Chapter 4: Nobody says no to Deborah Fenkas
Masterlist Read on AO3
The completely ridiculous, canon-compliant Rowaelin epilogue you didn’t know you needed.
~ 6800 words
Considering that my parents used to make rules and then enforce them, they’re not all that great at actually following them. Dad at least recognizes my mom as some weird higher authority even now that we’re normal, but that just means that he tends to go along with whatever she wants.
And boy, does my mom do what she wants.
When Mom comes up against a rule she doesn’t like, she just sort of waves a hand and says, No, I don’t think that’s for me.
I’m sure being voted the world’s most powerful being for forty-five years running by Magic Magazine does funny things to a person, but someone needs to get it through her head that she’s not the queen anymore.
Really it should be Dad’s responsibility to set her straight. But despite his gruff exterior and tendency to use intimidation threats to negotiate with sales clerks, he’s a limp noodle when it comes to her. Uncle Fenrys said that before the war, my dad used to have more of a backbone. He said my parents bickered and disagreed and all sorts of things, but after the war, something shifted. Now, Dad’s the last person who will tell Mom she can’t have something and the very first to move heaven and earth to give it to her.
And I’m pretty sure that I won’t even have a phone for them to call when they need me to bail them out of jail.
“Okay, so where do you want to start?” Rowan asked from their spot on the driveway.
“Well, I was thinking of painting the front door green, getting a bit of furniture,” his wife said lightly, “and there’s a charming little spot around the back where I’m going to bury your rotting corpse.”
Rowan sighed. “Aelin, I’ve said I’m sorry a thousand times.”
“They do say that dead husbands make the best fertilizer.”
“Nobody says that.”
Amelia chortled from her perch on the crumbling stone fence that surrounded their sad plot of land. “I think that’s what all the dead husbands say right before they become part of a vegetable garden.”
He rolled his eyes at both of them. Rowan had been the black sheep of the family for the last week, neither female fully having forgiven him for moving them here. Aelin had mellowed out a little after he’d suggested enlisting, but each night they slept on their stone floor had brought her hatred of the house back with a vengeance. No matter that it was really only him that slept on the stone, Aelin clambering on top of him every night to use him as a makeshift pillow and mattress. Her elbows jamming into his ribs had interrupted his sleep far more than the floor at this point.
“So, do you two want to start on that vegetable garden now, or are we going to fix up this house?” he sighed, willing to accept whatever punishment if it gave him a day of peace.
Aelin’s eyes tightened, and he could tell that for half a second, she considered it–hitting him over the head and dragging his body around the back. And his daughter looked more than ready to aid in the endeavor. But luckily, his wife just sighed and turned her attention back to the horrible house.
They’d come out to evaluate it.
Stealing from the barrow-wights had been a moderate success. Their treasure chest had been filled with gold, and though the bank teller had given them some funny looks, she’d ultimately deposited everything into their account. It was enough to make them all sleep easier.
“I want running water,” his mate said eventually with a directness that made Rowan feel like he should be taking notes. “And beds.”
He nodded. They could probably do that. Their treasure had converted to roughly $12,000. It was still some of the least money Rowan had ever had in his life, and yet he felt like a millionaire again. Like he could give his family a hint of the life they deserved.
They’d decided to spend $8,000 of it on renovations. A risky move considering their situation, but the house just wasn’t livable. And if they were careful, the money that remained could keep them going for a few months while they sorted out some other source of income.
“And I want one of those quilts we had back in Orynth,” Aelin added.
Rowan’s eyes widened. “The spider silk one?”
“That cost thousands of–” Her tight expression stopped him in his tracks. “I’ll … see what I can do.”
A bright smile bloomed on her face, the kind he lived for. “Thank you,” she whispered, rolling up onto her toes and kissing his cheek before sauntering back into the house.
Rowan just stared after her, feeling like the idiot he was. Four hundred years together, and he was still such gods-damned a fool when it came to her.
He looked over to find Amelia silently laughing at him and scowled.
“I didn’t say anything,” she chuckled.
Such a fool.
In the end, Aelin was able to avoid murdering her mate.
Much to her delight, they’d found a contractor to do the bathroom relatively quickly. The money they’d found didn’t allow for a lot, so they were only installing running water to the bathroom, giving them a usable sink, toilet, and tub. But only two weeks after traipsing through the burial mounds, four burly human men were stomping through her house, pulling up floorboards and shoving pipes into the walls. She loved watching the house get ripped apart. It felt like revenge.
