Chapter no 58

A Court of Silver Flames

Nesta had stood here once before. A year before, actually.

A different house, in a different part of this city, but she had stood outside while the others celebrated the Winter Solstice within, and felt like a ghost looking in through a window.

Ice crusted the Sidra behind the house, the lawn sloping down to it winter white. But evergreen garlands and wreaths decorated the river house

—the epitome of merry warmth.

“Stop scowling,” Cassian said. “It’s a party, not a funeral.”

She glared, but he opened the front door to a riot of music and laughter.

She hadn’t slept with him after the ball, or since. He’d looked inclined when they’d returned to the House of Wind, but she’d simply said she was tired and had gone to her own room.

Because as soon as that music had faded and the dance had stopped, she’d realized how stupidly she’d been smiling at him, how low those walls in her mind had dropped. Eris had danced with her twice more after Azriel, and he’d had such intent in his eyes she knew she’d woven her spell around him well. He’d bid for her, she’d learned with no small amount of smugness.

Nesta left it to Rhysand and Feyre to decide how to wield that offer.

Instead, she’d focused on training. Gave herself over to it. The sessions had been halted through the holiday, but she’d gone up to the ring the next

morning to practice anyway, punching the wood beam vigorously to work out her roaring thoughts.

Now, she followed Cassian into the river house, where he immediately aimed for the family room, shucking off his snow-crusted cloak and dropping it onto a bench in the grand foyer on the way. Nesta frowned at the dripping snow on the brocaded material and picked it up, eager for anything to do with herself to avoid going into that room. She unfastened her own cloak, scanning the hall for a coat closet or rack, and found the former tucked under the stair archway. She hung both garments there, and heaved a long breath as she shut the door.

“You came,” Elain said behind her, and Nesta started, not having heard her sister approach. She scanned Elain from head to toe, wondering if she’d been taking lessons in stealth either from Azriel or the two half-wraiths she called friends. Gone was the ill-suited black dress from the ball, replaced by a gown of amethyst velvet, her hair half-up and curling down to her waist. She glowed with good health. Except …

Her brown eyes were wary. Usually, that look was reserved for Lucien. The male was definitely in the family room, since Nesta knew Feyre and Rhys had invited him, but for that look to be directed at her …

They hadn’t spoken of their argument in the few minutes they’d had together before the ball’s procession, and then she’d avoided Elain entirely until the event was over. She didn’t know what she’d say. How to make it right.

Nesta cleared her throat. “Cassian said it might be … good if I came.” Elain’s eyes flickered. “Did Feyre pay you, like last year?”

“No.” Shame washed through her.

Elain sighed, glancing over Nesta’s shoulder to the open doorway across the entry. The party within, only for their small inner circle. “Please don’t upset Feyre. It’s her birthday, first of all. And in her state—”

“Oh, fuck you,” Nesta snapped, and then choked.

Elain blinked. Nesta blinked back, horror lurching through her. And then Elain burst out laughing.

Howling, half-sobbing laughs that sent her bending over at the waist, gasping for breath. Nesta just stared, torn between questions and wanting to

throw herself into the icy Sidra. “I— I’m so sorry—”

Elain held up a hand, wiping her eyes with the other. “You’ve never said such a thing to me!” She laughed again. “I think that’s a good sign, isn’t it?”

Nesta shook her head slowly, not understanding. Elain just linked her arm through Nesta’s and led her toward the family room, where Azriel stood in the doorway, monitoring them. As if he’d heard Elain’s sharp laugh and wondered what had caused it.

“I was just checking on dessert,” Elain explained as they approached the doorway and Azriel. Nesta met the shadowsinger’s stare and he gave her a nod. Then his gaze shifted to Elain, and though it was utterly neutral, something charged went through it. Between them. Elain’s breath caught slightly, and she gave him a shallow nod of greeting before brushing past, leading Nesta into the room.

Mor lounged on a green velvet couch before the fireplace; Amren sat in Varian’s lap on the matching couch opposite her, Feyre beside them, a hand on her belly. Rhys sprawled in an armchair, and Cassian occupied a second armchair with Lucien leaning against it, arguing with them about something that seemed related to a sporting event.

