Cassian braced his forearm against the table and stretched his other hand out, making grabbing motions in the air. Rhys slid the bottle and a glass over to him. He poured a thumb’s length, swirled it, and inhaled. The rich aroma filled his nose and he took a sip, rolling it in his mouth before swallowing. It burned a fiery trail down his throat, spreading heat through his stomach. Leaning back in his chair, he held the glass up to the waning light, studying the color. “That’s some good shit. Where you been hiding this?”
His brother was leaning back in his chair, eyes closed, rubbing his temples. “Under my bed.”
Cassian snorted. “Under your bed?”
“How the hell else was I going to keep it from Mor?”
“Good point.” They sat in silence for a while, sipping their drinks, wings extended, soaking in the last of the warmth as the sun dropped behind the rooftops and faelights bloomed out around them. “What the hell am I doing?” he finally asked, almost under his breath as he leaned forward and rested his face on his arms.
Rhys crossed his arms , dropped his chin on his chest, and looked at him, just a touch of humor playing around his mouth. “You’re a glutton for pain, brother. This is just another battlefield and you’re going to keep throwing yourself in there and damn the consequences.”
Ah, well, he couldn’t argue with that. Neither of them even looked up as Azriel dropped out of the air, landed lightly on the roof, and stalked over to pour himself a drink. He slumped into another chair, and eyed the other two. “So I take it things went well,” he said drily. “No mates tonight?” He took a sip of his drink and raised the glass, squinting at it. “This is nice. Where did it come from?”
“Under his bed,” Cassian replied. Azriel just nodded in response, as if that was a logical source of high-quality, and no doubt very expensive, spirits. “And I’m sitting here drinking because of my so-called mate.” He sat up again and rubbed a broad hand up the back of his neck, ruffling his hair. “The camp tour went better than expected, actually, except for that one prick you already took care of,” he expanded. It was true. Not only had they found Sabine and Brisa to help with female integration among the warriors, but the new camp lords were all managing to introduce the policies Rhys had laid out with relatively little grumbling. One advantage of being able to hand-pick people, he supposed. “Now we just have to win over the rest of them. Which means visiting more of them. Which is also why I’m sitting here drinking.”
Rhys rustled his wings. “How’d it go with the two you and Mor picked up for me?” Cassian felt a twinge of guilt. He’d forgotten Mor had brought the female here in all the chaos that he and Nesta had landed in at that second camp. While he had been recruiting Sabine and Brisa, Rhys had gone ahead to straighten out the shitstorm that had arisen. A veteran from the war had taken exception to a female who was training with Siphons and had beaten him in what was supposed to be a friendly target competition. He’d waited until she was returning to her tent that night and attacked her with a knife, nearly severing the main muscle on her left wing before her screams brought the rest of the camp. The warlord had thrown the prick in the holding cell where he had sat for two days awaiting the High Lord’s arrival. Rhys, in a cold rage after seeing the female’s condition, had nearly misted him on sight but fatigue of bloodshed had stayed his hand. Instead, he’d called in Azriel to mete out the shadowsinger’s version of justice. This had caused a near-brawl between the old guard who thought the warrior had been well within his rights and the younger generation who wanted him to pay for his crimes, one that only fear of Rhys’ power had kept from turning into slaughter until Cassian and Nesta had dropped into the middle of it. The sight of the Commander who had fought so valiantly in the war snarling at them, Siphons flaring, had finally subdued the protest from the older camp males but there was still tension.
Azriel’s cold face remained impassive but he didn’t try to keep the hatred from his voice or his shadows from curling around him as he told them what he’d done. How the male had protested that no bitch was going to be able to hold up under the pressure of battle, that they should all be clipped so they could breed more male warriors whether they wanted to or not. How he’d used Truth-Teller to create the same injuries the male had inflicted on the female, then dumped him in the middle of the mountains. If he made it to a camp, he could call in a healer. Otherwise… “But the female is doing fairly well. The camp healer did a good job getting her stabilized. Mor said they should be able to save the wing. But I’m not sure how it’ll affect recruitment for that camp.” It was a good point. Other females may be reluctant to join after the assault.
