Easier Than Lying — Chapter 14: The Chase
Masterlist Read on AO3
CW: angst, sexual themes
~ 4300 words
Aelin was pushing her vehicle to the brink of its capabilities.
The flood of water had been joined by a flood of cops by the time she reached the top of the military compound’s stairs, and The Reformists—thank the gods—had fled. While the police had worked up the courage to walk through the dying electric ward, Aelin had snuck out the back and retrieved her car.
Which was pretty much where the opportunity for stealth ended.
She wanted to drive home. She was tired, physically and emotionally. But the patrol stationed at the entrance of Starfall Road was impossible to avoid, and as soon as she’d hit the highway, she’d had a chorus of police sirens to accompany her. So she’d have to lose them and then drive home.
“They’re setting up a blockade about a mile before the bridge.” Her cousin was still using The Wight to spy on them all from above. “But there’s a dirt road you could take up to the mountains.” Instead of over the Florine Bridge and into Orynth.
“What am I looking for?”
“It’ll be on your left in about two minutes—it’s snowed in. If you miss it, you’ll have to punch through the blockade.”
She kicked up the headlights, knowing it would illuminate the forest for the police behind her too. “I won’t miss it.”
Her phone buzzed on the seat beside her. Again. Incoming call.
“Thirty seconds.” When she didn’t slow down, when she kept her foot pressed hard on the gas pedal, Aedion added, “Aelin, you’re not going to make the turn.”
“I can do it.”
“Aelin. Slow down.”
“I see it.”
There was a break in the dense trees—a snowbank that was easily four times the size of her car. And there was the police blockade just beyond it.
She killed the headlights and turned.
There was too much snow for the tires to screech. She leaned into the turn, using only the police lights to guide her. The vehicle skidded in a ruthless rotation across the highway aiming for the snowbank. And then one side of the car lifted, the whole vehicle threatening to tip over.
“Come on, melt,” she hissed, pushing her magic down onto the pavement.
The tires found their grip. With a stomp, she floored the pedal again. The snowbank was right in front of her, tinged red by the police lights. Aelin clenched her teeth tight, closed her eyes, bracing for the impact that might very well kill her.
But the car ascended the snowbank like a ramp, slamming through the top layer of snow with a crunch. The ground came up too fast and too hard.
“I lost you on the cameras,” Aedion panicked over the phone. “Aelin?”
Her spine felt like it had been reduced to a precariously stacked pile of wooden blocks. “I made it.” And she turned the headlights back on.
Her phone buzzed. Incoming call. Aelin couldn’t take her eyes off the trees for long, but she knew that if she looked over at the glowing screen, it would now be stacked high with seven missed calls.
“Fuck. Ae, I’ll call you back.”
“Really? Is there another guy monitoring everything with a fucking drone and giving you amazing advice—”
She hung up the call, and when her phone buzzed an eighth time, she put it through to the car’s speakers. “I told you not to call this number.”
“That must be so difficult for you, having someone violate your boundaries like that.”
She matched his cold tone. “What do you want, Rowan?”
“Oh, lover,” she cooed, Celaena through and through. “You must not have heard. I’ve already gotten away.”
“Not from me.”
Light burst into her rearview mirrors, and her mate’s black truck appeared behind her. Not close enough to be a problem yet, but there and gaining. Shit.
“You’re alone,” Aelin pointed out. Even. Her voice needed to stay even.
“Why?” It came out in a sultry purr. “Hoping to take a ride in the backseat of my car?” He wasn’t here for policing. If he were planning to arrest her, surely he’d have some of his goons speeding behind him.
“I want to see your face, Celaena.” The name was an unpleasant clang. “I want to know the real colour of my mate’s eyes. And I want,” he said, low and dangerous, “to look in those eyes when you apologize for screwing me over.”
It was a bad habit—the defensiveness, especially when she felt she’d made the right call. And despite having asked Aedion to make amends on her behalf only an hour before, she let her anger get the best of her. “I am not going to apologize.”
His silence conveyed nothing. But the vehicle behind her seemed to jump forward, devouring the space between them. “Excuse me?”
“I am not sorry that I kept you safe, Rowan.” The terrain roughened and rattled, and she sent a nervous look over her shoulder to make sure his truck could handle it. “I will never apologize for keeping you safe.”
