But this front space … Empty. Save for the tapestry I’d hung on one wall, the black of the Void mesmerizing. And a reminder. As much of a reminder as the impossible iridescence of Hope, glittering throughout. To work through loss, no matter how overwhelming. To create.
And then there were the ten easels and stools set in a circle in the middle of the gallery floor.
“Will they come?” I murmured to Ressina.
The faerie shifted on her feet, the only sign of her worry. “They said they would.”
In the month that we’d been working together, she’d become a good friend. A dear friend. Ressina’s eye for design was impeccable, good enough that I’d asked her to help me plan the river-house. That’s what I was calling it. Since river-manor … No. House it would be, even if it was the largest home in this city. Not from any preening, but simply from practicality. From the size of our court, our family. A family that would perhaps keep growing.
But that was later. For now …
A minute passed by. Then two.
“Come on,” Ressina muttered.
“Perhaps they had the wrong time?”
But as I said it, they emerged. Ressina and I held our breath as the pack of them rounded the corner, aiming for the studio.
Ten children, High Fae and faerie, and some of their parents.
Some of them—since others were no longer alive.
I kept a warm smile on my face, even as my heart thundered with each child that passed through our door, wary and unsure, clustering near the easels. My palms sweated as the parents gathered with them, their faces less guarded, but still hesitant. Hesitant, yet hopeful.
Not just for themselves, but the children they’d brought with them.
We hadn’t advertised broadly. Ressina had reached out to some friends and acquaintances, and requested they ask around. If there were children in this city who might need a place to express the horrors that had happened during the war. If there were children who might not be able to talk about what they’d endured, but could perhaps paint or draw or sculpt it. Perhaps they wouldn’t do any of those things, but the act of creating something … it could be a balm to them.
As it was for me.
As it was for the weaver, and Ressina, and so many of the artists in this city.
Once word had gotten out, inquiries had poured in. Not just from parents or guardians, but from potential instructors. Artists in the Rainbow who were eager to help—to teach classes.
I’d instruct one a day, depending on what was required of me as High Lady. Ressina would do another. And a rotating schedule of other teachers to teach the third and fourth classes of the day. Including the weaver, Aranea, herself.
Because the response from parents and family had been overwhelming.
How soon do classes start? was the most frequent question. The close second being How much does it cost?
Nothing. Nothing, we told them. It was free. No child or family would ever pay for classes here—or the supplies.
The room filled, and Ressina and I swapped a quick, relieved look. A nervous look, too.
And when I faced the families gathered, the room open and sunny around us, I smiled once more and began.
He was waiting for me an hour and a half later.
As the last of the children flitted out, some laughing, some still solemn and hollow-eyed, he held the door open for them and their families. They all gawked, bowing their heads, and Rhys offered them a wide, easy smile in return.
I loved that smile. Loved that casual grace as he strode into the gallery, no sign of his wings today, and surveyed the still-drying paintings. Surveyed the paint splattered on my face and sweater and boots. “Rough day at the office?”
I pushed back a strand of my hair. Knowing it was likely streaked with blue paint. Since my fingers were covered in it. “You should see Ressina.”
Indeed, she’d gone into the back moments ago to wash off a face full of red paint. Courtesy of one of the children, who’d deemed it a good idea to form a bubble of all the paint to see what color it would turn, and then float it across the room. Where it collided with her face.
Rhys laughed when I showed him down the bond. “Excellent use of their budding powers, at least.”
I grinned, surveying one of the paintings beside him. “That’s what I said. Ressina didn’t find it so funny.”
Though she had. Smiling had been a little difficult, though, when so many of the children had both visible and unseen scars.
Rhys and I studied a painting by a young faerie whose parents had been killed in the attack. “We didn’t give them any detailed prompts,” I said as Rhys’s eyes roved around the painting. “We only told them to paint a memory. This is what she came up with.”
It was hard to look at. The two figures in it. The red paint. The figures in the sky, their vicious teeth and reaching claws.
“They don’t take their paintings home?”