“Hopefully they’ll remember that the other members of the camp stepped in and stopped him before he did more,” Rhys said, “and realize that we won’t tolerate abuse of any recruit, male or female.” The other two nodded and fell back into silence. Cassian tipped back the last of his drink and reached for the bottle again, pouring himself a more generous measure.
Footsteps sounded on the stairs, and Lucien emerged then pulled up short. “I didn’t realize you were back. Is this little gathering open to people without wings?”
“Yes,” Rhys replied, “as long as you’ve got a cock and balls. We’re mate-free tonight.”
Cassian snorted, eyeing Lucien. “Not sure you qualify, Fox Boy.”
Lucien just grinned. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”
“Now, now,” Azriel interjected, “that sort of thing should be done behind closed doors.” Cassian shrugged and held the bottle out to Lucien. Rhys procured a glass, and Lucien poured his drink and sat, an amused glint still evident in his russet eye.
“What’s eating you?” he asked, gesturing with his chin at Cassian.
“It’s more a question of who’s not,” Azriel murmured. Cassian shot him a glare while Rhys and Lucien chuckled.
“Trouble in paradise?” Lucien asked innocently.
Cassian bristled at the red-headed male. It was one thing for his brothers to tease him, but this sly new member of the court hadn’t earned the right. “Shouldn’t you be taking care of your own mate?”
“I already did,” Lucien replied smoothly, “then came up here for some fresh air. I hadn’t realized I’d just be choking on testosterone and frustration.” The three warriors stared at him for a second before roaring with laughter. Rhys raised his empty glass at Lucien in a silent toast, then snagged himself a refill. “No, seriously, were there problems on your trip?”
Rhys shook his head. “Nothing more than the usual. It’s not easy trying to bring an entire culture around. But I agree it appears something is chafing my brother’s ass and I too would love to know what it is.”
“Other than his undersized pants?”
Cassian shot Lucien a look while he decided what to say. “Well, you might not know but Nesta and I…”
“We know,” chorused the other three males. “By the Cauldron, we know,” Lucien added under his breath.
“Right,” he said, feeling oddly self-conscious, “well, when we were flying to the camp that first day Nesta may have suggested that we try something new. In the air.”
Azriel inhaled his sip of liquor and started sputtering and coughing, and Rhys got up and went over to clap him on the back. Lucien sat up straighter, rubbing his chin. “I’d never thought of that.”
“Of what?” Cassian snapped.
“That you guys could do that. It certainly would add variety.”
Rhys gave him a knowing look. “It’s surprisingly challenging, though.”
Cassian and Azriel gaped at him. “You’ve done it?”
Rhys snorted. “Of course. Are you honestly telling me in the past five centuries you guys haven’t?”
“Not until now,” Cassian replied while Azriel shook his head. “Wait, have you done it with Feyre?”
“Well, no. Not yet.”
“An oversight,” he said with a shrug. “One I must rectify immediately, come to mention it.”
“Just don’t do it anywhere Nesta might see you,” Cassian warned.
Lucien was leaning back in his chair, watching them with a smirk. “I have never been jealous of the wings until this exact moment.”
“Don’t get me started on you,” Cassian warned. “You should be more cognizant of the fact that family members might be flying overhead the next time you have Elain go down on you up here in broad daylight.”
Rhys and Azriel both started and looked to Lucien, eyes narrowed, but Lucien was utterly unembarrassed. “Cognizant?”
“Yeah, it means -“
“Oh, I know what it means,” he interrupted, smile broadening, “I just had no idea you could string so many syllables together. I’m impressed. And will take that under advisement.”
Cassian shook his head. “Just be glad I didn’t have Nesta with me. Or Feyre. And you should be jealous of the wings,” he said, as he slowly stretched them to their full span, “for lots of reasons.”
Azriel cleared his throat. “So what happened?” Returning them to more pressing matters.
“Well, first I dropped her -“
“I caught her again!” Defensively. “And then we figured it out and it was…perfect. Well, not perfect, it’s really hard to control your altitude when things are happening, but you get it. Then afterwards, it seemed like that…barrier she holds was coming down, you know? Like I was going to finally be able to, I don’t know, really reach her through the bond. But as soon as she realized that she froze me out again, and it just hasn’t been the same.”