Nesta had tried to convince Emerie and Gwyn to join her, but both had refused. Emerie had said she was obligated to visit her horrible family, and Gwyn merely said she wasn’t ready to leave the library to go farther than the training ring. So here Nesta was, alone with the same group she’d dealt with last year.

When they’d watched her sit sullen as a child in the back of the town house living room, then storm out.

Feyre smiled at her, glowing with health and life. But Nesta’s gaze snagged on Amren.

The female did not so much as look her way.

Varian did, and he threw her a wary glance that said enough: No, Amren wouldn’t speak to her.

Her chest tightened. But Cassian beckoned her over. He rose from his seat, offering it to her, even though there were a dozen more in the room. “Sit,” he said. “Do you want some peppermint tea?”

She knew they all watched her, hated that they did, and understood why, too. But she nodded at Cassian and sat, saying to Feyre, “Happy birthday.”

Feyre smiled again. “Thank you.”

And that was that. Nesta ignored the collective sense of relief that filled the room and pivoted, finding herself peering up at Lucien, who greeted her with a wary dip of his chin. Elain, the wretch, had taken the seat between Feyre and Varian, about as far from Lucien as she could get. Azriel remained in the doorway. “How’s the Spring Court?” Nesta asked. The fire crackled merrily to her right, and she let the sound ripple through and past her. Acknowledged the crack and what it did to her, and released it. Even as she concentrated on the male she’d addressed.

Lucien’s jaw tightened. “How you’d expect.”

Tension rippled through the room, confirmation that Tamlin had heard the news of Feyre’s pregnancy. From Lucien’s grim face, she knew he hadn’t reacted well. Nesta said, “And Jurian and Vassa?”

“At each other’s throats, as they like to be,” he said, a tad sharply. She wondered what that was about—and for the life of her couldn’t read it. Lucien asked, sipping his tea, “How’s the training?”

She gave him a smile—a true one. “Good. We’re learning how to disembowel a male.”

Lucien choked on his drink, nearly spewing it onto her head. Cassian appeared, a cup of tea steaming in his hands, and passed it to her before he declared proudly to Lucien, “As you’d expect, Nes excels at it.”

Mor lifted her glass in a mockery of a toast. “My favorite part of training.”

Nesta frowned. “We haven’t cut the ribbon yet, though.”

Mor’s brows bunched. “So you really are learning Valkyrie techniques.”

Nesta nodded. They’d been so busy during their dancing lessons that the details of training hadn’t come up.

Mor grinned. “You mind if I start joining you once this business with Vallahan is over? I never got to train with the Valkyries before the first War, and after it, they were all gone.”

“I think the priestesses would like to see you,” Nesta said, and glanced to Cassian to make sure he didn’t mind. He waved a hand.

Mor’s grin turned fiendish. “Good. I also want to make sure Cassian actually wears his present to practice.”

“Gods spare me,” Cassian groaned, and Nesta’s stomach twisted. She hadn’t bought them anything—hadn’t bought him anything. She’d said as much before he’d flown her down here, and he hadn’t cared, but … she cared.

She cradled her tea, and the conversation wended around her. But she managed to tuck that dread away, at least for now. Managed to participate.

Azriel lingered near the door, quiet enough that when Feyre and Mor began talking about some of her paintings, Nesta went over to him.

“Why don’t you sit?” She leaned against the doorway beside the shadowsinger.

“My shadows don’t like the flames so much.” A pretty lie. She’d seen Azriel before the fire plenty. But she looked at who sat close to it and knew the answer.

“Why did you come if it torments you so much?”

“Because Rhys wants me here. It’d hurt him if I didn’t come.” “Well, I think holidays are stupid.”

“I don’t.”

She arched a brow. He explained, “They pull people together. And bring them joy. They are a time to pause and reflect and gather, and those are never bad things.” Shadows darkened his eyes, full of enough pain that she couldn’t stop herself from touching his shoulder. Letting him see that she understood why he stood in the doorway, why he wouldn’t go near the fire.

His secret to tell, never hers. Azriel’s face remained neutral.

So Nesta gave him a small nod and walked back into the fray, taking a seat on the rolled arm of the nearest couch.



An hour passed before Mor began grousing about opening presents. Rhys snapped his fingers and a heap of them appeared.

