive Nesta had glowed, and days had followed of designing and reappointing, meeting Smiths who confounded Cassian by bowing to his mate, to ferrying in priestesses that greeted Nesta as a member of their order. Every time if happened, Rhys sent Cassian a sidelong, smug look, as if to say, these Archerons. These gorgeous miracles of ours.
He was even prouder than Rhys was, even if it meant he hadn’t spent a day alone with his mate in much too long, by Cassian’s standards.
So when Nesta had called upon his offer- his many, many offers- of training, he’d jumped on the chance. But Cassian hadn’t imagined it would be this difficult.
“Arm up,” He ordered, smoothly rising to his feet, resisting to urge to roll the shoulder that had slammed into the stone. “Its not human dueling, you need your other arm for shielding and balance, don’t tuck it back.”
Nesta, unlike her sister, had some buried knowledge of sword fighting form. It was clearly ceremonial, obviously formed for docile duels using the weak human strength of their highborn gentry. It horrified Cassian in it’s uselessness. Who the hell had decided Nesta never need to know how to use even a hidden dagger, but had taught her to fence?
The mother she’d adored and hated so much it made it difficult for her to look at Feyre sometimes, he’d bet.
She danced smartly back as he strode toward, balance perfect. But the Illyrian blade in her hand, sharp as she was, stayed down. “It’s just going to happen again,” she said, flatly, “I don’t have enough control yet.”
The idea that Nesta had ever in her life lacked control was almost funny to Cassian. Newborn from the Cauldron with one the oldest powers in the world roaming beneath her skin, Nesta hadn’t slipped once.
“What did Rhys tell you, again?” He settled in front of her, braced for the blast of power when he tried to engage her again.
Nesta sighed. “Rhysand thinks I have a natural shield. Because I could resist Tamlin’s glamour as a human, that maybe when I was reborn that instinct became something physical.” It made Cassian’s brain itch, because while that was true, it wasn’t quite right either.
Hand to hand, Nesta could control it. She was unskilled, but clever, and so fast Cassian was sure she’d learned some tricks while he’d been gone. You put a weapon in her hand, however, and her power took over instantly.
It didn't make any sense to him.
“Come on, Nes,” He drawled, that tone he hoped would rile her. She glared halfheartedly back, her very real hesitation only evident sliding down the bond to him. Two strides forward, and she met his blow hard, metal ringing on metal for just a moment before Cassian was blasted away.
Nesta swore softly, viciously.
What was Death, exactly? The cold that steals the strength from your bones. The power that finds all things in the end, that cannot be escaped. The burn and rage that eats whole battlefields.
The rage- Cassian stared at the sky, his heart suddenly going so fast he swore Nesta tilted her head at the sound. How many Illyrian’s had Cassian trained? How many hundreds had he seen, just on the cusp of their bloodrite, old enough that their power went off like a bomb when threatened?
He shot to his feet, strides eating the space between them as he went to Nesta and took her sword. Carefully he set aside the blade her legion had presented her, his power always close to the surface around her beginning to reach out.
“It doesn't feel like a shield, does it?” He asked, eyes locked on her face as her jaw tightened, as those storm cloud eyes went bright with interest. She was very still, scenting his killing power.
“Can you feel that?” He was trying to tap his power and throw the bond open, the world going red around then. Nesta was looking like he were book she hadn’t read, like there was nothing so much she wanted as to learn every word. She reached for his hand.
“I can feel you,” she murmured, voice all interest. Cassian could feel the slumbering giant of Nesta’s power rising to meet his, the cold of death brushing up against burning killing rage.
Nesta’s fingertips brushed the siphon on the back his hand, eyes clever and intent. “It’s like a mirror.”
She wasn’t wrong. Siphons acted like a magical refraction, honing and magnifying power that wanted to explode outward into single directions. Hungry power that wanted to kill, just like hers.
“Push it out,” he said, hoping he was right. Cassian’s heart was racing in his chest at the thought. The burn in the air was almost physical, the deadly hum of magic. The shield of his power around them seemed to darken with the touch of Nesta, his siphons holding compatible as his mate- his glorious deadly mate- shackled her power like an Illyrian, and bent it to her will.
For a second, there was nothing in the world but the two of them. Fire and smoke, death and rage, a storm of red so deep only the light kept it from blackness around them.
Nesta tilted back her head in wonder, the light painting her bloody, like the savage god his people believed lived inside her. She was justing starting to smile, when it flickered, and all seven of Cassian’s siphons shattered as one.