“You aren’t keeping me safe. You’re playing hero.”
“I am not.” Unbelievable. “That is not why I did this.”
“You refuse help and have your own plan for everything no matter how much you could be fucking things up for everyone else. All that matters is what you think is best. Gods forbid you believe that someone with hundreds of years of experience could contribute anything useful to the fight.”
Heat singed her cheeks. Her heartbeat became an uncomfortable punch against her ribs.
“You don’t care about the fallout,” he concluded, a crack showing in his voice. And she had to wonder if he wasn’t referring to the Reformists or the weapons or fighting at all.
“I do.” The words were a painful rasp in her throat. How could he think that? “All I can think about is the fallout. I can barely close my eyes at night imagining what might happen if I make a mistake.”
“Then stop making them,” Rowan growled. “I’m powerful, Celaena. I realize you know more about all this anti-magic tech, but you could teach me, share what you have. Fuck, if you’d just explain everything, we’d be so much better together. But you used me.” Her stomach did an uncomfortable flip. “Why won’t you let me help you? Why did you involve me just enough to make a fool of me at my work—”
“It would have been a bloodbath.” The truth came tumbling out in stutters and gasps. “I didn’t talk to Sorscha with the intention of cutting you out of the plan. I wasn’t using you. It just—it just happened. And you know that your friends would have gotten into a firefight with the Reformists. I needed information, Connall Moonbeam needed saving. If the police had shown up before I took down the ward, it would have been a bloodbath.”
Thanks to Fenrys, it had gotten pretty damn close even without help from the rest of the police.
“But I still could have gone with you,” Rowan said quietly.
“What are you talking about?”
Her question hung, giving Aelin enough space to focus back on the road. There was a fork coming up ahead of them, she realized with a prick of adrenaline. She gave no indication of which direction she’d take.
“After you left the station, you could have called me and we could have gone together. Just you and me.”
“No.” The word was a short, thoughtless snap. “That wouldn’t have worked.”
“It would have.”
Aelin shook her head, wondering if his car had gotten close enough for him to see it. “No.”
“Why not? Just tell me the truth.” Her mate’s voice rose with rapid frustration. “Why did you do this? Why did you ruin the truce and cut me out of the plan—”
“Because I was scared!” she yelled. “If you died—”
The thought was too reprehensible to say out loud.
Aelin was scared of losing him, of the Reformists taking away the person who was slowly weaving himself into the fabric of her being. She was terrified of every moment they spent together because it was getting harder to separate where her soul ended and his began. Just you and me were the most beautiful words Aelin had ever heard. And they were so fucking fragile. “I don’t know how to do this, Rowan. I don’t know what to do with you.”
As close to too late as possible, Aelin swerved onto the right road, no idea where it would take her. And swore when Rowan followed with ease.
“You don’t know what to do with me?” he repeated back to her. There was less venom in his voice than before. “Celaena, just start by pulling over.”
The trees started to thin with boulders and jagged chunks of glacial ice. They were so far away from the city, from the police station. It was neutral ground. So she considered it. What would happen if she finally just gave in? How disappointed would Rowan be when he finally learned her name?
“This isn’t going to go away. I am not going to go away. You’re my mate, Celaena—you’re mine. We need to deal with it.”
The gruff claim did something warm and traitorous to her blood. Produced a thrill that ran distinctly south—but her eyes saw red. “So what, Rowan? You think that because our souls had a moment it gives you some kind of ownership over me? Gods, you Fae males are so fucking territorial. You might be my mate, but I do not belong to you.”
“Says the female who was ready to rip Lyria limb from limb.” Aelin’s teeth clicked together. Just the name of her mate’s ex-girlfriend was an angry waterfall refilling the well of her magic. “I’m not trying to be territorial,” Rowan continued, “but I can’t help how this feels. The bond is … Celaena, it’s not about ownership. It’s that you’re part of me. It’s like a critical piece of me has been ripped out, and it doesn’t even want to get to know me.”
Her heart strained to the point of agony, and Aelin almost lost her focus on the road. On the trees that were fading into pristine sheets of snow and lighting her way with moonlight. “I want to know you, Rowan,” she breathed, “I do.”
“But on your terms, right? Never on mine.” At her lack of response, Rowan loosed a sad, bitter laugh. “I get it. I belong to you and you get to make decisions for me, but I have no claim on you.”