Cassian braced himself for whatever awful gift Mor had gotten him— and glanced to Nesta. He’d kept her present in his pocket, saving it to give

to her in private later. He’d done the same last year, and the damn thing had ended up at the bottom of the Sidra. Probably swept out to sea.

He’d spent months tracking down the book, so tiny it would fit in a doll’s hands, but so precious it had cost him an indecent amount of money. A miniature illuminated manuscript, crafted by the skilled hands of the smallest of the lesser Fae—one of the first printed books in existence. It hadn’t been meant for reading—but he’d figured that someone who adored books as much as Nesta would savor this piece of history. Even if she resented all things Fae. He’d regretted throwing it into the river the moment it had vanished under the ice, but … he’d been foolish that night.

This year, he prayed it was different. It felt different.

Nesta had been better tonight than last year. Another person entirely. She didn’t laugh freely like Mor and Feyre, or smile sweetly like Elain, but she spoke, and engaged, and sometimes smirked. She saw everything, heard everything. Even the fire, which she seemed to ignore. Pride filled his chest at that—and relief. It had only increased when he’d noticed that she’d cared enough about Az’s aloofness to go up to him to chat.

Only Amren ignored her, and Nesta ignored Amren. The tension between them was a living band of lightning. But no one said anything, and they seemed content to pretend the other didn’t exist.

No one offered gifts for the baby, as it went against Fae tradition to do so before a babe was born, fearful of calling bad luck by counting one’s blessings too soon. But Feyre’s birthday gifts were bountiful—perhaps glaringly so.

Cassian’s gifts were the usual odd medley: an ancient manuscript on warfare from Rhys, a bag of beef jerky from Azriel—I literally couldn’t think of anything you’d enjoy more, Az had said when Cassian had laughed

—and a hideously ugly green sweater from Mor that made his skin look jaundiced. Amren had given him a travel set of spices—so you don’t have to suffer whenever you’re in Illyria—and Elain gave him a specially designed ceramic mug with a lid that he could travel with, bespelled against breaking, to keep tea warm for hours.

Feyre gave him a painting, which he opened in private, and had to fight back tears before he hid it behind the chair. A portrait of him, Azriel, and

Rhys, standing atop Ramiel after the Blood Rite. Bloody and bruised and filthy, faces filled with grim triumph, their hands linked as they touched them to the monolith at its peak. She must have looked into Rhys’s mind for the image.

Cassian had kissed her cheek, her shield down for the moment, and murmured his thanks—as if that would ever cover it. He’d cherish the painting for the rest of his life.

He and Lucien did not exchange gifts, though the male had brought a gift for Feyre and one for his mate, who barely thanked him after opening the pearl earrings. Cassian’s heart strained at the pain etching deep into Lucien’s face as he tried to hide his disappointment and longing. Elain only shrank further into herself, no trace of that newfound boldness to be seen.

Cassian could feel Nesta watching him, but when he looked, her face was unreadable. No one had gotten her presents except for Feyre and Elain, who had together given her a year’s worth of book-buying credit to her favorite bookshop in the city. It was capped at around three hundred books, which they seemed to think would be more than she could read in a year. Five hundred books’ worth would have been a safer bet, he knew.

But then Azriel approached her. Nesta had blinked at the gift the shadowsinger set in her lap. “I didn’t get you anything,” she murmured to Az, her cheeks turning rosy.

“I know,” he said, smiling. “I don’t mind.”

Cassian tried to focus on the present in his hands—the silver comb and brush set he’d gotten Mor, engraved with her name—but his gaze snagged on Nesta’s fingers as she opened the small box. She peered at what was inside, then looked at Azriel in confusion. “What is it?”

Azriel plucked up the small folded silver wand within and unfurled it. One end held a clip, the other a small glass sphere. “You can attach this to whatever book you’re reading, and the little ball of faelight will shine. So you don’t have to squint when you’re reading at night.”

Nesta touched the glass ball, no bigger than her thumbnail, and faelight flickered within, casting a bright, easy glow upon her lap. She tapped it again and it turned off. And then she jumped to her feet and flung her arms around Azriel.

The room went silent for a beat.

But Azriel chuckled and squeezed her gently. Cassian smiled to see it— to see them. “Thank you,” Nesta said, quickly pulling away to marvel at the device. “It’s brilliant.”