She didn’t startle, didn’t blink. Just raised a slim brow at Cassian, face fighting down a smile. “I’m too much for your siphons, General.”
There was so much joy, so much vicious pride inside Cassian it came out as a laugh. “You need some of your own.” Because it had worked, because death was killing power. He’d never heard of anyone who could harness their power with siphons who wasn’t Illyrian, it shouldn’t have been possible. The stones were forged in magic and blood, some of his own people couldn’t even use them.
But Nesta, like a freefall that never stopped, like the cauldron blessed miracle that she was, could.
He and Nesta could have taken out an entire army together with their power intertwined like that.
Nesta was shaking her head however, thoughts racing in her eyes. “That doesn’t make any sense.” She tossed her braid over her shoulder, an expression Cassian couldn't read on her face. “You saw what I did to Bel’s siphon.”
Cassian reached for her waist, wishing the bond would fly back open, wishing he had any idea what she was thinking. He could still smell their power, thick on the back of his tongue. Not sparks, not a wildfire, but unbridled lightening that left the world electric. “When you were being theatrical and fucking terrifying, yes.”
They both knew Nesta could have delivered death in a second, that she’d been sending a clear message. Cassian wondered if Devlon had nightmares, he smiled at the very idea.
Nesta rolled her eyes at him. “No, the power ate it up. It takes away all the strength, it doesn’t”- she gestured with one slim hand sharply, as if in response to his growing grin. “Siphons had never called to me before, have never felt like anything.”
Cassian and Nesta’s power had sung together, enough force to remake a world.
He pulled her closer, until she brushed right up against his chest. Even like this, so close, Nesta’s sharp face made it seem like she held the advantage. Even though she was looking up. “What did it feel like?” Cassian’s voice pitched low.
Nesta’s eyes shuttered at the sound, her body going tense under Cassian’s
hands. “Like might,” she breathed. “Like you.” When she looked at him, her grey eyes were all silver. She liked that force, that strength, just as much as he did, Cassian could tell. “It wasn’t the bond, but I could feel what you were doing and add my strength. It felt infinite.”
If any of the gods were real, Illyrian or the Mother herself, Cassian had to thank them for giving him this. Not just Nesta, not just a mate who didn’t cower or care about the blood on his hands. Who didn’t look at him and see a worthless bastard, but who saw the rage inside him for what it was. And loved it.
Nesta couldn’t tap a siphon on her own, but she could wield his.
“I want to try again,” Nesta was saying. His power was already rising, like she held it’s tether with her voice alone.
Cassian was more glad than ever before that they had the House of Wind to themselves. He left Nesta on the roof to go dig out the iron box he hadn’t thought about since the war, the cache of siphons forged with his blood and keyed to his killing power. Without tethers, he couldn’t stop feeling that power now. Mate bond like an inferno, the magic he and Nesta had unleashed like a cataclysm, his instincts were stalking right on the surface.
Even floors bellow in the House, he could feel Nesta calling her power. Testing for boundaries, focusing it into herself like spooling thread. It tasted like frost, cold to burning.
If he rushed, nearly ran back to her, there was no one there to see it.
Cassian put first one siphon in Nesta’s outstretched palm, and then a second for her other hand, considering. She raised her brows in response, face going sharp. “I just broke seven,” she insisted.
Cassian reigned in the laugh, too excited to see what she could do. What they would be able to do, together. “We broke seven,” he replied, “I want to see if you can channel them yourself.”
Nesta of course, could. Her power overwhelmed two in moments, shattering them to add to the red glittering haze that had started around them already. They added and added, until Nesta sat cross-legged on the ground of the training ring, a pile of siphons in her lap, Cassian sprawled beside her grinning.
She could fill them like any Illyrian coming into their killing power.
But it took Cassian too, both of them together, to shape it into something. Death twined and followed his rage, Nesta pushing her strength and letting it rest against his, until they were again in a shield of their making, in a sea of magic.
Cassian felt drunk on it. Heady with untapped violence, so proud and amazed he might burst.
Nesta’s smile had razor edges, diamond bright. “We can fight like this,” she asserted, not really a question at all. In the light like this, her skin was a molten tone all of its own.
Cassian had been thinking the same thing, beyond the love, beyond the heady current of power that wanted to drown them both in its might. They didn't have to be touching, with the bond a river between them, and his siphons as anchor, their power mixed effortlessly. He still couldn’t kill the way Nesta did, but the violence in his blood became a colder more fearful thing.
They could have been a battlefield apart, but still be fighting together, with Nesta wearing his siphons.