Guilt slashed through her chest. “I know that I haven’t told you everything, and I know you don’t understand why I’m doing the things I’m doing—”
“Do you want this?”
Even chased and zigzagging along that mountain road, Aelin’s mind fell totally still. “How … Rowan, how can you ask me that?”
“We’ve never talked about it,” he said simply. “We keep dancing around it, letting ourselves get distracted by the Reformists, but we haven’t talked about what this is.”
“It’s …” Aelin struggled to sort through her thoughts, her feelings. It was terrifying. New. Breakable. Fate. “It’s complicated.”
“It’s not complicated, Celaena. Do you want to be with me or not?”
She needed to stop driving. Needed to get out and wrap her arms around him. Needed to roll her car down the side of the mountain in an epic escape. “Of course, I do.”
Rowan probably didn’t intend for her to hear his shaking exhale. “Then why aren’t you?” he asked her.
“Because everything is a mess.” She briefly lost sight of the road as she blinked away the beginnings of tears. “There are important things that I need to finish, and you … you consume me. Every morning I wake up thinking about you, I go to work thinking about you. You’re haunting my fucking dreams. And I can’t think—I can’t breathe like this. I can’t do what I need to do with you in my system.”
The road started to wind around the side of the mountain, giving them a glorious view of Orynth’s nightlights. Rowan’s car slowed to less of a chase and more of a companionship.
“Gods,” she laughed through a sob, “I would die to even just pretend that I could fit into your life. But if I let myself be that person, other people—vulnerable people—will die.” And then she revealed the truth she’d been clutching in trembling hands, “I can’t be the person you want me to be.”
She couldn’t be more than Aelin Galathynius. A disappointment. A liar.
But a pang of frustration surged through the bond, rooting itself so deeply that it almost dried the tears on her face.
“You don’t know what I want, so stop acting like you do,” Rowan snapped. And before she could argue, he continued, “I’m not asking you to make me the only thing in your life. I don’t need you to stop being Flame Girl or to give up your mission. I just want to know you. I just want you to give this a proper chance.”
“I’m trying, but—”
“You know what I think?” he interrupted, building momentum. “I think that keeping your identity a secret isn’t even about me. I think it’s a punishment for yourself. Because you don’t think the real you is enough, and you’re afraid that I’m going to reject you and confirm all your worst fears—but you’re wrong about that, about me. And I think you’re wrong about everything else too. Gods above, Celaena, you’re fighting the bond so hard it’s no wonder you feel like it’s suffocating you—”
“Rowan,” she whimpered, cutting him off, “please stop.”
Maybe her mate could feel the way her chest was collapsing in on itself because he repeated one final time, so much softer than before, “Pull over.”
They’d been driving for so long that she could only estimate where the road was beneath the snow. The path had taken them up across the base of the Staghorn mountains and all the way back down to the Florine River, rushing between the crumbled remains of an ancient bridge a few minutes ahead of them.
There was no more road to follow. She’d have to stop and face him or …
“You’re my mate,” Rowan said in a rush, perhaps noting the river before them, the end of the path. “Nothing is going to change that.”
Fresh tears slid over her cheeks. She wanted to believe him so fucking badly. To slot herself into his cozy life in Old Orynth. To spend her days touching him, if only to marvel at the fact that he existed at all. Aelin wanted everything with him.
It just wasn’t that simple.
Aelin swallowed the lump in her throat and said, “I know I keep doing this …”
“I’m so sorry, Rowan.”
“Just stop the car.” She floored the gas pedal, “Celaena—” and ended the call.
Aelin drove straight up the remains of the broken bridge, flinging her car out into the unknown. It hung in the air, nothing but the choppy river beneath her tires. With the last dredges of her magic, she conjured a jet of flames, merging it with the engine’s booster. Together, they propelled the car the rest of the way, landing her on the other side. Where Rowan couldn’t follow.
The car veered, and she brought it to a complete stop, gasping as the beginnings of burnout frayed her mind. But she looked back across the river and found her mate, standing beside his truck. Devastated. Betrayed again. He could fly, of course, but even wings and wind wouldn’t be enough for him to keep up with her car.
And as Aelin drove away, she could have sworn she felt his eyes on her back the whole journey home.