Rhys was looking at him with an incredulous expression as he said, “What the hell are you two usually doing? We could hear you all over the camps! You’re worse than Feyre and I ever were!”
“That is so not true, you did not have to live with you when you first got together,” Cassian snapped. Rhys looked vaguely puzzled while he tried to untangle that. Lucien looked slightly ill. “Besides, that’s not even what I mean. It’s just, I thought she was finally going to accept me, the bond, but now…It’s never going to happen.” His voice was forlorn. Rhys and Az exchanged looks, not sure what to say. Silence fell for a few minutes, broken only by a clink of glass against the table as Lucien set down his drink.
He leaned forward, fingers splayed across his knees. “Let me get this straight. You are talking about an Archeron sister.” Cassian nodded. “The most, er, challenging of all the Archeron sisters.” Cassian bristled at this characterization of his mate but Lucien continued, oblivious. “You’re complaining to Rhysand and I, who are mated to the other Archeron sisters, about the difficulty of establishing the bond. When both of our mates were in love with other males when we met them. Hell, they were both engaged! Rhys had to put Feyre back together when she basically wanted to die before she could recognize the bond, and I had to try to build a relationship with Elain when she had had her heart broken by Graysen and was completely traumatized by the Cauldron and terrified of her visions. I had to make myself leave when I wanted nothing more than to stay, so she could have enough breathing room to start to heal. We did everything we could to be a stabilizing force for them, to figure out what they needed when they couldn’t or wouldn’t tell us.” Lucien was breathing heavily, golden skin flushed, russet eye hard. “But after you and Nesta saved each other in the war, you walked away from her. You promised her you would fight for her, then you walked away and more or less ignored her for months. And you expect it to be easy? She can barely let her own sisters see who she really is, and they’ve always been there for her. You expect her to just drop her barriers and welcome you on in?”
The three Illyrians were staring at him, mouths agape, identical expressions of pure shock on their faces at the outburst. He stood up and leaned across the table at Cassian, snarling, the most aggressive expression any of them had ever seen on his face. “Buck up. Get over yourself. She’s willing to let you in her bed, accept that miracle for what it is and be patient. Figure out what she needs and stop thinking about what you want. Don’t run again or you’ll never get another chance.”
He turned to head back downstairs to Elain, shaking his head, muttering something under his breath.
“What was that?” Cassian challenged, recovering his voice. Lucien stiffened and turned slowly.
“I said, ‘Cauldron boil me, how the hell are you not still a virgin?’” he half-yelled across the rooftop. He turned back again to come face-to-face with Feyre. She seemed to be warring between anxiety and amusement at the lot of them. “I’m not sure you’re allowed up here,” he said to her, “unless you can use your shape-shifting to grow…never mind.” He pushed past her and went down the stairs.
Feyre shook her head as she approached the males still seated around the table. Cassian was opening and closing his mouth but nothing was coming out. “Lucien got your tongue?” she asked innocently. He just stood, shook his head, and launched into the air. She turned to her mate. “What the hell are you guys doing up here?” She spotted the nearly empty bottle on the table. “Besides drinking all the good liquor.”
The two remaining males broke down into helpless laughter. “Cassian just had his ass handed to him by Fox Boy,” Rhys gasped out.
“That was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen,” Azriel added.
Rhys stood, gathering Feyre in his arms and kissed the top of her head. “I have a new project for us,” he said into her hair. She wrapped her arms around his waist and leaned into him.
“Okay. I’m tired though, can we just go to bed?”
He chuckled and pulled away a little, putting an arm around her shoulders. “Of course. Just remind me to tell you in the morning. ’Night, brother.”
Azriel nodded in response and spread his wings. “Cognizant,” he said to himself, shaking his head, and shot into the sky before wheeling towards the House of Wind.
“What was all that really about?” Feyre asked.
“Cassian was feeling sorry for himself and Lucien wasn’t having it. You Archeron sisters. You’re going to be the death of us.” He squeezed her shoulders and planted a kiss below her ear. “And our salvation.” She leaned into him and they looked up at the night sky, lost in the starscape above them, lost in the depth of their bond.