If nothing else, it took the edge off. Dulled the ever-growing rage that was festering inside her. She didn’t realize it at the time, but having no money at all left very little room for the rest of her worries. Aelin had been able to package them up and shove them out, focusing only on surviving. It was easy to forget that your entire identity had been ripped from you when you weren’t sure if you were going to have food the next day.
But now, it was weighing on her. Now the darkness that she usually kept so carefully in check was bleeding into the edges of her vision, reminding her that this was not the first time everything had been taken from her.
And she knew it wasn’t really the same. She had Rowan’s endless love and support. She had Amelia. And they even had beds now. She wasn’t alone and Dumbarton was not a salt mine or an iron … It wasn’t the same.
But still, it was weighing on her.
Fortunately, she had an ally. Rowan and Amelia were putting on brave faces–which was frustrating because Aelin didn’t want to feel like she was the only one that couldn’t adapt–but Kasida more than delivered when it came to disdain.
Her horse hated their new circumstances the maximum amount. Not that the two of them could really communicate, but it was obvious that Kasida despised their dilapidated stables and hated even more that she had no other horses to bully. It was probably made worse by the fact that the horse had to see Rowan a lot more now too. Yesterday, when he’d carried in the new hay, Aelin could have sworn a familiar look passed over Kasida’s face. A look that reminded her very much of herself when she was an assassin plotting her next vicious murder–something to keep an eye on. But it meant that their morning rides, at least, were a brief reprieve from keeping the scowl off her face.
Unlike now, where she was trying her best to supervise her workmen with a smile.
“Bob?” she called lightly from the chair she’d brought into the bathroom to watch them work. “Do you think the tiles are looking a little tight? They’re so close together.” She leaned forward and squinted at the floor. “Could you fix that?”
Aelin graciously ignored the way Bob sighed. She’d been working them hard.
“This is the standard spacing, your majesty.”
She grinned, pleased with the title. Apparently, people still felt the need to call her that–and she felt no need to correct them.
“The standard must be wrong then.”
Bob sighed again and pushed a few tiles closer together for her inspection. It was fortunate that she’d ordered them to mock up the pattern for her beforehand. They’d wanted to just get straight to glueing the tiles down or whatever it was called. That would have been a disaster.
Aelin tilted her head, considering his work. “Yes, I think that will do. Though I’d like you to mock up the entire floor again to be sure.” She wasn’t going to commit to something until she was sure they’d gotten it right.
“Alright, your majesty.”
Okay, maybe people felt the need to call her that because she encouraged them to. But it’s not like they didn’t have free will–
She turned in her seat to find Rowan’s head popping through the door. She had no idea why, but the shoulders of all four of the workmen toiling at her feet seemed to relax in his presence. Not usually the reaction people had when they saw her mate.
“What is it, buzzard?”
“I was just wondering if you wanted to go for a walk?” His eyes darted around the room. “Since we’re not really needed here.”
Aelin snorted. “I assure you that my presence is needed. Cody and I haven’t even discussed how we’re going to fix the crooked faucet he installed yet, have we, Cody?”
The youngest of the workmen gulped and nodded his head. “We are going to do it after her majesty helps Marco position the mirror properly.”
Rowan’s eyebrows went so far up his forehead, they practically disappeared. Her majesty? Aelin, why are they calling you that?
Am I not their queen?
She waved a hand at her husband and assured him out loud, “It’s okay, Rowan. We’re having fun.” Then she smiled at all of her helpers, waiting for them to nod their agreement. They looked at her mate, not with smiles.
He cleared his throat. “Let’s go for a walk.”
“I’m fine here, Rowan. I’m needed here–”
“Go ahead,” Bob said to her great surprise. His eyes kept darting back to Rowan’s for whatever reason. “Go enjoy the sunshine, and we’ll update you on our progress when you get home.”
“But the faucet–”
“Come on, Fireheart. Let’s leave them to it.” Rowan offered her a hand. And suddenly she realized what was happening.
They didn’t want her there.
She accepted Rowan’s hand, a little dazed as he led her out of their bathroom and then out onto the driveway. He wrapped a sympathetic arm around her shoulders–which was nice because suddenly, she didn’t feel like talking.