Rowan arrived at the hospital at 2 am, a shell of himself.
The day was technically over, but he felt like he’d stepped outside of time entirely, just waiting for the next thing to knock him off his feet.
“I’m looking for Connall Moonbeam,” he said to the receptionist, near-blinded by the fluorescent hospital lights. Rowan flashed his badge before he could get any guff about visiting hours. It was the sort of move only an asshole would make, but he wasn’t in the mood to follow the rules.
The man behind the desk gave Rowan a tight smile—in agreement about the asshole thing. “Room 205.”
Rowan nodded his thanks and trudged down the hall and toward the elevator. Maybe it was just that every inch of the hospital looked the same, but the journey passed by in a blur, his eyes seeing Celaena’s masked face more than the linoleum beneath his feet.
He shouldn’t even have been thinking about her. He should have been focused on his friends, on Connall, and whatever this meant for Orynth. Bigger things than whether a female wanted him or not.
But laying your heart at someone’s feet only to have them tread on your fingers wasn’t easy to shake off.
Rowan turned another corner, 202, 203, 204, and found himself very suddenly amongst his coworkers and friends, each of them disarmingly quiet in their chairs that lined the wall. Lorcan and Vaughan were there, and Fenrys was notably missing, likely at his brother’s side. But it was Elide that spoke, murmuring quietly with a doctor before slipping into room 205.
Lorcan only looked up when the door clicked closed, finally noticing him. His friend didn’t speak, so Rowan said the only thing he could think of.
“Why is Elide here?”
The police chief met his gaze with worn, bloodshot eyes. “She … she needed to get her own data, or run her own tests.” Lorcan had never sounded so dazed, so vacant. “She said she couldn’t … she can’t get started until that’s done.”
A ringing filled his ears. “Can’t start what?”
Something shattered on Lorcan’s ashen face. And Rowan was ready to collapse to his knees even before the chief said, “Inventing a way to give someone back their magic.”
Aelin was well aware of the irony as she traversed the rooftops through Old Orynth.
There weren’t many hours of darkness left, but when she’d finally gotten home and slipped under the covers of her lonely bed, she’d known immediately that any attempts at sleep would be fruitless. And after Lysandra’s call about Connall Moonbeam …
The shifter had gone to the hospital to spy on them all. When the news had come through, Aelin had spent the next half hour curled up at the foot of her bed, refusing to let herself fall apart, refusing to throw up.
She didn’t understand how she could have been wrong. Her memories were so clear. Her father had screamed it, had sworn it impossible. It was supposed to be an immutable rule. Magic could not be taken away, just as it could not be created through artificial means.
But as Connall had just discovered, excision was real.
So back to Orynth she’d gone, in a less conspicuous but equally anonymous car. Whether she’d be welcome when she got to her destination was yet to be determined.
Aelin made the last familiar jump and allowed herself one moment of hesitation to collect her nerves. She’d said and not said all the wrong things tonight. She’d hurt him—again. The thought was almost enough to send her running away for the fourth time in twenty-four hours, but somehow she was able to muster the strength to drop down onto Rowan’s balcony.
She knocked on the glass door three times.
The coward in her was alive and well as she waited. It prayed that Rowan wouldn’t come to the door, would leave her outside to freeze in the cold like she deserved. She’d donned a thick winter coat to compensate for her flames, but it really wasn’t the same.
Aelin gripped the collar of her coat, tugging it together and huddling in on herself. Her mate could be asleep. She’d specifically knocked quietly so that she wouldn’t wake him up if he was. But if he was up, if, like her, he couldn’t quiet his mind after what they’d been through today, then maybe he’d hear her out.
Her knees went weak when she heard footsteps. Rowan materialized on the other side of the door, rubbing at his eyes, in all his usual shirtless glory. He looked her over briefly before turning away and disappearing back into his apartment. Her heart almost toppled right over at the brush off, but then he was back, pulling a thick sweater over his head and shrugging on a coat of his own while he opened the door.
His eyes were wary. Vulnerable. Like he was preparing for her to strike him another wound.
“I couldn’t sleep,” Aelin whispered, hating how he was keeping his distance. “Not after how I … how I left things.”
Rowan just stared at her, unmoving. Icy. Unreadable. Panic tumbled through her, and Aelin thought if he didn’t say something soon, she might never recover.