Azriel blushed and stepped back, shadows swirling.

Nesta looked over to Cassian, and that light was once more in her eyes.

Enough that he almost gave her his gift there and then.

But considering how last year’s attempt had gone, considering that since the ball she’d stayed out of his bed … he held back.

In case she shattered his heart all over again.



By one in the morning, Nesta’s eyes ached with exhaustion. The others were still drinking, but as she hadn’t been offered any wine—or wanted any, for that matter—she had not joined them in their singing and dancing. Though she had helped herself to thirds of Feyre’s ridiculously large pink birthday cake.

Cassian had said they were going to stay here tonight, as he’d be too drunk to fly them back to the House of Wind, and Mor and Azriel would be too drunk to winnow them, not to mention that he’d still have to fly them the last bit of the way. Rhys and Feyre would likely be enjoying each other by the time they were all ready to leave.

The door Feyre had directed her to was already open, faelights glowing inside the opulent bedroom bedecked in whites and creams and tans. Candles flickered in glass jars on the marble mantel. The curtains were already down for the night, heavy swaths of blue velvet—the only pop of color in the room, along with a few blue trinkets. It was soothing and smelled of jasmine, precisely the sort of room she’d have designed for herself if she’d been given the chance.

She had been given the chance, she realized. Feyre had asked, and she’d refused. Apparently, Feyre had done it herself, somehow knowing what she’d like.

Nesta sat at the small vanity, staring at her reflection in the quiet.

Her door opened with a creak, and then Cassian was there, leaning against her doorway, gazing at her in the mirror. “You didn’t want to say good night?”

Her heart began thundering. “I was tired.”

“You’ve been tired for a few nights now.” He crossed his arms. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing.” She twisted on the cushioned stool of the vanity. “Why aren’t you downstairs?”

“You never asked about your present.”

“I assumed I wasn’t getting one from you.”

He pushed off the door frame and shut the door behind him. He took up all the air in the room just by standing there. “Why?”

She shrugged. “I just did.”

He pulled a small box from his jacket and set it on the bed between them. “Surprise.” Cassian swallowed as she approached, the only sign that this meant something to him.

Nesta’s hands turned sweaty as she picked the box up, examining it. She didn’t open it yet, though. “I am sorry for how I behaved last Solstice. For how awful I was.”

He’d gotten her a present then, too. And she hadn’t cared, had been so wretched she’d wanted to hurt him for it. For caring.

“I know,” he said thickly. “I forgave you a long time ago.” She still couldn’t look at him, even as he said, “Open it.”

Her hands shook a little as she did, finding a silver ball nestled in the black velvet box. It was the size of a chicken egg, round save for one area that had been flattened so it might be set upon a surface and not roll. “What is it?”

“Touch the top. Just a tap.”

Throwing a puzzled glance at him, she did so. Music exploded into the room.

Nesta leaped back, a hand at her chest as he laughed.

But—music was playing from the silver orb. And not just any music, but the waltzes from the ball the other night, pure and free of any crowd chattering, as if she were sitting in a theater to hear them. “This isn’t the

Veritas orb,” she managed to say as the waltz poured out of the ball, so clear and perfect her blood sang again.

“No, it’s a Symphonia, a rare device from Helion’s court. It can trap music within itself, and play it back for you. It was originally invented to help compose music, but it never caught on, for some reason.”

“How did you get the crowd noise out when you trapped the sound the other night?” she marveled.

His cheeks stained with color. “I went back the next day. Asked the musicians at the Hewn City to play it all again for me, plus some of their favorites.” He nodded to the ball. “And then I went to some of your favorite taverns and found those musicians and had them play …”

He trailed off at her bowed head. The tears she couldn’t stop. She didn’t try to fight them as the music poured into the room.

He had done all of this for her. Had found a way for her to have music


“Nesta,” he breathed.

She shut her eyes against the realization rising within her like a tidal wave. It would sweep away everything in its path once she admitted it. Consume her entirely. The thought was enough for her to straighten and wipe away her tears. “I can’t accept this.”

“It was made for you.” He smiled softly.

She couldn’t bear that smile, his kindness and joy, as she corrected, “I will not accept it.” She placed the orb back in its box and handed it to him. “Return it.”