They’d made it halfway down the driveway when a shout caught her attention.
Her gaze shot down to the road at the sound, searching for the source of her name. Rowan groaned as he found it first.
“Hi, Oliver!” she yelled back, thawing a bit.
Oliver from the grocery store had pulled over his bicycle, his smile metallic as his braces glinted in the sunlight. He removed his helmet and nudged the bike’s kickstand with his foot, coming around to meet them.
She had formed a friendship with the teenager through grocery shopping, him helping them stay within budget every time they went. Rowan hadn’t warmed to him, but Aelin couldn’t help it. Ever since having children of her own, she’d gone soft when it came to kids.
“I didn’t know you lived, like, here!” Oliver said brightly before turning to Rowan. He nodded solemnly–formally–in greeting to her husband. “Mr. Aelin.”
Rowan just growled.
“This is my husband’s house,” Aelin explained, laying a hand on his shoulder–a reminder that no violence was to be used on this teenage boy.
Oliver nodded. “That’s lit. You gonna, like, fix it up?”
“We already are,” her mate informed him.
“Dope. That’s tight. The house was dank,” Oliver said with a lazy smile. Rowan’s eyes narrowed, but the boy went on, “It must have been hella difficult to get all those permits, yo. Townhall is, like, the worst for that stuff here. How long did it take?”
Something dangerous went quiet inside Aelin’s chest. Something that had been looking for a punching bag since they’d arrived here. Since the castle gates had slammed in her face.
“We don’t need permits,” she assured him–and herself. Silly, confused, little boy. “This is our house.” Nobody could tell them what to do with it.
“You–you don’t have permits?” Oliver choked out.
“We don’t need them,” Aelin repeated with a smile. She was certain. When you owned a detached home, you could do whatever you wanted with it. That’s how it was in Terrasen.
The boy gulped, “So you haven’t met … Deborah?” He whispered the name as if saying it too loudly could summon her.
“No. Is she important?” Rowan asked, a skeptical eyebrow raised.
“She works in the town hall permit department,” Oliver explained, still whispering. Quivering with fear, even. “Nobody says no to Deborah.”
Aelin couldn’t help but laugh. “Yeah, we’ll see about that.”
“They call her the Bulldozer.”
“The Bulldozer? Please,” Aelin scoffed. “I killed a demon queen. I think I can handle Deborah.”
Oliver rapidly shook his head. “If you get caught, she’ll, like, drown you in invoices.”
Aelin shrugged. “I’d like to see her try.”
“Seriously, you need to make sure she doesn’t find out about this …” Oliver trailed off as he finally noticed the plumber’s van in the driveway.
“What?” Rowan demanded.
“You hired Fenkas & Sons?”
Oliver bared his teeth in an expression of pure awkwardness. “Fenkas & Sons is run by Bob Fenkas–”
“Yeah, we know–”
Oliver had suggested that they wait for Deborah Fenkas to contact them.
But Rowan’s wife had assured them all that she was more than capable of handling the Bulldozer and had then promptly dragged him to the town hall.
Aelin was in a mood. She was looking for a fight–maybe someone to subjugate–and he wasn’t about to stand in her way, lest she select him as her victim. He was curious to meet the Bulldozer anyway. And he was looking forward to watching Aelin put Deborah in her place. It had been a while since he’d had the pleasure of seeing his mate’s terrifying side.
Clearly thinking the same thing, Amelia tagged along, saying that she didn’t want to see Townhall go up in flames, abandoning plans for a day of job-hunting. Now the three of them were smushed together on the reception room’s tiny couch, trying to figure out exactly how they were going to handle the dreaded Deborah.
They didn’t have an appointment and it seemed that usually, nobody would see you without one, but as soon as Rowan and his family had arrived, the receptionist had shot them a sour look. A reproachful look. As if she knew exactly which permit-flouting, law-snubbing, house-violating miscreants had just walked in.
“I’m worried about this,” Amelia admitted.
Aelin waved a hand. “Don’t be. I dealt with people like this all the time in Terrasen.”
“Bureaucrats.” His wife started to weave flame between her fingers. “What you need to understand, Amelia, is that it’s all bullshit. Their rules? Their paperwork?” Another wave of the hand. “It’s not real.”
