ever present shadow

Holes - A Nessian Fic

For @feyre-cursebreaker who asked for Nessian + silence and to be based on this delightful and not at all soul destroying piece of fanart by @meabhd. This is what I came up with. sorry it took a while! Thank you @widowshulk and @pterodactylichexameter for reading this over for me! 

Title: Holes

Summary: Nesta returns to her rooms and finds an exhausted Cassian alone there, waiting for her, a letter for her held in his hands. 

Teaser: ‘Shreds remain of those once beautiful wings. And they had been beautiful. Strange how she only realises that, lets herself think and fully appreciate that now that they’re almost gone. They had been alien and frightening and upon first seeing them she had wanted to keep them, both of them, away from Elain. Those hulking brutes with the unnatural wings looming over them, ever present shadows at their backs.’

Link: AO3

Nesta finally makes it back to her rooms, smoothing down the front of her dress, cursing her overly long limbs and the difficulties they cause her. The door to her bedchamber is slightly ajar when she reaches it however and she pauses, one hand outstretched. Chewing her lip she wonders if she ought to fetch someone, sure that she had left the doors firmly closed before leaving. Then she decides to hell with it, the mood she’s in she almost wants someone to be in there, try something, give her an excuse to hurt someone.

Opening the door, hoping it appears as though she had never questioned doing so, she strides purposefully into the room. And is almost immediately brought up short by what she finds inside.

Cassian sits alone on the edge of her bed. Her first impulse would have been, should have been, to snap at him and demand that he leave, now. His scent fills the cool air like a heady perfume, clinging to everything, drenching her in him. He perches on the bed as though it’s only right for him to be there, as though he belongs here, in her chambers, the one part of this damned kingdom that is wholly hers.

She should fold her arms over her chest and coldly ask him to get out but…But the words won’t come. They lodge and stick in her throat and she can’t get them out. Above her surprise and indignation at finding him here of all places is the horror that builds over the sick churning of her stomach. It throws up new emotions that she can’t contend with and doesn’t understand.

This is the first time she’s seen him since Hybern. The first time she’s seen him since she was Made and he was broken. The first time she’s seen him since everything between them was shattered, he no longer the cocky, self-assured army commander who came to her to deliver his High Lord’s messages; she no longer the cold, indifferent human woman who had sneered at him and pushed him away because that was easy and what he represented, what he offered, was hard.

Standing in that doorway, seeing him there, before she even opens her mouth, before either of them speaks, she knows that everything has changed between them. The dynamic they once had no longer exists and nothing about this is easy anymore. Least of all pushing him away. They’re…connected now. In a way she can’t explain but the thick vein of emotion that pulses inside her like a river rushing through her blood and bones and heart is more than she can stand and she can’t look at him like this and just send him away…She can’t.

His wings are draped out on the bed behind him, tattered black silk pooling over her soft lilac sheets. Her heart launches itself up into her throat as though for a moment it had thought of going to him, gifting itself to him, as though that would help. But at the last moment it changed its mind, lodging there instead, and no matter how hard she tries she can’t swallow it back down again where it belongs.

His wings. His wings.

She had been there in Hybern, had seen him flare them wide to protect his brother, but…She had never expected this. This ragged ruin, both of the wings and of the male they belonged to. She had thought the Fae would have healed him, had thought they could have healed anything, had thought he would be alright but…

Shreds remain of those once beautiful wings. And they had been beautiful. Strange how she only realises that, lets herself think and fully appreciate that now…Now that they’re almost gone. They had been alien and frightening and upon first seeing them she had wanted to keep them, both of them, away from Elain. Those hulking brutes with the unnatural wings looming over them, ever present shadows at their backs.

Now…Now he seems…diminished. Smaller somehow, so much smaller, so much less without them. There’s an empty space behind him, and within, which should be filled by those wings and the howl of wind that rushed past them whenever he took flight. Instead there are holes that can never be filled by anything else. She can see the tattoo that runs the length of his spine, the detailed Illyrian markings set down in a thin column, usually covered by his sword or blocked out by the vast expanses of black membrane. It feels like a secret that she should never have known, a secret that the world should never have been able to see. It feels oddly personal, oddly intimate and a part of her wants to trace the dark, swirling markings with her finger while the other wants to look away.

It hurts, she realises with a jolt. She hurts for him, for what he gave up to protect someone he loved so fiercely. There’s a deep, aching sadness that lies deep in the hollows of her heart, filling them with his pain as she looks at him.

For the first time she wonders, truly wonders, what it would be like to fly. Then she wonders what it would be like to fly and be told that you never would again. She finds herself gripping the doorframe for support at that.

