Azriel set Elain down on the tiled shower floor, but he didn’t let her go. He reached over and turned the faucet. Warm water rained down on them. They shivered together for a few moments until their bodies warmed. Slowly, he turned up the temperature.
He wasn’t sure how long they stood there, how long he might have listened to the beating of her heart through the sound of the falling water. Her head was pressed against his chest, and he wondered if she were listening to his heart, too.
When they’d both stopped shivering, Elain lifted her head. “Where are we?”
Water dripped from his face and hair as he looked down at her. “My house.”
Elain rarely had flashbacks from those horrific moments stuck in the Caldron. She had the odd nightmare every now and then, but mostly the visions haunting her weren’t from her past but from the future. The visions were full of terrifying possibilities. The Caldron had given her that gift of sight. Yet, it seemed whenever she least expected it the past would creep in, and those moments of sheer terror when she was kidnapped and plunged into a pool of life and death would squeeze all life from her body and numb her mind.
It hadn’t been long since Elain had made Velaris her permanent residence. After the war, they came back to a city that was still tirelessly working to maintain its thriving atmosphere and restore itself after the Hybern attack. It was hard for Elain to imagine the City of Starlight any more perfect than it was, yet she knew looking at the few boarded windows and old scars on walkways that there was work to be done. That day, Elain had joined Feyre in volunteering to help some of the businesses to prepare their shops for their re-opening. It felt good to use her hands for healing.
Feyre had just finished using paint to help stain a new window for the shops front display and Elain was putting final touches on a flower arrangement when Rhys walked through the stores front, Mor and Azriel following closely behind him.
The High Lord of the Night Court, now her brother-in-law, bowed theatrically, “Would you two fair ladies be interested in joining us for lunch?”
Elain tried and failed to restrain a giggle when Feyre rolled her eyes at her mate. “Always with the theatrics,” though she walked to the High Lord and leaned in for a short, sweet kiss.
Elain smiled at them, “Just a moment!” Elain turned back to the bouquet, tweaking the setting of a couple flowers when she felt rather than heard her favorite new friend approach her.
Azriel tipped his chin at the bouquet, “Did you choose those flowers for a reason?”
Elain nodded her head enthusiastically, “Stephanotis for good fortune, Statice flowers for success.”
Azriel looked at her with appreciation in his gaze, “Both things they’ll receive in abundance now I’m sure.
Instead of getting to reply, Elain’s hand was grabbed by Mor who told the rest of them, “Sevenda’s is waiting and I’m starving. Hurry up.”
They travelled in their pack through the city, Mor with her arm around Elain’s shoulders. Feeling so carefree and happy in the company of her friends was something Elain cherished very much. She was finally reaching a point where thinking of her past life as a human didn’t hurt. Each moment of each day the yearning faded, especially with the company of those around her. She didn’t feel helpless around them, but a member of a team.
As they crossed the bridge over the Sidra, she looked behind her to see Azriel bringing up the rear of their group. Mor, Rhys, Cassian all helped her feel like part of the family. But Azriel – it was Azriel who helped her to find a purpose. Azriel, who believed in her and helped her believe in herself. They locked eyes and she saw his crinkle at the sides, he smiled at her like he knew the thoughts of contentment dancing through her head.
Suddenly, she heard the shout of a woman down the bridge from them, running in their direction. Elain followed her line of sight to see a young girl about to fall over the edge into the river below. Elain moved without thinking. The girl had pitched forward, but Elain reached her and pulled her back from the ledge. From the motion, Elain was thrown off-balance because she was still getting used to this new body of hers. Unable to get her footing, she stumbled over the side of the bridge.
Her body hit the water, completely submerged. She was no longer in Velaris, but in a yawning, watery void. Terror swept through her. Elain tried to thrash her way out of the void, to find the lip of the cauldron like she had tried to do months before. She panicked because there was no end to the blackness around her. She was stuck, she was too weak to fight, and her lungs were burning and filling with water.
Two solid arms wrapped around her and her body jerked. The arms were dragging her. And her body stopped fighting.