“Which means …?”
“Which means they can be convinced to overlook things,” Rowan concluded.
His mate shot him a sly smile.
Amelia leaned forward to get a better look at him, face paling. “What do you mean convinced?”
“It means whatever it needs to mean,” Aelin explained with a shrug. “Once this bitch understands who she’s dealing with, I’ll have her on her knees, begging for forgiveness.”
“Wait–is that actually what’s going to happen?”
“If that’s what it takes,” his mate said. Rowan gave her a confirming nod.
“Are we going to assault Deborah–”
“Galathynius-Whitethorn family?” the sweetest possible voice rang through the reception area. It was the kind of voice that was almost too soft, almost too high pitched, but not quite. It was actually … perfect.
The entire family looked up to see a smiley human woman walking away from the office door. She was wearing a fuzzy cardigan with little cats embroidered on it. She couldn’t have been more than thirty years old, couldn’t possibly be–
“Hello!” she chirped, offering a hand to his wife, who reluctantly accepted. “I’m Deborah Fenkas. I’m so so sorry for the wait. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you all taking the time to come down here. I know the traffic was terrible today.”
“Amelia,” his daughter said by way of introduction when Deborah shook her hand. “We actually walked! The weather is lovely.”
“Yes, it is!” Deborah flashed her the purest of smiles. “Wow, Amelia! You have the most beautiful eyes.” Then she rapidly turned to Rowan, gazing straight into his very soul. “Oh, look! You have them too!” One second, she was grinning at him, and the next–
Rowan staggered back, totally taken off guard by the attack.
It took him a moment to understand that he had been touched by a stranger. Took him even longer to realize that that stranger had done some strange tapping thing to his nose. And he’d just let it happen. He was ancient and immortal, and Deborah Fenkas had just touched his nose. Why hadn’t he done anything to stop it? Was it some sort of magic–
“I always forget how beautiful the Fae traits are,” she giggled to herself.
He wasn’t giggling, though. Nor was his wife. He caught her eye and read the words, What the fuck is happening?
The thing was, Rowan didn’t know.
“Why don’t we head into my office?” Deborah offered before waving them through her door. He rubbed at his nose as he followed, still feeling her patronizing touch. She ushered them into the squishy-looking armchairs before her desk. There were only two, but then, “Amelia, take my seat,” the Bulldozer ordered.
Rowan knew his daughter was much too polite to accept such a proposal–she would never rob someone of their own property.
Amelia walked around the desk and plopped into Deborah’s office chair without so much as a second thought. It was only after she’d been sitting for a second that her eyes widened.
Deborah smiled, satisfied, and walked around to sit on the edge of the desk. All settled in, her face fell, and she gave them a sad smile. “Gods, I wish we were meeting under better circumstances,” she said, finally addressing the reason they were there.
Aelin leaned forward in her chair, looking like a woman going into battle. She flipped her hair over her shoulder and smiled nonchalantly–she wasn’t going to let this woman lead their meeting. “Now Deborah, I don’t know what you’ve heard about us, but did you know that I am–”
“You’re Aelin and Rowan–the people renovating that lovely old house, yes!” Deborah practically sang as she spoke. “I’m so excited to see what you do with it! The poor building has been sitting in disrepair for too long.”
His wife’s confidence stumbled a bit. “Uh–right. Well, we’ve only been here for a short while, but I really think that–”
“Aelin, I am so glad you mentioned that,” Deborah agreed, bringing confusion to his mate’s features. “You’ve been here–a week has it been?”
Aelin’s eyes darted to his and then back to Deborah, suspicious. “Two.”
“Two weeks.” Deborah’s hand landed over her heart. “I can’t imagine how difficult it has been to adjust to all of this.”
His wife’s face soured. “Yes, I have some feedback on your laws–”
“I will help you find your place here,” Deborah declared. “Dumbarton is such a tight-knit community, and Aelin, I really want to see you connected with some of the other mothers,” she continued, addressing an entirely new and unexpected topic.
Aelin’s expression was one of horror. “No, I don’t need that–”
“Aelin.” Deborah said his wife’s name sternly. But in that way that made you feel like she was about to tell you that it was time to start believing in yourself. Taking one of Aelin’s hands, she whispered with a vulnerable passion, “Don’t hide your beautiful soul from this town.”