She sees it again in her mind’s eye, the blast of power that had torn him apart and his scream…His scream had ripped through her and sometimes echoed in her dreams, a hideous melody to accompany her own death and rebirth. There had been nothing but silence in that Cauldron when it had torn her apart and shoved her back together again without a thought, without a care, that she would rather have drowned in there than returned as she was. Her own screams had been empty, her throat and lungs flooded by the Cauldron’s black waters and no sound had ever managed to break free of the iron cage she had been held in.

In her dreams, though…In her dreams there is Cassian. His voice manages to break through to her even as she feels her heart stop beating, feels herself die. His voice rings through her, shattering along her bones as though it is her that he screams for in those moments. His voice fills the emptiness that had haunted her inside that Cauldron. Terrible as it was, she thinks she would prefer the silence. She never wants to hear that sound, that agony from him, ever again.

Nesta realises she’s still hovering in the doorway and hasn’t moved. It’s as though she’s been fixed to this spot, bidden to stare at those ruined wings for the rest of her days, the worst kind of torment. She considers turning and simply leaving, chased out of her own rooms by the spectre of the male that made her feel….What? Perhaps that he made her feel anything at all is enough.

Then he turns to her and she knows that she can’t leave him, any more than she can ask him to leave. His wings, his torn, ruined wings are nothing compared to his eyes. They hold all of the vast, black emptiness that she had drowned in until it had killed her. But this…This hollow darkness in him she finds she can’t walk away from. Even though every instinct within her newly Made body screams at her to run from it, she finds herself walking towards him instead.

Hesitantly, she sits down on the bed beside him. His eyes remain fixed on hers for a long moment before he looks away again, visibly wincing as he shifts his wings with the movement. Nesta watches him feeling, for the first time in her life, a hopelessness that tunnels her out until she feels as empty as he is. Even in that hovel, unable to provide for her sisters, unable to hunt as Feyre had, unable to do anything to help them she had not felt this hopeless. She had had her plan, her spite, her bid to see what their father would do if they did indeed begin to truly starve and die. She had had something, bitter and cruel and meaningless as it might have seemed. But in the face of this…She has nothing.

What could she say to him now? I’m sorry. It will be alright. They will heal. So will you. He would only snarl at her for every one and then likely leave. She doesn’t know why, doesn’t know why it causes her soul to shrink back, pressing itself hard against the very edge of herself in horror, but she can’t bear that. She can’t bear him walking away from her just now. So she says nothing. She only sits there beside him, letting the silence stretch.

He doesn’t break it either, it simply endures between them. Until she looks down and notices a piece of paper held limply in one of his hands. Glancing up at him he refuses to meet her eyes and she considers leaving it, pretending that she hasn’t seen but then she sees a word, the single word at the top of the page and she finds she can’t look away. Slowly, she reaches out, the tips of her fingers lightly scraping his hand as she closes her own around the paper.

She gently pulls it free and he offers no resistance, allowing it to slide from his loose grip without protest, as though he barely notices. There are only three words printed on the note, in a hand she knows is Cassian’s, big and bold and clear, the ink pressed into the paper as firmly and meaningfully as though it were skin, the nib of a quill the needle, the words a tattoo, a commitment, whenever they’re set down by his hand.

Her name is printed at the top and on the line below he has only managed two words. ‘I’m sorry.’ The space beside them is filled with a single black dot that has melted through the thin paper. As though he had placed the quill upon its surface, intending to write more but it had become stuck, suspended in silence until it had pierced the paper and he had given up.

A hard lump forms in her throat as she stares down at those words that he had written, words that he had written for her and tries to understand. Glancing at him she feels something throb and pull deep inside her chest and she hears an echo in her head, like a half-remembered song. ‘I will stand on that battlefield again, Nesta Archeron, to protect this house—your people. I can think of no better way to end my existence than to defend those who need it most.’ Instead he had watched while she had died and…And perhaps that hurt him almost as much as those ruined wings.

The lump in her throat forms itself into tears that stain her eyes.

Blinking rapidly she turns to look at him again. His eyes are still distant and unfocused, fixed on the same spot they’ve been whenever he hasn’t been looking at her. She follows his gaze to the huge window that cuts a chunk from her bedroom wall to reveal the world beyond. Lacking glass, like all of the windows here, it provides free access to the waiting skies beyond.