In the next moment, her body came back to consciousness. She felt breath pump into her lungs then a force press into her torso, once, twice, three times. A surge of water erupted from her mouth and she heard a groan of relief above her. When the water was emptied from her body, a sob wracked her in its wake. Again and again she convulsed with silent tears. She hated that darkness, hated the weakness and helplessness that followed her all those weeks after she had changed. She didn’t want to be that person. Not anymore.
Those same two arms snaked around her shaking form, bringing her into the warm body they were attached to. Elain realized it was Azriel as he whispered into her ear, “Shhh, El. The Caldron can’t touch you. You’re here, you’re free, and you’re strong. Come on, El. Breathe.”
Elain hiccupped into his chest, dragging a long and slow breath into her lungs. “Come on, again.” Stealing some of his strength, she breathed in again. She felt a hand rubbing down her back and his matching breaths puffed into her wet hair.
Choking out her words, Elain said, “I never learned to swim. I can’t swim.” She heard the male still rubbing her back say, “We’ll just have to teach you then. You can conquer this too.”
Elain nodded her head, “Thank you. I’d like to wait for a little while before our first lesson, though.”
She felt him laugh against her, could hear his heart thundering underneath her ear.
“Understandable. Saving children is admirable, but you scared the shit out of us, El.”
Elain closed her eyes and against her instincts to curl into herself tighter and cry into Azriel’s chest some more, said, “I’m here. I’m free. I’m strong.”
She felt a scared and calloused finger move a strand of wet hair stuck to her face back into position. “Sometimes I have to tell myself the same thing. Just the right amount of darkness can make me feel like I’m back in that cellar, no light and no hope. But we’re free. We’re in a better place. Surrounded by good people.”
Elain leaned back and stared at Azriel’s face, his profile was something that she imagined Feyre could have painted as an example of the most perfect face. This face, that was so beautiful, belonged to someone that had endured too much cruelty. Through it all, his soul was forged to match his face. She couldn’t help but marvel at his goodness.
Elain looked at him and said, “If you ever need an ear. I will always listen. You listened to me when I most needed it. I’ll always do the same for you.” She felt his hands move to grip her to him. It felt like a thank you.
“And I don’t know who hurt you, Az. But I hope they burn in hell.”
Azriel snorted and stared at her incredulously, “Easy, Sunshine.”
Elain kissed his cheek. Her body was still shaking, but now only from the cold. She stood up, her dress sticking to her body indecently. She caught Azriel staring at her, he cheeks flushed and she cleared her throat, “Now can you dry these clothes, or is that only something Rhys can do?”
From above their place on the bank she could hear Mor’s laughter and Rhys saying something like, Must I always do everything? With a snap from Rhys’ fingers on the bridge, her water-logged body was dry. Reaching forward she grabbed Azriel’s hand and squeezed, leading them both back to their family.
Morrigan: Her power is truth, but she’s been living a lie.
Amren: The True Immortal, the Destroyer incarnate, a plague given form—yet she left her Father’s realm, fell from grace, because she was born with a curious heart and wondered what it would be like to love and hate and build.
Cassian: The Prince of Bastards, God of Warriors, bravest of all Illyrians—yet he is a coward at love.
Nesta: An unmoving, unflinching pillar of steel and flame, Goddess of Death, but she feels more deeply than anyone.
Azriel: Singer of shadows, master of secrets, but his deepest secrets are written on his face.
Elain: The kind hearted seer if all, yet no one sees her.
Rhysand: The vicious, deadly High Lord of Night, feared throughout the land—yet he would gladly sacrifice himself for those he loves.
Feyre: The Cursebreaker with a human heart, the starving Bride of Spring—the wolf they did not see coming.
Stryga: The Weaver, an old God of Death, she consumed life because she could not live.
The Bone Carver: The forgotten twin of the Weaver, an old God of Life, he obsessed over death because he, himself, could not die.
The Suriel: Ancient, all knowing, and hideous like a nightmare—but inside lay the heart of a dreamer.
Bryaxis: The face of deepest fears, drinker of dread, the presence in the darkness … but all it wanted was light.