After that, his mate’s face was hard to describe. “I–uh–okay–”
“Aelin, I want to hear you say that you won’t.”
Rowan lifted a hand to cover the smile that was forming on his face. To hold in the laugh that was threatening to rip out of his throat.
“I … won’t.”
“You won’t what?”
A dark shadow of disgust fell over his wife’s features. There was no way she was going to do it. She wasn’t going say that stupid affirmation–
“I won’t … hide my beautiful soul from this town.” She grumbled it.
But she said it.
He breathed a restrained laugh into his hand, blown away by what was happening.
Deborah nodded, satisfied, and finally released his mate from her loving prison. She grabbed a flyer from her desk and pushed it into his mate’s hands. “Oh, Aelin, it’s going to be so much fun having you participate in next weekend’s bake sale.”
Rowan’s snort sent the room into silence. Aelin probably would have glared at him had her eyes not been glued to Deborah with bewilderment.
“I don’t really bake–”
Deborah smiled so purely. “Everyone can bake.”
“Take Rowan then.”
A laugh. “Your husband? No.”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea–”
“She’s just being modest,” Rowan cut in, deciding he liked the direction of this conversation very much. His mate’s eyes widened with betrayal. “You’re in for a real treat, Deborah,” he said, grinning maniacally at his wife. “Aelin’s chocolate hazelnut cake is … to die for.”
Those wide, betrayed eyes turned to flame. You. Will. Pay.
Just think of all the people you’ll get to murder, he shot back.
The only person I’m going to murder is you.
“Perfect! We’ll see you at 9 AM, Aelin.” Deborah winked and picked up a folder with their names on it. “We’re so excited to have you.”
Aelin glowered but nodded stiffly.
Deborah smiled. “I’m glad we have that sorted.” She opened their folder, leaving it on her lap. “Now … This permit stuff”–she shook her head–“it can be so difficult to navigate, and I just hate that we need to go through all of this.”
Aelin finally found her words again, voice cold as she said, “Yes, we were surprised to find that we needed permission to renovate our own property.”
“Ugh, I know, right! The town council passed that law a few years ago.” Deborah put her hand over her heart yet again. “You are not the first people to get caught out by this. But I promise I am going to get this all sorted out for you.”
At that, Aelin cracked a satisfied smile. “That’s great to hear.”
Deborah smiled back and pulled out a particular piece of paper, giving it a scan. “What I’d really like to do today is make all this permit nonsense go away.”
Aelin brightened. “Thank you so much–”
“But I can’t.” The Bulldozer grimaced. “Unfortunately, we have to get all these permits all figured out.”
“Which permits?” Aelin snarled.
That gods-damned woman didn’t even flinch. “My husband said you’ve renovated a bathroom?”
Deborah cringed. “The thing with bathrooms is that they seem simple, but they really aren’t. You’ll need a permit for adding new piping, one for connecting to the village’s main water line, one for the fixtures … ” The list went on and on until– “I’m so so sorry, but according to this invoice, you owe the town hall $3,675 in permits.”
His heart skipped a beat.
No. That couldn’t be correct. That was almost all of their remaining money. They could not afford that–
“According to the invoice?” Aelin seethed. “Didn’t you make it?”
Deborah nodded solemnly. “It is my job to sort these things out, yes.”
“Then surely you can wave the fees–”
“Gods, I wish I could,” Deborah admitted, shoulders falling. She was so irritatingly genuine that Rowan sort of wanted to pull the air from her lungs. “But it’s the law.”
“The law that you people randomly made up!”
“And then,” Deborah continued, devastated and totally unthreatened by Aelin’s rage, “there’s the matter of the fines.”
When it was clear that she’d rendered them all speechless, she explained, “The fine is the same as the cost of each permit you did not obtain. Which means …” she trailed off as she punched numbers into her calculator, “you actually owe the town a grand total of $7,350.”
Rowan started to laugh.
“You have two weeks to produce the funds.” Rowan laughed even harder. “The town prefers cheques. But seriously, if any of that is going to be a struggle for you, let me know and I can put you in touch with our billing department. Leonora is an absolute wizard at sorting out payment plans.”
The sound of Rowan’s dying laughter was the family’s only response.