Tension ripples within Cassian’s muscles at her side, as though he’s fighting something deep within him that roars for him to launch himself from that window. It terrifies her that she doesn’t know if it’s because over five hundred years worth of instinct burns in his blood and urges him to spread the wings the wind that sings to him does not yet know he’s lost and fly. Or if it is because he knows they’re ruined and some part of him longs to fall. She doesn’t know.

Again, words fail her. She doesn’t even understand what she’s seeing, what she’s feeling, so how can she find anything to say to him to express that? Instead she lets instinct drive her, heedless for once of thought and consequence, she shifts a little closer to him. Both hands loop around his arm, holding onto him, anchoring them, him to her and her to him. She feels less lost when she has something to hold on to. Despite the deadened cold that haunts his eyes he remains warm. That dares a faint flicker of hope to pulse inside her.

Slowly, he turns his head to look at her, dragging his gaze away from the beckoning heavens that are slowly fading from a clear blue to a rich, velvety purple. Inviting, even to her, who has never felt the sky lightly kiss her cheek as it embraces her, to him…But he looks away from it and looks down at her instead. For a moment she’s afraid that she’ll find that emptiness in his eyes again, that he’ll allow her hands to slip away from him as easily and indifferently as he had allowed her to take the note from between his fingers. And she knows that she can’t bear that, can’t bear it if he pulls away. She knows that that, above everything else that has happened to her these past few weeks, would break her.

He does not pull away. His eyes soften as he looks down at her, her armour of ice and steel melted away from her like a shed skin. They remain on the bed, clothed and separated by a healthy distance, neither breaking the silence between them, but as she looks into those raw, unguarded hazel eyes she has never felt more vulnerable in her life. She has also never felt so safe.

Swallowing hard she feels the tear slide down her cheek before she realises that she’s given herself permission to cry in front of him. As though on instinct, as though he can’t help himself, as though he barely even realises that he’s doing it- a call from her soul answered without thought by his- he reaches up and softly wipes the tear away with the ball of his thumb, as he had done all those weeks ago.

Drawing a ragged breath into her lungs, the gesture, the intimate contact, gives her the burst of near reckless courage she needed to move in closer. She doesn’t stop until her body presses against his and she’s struck by how much larger, how much stronger than her he is. But she has never once looked at him and seen a weapon or a male made to hurt or to wound. She has only ever thought of him as a shield, as a safe point, as the one she would run to if she felt threatened or scared.

It’s only when she presses their bodies so closely together that she might have been determined to fuse them into one that she realises he’s shaking. Looking up she sees with a jolt of surprise that he’s crying, silent tears streaming from his eyes and falling quietly down into her lap. Nesta finds herself weeping as well as he gently rests his forehead against hers, leaning on her even as she leans on him. For all that he has lost and everything she has become, she cries with him.

The crumpled note she had held so tightly in her hand, ink now blurring, falls from her thoughtless fingers to the floor at their feet. Nesta wraps her arms around his chest, pulling him closer, holding onto him, and he wraps an arm around her, tucking her close to him.

They break the quiet between them at the same time, with the same words. Their voices are a blend of rough and soft, high and low, but both raw and tempered by the same fire when they whisper into the silence as one, “I’m sorry.”

*****

Soul ink

Inked your name
Upon my flesh

Those golden eyes
Fell upon the markings
For but a fleeting moment

Ignored henceforth

Inked your name
Into my soul

Tearing myself
From the insides
For those golden eyes
To finally bear witness

Ignorance followed her
An ever-present shadow

Open wounds
To be healed through
These coarse hands

The soul must remain within
Carrying her memories
Inked into my soul

–You’ve met her once before. She’s from Ceres.
– I think I remember.
– She needs someone to teach her how to do the marriage
 ceremony. Will you?
– Of course.

And so she was here, with Bravo as her ever-present shadow at her
back, at the ambassadorial suite, to meet Seamus’ new wife.

It was a strange affair. She’d never heard of a marriage besides Eldina
Belroses’ in which the husband had met his wife beforehand. Yet, here
they were. Bravo knocked lightly at the door to Seamus’ suite, and then
they stood there, waiting.

Mais j'espère
Que tu crieras mon nom, cloué sur un écueil,
Jusqu'au bout supplicié ! Je te suivrai, absente
Armée de sombres feux, puis, glacée par la mort,
Présente, ombre, en tous lieux ! Tu expieras, barbare !

And I hope
You will cry out my name, pinned to a reef
Suffering until the end! And I will follow you, ghostly,
Armed with dark fires, cold as death,
Ever-present, a constant shadow! And you will expiate, you savage!
—  Virgile, L’Enéide, Liber IV (tr. by Olivier Sers)