“These will dry first, but I asked her if she wanted me to keep this somewhere special. She said to throw it out.”
Rhys’s eyes danced with worry.
I said quietly, “I want to keep it. To put in my future office. So we don’t forget.”
What had happened, what we were working for. Exactly why Aranea’s tapestry of the Night Court insignia hung on the wall here.
He kissed my cheek in answer and moved to the next painting. He laughed. “Explain this one.”
“This boy was immensely disappointed in his Solstice presents. Especially since it didn’t include a puppy. So his ‘memory’ is one he hopes to make in the future—of him and his ‘dog.’ With his parents in a doghouse instead, while he and the dog live in the proper house.”
“Mother help his parents.”
“He was the one who made the bubble.”
He laughed again. “Mother help you.”
I nudged him, laughing now. “Walk me home for lunch?”
He sketched a bow. “It would be my honor, lady.”
I rolled my eyes, shouting to Ressina that I’d be back in an hour. She called that I should take my time. The next class didn’t come until two. We’d decided to both be at these initial classes, so the parents and guardians got to know us. And the children as well. It would be two full weeks of this before we got through the entire roster of classes.
Rhys helped me with my coat, stealing a kiss before we walked out into the sunny, frigid day. The Rainbow bustled around us, artists and shoppers nodding and waving our way as we strode for the town house.
I linked my arm through his, nestling into his warmth. “It’s strange,” I murmured.
Rhys angled his head. “What is?”
I smiled. At him, at the Rainbow, at the city. “This feeling, this excitement to wake up every day. To see you, and to work, and to just be here.”
Nearly a year ago, I’d told him the opposite. Wished for the opposite. His face softened, as if he, too, remembered it. And understood.
I went on, “I know there’s much to do. I know there are things we’ll have to face. A few sooner than later.” Some of the stars in his eyes banked at that. “I know there’s the Illyrians, and the human queens, and the humans themselves, and all of it. But despite them …” I couldn’t finish. Couldn’t find the right words. Or speak them without falling apart in public.
So I leaned into him, into that unfailing strength, and said down the bond, You make me so very happy. My life is happy, and I will never stop being grateful that you are in it.
I looked up to find him not at all ashamed to have tears slipping down his cheeks in public. I brushed a few away before the chill wind could freeze them, and Rhys whispered in my ear, “I will never stop being grateful to have you in my life, either, Feyre darling. And no matter what lies ahead”—a small, joyous smile at that—“we will face it together. Enjoy every moment of it together.”
I leaned into him
again, his arm tightening around my shoulders. Around the top of the arm inked with the tattoo we both bore, the promise between us. To never part, not until the end.
And even after that.
I love you, I said down the bond.
What’s not to love?
Before I could elbow him, Rhys kissed me again, breathless and swift. To the stars who listen, Feyre.
I brushed a hand over his cheek to wipe away the last of his tears, his skin warm and soft, and we turned down the street that would lead us home. Toward our future—and all that waited within it.
To the dreams that are answered, Rhys.
The black water at her thrashing heels was freezing.
Not the bite of winter chill, or even the burn of solid ice, but something colder. Deeper.
It was the cold of the gaps between stars, the cold of a world before light.
The cold of hell—true hell, she realized, as she bucked and kicked against the strong hands trying to shove her into that Cauldron.
True hell, because that was Elain lying on the floor, the red-haired, one-eyed Fae male hovering over her. Because those were pointed ears poking through the sodden gold-brown hair, and that was an immortal glow resting upon Elain’s fair skin.
True hell, worse than the inky depths that waited mere inches from her toes.
Put her in, the hard-faced king ordered.
And the sound of that voice, the male who had done this to Elain …
She knew that she was going into the Cauldron. Knew she would lose this fight.
Knew no one was coming to save her, not sobbing Feyre, not Feyre’s gagged former lover, not her devastated new mate. Not Cassian, broken and bleeding on the floor, still trying to rise on trembling arms.
The king—he had done this. To Elain. To Cassian.
And to her.