Pleased with how thoroughly she’d sorted out the Galathynius-Whitethorn family, Deborah reached across the desk and grabbed one of each of their hands. She beamed. “Then it’s settled. You will pay for those permits, and lovely Aelin here will bring her famous chocolate hazelnut cake to the bake sale.”
It would seem they’d just been bulldozed.
“Does anyone else feel really … violated?” her husband asked, rubbing at his nose.
“Yeah,” Amelia breathed. “But also, like, really validated?”
“But violated too.”
Aelin stared vacantly into the parking lot as her family tried to verbalize exactly what had happened to them.
They’d just left Town Hall with an itemized invoice of every permit they needed to pay for as well as their respective fines. Additionally, not only had she committed to a bake sale this coming weekend, but Rowan had also promised to join Bob’s soccer team in the fall, and Amelia had agreed to look after Deborah’s cats when she went away on her Yulemas vacation.
And she had no fucking clue how any of it had happened.
It was unacceptable, and so Aelin decided not to accept it.
“Deborah and her permits can burn in hell for all I care,” she said over her shoulder as she started raging away from Town Hall.
Even Amelia’s footsteps on the pavement sounded anxious. “What do you mean?”
“I meant what I said,” Aelin answered, Rowan catching up with her. “I don’t care about her permits, and she can’t make us do anything.”
Her husband smirked down at her. “We’re obviously not going to pay it,” he said to their daughter. Aelin returned the smirk. They were always on the same page.
“We can’t just not pay it!” Amelia shrilled. “Deborah said we’ll get fined even more if we don’t!”
She was so new to these things. “We’ll make her let it go,” Aelin assured her.
Amelia’s mouth fell open. “Make her? Do you mean coerce? Are you talking about coercion?”
“I’m sure it won’t come to that,” Rowan chuckled, but not without a conspirator’s wink at Aelin. They both knew it might come to that.
“Maybe she’s valg,” Aelin chuckled, floating the idea out there.
Rowan snorted. “That would explain the mind control.”
“You know,” she went on slyly, “if she was a demon, it would only be right to … deal with her.”
He nodded gravely as his eyes sparkled. “We’d have a responsibility to protect the public.”
“Really, it would be our obligation to kill her–”
The shout came from behind them, punctuated with a stomp of a foot. In their demon discussion, they hadn’t realized they’d lost their daughter, but as they turned, there she was, frozen and indignant steps behind them.
Aelin exchanged a glance with her husband. Confused. He was confused too. “I’m sorry, Ames, we don’t understand–”
“You are not killing Deborah!” Amelia hissed with all the dominance and rage she could muster–it wasn’t very much. “In fact, as of right now, neither of you will be killing anyone ever again!”
“Oh, we were just joking–”
“No, you weren’t!” she roared.
It stunned them into silence.
She was right, of course. And it was rather confronting to have her call them out on it, but that wasn’t what had Aelin lost for words.
Eventually, Amelia sighed to break the silence, apology plain on her features. “Look,” she said, opening her palms. “I love you both, and I’m sorry I yelled, but you’re not the queen and king anymore. You’re acting like you can just do whatever you want without consequence, and you just … guys, you just can’t. We have to follow the rules now and act like normal people … and if you don’t get that through your heads soon, we’re going to end up with even less than we have now.”
Silence stretched as Amelia’s words hung in the air, and something uncomfortable trickled down Aelin’s spine. Something she’d been trying to ignore for a while now.
Aelin swallowed hard. “You’re right,” she ground out. Whatever was in her voice had Rowan’s arm tucking her in closer. “You’re right. We’ve–I’ve been acting like I’m still the queen and … and I’m not.”
The worlds settled in her, raw and heavy. It was the first time she’d actually said it.
“What do you propose we do then?” Rowan was asking, always quicker to find his footing in moments like this.
Amelia sighed. “We’re going to do what normal people would do: leave Deborah alone and unharmed, and then find some way to pay the invoice. Dad, but we can’t afford to get fined even more. It will ruin us.”
“Isn’t there something we can do to convince–”
“No,” Aelin cut in, feeling a bit numb. “No, Amelia has it right. We’ll do what she says.”
Her daughter’s face fell. “I’m sorry, Mom.”
Aelin rallied a smile. “It’s okay … You were right. This is the right thing to do.” Then she stepped away from her husband and shook off the weird feeling settling over her.
