WHERE Their Morningside Apartment WHEN Monday morning, March 8 WHAT Nesta receives a year's worth of memories from home, and it's a lot of oh no STATUS Complete! WARNINGS SPOILERS for A Court of Silver Flames
She would not fail her friends. She had no room for fear in her heart.
Only calm. Determination.
Nesta’s lips curved in a smile as the first of the warriors ran at her, sword raised. She was still smiling when she lifted her shield to take the full impact of the blow.
Nesta slammed her shield into the first male, sliced the shins of the second, and--
Woke up, arm slamming into the naked chest next to her in the bed. It wasn’t often Nesta woke up first, and it was even less often that she woke up swinging. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she registered noise coming out of Cassian’s mouth, but her own breathing was coming rapidly as Nesta tried to piece things together.
The headache was blinding, as a year worth of memories swam around in the mush that was her brain. As she looked down at her body, dirty and tired, as if she hadn’t just been asleep in a warm bed, cuddled up to her lover.
As if she’d instead, been on a mountain, defending the pass so her friends could go on to win the Rite. As if she’d had a shield strapped to her arm - one that was not there, but the muscle that had been built over months of training was.
By all accounts, she’d had eight blissful hours of sleep. It felt like she had none. Exhaustion was in every muscle of her body, and her hair was unwashed and hanging around her shoulders. As if she’d just come from home, and woken up here, in Vallo, a place where she’d been safe for a year. “By the Mother--”
Something was wrong. Cassian was able to register that small, tiny warning before he felt Nesta's arm strike him across the chest. Centuries of battle training had him alert within moments, the warmth of their bodies pressing close from sleep immediately vanished. Cassian had seconds to gather what was happening—there was no immediate enemy, physical or magical. Their room felt no less different than it had yesterday or the day before, or the day before that. There was no threat to neutralize, which meant that only left Nesta.
She looked—Cassian couldn't seem to sort what his brain wanted to see and what was actually in front of him. Nesta was worn down, dirty, exhausted, and not in a good way</i>. It didn't escape his notice that blow she had landed was with a strength he hadn't remembered Nesta possessing.
Conflict and confusion crossed his face and he shifted back into her space. Before he would be much more careful with her, not because he believed Nesta to be weak, but because there were things that he was aware of that made him thoughtful about his approach. He assumed they were past that now, but something about the situation, still muddy from the softness of sleep, made Cassian fall back into old habits.
His hand went to her arm, to keep her from swinging again. Another hand went to her hair, but he stopped before he touched. "What happened? Where were you?" Cassian asked. He couldn't fathom something happening to her—Nesta disappearing and coming back—without his knowledge. "What do you need?"
After a brief second of fighting it, of pushing back on Cassian’s hand, she sagged. The wind went out of her, and Nesta realized very quickly she was not on the mountain. Not freezing to death, not fighting for her life against Illyrian warriors who wanted her dead and out of the way. Her girls, her Valkyries, they were winning and about to be free.
Nesta’s face dropped into her hands and she pressed the heel of her palm against her eyes. “I was on Ramiel.” She let that heavy word drop between them, before her hands followed it down to her lap. When Nesta finally got the energy to lean away, she looked at him. Shirtless, comfortable, like he had sex and sleep, not a gap year of punishment.
“You haven’t gone anywhere, have you?” Nesta didn’t mean for it to sound like an accusation and her voice dropped at the last two words, softening. But then the anger of their last conversation in Velaris was there in her head, warring with the compromise of Vallo.
Cassian's expression went serious when Nesta said Ramiel. He was intensely familiar with the mountain, having scaled it for his own Blood Rite centuries ago with Rhysand and Azriel. Nesta, for all intents and purposes, should not have been there. His eyes searched over her frantically, a new sort of awareness coming over him. He didn't like the feeling that twisted into his gut, and his hand was on her shoulder, running down over her back. This need to touch her and make sure she was here, mentally and physically, consumed him.