“You need Illyrian armor,” he answered, catching her bright gaze.
Nesta scoffed, not as entranced by the image of herself. “They really are beautiful,” she started, tilting her head to smirk at him, one burning siphon cupped in her palm. “Maybe I’ll wear them as jewelry instead.”
Cassian honestly didn’t give a damn how she wore them, as long as they were on her, as long as she kept looking at him like that. Beautiful. It was his blood, his power, that made them look that way. The blood his people spit on, the power he’d been told his entire life shouldn’t have been his.
He wondered- hoped- that maybe, the color would stay like this, forever tinted with her. Like the purest ink dropped into watercolor.
Cassian angled closer, the dust of shattered red stones like sparkling sand between them. He swept it away with one hand, noting with pride that Nesta’s attention had snagged on his scarred fingers. That attention stayed as he scooted closer, leaning right into her space.
Nesta, an untamable force of nature, Nesta whose power bled together into his like breathing, Nesta who was all terror and beauty in one, and who couldn’t look away from his hands.
This was his life now. Maybe Cassian had actually died in that final battle, maybe this was his glorious afterlife. How could a perfect blessed land compare to how incandescent he felt with her eyes on him?
Her perfect face snapped up, just a breathe between them. “You’re a terrible teacher,” Nesta purred, “if I were a recruit I wouldn’t earn siphons for years.” As if in emphasis she pushed on his control for a bare second, the world going smoky. There was nothing left that didn’t smell like high mountain wind, that didn't seem touched by the glorious, world ending wildfire that was Nesta.
Cassian wrapped her long braid around his hand like silken rope, blood pounding in his veins as her chin lifted in response. “You can’t be a recruit,” he tugged on her hair, face going sharp even as her full lips fell open. “You’re a general.”
“Like you, general?” Nesta pressed forward into his body. Her voice, cauldron and mother damn him. The air here was made of violence and power, her voice alone kindled along his skin with enough force that Cassian swore he saw sparks.
“Wrong rank,” Cassian breathed, nose brushing Nesta’s as he leaned down to her. “Lady of Storms.” Up close, Nesta’s eyes would have made you think they’d been lost in transition. Normal humans didn’t have veins of silver running in their eyes, but Nesta always had. Silver and steel, sky blue and pale as running water.
Her gaze felt like flying.
She rolled those beautiful eyes at him, even as she gripped his tunic, hand fisting in the fabric. “General High Commander of the Illyrian legions,” Nesta recited. “Leader of the Night Court armies.” She was brushing right up against his lips now, leaving Cassian as frozen as any predator on the hunt. “Except for mine, Lord of Bloodshed.”
He had to kiss her. The noise that rattled out of his throat as she fiercely responded, as she pressed against him until he could feel every soft curve, was all wildness.
Cassian’s hand was still in her hair, he could smell her blood singing for it, could smell her want like a wave that crashed over them both. They were deadly creatures in this sea of their own making, he had never felt less in control in his life. Had never wanted anything more.
His tunic tore like paper under her hands, Nesta growling triumphant against his throat was she found bare skin. Cassian didn't give a damn as she kept tearing, until he was bare to her hands. Her hands, her nails, her silken fingertips; Cassian was shuddering under her touch.
Siphons spilt from her legs and rolled, like scattered drops of blood when Cassian let go of her hair to pull Nesta on top of him. So slender, his mate, so pleased, he could tell, when he picked her up.
Nothing in the world felt like being wanted by Nesta Archeron.
The whole world was red, red, red. Cassian didn’t remember when he’d pulled her hair free, but it hung like a curtain of burnished fire around her as she reached for his wings, smiling wickedly. Reached and held on, when Cassian used the angle to bury his face in her neck, to kiss that graceful collarbone and down, the roughness of his jaw leaving goosebumps on her delicate skin.
The shuddering, pleasure filled breath Nesta let out as he reached the peak of her breast was almost enough distraction for the storm of sound that followed.
The wardstones beneath them, buried in the bones of the House, were chiming in warning. Cassian opened his eyes to red, red, red, too much power held in unsteady hands. Nesta sat back, chest heaving, staring at him with wide eyes.
Cassian tried to pull it back, but mother damn him, he hadn't replaced his shattered siphons yet. He could feel Nesta doing the same, the air going burning cold as she tried to spool it in, tried to cool the rage of power.
There wasn't time, wasn’t sound, as the bubble around them burst.
Cassian rolled, threw himself over Nesta in the blast of it. She started pushing back the second it ended, freeing herself and lips moving fast in the bright rush of sunlight. He couldn't hear her, not yet, but he could feel the shockwaves, the power they’d unleashed shaking the mountains over the city.