All of Rowan’s attention landed on her. “Aelin.”
“I think … I think I need some time to process this.”
And it was all she could say before she started drifting back to their horrible money-draining house.
It was not the outcome Rowan had hoped for.
Needing some time to think about their situation and knowing that Aelin needed the same, Amelia had gone to the library while Rowan took the bus into Varese. There were a few errands he wanted to run before going home. It was short and simple. He didn’t linger or explore. Just made a call at a payphone, bought what he was looking for, and went home. Rowan opted to take a taxi on the way back, not wanting to subject himself to the ogling that came with bus rides. Damn face tattoo.
He paid the fare when the car pulled up in front of his house. Though he was certain Aelin was home, it worried him to see the house dark, his wife not bothering to use her magic to light it.
Rowan murmured his thanks, maneuvered the large shopping bag he’d acquired out of the car, and started making his way up the driveway. He found Amelia on the porch, looking out at the night sky.
Her tight expression confirmed that Aelin’s mood hadn’t improved.
“How was the library?” he said in greeting, setting the shopping bag down and leaning on the wall next to her. An easier, happier topic before they talked about their real problems.
“Good actually. I got an email about a job interview next week”
Pride swelled in his chest, and he ruffled her hair.
She drew back with a disgruntled, “Ugh, Dad.”
“That’s great, Ames.”
She smiled a bit. “We’ll see. I’m not totally in a rush to be drenched in burger grease.”
“Fair enough,” he chuckled, letting his head rest against the brick wall. The sun had just finished setting, giving way to a sky full of stars. It was a jolt to realize he hadn’t seen the stars in a while, the light pollution in Orynth too much to allow for it. It was a welcome calm that he hadn’t realized he’d needed.
“Mom … Mom’s doing that thing where she stares out the window again.”
Rowan’s heart clenched. “Where?”
“Upstairs on the landing. That big window that overlooks the garden.”
He nodded to himself. “Right.” Rowan reached for the shopping bag and made for the door.
“Dad?” Amelia said again.
He turned around to find her watching him with concern and a million questions in her eyes. One of which she found the bravery to voice.
“What happened to her?”
Rowan’s eyes fell to the ground, knowing exactly what she was asking.
There were things they hadn’t told their children. Things that they hadn’t wanted to weigh them down with. Most of their stories from the great war were public knowledge–part of school curriculums, even. And they’d talked about Aelin’s time in the mines, about Lyria, lots of things. But Aelin hadn’t wanted to talk about Maeve or Cairn. The reason she wouldn’t go back to Doranelle. The reason that once in a while, albeit not for many years now, Aelin struggled to believe if any of this was real.
After a long moment, he said, “It’s not my story to tell.” It was all he could give her–the very confirmation of there being a story at all. But Rowan wouldn’t make the decision for his wife. Aelin could decide to tell their children what happened when she was ready. If she ever was.
Emotion rippled over Amelia’s face, but she nodded understandingly. He gave her a strained smile and went to find his mate.
As promised, Aelin was on the landing, delicately hugging herself. She didn’t stir when Rowan approached, dropping the shopping bag and coming up behind her to slide his arms around her waist. She leaned into him as his chin came down to rest on her shoulder.
“We haven’t done this in a while,” he murmured, remembering those earlier days after the war where Aelin would linger on their balcony. The bad days.
“I haven’t felt like this in a while.”
Rowan felt his chest crack further. “Are you–”
“No, it’s real,” she whispered, anticipating his next question. “I know that this is real.” He could practically feel her steeling herself, dragging up a hint of bravado. “She couldn’t have come up with all this.” Aelin looked pointedly around the room, chuckling unnaturally. “It’s too ridiculous.”
He didn’t laugh. At some point, they’d stopped saying her name. Maeve. He wasn’t sure if it was a good thing. “I’m going to fix this, Fireheart.”
“You can’t make things how they used to be,” she sighed. Then she turned in his arms, the sadness in her eyes nearly knocking him off his feet. “It’s not your fault, Rowan.”
He disagreed. Rowan didn’t blame himself for the monarchy being abolished, but everything that had happened since–the terrible house, the village that contained Deborah–that had been his doing. He’d brought them here.
