A Court of Mist and Fury Page 68

My tattoo, I realized, had been made with Illyrian markings. Perhaps Rhys’s own way of wishing me luck and glory while facing Amarantha.

Luck and glory. I wouldn’t mind a little of either of those things these days.

Cassian filled a glass for himself and clinked it against mine, so at odds from the brutal taskmaster who, moments ago, had me walking through punches, hitting his sparring pads, and trying not to crumple on the ground to beg for death. So at odds from the male who had gone head to head with my sister, unable to resist matching himself against Nesta’s spirit of steel and flame.

“So,” Cassian said, gulping down the water. Behind us, Rhys and Azriel clashed, separated, and clashed again. “When are you going to talk about how you wrote a letter to Tamlin, telling him you’ve left for good?”

The question hit me so viciously that I sniped, “How about when you talk about how you tease and taunt Mor to hide whatever it is you feel for her?” Because I had no doubt that he was well aware of the role he played in their little tangled web.

The beat of crunching steps and clashing blades behind us stumbled—then resumed.

Cassian let out a startled, rough laugh. “Old news.”

“I have a feeling that’s what she probably says about you.”

“Get back in the ring,” Cassian said, setting down his empty glass. “No core exercises. Just fists. You want to mouth off, then back it up.”

But the question he’d asked swarmed in my skull. You’ve left for good; you’ve left for good; you’ve left for good.

I had—I’d meant it. But without knowing what he thought, if he’d even care that much … No, I knew he’d care. He’d probably trashed the manor in his rage.

If my mere mention of him suffocating me had caused him to destroy his study, then this … I had been frightened by those fits of pure rage, cowed by them. And it had been love—I had loved him so deeply, so greatly, but …

“Rhys told you?” I said.

Cassian had the wisdom to look a bit nervous at the expression on my face. “He informed Azriel, who is … monitoring things and needs to know. Az told me.”

“I assume it was while you were out drinking and dancing.” I drained the last of my water and walked back into the ring.

“Hey,” Cassian said, catching my arm. His hazel eyes were more green than brown today. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hit a nerve. Az only told me because I told him I needed to know for my own forces; to know what to expect. None of us … we don’t think it’s a joke. What you did was a hard call. A really damn hard call. It was just my shitty way of trying to see if you needed to talk about it. I’m sorry,” he repeated, letting go.

The stumbling words, the earnestness in his eyes … I nodded as I resumed my place. “All right.”

Though Rhysand kept at it with Azriel, I could have sworn his eyes were on me—had been on me from the moment Cassian had asked me that question.

Cassian shoved his hands into the sparring pads and held them up. “Thirty one-two punches; then forty; then fifty.” I winced at him over his gloves as I wrapped my hands. “You didn’t answer my question,” he said with a tentative smile—one I doubted his soldiers or Illyrian brethren ever saw.

It had been love, and I’d meant it—the happiness, the lust, the peace … I’d felt all of those things. Once.

I positioned my legs at twelve and five and lifted my hands up toward my face.

But maybe those things had blinded me, too.

Maybe they’d been a blanket over my eyes about the temper. The need for control, the need to protect that ran so deep he’d locked me up. Like a prisoner.

“I’m fine,” I said, stepping and jabbing with my left side. Fluid—smooth like silk, as if my immortal body at last aligned.

My fist slammed into Cassian’s sparring pad, snatching back as fast as a snake’s bite as I struck with my right, shoulder and foot twisting.

“One,” Cassian counted. Again, I struck, one-two. “Two. And fine is good—fine is great.”

Again, again, again.

We both knew “fine” was a lie.

I had done everything—everything for that love. I had ripped myself to shreds, I had killed innocents and debased myself, and he had sat beside Amarantha on that throne. And he couldn’t do anything, hadn’t risked it—hadn’t risked being caught until there was one night left, and all he’d wanted to do wasn’t free me, but fuck me, and—

Again, again, again. One-two; one-two; one-two—

And when Amarantha had broken me, when she had snapped my bones and made my blood boil in its veins, he’d just knelt and begged her. He hadn’t tried to kill her, hadn’t crawled for me. Yes, he’d fought for me—but I’d fought harder for him.

Again, again, again, each pound of my fists on the sparring pads a question and an answer.

And he had the nerve once his powers were back to shove me into a cage. The nerve to say I was no longer useful; I was to be cloistered for his peace of mind. He’d given me everything I needed to become myself, to feel safe, and when he got what he wanted—when he got his power back, his lands back … he stopped trying. He was still good, still Tamlin, but he was just … wrong.

And then I was sobbing through my clenched teeth, the tears washing away that infected wound, and I didn’t care that Cassian was there, or Rhys or Azriel.

The clashing steel stopped.

And then my fists connected with bare skin, and I realized I’d punched through the sparring pads—no, burned through them, and—

And I stopped, too.

The wrappings around my hands were now mere smudges of soot. Cassian’s upraised palms remained before me—ready to take the blow, if I needed to make it. “I’m all right,” he said quietly. Gently.

And maybe I was exhausted and broken, but I breathed, “I killed them.”

I hadn’t said the words aloud since it had happened.

Cassian’s lips tightened. “I know.” Not condemnation, not praise. But grim understanding.

My hands slackened as another shuddering sob worked its way through me. “It should have been me.”

And there it was.

Standing there under the cloudless sky, the winter sun beating on my head, nothing around me save for rock, no shadows in which to hide, nothing to cling to … There it was.

Then darkness swept in, soothing, gentle darkness—no, shade—and a sweat-slick male body halted before me. Gentle fingers lifted my chin until I looked up … at Rhysand’s face.

His wings had wrapped around us, cocooned us, the sunlight casting the membrane in gold and red. Beyond us, outside, in another world, maybe, the sounds of steel on steel—Cassian and Azriel sparring—began.

“You will feel that way every day for the rest of your life,” Rhysand said. This close, I could smell the sweat on him, the sea-and-citrus scent beneath it. His eyes were soft. I tried to look away, but he held my chin firm. “And I know this because I have felt that way every day since my mother and sister were slaughtered and I had to bury them myself, and even retribution didn’t fix it.” He wiped away the tears on one cheek, then another. “You can either let it wreck you, let it get you killed like it nearly did with the Weaver, or you can learn to live with it.”

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