But now, in this quiet room … I couldn’t look away from the truth that sounded in my head with each breath.
I’d killed them. Slaughtered them. I hadn’t even seen their bodies being taken away.
For it had been chaos in the throne room in the moments after I’d awakened. The Attor and the nastier faeries had disappeared instantly, along with Lucien’s brothers, which was a clever move, as Lucien wasn’t the only faerie with a score to settle. No sign of Rhysand, either. Some faeries had fled, while others had burst into celebration, and others just stood or paced—eyes distant, faces pale. As if they, too, didn’t quite feel like this was real.
One by one, crowding him, weeping and laughing with joy, the High Fae and faeries of the Spring Court knelt or embraced or kissed Tamlin, thanking him—thanking me. I kept far enough back that I would only nod, because I had no words to offer them in exchange for their gratitude, the gratitude for the faeries I’d butchered to save them.
Then there had been meetings in the frenzied throne room—quick, tense meetings with the High Lords Tamlin was allied with to sort out next steps; then with Lucien and some Spring Court High Fae who introduced themselves as Tamlin’s sentries. But every word, every breath was too loud, every smell too strong, the light too bright. Keeping still throughout it all was easier than moving, than adjusting to the strange, strong body that was now mine. I couldn’t even touch my hair without the slight difference in my fingers jarring me.
On and on, until every newly heightened sense was chafing and raw, and Tamlin at last noticed my dull eyes, my silence, and took my arm. He escorted me through the labyrinth of tunnels and hallways until we found a quiet bedroom in a distant wing of the court.
“Feyre,” Tamlin said now, looking up from inspecting my bare leg. I had been so accustomed to his mask that the handsome face surprised me each time I beheld it.
This—this was what I had murdered those faeries for. Their deaths had not been in vain, and yet … The blood on me had been gone when I’d awoken—as if becoming an immortal, as if surviving, somehow earned me the right to wash their blood off me.
“What is it?” I said. My voice was—quiet. Hollow. I should try—try to sound more cheerful, for him, for what had just happened, but …
He gave me that half smile. Had he been human, he might have been in his late twenties. But he wasn’t human—and neither was I.
I wasn’t certain whether that was a happy thought or not.
It was one of my smallest concerns. I should be begging for his forgiveness, begging the families and friends of those faeries for their forgiveness. I should be on my knees, weeping with shame for all that I had done—
“Feyre,” he said again, lowering my leg to stand between my knees. He caressed my cheek with a knuckle. “How can I ever repay you for what you did?”
“You don’t need to,” I said. Let that be that—let that dark, dank cell fade away, and Amarantha’s face forever disappear from my memory. Even if those two dead faeries—even if their faces would never fade for me. If I could ever bring myself to paint again, I would never be able to stop seeing those faces instead of the colors and light.
Tamlin held my face in his hands, leaning close, but then released me and grasped my left arm—my tattooed arm. His brows narrowed as he studied the markings. “Feyre—”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” I mumbled. The bargain I had with Rhysand—another small concern compared to the stain on my soul, the pit inside it. But I didn’t doubt I’d see Rhys again soon.
Tamlin’s fingers traced the marks of my tattoo. “We’ll find a way out of this,” he murmured, and his hand traveled up my arm to rest on my shoulder. He opened his mouth, and I knew what he would say—the subject he would try to broach.
I couldn’t talk about it, about them—not yet. So I breathed “Later” and hooked my feet around his legs, drawing him closer. I placed my hands on his chest, feeling the heart beating beneath. This—I needed this right now. It wouldn’t wash away what I’d done, but … I needed him near, needed to smell and taste him, remind myself that he was real—this was real.
“Later,” he echoed, and leaned down to kiss me.
It was soft, tentative—nothing like the wild, hard kisses we’d shared in the hall of throne room. He brushed his lips against mine again. I didn’t want apologies, didn’t want sympathy or coddling. I gripped the front of his tunic, tugging him closer as I opened my mouth to him.
He let out a low growl, and the sound of it sent a wildfire blazing through me, pooling and burning in my core. I let it burn through that hole in my chest, my soul. Let it raze through the wave of black that was starting to press around me, let it consume the phantom blood I could still feel on my hands. I gave myself to that fire, to him, as his hands roved across me, unbuttoning as he went.
I pulled back, breaking the kiss to look into his face. His eyes were bright—hungry—but his hands had stopped their exploring and rested firmly on my hips. With a predator’s stillness, he waited and watched as I traced the contours of his face, as I kissed every place I touched.
His ragged breathing was the only sound—and his hands soon began roaming across my back and sides, caressing and teasing and baring me to him. When my traveling fingers reached his mouth, he bit down on one, sucking it into his mouth. It didn’t hurt, but the bite was hard enough for me to meet his eyes again. To realize that he was done waiting—and so was I.
He eased me onto the bed, murmuring my name against my neck, the shell of my ear, the tips of my fingers. I urged him—faster, harder. His mouth explored the curve of my breast, the inside of my thigh.
A kiss for each day we’d spent apart, a kiss for every wound and terror, a kiss for the ink etched into my flesh, and for all the days we would be together after this. Days, perhaps, that I no longer deserved. But I gave myself again to that fire, threw myself into it, into him, and let myself burn.
I was pulled from sleep by something tugging at my middle, a thread deep inside.
I left Tamlin sleeping in the bed, his body heavy with exhaustion. In a few hours, we would be leaving Under the Mountain and returning home, and I didn’t want to wake him sooner than I had to. I prayed I would ever get to sleep that peacefully again.
I knew who summoned me long before I opened the door to the hall and padded down it, stumbling and teetering every now and then as I adjusted to my new body, its new balance and rhythms. I carefully, slowly took a narrow set of stairs upward, up and up, until, to my shock, a trickle of sunlight poured into the stairwell and I found myself on a small balcony jutting out of the side of the mountain.