Aelin must have read the thought on his face because her expression crumpled. “I know that I’ve been a bit of a bitch with all the house stuff, and I’m sorry for that. But none of this is because of you, Rowan. You’ll probably blame yourself anyway, but it’s not your fault.” Then with a ghost of a smile, she added, “It’s Deborah’s.”
The corners of his mouth twitched upward, but nonetheless, Rowan promised, “I’m still going to fix it.”
Aelin smiled a sad smile like she wanted to lecture him on his stupidity but didn’t have the energy. “I just … I don’t know how to do this,” she breathed, turning back to the window and whispering into their dark garden. “Even when I was Celeana, I wasn’t normal. I don’t know who I’m supposed to be now.”
“I don’t either,” he admitted. Rowan hadn’t a clue what he was going to do with his life now. Hadn’t even really thought about it. “But we’ll figure it out.”
She tilted her head back, nuzzling into his neck. “During the war … I used to daydream about us running away to Antica. Or anywhere–it didn’t really matter where as long as it was far away from the war. But I imagined us leaving everything and everyone behind, and just … living. I’d have … I don’t know–sewn things? And you’d have taken care of our chickens. And we’d have just lived for as long as we could, being as happy as possible until the world ended.”
Rowan pulled back a bit to see her face. “You never told me that.”
Aelin avoided his gaze. There was a long pause before she whispered, “I didn’t want to give you hope.”
He knew what she meant. Hope that she’d survive–that she’d refuse to forge the lock–even if it was just to steal a little bit more borrowed time with him. And Rowan didn’t know what to say. All he could feel was the familiar and overwhelming grief for what she’d been through–
“But I think …” she turned in his arms again, her eyes determined and sadness receding. “I think that’s what I’d like to try now.”
He smiled a bit.
“We’ll do all the normal people things,” she went on, voice getting stronger as she sniffled. “We’ll get jobs, and pay bills, and obey the traffic lights.”
“You weren’t already doing that?”
“We’re going to be normal. It’ll be hard, but we’ll manage.”
“The rules of the road apply to everyone, Aelin.”
She just grinned at him, and with the hint of joy dancing in her eyes, he couldn’t help but drop his horror and smile back. He kissed her forehead and gathered her up into a tight embrace. “I’m so glad we don’t have a car,” he chuckled onto her shoulder. When she didn’t respond, he remembered there was something he very much needed to tell her. “I called Enda earlier–when I went into Varese.”
His wife stilled in his arms, but she waited for him to continue.
“He agreed to give us some money–”
A sharp breath. “Rowan, you didn’t have to do that.”
“It’s not very much,” he reassured her. It was the first fight they’d had after the abolition: how much they should try to mooch off their family members. Aelin had flat-out rejected the idea. Whether it was because of pride or guilt, she’d said she wasn’t comfortable doing it. But Rowan didn’t have such qualms if it kept her safe and happy. “He transferred $5,000 into our account a few hours ago.” Combined with the $4,000 they had leftover, it would be just enough to pay Deborah’s invoice and get them through the next few months. Until they found jobs. Or perhaps destroyed another barrow-wight sanctuary.
“He’s too good to us.”
“Well, we did save the world that one time,” Rowan said with a wry smile. “Just think of it as our fee for services rendered.”
Aelin finally laughed. Just one breathy laugh, strained and still a bit sad, but a laugh nonetheless. It was enough. “When you say it like that, he really should have given us more.”
Motivated by the light returning to her eyes, Rowan reached for the shopping bag he’d set down beside them.
“I got you something.”
Aelin took the bag with two hands and started pulling out the present within.
A gasp. “Rowan, is this the–”
“It’s not real,” he rushed to explain as she pulled the faux spider silk quilt out of the bag. “They have manufactured silk now, and it’s not quite as soft, but it’s much more affordable–”
She cut him off with a deep kiss, dropping the quilt to the ground and throwing her arms around his neck. When they finally pulled apart, there was silver lining her eyes. “I love it,” she said thickly. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” He smiled as Aelin plucked the quilt off the floor and wrapped it around herself. She looked ridiculous. And cozy.
“Think you can manage some dinner now?” Rowan asked, offering a hand.
One of her hands snaked out of her quilted fortress, managing to weave with his own. She grinned. “Only if you’re not the one cooking.”
AN: Have an idea for something you'd like to see in the story? A character, an object, or just a ridiculous situation? Send me a request and I'll try to work it in!
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