Nesta scrambled upright, quick sharp movement bringing her clothes to rights, tossing her hair back over her shoulder. She was looking out across the city, toward the Sidra, to the sea, with an expression he couldn't read twisting her features.
He followed her up when she brought both hands to her mouth, fear of her horror a leaden weight. She was so adaptable, so unafraid of power, but that didn't change the fact she wasn't even a whole year yet in this magical world.
He traced one hand down her spine, waiting for her to turn to him. When she did, she tipped her face right up to his. Nesta- Nesta wasn't afraid, she was laughing. In bursts, like she couldn’t stop.
“We took out the wards,” Her voice was wry, amused, unsteady as she tried to swallow her bright laughter. “The House wards and the city wards. All of them.” Both of her hands went to her face again, the gesture so full of joy, full of youth, it made his heart swell.
He held onto that endless warm feeling, even as he saw both his brothers shoot in the sky, Feyre close behind. Cassian was going to horde every bit of this day like gold. They watched as Rhysand called the dark, as the sky lit with blue, Azriel feeling for holes in the shield over the city and finding nothing left there at all.
Shit. They were in such deep shit.
But Nesta was laughing.
Even in the day, the forest was dark.
No more than five years old, Nesta had heard a story about forests like this. The domain of magic, places left by an older people. They’d refused to be shackled by the rules and devisions of the fae, had resisted and reviled the iron and the building of the humans. Instead of fading or fighting, they’d become one with their forest, become the very trees that towered to guard the land.
It was just a story, but under these twisted, massive branches, Nesta felt that watchful peace. There was something that could see here, older than the land itself, and it let them pass.
Beside her, striding through the mist with a sword on her hip and bow on her back, was her sister.
Nesta had considered asking Mor or Azriel along too, but something told her this dance she was starting, this bloody and ancient and beautiful thing she was embracing, should only be shared with family.
Feyre shivered in her leathers, but there was a half smile on her face. “Are you going to tell me what we’re looking for?” Her sister was definitely trying not to grin, damp in the air making her hair curl.
Nesta fought not to roll her eyes, brushing her hand over the mossy trunk of a tree so vast it’s width would have put whole houses to shame. “Rhysand told you, didn’t he?” Feyre’s mate was an even worse gossip than Morrigan, when it came to family news.
Feyre stopped walking and crossed her arms, rocking back on her heels as she smiled unabashedly. “He might have mentioned you’re out here finding something to give Cassian.”
To give Cassian. As if Illyrians were ever that simple. Nesta had done her research after talking Azriel, even gently asked Rhysand a few questionds about where to find monsters in his realm. Not only had he hugged her, he’d clued her in that the only place an Illyrian wanting to show their hand would hunt was the deadly elder forests.
The most powerful High Lord in history he might be, but Rhysand was softer than feather down for his family. Nesta would never admit it aloud, but she was lucky beyond measure to be counted among that number.
“To give Cassian?” She echoed, stripping a flower from the tree trunk to toss at her sister.
The pale petals blurred in the air before Feyre snatched it up, “To propose,” Feyre sang back, sticking the flower in her hair. Nesta threw an entire handful of them at her before they started walking again.
Nesta could feel the pulse of life all around them, the sparks she could see behind her eyelids that meant life. Somewhere, up ahead, there was a whole fire. Feyre was noting the widening arch of the canopy with keen eyes, stepping around depressions in the thickly ferned ground. When Nesta looked again, her sister’s face was savage, joy bright as she’d switched to owl eyes in the gloom.
“Up ahead?” She asked.
Nesta nodded. She might not have been a huntress in the least, but Death could never be escaped.
They went very, very still in the ferns, the only movement Feyre silently notching an arrow. Through the trees, a monster of legend laid. It was the only thing in this forest sized to the trees- a hound, but not, red ears like a fox marking a coat the color of bone. Sleek with muscles that didn't make rational sense, it’s antlered horns the red of old blood, it’s huge paws stained with with pyre ash and battlefield mud.
It’s eyes were shut, so still it might as well have been a hellish statue.
“Nesta,” Feyre hissed, right in her ear. “What the hell is that?”
Nesta smiled, the buzz of magic starting in her veins. “A Hound of the Mother. A soul eater.”
It wasn’t as though Nesta could just find the nearest giant bear troubling a village, or take a dip into a cursed lake, though she’d considered the latter. Cassian had held the highest rank in his bloody, vicious society for most of his life. If she was doing this the Illyrian way, she was going to do it right.
