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.