Cassian had not yet spoken of it. About what had occurred in those moments. About Nesta.
Cassian and my mate’s sister did not speak to each other at all.
Nesta had successfully cloistered herself in some slummy apartment across the Sidra, refusing to interact with any of us save for a few brief visits with Feyre every month.
I’d have to find a way to fix that, too.
I saw how it ate away at Feyre. I still soothed her after she awoke, frantic, from nightmares about that day in Hybern when her sisters had been Made against their will. Nightmares about the moment when Cassian was near death and Nesta was sprawled over him, shielding him from that killing blow, and Elain—Elain—had taken up Azriel’s dagger and killed the King of Hybern instead.
I rubbed my brows between my thumb and forefinger. “It’s rough now. We’re all busy, all trying to hold everything together.” Az, Cassian, and I had yet again postponed our annual five days of hunting up at the cabin this fall. Put off for next year—again. “Come home for Solstice, and we can sit down and figure out a plan for the spring.”
“Sounds like a festive event.”
With my Court of Dreams, it always was.
But I made myself ask, “Is Devlon one of the would-be rebels?”
I prayed it wasn’t true. I resented the male and his backwardness, but he’d been fair with Cassian, Azriel, and me under his watch. Treated us to the same rights as full-blooded Illyrian warriors. Still did that for all the bastard-born under his command. It was his absurd ideas about females that made me want to throttle him. Mist him. But if he had to be replaced, the Mother knew who would take his position.
Cassian shook his head. “I don’t think so. Devlon shuts down any talk like that. But it only makes them more secretive, which makes it harder to find out who’s spreading this bullshit around.”
I nodded, standing. I had a meeting in Cesere with the two priestesses who had survived Hybern’s massacre a year ago regarding how to handle pilgrims who wanted to come from outside our territory. Being late wouldn’t lend any favors to my arguments to delay such a thing until the spring. “Keep an eye on it for the next few days, then come home. I want you there two nights before Solstice. And for the day after.”
A hint of a wicked grin. “I assume our Solstice-day tradition will still be on, then. Despite you now being such a grown-up, mated male.”
I winked at him. “I’d hate for you Illyrian babies to miss me.”
Cassian chuckled. There were indeed some Solstice traditions that never grew tiresome, even after the centuries. I was almost at the door when Cassian said, “Is …” He swallowed.
I spared him the discomfort of trying to mask his interest. “Both sisters will be at the house. Whether they want to or not.”
“Nesta will make things unpleasant if she decides she doesn’t want to be there.”
“She’ll be there,” I said, grinding my teeth, “and she’ll be pleasant. She owes Feyre that much.”
Cassian’s eyes flickered. “How is she?”
I didn’t bother to put any sort of spin on it. “Nesta is Nesta. She does what she wants, even if it kills her sister. I’ve offered her job after job, and she refuses them all.” I sucked on my teeth. “Perhaps you can talk some sense into her over Solstice.”
Cassian’s Siphons gleamed atop his hands. “It’d likely end in violence.”
It indeed would. “Then don’t say a word to her. I don’t care—just keep Feyre out of it. It’s her day, too.”
Because this Solstice … it was her birthday. Twenty-one years old.
It hit me for a moment, how small that number was.
My beautiful, strong, fierce mate, shackled to me—
“I know what that look means, you bastard,” Cassian said roughly, “and it’s bullshit. She loves you—in a way I’ve never seen anybody love anyone.”
“It’s hard sometimes,” I admitted, staring toward the snow-coated field outside the house, the training rings and dwellings beyond it, “to remember that she picked it. Picked me. That it’s not like my parents, shoved together.”
Cassian’s face turned uncharacteristically solemn, and he remained quiet for a moment before he said, “I get jealous sometimes. I’d never begrudge you for your happiness, but what you two have, Rhys …” He dragged a hand through his hair, his crimson Siphon glinting in the light streaming through the window. “It’s the legends, the lies, they spin us when we’re children. About the glory and wonder of the mating bond. I thought it was all bullshit. Then you two came along.”
“She’s turning twenty-one. Twenty-one, Cassian.”
“So? Your mother was eighteen to your father’s nine hundred.”
“And she was miserable.”
“Feyre is not your mother. And you are not your father.” He looked me over. “Where is this coming from, anyway? Are things … not good?”
The opposite, actually. “I get this feeling,” I said, pacing a step, the ancient wood floorboards creaking beneath my boots, my power a writhing, living thing prowling through my veins, “that it’s all some sort of joke. Some sort of cosmic trick, and that no one—no one—can be this happy and not pay for it.”
“You’ve already paid for it, Rhys. Both of you. And then some.”
I waved a hand. “I just …” I trailed off, unable to finish the words.
Cassian stared at me for a long moment.
Then he crossed the distance between us, gathering me in an embrace so tight I could barely breathe. “You made it. We made it. You both endured enough that no one would blame you if you dan
ced off into the sunset like Miryam and Drakon and never bothered with anything else again. But you are bothering—you’re both still working to make this peace last. Peace, Rhys. We have peace, and the true kind. Enjoy it—enjoy each other. You paid the debt before it was ever a debt.”
My throat tightened, and I gripped him hard around his wings, the scales of his leathers digging into my fingers. “What about you?” I asked, pulling away after a moment. “Are you … happy?”
Shadows darkened his hazel eyes. “I’m getting there.”
A halfhearted answer.
I’d have to work on that, too. Perhaps there were threads to be pulled, woven together.
Cassian jerked his chin toward the door. “Get going, you bastard. I’ll see you in three days.”
I nodded, opening the door at last. But paused on the threshold. “Thanks, brother.”
Cassian’s crooked grin was bright, even if those shadows still guttered in his eyes. “It’s an honor, my lord.”
Cassian wasn’t entirely certain that he could deal with Devlon and his warriors without throttling them. At least, not for the next good hour or so.
And since that would do little to help quell the murmurings of discontent, Cassian waited until Rhys had winnowed out into the snow and wind before vanishing himself.
Not winnowing, though that would have been one hell of a weapon against enemies in battle. He’d seen Rhys do it with devastating results. Az, too—in the strange way that Az could move through the world without technically winnowing.
He’d never asked. Azriel certainly had never explained.
But Cassian didn’t mind his own method of moving: flying. It certainly had served him well enough in battle.
Stepping out the front door of the ancient wooden house so that Devlon and the other pricks in the sparring rings would see him, Cassian made a good show of stretching. First his arms, honed and still aching to pummel in a few Illyrian faces. Then his wings, wider and broader than theirs. They’d always resented that, perhaps more than anything else. He flared them until the strain along the powerful muscles and sinews was a pleasurable burn, his wings casting long shadows across the snow.