Let those horrible pricks in the camps see, let them tell stories of the legend of their courtship. Of the oldest and greatest Illyrian honors she’d bring to him.
She reached out with her power, her sister shuddering at the sudden cold as frost and fire filled the air. Such strength, power as old as what lived in her bones in that creature.
And such death.
The thousands it had taken, eaten piece by piece until that last immortal spark had gone out. It was like the voices in the Cauldron, ancient enough to make Nesta begin to feel the burn in her lungs, the drowning that wasn’t there.
The hounds eyes opened.
Orange yellow and slitted, they burned with very real fire, the growl starting in it’s massive chest shaking the ground. The strength wasn’t coming, why wasn’t it coming?
Feyre aimed her arrow high, glancing at her with wide, human eyes again.
Shit, shit. “I have to touch it,” Nesta ground out, horrified. “It has some sort of resistance.”
“To death magic?” Feyre practically yelled, letting the arrow fly. The beast was on it’s feet, gaining speed as it ran toward them. “Run first!”
Nesta dove instead, those horrible paws of decay landing where she’d been only seconds before. The hounds eyes were ancient and hellish, searching the greenery. Feyre had dove for a tree, was running overhead. She shot down at the monster, arrows burying themselves in it’s fur like stray twigs.
“Nesta, climb!” She was shouting, the beasts attention finally turned.
Swinging up the branches was as easy as breathing in her faery body, her balance so singularly assured she didn’t even think as she jumped, shooting from a treetop onto the hounds back as it snapped at her sister.
Nesta gagged as she landed. The coat of the hound smelt like death, like the smoke of pyres and the decay of graves. Fighting down the revulsion, she buried her hands in wiry fur and called her power.
The ground shook again, Feyre giving her a wide eyed look as she held furiously onto a wide twisted branch. The devourer she’d taken into herself was pleased, so pleased. This competition, this old enemy. To eat life is one thing, to consume that which has wrought death and untold death, it had her magic purring.
And just like that, it was over. The Hound of the Mother crashed to ground, shaking the trees as Nesta held on tight.
Feyre slid down from a mossy trunk, landing near a single crumpled paw. “Gods above, Nesta.” She toed the spiked fur and wicked claws, smile already coming back to her face. “Rhys had no idea what you were going hunting, did he?”
Nesta crossed her long legs on the beasts back, spine very straight as she sniffed, “He would have tried to talk me out of it,” She shared Feyre’s wicked grin, a mirror to herself, “Or help.”
Her sister laughed so hard she had lean on a tree.
Cassian would be returning to Velaris soon. Rhysand had sent him along to help Mor with a diplomatic mission to the east days before. He’d insisted it had nothing to do with Nesta and Cassian destroying thousand year old spell work, but Nesta had seen his smirk.
She loved that power, the way she and Cassian could tame it together. It felt like an infinity, held in her cupped hands.
But having separate missions for a few days gave her enough time to put things in order, to set up this oh so Illyrian moment that she knew Cassian would understand down to his bones.
Her mate, acknowledged. Wanted, and accepted.
Feyre was clutching her stomach, but she’d quieted for now. “Cassian is going to lose his mind when he sees this.” She shook her head, straightening to look up to where Nesta was perched. “Where are you going to put it? Too big for the city”-
“The House of Wind,” Nesta cut her off smoothly. “It’ll fit on the roof.”
Feyre was shaking her head. “But you can’t winnow there,” Nesta was scoffing before she’d even finished. She had no intention on wasting her moment.
“I’ll see you there,” Nesta cut in, and vanished on her sister, the world going to smoke and then brightness as she winnowed, not to the House, but above it. Wind whistled in her ears as she free fell, holding onto the stinking fur and getting low to it’s body.
Feyre appeared in a burst of wings just in time for Nesta to slam into the roof, protected by the monstrous carcass she held onto. Her sister stayed in the sky, because there, by the doors, like he’d raced up to the sound, was Cassian.
He took in every inch of her body as she slid down the side of the hound, the seconds before she hit the ground feeling endless.
It was only then, her feet steady on the stone, standing unharmed, that he took in the body. The monster sprawled before him as an offering, so vast and horrible it filled the roof, great blooded antlers stabbing into the sky.
Nesta’s first gift to her mate.
A declaration of intent. To kill and protect and provide, that she was mighty as he was. Nesta had given life, the gift for asking for a lifetime, for all the days and years and moments eternity would give them.
Cassian fell to his knees.
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