“Rowan.” Her voice cracked on his name. It hit her all at once and her eyes welled. “That stuff I said to you, Connall … I’m so sorry—“
He moved so quickly that she didn’t have a chance to prepare for it. The speech she’d painstakingly planned fizzled into nothing, and all the thoughts went out of her head as Rowan’s arms wrapped around her waist.
A broken sound of surprise escaped her and soft fabric pressed against her face. Warmth overwhelmed her, the scent of pine and snow overwhelmed her. She didn’t understand what was happening, but she wasn’t complaining.
It was instinct to grip him tightly, to draw him in and coil her arms behind his head. They pulled each other closer and closer until there wasn’t an inch of space left between their bodies. With a sigh of his own, Rowan dug his fingers into her lower back, like he was relying on her to physically hold him together. Whether he realized it or not, he was doing the same thing for her.
Aelin knew she was crying, the quiet kind of tears that overflowed in moments of pause. For him, for her regrets, for the sheer relief that her mate hadn’t written her off completely. Somewhere along the way, their faces turned in toward each other, their lips parted, unable to escape the gravity of the bond between them.
Rowan’s nose brushed against her own, then her cheek, request and encouragement to lift her chin. She caught only a glimpse of his dark eyes, entranced, before her own fluttered closed. Aelin slipped her fingers under the collar of his jacket and scraped her nails over the back of his neck. She could have sworn he shuddered.
Their foreheads came together, their bodies falling in sync with panting breaths. The moment stretched out before her like all one thousand of her years were happening in an instant. Rowan’s hands cupped her cheeks. Her breath vanished with a whoosh. And her heart threatened to lose its rhythm entirely as he closed the gap.
The first time Rowan kissed her lasted forever and ended too quickly. A light press of his warm lips against her cold ones, the stroke of his thumbs over her cheekbones. The night and the ice melted away with the caress of his palms, his lips. Her arms wound tighter around him. Even an inch from burnout, Aelin could have razed cities with the fire he set in her blood.
Her mate retreated—just once—and then his lips were against hers in another kiss, this one sharper, more demanding. Aelin met him eagerly, opening her mouth so that his tongue could tangle her own. Her stomach flipped with every stroke, every shallow breath. She was fading and blurring at the edges. Got dizzier every time Rowan murmured something beautiful between hungry touches. A shift of his hips and all their winter layers may as well have disappeared. He enveloped her, consumed her. A strike of lightning that burned right through to her centre.
Rowan kissed her slowly, sometimes breaking apart to change the tilt of her chin like he wanted to try her from every angle. She was beyond caring about the sounds she was making, the soft moans she breathed into his mouth every time he explored her a little deeper.
His groan jolted through her as she tugged lightly on his hair, weaving it in between her fingers. His hands abandoned her face but found her back, lifting her onto her toes. She was floating away, arching into him for whatever she could get. Her body was begging him to never stop. Aelin had imagined their first kiss would be chaos, an unstoppable frenzy that would built up and up until it burst. She’d imagined him thrusting wildly between her legs, imagined the way Rowan would make her scream—because she knew he would.
But this kiss was nothing like that, yet it was just as good.
It was a surrender and acknowledgement. Tinged with need and grief, a way to prove that they were both there. That they were both safe in this moment, witnessed for all the broken pieces they offered. And that it was real.
It didn’t really surprise her when her throat, her heart, started aching. When the words she’d never before dared to say rose on her tongue. And though Aelin wasn’t ready to trust either of them with those words, she could give him this.
“I’m yours,” she promised as the kiss quieted and trailed off. She caught Rowan’s lips one more time and grabbed a handful of his coat to keep herself firmly rooted to the ground. “I’m yours.”
AN: Friends, how do you feel about the content warnings on this fic? I feel like they could be a bit redundant (and therefor spoiler-y?) because the whole fic is angsty, violent, a little creepy, and very NSFW (I mean, it will be). But I also know that some shocking stuff happens, so if I'm not doing enough to prepare you, let me know. I always struggle with this balance and I want everyone to be comfortable.
As a side note, I will never write any gender-based violence into my fics (at most we'll get a creepy comment from Arobynn), so if that's something that you're concerned about specifically, as I always am, then know you don't have to worry.
*Starred tags won’t work