Of Comforting Hands (Elriel)
Angst with a fluffy ending. Written for this prompt: ‘Elain helping Az when he has some sort of breakdown’.
He dreamt of fire, of flames scorching a path up small, vulnerable hands. He dreamt of brothers laughing cruelly, of the smell of burnt flesh, of screaming he barely recognized as his own. The pain was immense, even in this twisted version of reality, the fire biting into his hands with the kind of mindless viciousness that nature often wrought.
Cauldron, it hurt, it hurt, it hurt and he was screaming for help, crying out for it, but no one came, no one came. Fingers dug into his shoulders and arms, holding him down so he that he couldn’t move back from the fire. He struggled with all his might but his wings, useless things, were tied to his body and his legs were chained and even if he were free, his brothers were so big, how was he supposed to fight them and win?
Azriel screamed and screamed and screamed.
In his true memories, his screams had finally gotten loud enough to attract a wayward servant. But in his dreams, in his nightmares, his screaming did nothing but make his brothers laugh harder, make their hold tighter as the fire continued to climb up his blistering, melting skin.
The fire was almost at his face now, the smoke in the room thick and black and choking him even as his body burned to the bone. He wanted it to end, please he just wanted it to end.
Make it stop. Stop. Stop. Please–
And then there was a blissfully familiar voice – so gentle, so different from the screams of his nightmares.
“Azriel,” the voice said, sweet-sounding but rife with worry, “Azriel, wake up. It’s a nightmare.”
The fire wasn’t stopping, it wasn’t slowing. It was going to burn him alive–
Azriel sat up with a wild, near-silent gasp, his eyes opening to the calm serenity of his bedroom. He barely managed to stop his shadows bursting from him, the sheer panic almost enough to make him lose control. He tried to calm his thundering heart, tried to stop the shaking of his scarred hands, but the nightmare was still right there, living on his mottled skin. It was getting hard to breathe.
“Azriel?” Elain asked at his side, delicate hands hovering over him.
Elain. Lovely Elain. Mother above, I wish she didn’t have to see me like this. She didn’t deserve to be stuck with someone so utterly broken inside, not after all of her own struggles. He would never forgive himself for the first time she woke him mid-night terror, when he’d almost hurt her in his delirium. The nightmare he’d had that night had been particularly bad… because worse were the nightmares where the fire wasn’t burning him, where it burned Rhys or Cassian or Mor or Feyre… or Elain. Mother and Cauldron both, what he would give to never see those images in his head ever again. What he would give to protect her, to protect all of them, from the darkness he very literally brought everywhere with him.
(And yet he couldn’t find it in himself to push her away now… or ever. His brothers were right, after all. He was weak.)
“Just – give me a moment,” Azriel finally managed to say with a shuddering breath. He turned so his legs were hanging off the bed, letting his head fall into hands for a long moment (he didn’t have to keep looking at them like this). His eyes stung with unshed tears.
And he couldn’t – he couldn’t breathe properly.
“Oh Azriel,” Elain said, cool fingers finally making contact with him. One hand curled around the back of his neck, thumb gentle against the hinge of his jaw, while the other took hold of his trembling bicep. She didn’t let go for even a moment as she climbed closer to him, until she was plastered against his side, leaning her forehead against his temple.
“Breathe with me,” she whispered, her fingers ever so soft as they traced circles into his sweat-glistened skin.
Azriel gulped in one breath. Then another. And another. And another… until he felt his chest rise and fall in time with Elain’s. Something like relief shuddered its way through him. It hadn’t been so bad this time.
He lifted his head, shocked to find his cheeks wet. Elain gazed at him with heavy eyes, but a small, proud smile played at her lips. She took his face in between her hands, thumbing away the only physical evidence of his nightmares. Slowly, so slowly, she pulled him down to her, placing a soft, soft kiss on his forehead.
Azriel felt something desperate release in his chest and suddenly couldn’t keep his scarred hands away from her anymore. He wrapped both his arms around Elain’s slight body, pulling her into his lap, her legs dangling between his. Elain wrapped her own arms around Azriel’s neck as he bent down to rest his head against her chest, his ear over her heart. Her fingers combed through his sleep-mussed hair as she hummed faintly under breath, rocking slowly back and forth with him.
She was so small in his embrace, so slight compared to his bulk, but Azriel felt completely wrapped in her, completely surrounded by her soothing, familiar scent. He found his fingers tangling in her thin nightdress, his eyes gradually closing. Elain’s arms tightened around him, her humming only pausing so she could kiss the top of his head.
Now was not the time for talk, they both knew. That could come tomorrow, along with everything else. For now, all he wanted to do was sit here, wrapped in Elain, the steady thump of her heartbeat and that soft humming of hers forever soothing him.
And, when Elain was plagued by visions, when her own sleep became plagued by nightmares, Azriel would do the exact same for her. He would sit with her and soothe her and he would wait. He would always wait for her to be ready.
As she would for him.