His eyes shuttered. “It’s a gift, not a fucking wedding ring.” She stiffened. “No, I’ll look to Eris for that.”

He went still. “Say that again.”

She made her face cold, the only shield she had against him. “Rhys says Eris wants me as his bride. He’ll do anything we want in exchange for my hand.”

The Siphons atop Cassian’s hands flickered. “You aren’t considering saying yes.”

She said nothing. Let him believe the worst.

He snarled. “I see. I get a little too close and you shove me away again.

Back to where it’s safe. Better to marry a viper like Eris than be with me.” “I am not with you,” she snapped. “I am fucking you.”

“The only thing fit for a bastard-born brute, right?” “I didn’t say that.”

“You don’t need to. You’ve said it a thousand times before.” “Then why did you bother to cut in at the ball?”

“Because I was fucking jealous!” he roared, wings splaying. “You looked like a queen, and it was painfully obvious that you should be with a princeling like Eris and not a low-born nothing like me! Because I couldn’t stand the sight of it, right down to my gods-damned bones! But go ahead, Nesta. Go ahead and fucking marry him and good fucking luck to you!”

Eris is the brute,” she shot back. “He is a brute and a piece of shit. And I would marry him, because I am just like him!”

The words echoed through the room.

His pained face gutted her. “I deserve Eris.” Her voice cracked. Cassian panted, his eyes still lit with fury—and now with shock.

Nesta said hoarsely, “You are good, Cassian. And you are brave, and brilliant, and kind. I could kill anyone who has ever made you feel less than that—less than what you are. And I know I’m a part of that group, and I hate it.” Her eyes burned, but she fought past it. “You are everything I have never been, and will never be good enough for. Your friends know it, and I have carried it around with me all this time—that I do not deserve you.”

The fury slid from his face.

Nesta didn’t stop the tears that flowed, or the words that tumbled out. “I didn’t deserve you before the war, or afterward, and I certainly don’t now.” She let out a low, broken laugh. “Why do you think I shoved you away? Why do you think I wouldn’t speak to you?” She put a hand on her aching chest. “After my father died, after I failed in so many ways—denying myself of you …” She sobbed. “It was my punishment. Don’t you understand that?” She could barely see him through her tears. “From the moment I met you, I wanted you more than reason. From the moment I saw you in my house, you were all I could think about. And it terrified me. No one had ever held such power over me. And I am still terrified that if I let

myself have you … it will be taken away. Someone will take it away, and if you’re dead …” She buried her face in her hands. “It doesn’t matter,” she whispered. “I do not deserve you, and I never, ever will.”

Utter silence filled the room. Such silence that she wondered if he’d left, and lowered her hands to see if he was there.

Cassian stood before her. Tears streaming down his beautiful, perfect face.

She didn’t balk from it, letting him see her like this: her most raw, most base self. He’d always seen all of her, anyway.

He opened his mouth and tried to speak. Had to swallow and try again.

Nesta saw all the words in his eyes, though. The same ones she knew lay in her own.

So he stopped trying to speak, and closed the distance between them. Slid a hand into her hair, the other going around her waist and tugging her against him. He said nothing as he dipped his head, mouth brushing the tears sliding along one of her cheeks. Then the other.

She closed her eyes, letting herself savor his lips on her over-hot skin, the way his breath caressed her cheek. Each gentle kiss echoed those words she’d seen in his eyes.

Cassian pulled back, and remained that way long enough that she opened her eyes again to find his face inches from her own. “You’re not going to marry Eris,” he said roughly.

“No,” she breathed.

His eyes blazed. “There will be no one else. For either of us.” “Yes,” she whispered.

“Ever,” he promised.

Nesta laid a hand on his muscled chest, letting the thunderous beating of the heart beneath echo into her palm. Let it travel down her arm, into her own chest, her own heart. “Ever,” she swore.

It was all he needed. All she needed.

Cassian’s mouth met hers, and the world ceased to exist.

The kiss was punishing and exalting, thorough and frenzied, a claiming and a yielding. She had no words for it. She flung her arms around him, pressing as close as she could get, meeting his tongue stroke for stroke.

He growled and nudged her back toward the bed, his mouth devouring and tasting and saying everything she couldn’t yet voice, but one day, maybe soon, she could. For him, she’d fight to find the courage to say it.

The backs of her legs hit the mattress, and he broke their kiss to attend to their clothes.

She expected tearing and rending. But he gently removed her dress, fingers trembling as they unhooked each button down the back of her gown. Her own trembled as she removed his shirt.

Then they were naked, and staring at each other again with those unspoken words in their eyes, and she let him lay her upon the bed. Let him climb atop her.

There was nothing rough or wild about what followed.

She didn’t want his head between her legs. Didn’t even want his fingers. When he slid one down the center of her, she let him feel that she was ready and then took his hand, interlacing their fingers as her other wrapped around his cock and guided him toward her.

He nudged at her entrance, and then halted. His eyes met hers. And then Cassian kissed her deeply as he slid home.

She gasped. Not at the fullness of having him inside her—but at that thing in her chest. The thing that thundered and beat wildly as he looked at her again, slid out nearly to the tip, and thrust back in.

On that second thrust, the thing in her chest—her heart … On that second thrust, it yielded entirely to him.

On his third, he kissed her again.

On the fourth, Nesta twined her arms around his head and neck and held him there as she kissed and kissed and kissed him.

On the fifth, the walls of that inner fortress of ancient iron came down. Cassian pulled away, as if sensing it, and his eyes flared as they met her own.

But he kept moving in her, making love to her thoroughly, unhurriedly. So Nesta let all that lay beyond those iron walls unspool toward him. Thread after thread of pure golden light flowed into him, and he met it with his own. Where those threads wove together, life glowed like starfire, and she had never seen anything more beautiful, felt anything more beautiful.

She was crying, and she didn’t know why—only that she never wanted it to end, this binding between them, the feeling of him moving so deep in her that she wanted him imprinted beneath her skin. His tears dripped onto her face, and she reached up to brush them away. He leaned his head into her hand, nuzzling her palm.

“Say it,” Cassian whispered against her skin.

She knew what he meant. Somehow, she knew what he meant.

Nesta waited until he’d thrust again, driving as deep into her as he’d ever gone, and whispered, “You’re mine.”

He groaned, thrusting hard.

She whispered, “And I am yours.” Those golden threads between their very souls shone with the words, as if they formed a harp strummed by a heavenly hand.

For it was music between their souls. Always had been. And his voice was her favorite melody.

“Nesta.” She heard the plea in her name. He was close, and wanted her to go with him. Wanted to tumble into ecstasy together. It was important to him, for some reason, that for this joining, this moment, they went as one.

Cassian lowered his head to her breast, teeth clamping around her nipple as his tongue flicked against it.

It was all Nesta needed to spur her toward climax. She moaned, and he did it again, timing his tongue to the hard thrust of his cock. Again, again.

The golden threads shimmered and sang, and she couldn’t take it, the music between their souls, the feel of his body on her and in her, and—

Release blasted through her, obliterating every last bit of that inner wall, razing mountains and forests, wiping the world clean with light and pleasure, stars crashing down from the heavens in a never-ending rain.

Cassian roared as he came, and the sound was the summons of a hunt, a symphony, a single clear horn playing as dawn broke over the world.

There was only this moment, this thing shared between them, and it lasted for an eternity. Time was of no consequence. Time had always stood still around him, around them.

He spilled and spilled himself into her, longer than ever before, as if he’d been holding himself back all the times before now, as if he had let his

own inner wall come crumbling down.

Forever, forever, forever.

The word was echoed in their every breath, every pounding of their hearts, so in sync that they seemed to beat as one.

Then silence fell, exquisite and serene, and Cassian remained buried in her, staring down at her with wonder and joy in his face.

Nesta reached up to kiss him.

One kiss led to another and another, and hunger rose like the tide within her, between them. And then Cassian was moving in her again, faster and harder, and time ceased to exist once more.

Hours later, days and weeks and months and millennia later, when they were both finally spent, when their souls had cleaved together entirely, Cassian pulled out of her and collapsed against the bed.

Nesta could hardly remember words. But she found them when she whispered into the darkness, “Stay with me.”

A shudder rocked through him, but he only smiled as he tucked her into his side.

And warm and safe and home at last in Cassian’s arms, Nesta slept.

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