"No," he responded quickly, almost distracted. He hadn't gone anywhere. And that felt like a failure on its own. He was meant to protect Nesta, take the hardship for her so she didn't have to, and yet here she was—having been involved in something he couldn't even bring himself to speak out loud.
"Tell me why you were on Ramiel. How did you get there? How did you get back? I've heard of people getting memories from home, but this is—" A swift moment of anger came over him. "I would have remembered this."
Nesta pulled herself out of bed, to the edge of it. Not because she wanted away from Cassian, but because the shiver that had set in her spine, that carried over from the mountain, wouldn’t leave. So she grabbed her robe and wrapped herself in it, before perching on the end of the bed.
“We- Emerie, Gwyn, myself - were in the Blood Rite? Put there by the Illyrians, I assume. They likely wanted us to prove something, or have an excuse to kill us, women who were training.” Finally, a ghost of a smile flashed on the corner of her lips. “Emerie and Gwyn were going to make it, were going to win. They were close to the Breaking when I woke up.”
She looked over at him, staring, with a flash of their argument from home, but merging with the year of memories here. Of all of the love and comfort, of the arguments and sex, of the support, the books, the training. It was all woven together now. “It’s been a year. From before the last Solstice, to after the next.”
It wasn't Nesta's fault that he was getting frustrated, Cassian simply hated that he didn't have answers. He didn't have a year worth of memories to compare it to. He didn't know the people she was talking about. He didn't know that Nesta was training. He couldn't even remember a Solstice together that wasn't here. And for all of that maddening knowledge, or lack thereof, nothing was going to be as terrible as living through it and then having it all settle on her shoulders with what they had here.
Cassian followed her, and wouldn't let her get too far away. And while he didn't try to pull her into his grip again, he did sit at the edge of the bed with her, his wings settling around them both, like a protective cover. But Cassian knew, from months of navigating the waters, he couldn't protect her from her mind.
He was quiet for a long moment, opening his mouth several times, and closing it abruptly. He didn't have a good question, because the biggest one, the one that had caused his fear and curiosity to peak, was the most visible on Nesta. "You almost won the Blood Rite," Cassian said slowly, speaking it into existence. "That means you had to make the qualifier. I believe the training, but—" He thought of how much it took to get her to a place to want to train here. What had happened at home?
"What else? If you are whipping Illyrian asses in the Blood Rite, that can't be all."
Nesta knew Cassian needed to feel as if he was protecting her, as much as she needed warmth. And, perhaps, a shower. She looked down at her hands, dirty, damaged, covered in dried blood, and started rubbing a thumb across one of the stains, back and forth.
“We didn’t want to actually compete in the Blood Rite, just prove it to ourselves that we could have, if we’d wanted to.” And to Cassian, and Az. But proving something to herself, feeling in control, and feeling alive, those were all important steps.
But he was right, that was certainly not all. “I- know what I can do. What I took from the Cauldron.” She had been practicing some of it with Dorian already, the power had always been there, just Nesta’s ability to delve into how deep it went, and how powerful she really was, had been simmering under the surface for a long time. “It goes beyond just death, I can Make things. Powerful weapons. Dread Troves. Enchantment and imbuing.”
A little feral smile started forming at her lips. “It terrifies Rhysand.” That she liked.
"If what you're saying is true," And Cassian held no doubt that it was, "Making it to the Breaking should be proof enough that you could give any Illyrian a challenge in battle." There was pride in his voice, knowing that Nesta, his mate, could better even the best males. It seemed fitting for them. But that pride was soon dashed away by when she mentioned the Cauldron.
Again, Nesta stole the words right out of him. He was normally a blast of energy and conversation, but she had thrown him into contemplation. He needed a breath when she said she could Make objects like the Dread Trove. These objects had always been terrifying in many ways for him and it seemed ridiculous for him to be worried about them now. They weren't here, but if Nesta could Make them, then it didn't matter where they were.
He rose from the bed, just for a moment, to steal away to the bathroom for a damp cloth. Only a second later Cassian was kneeling before Nesta, taking one hand delicately in his own wiping the blood and dirt from them. It was the least he could do while he struggled to find words. "It would terrify me too, but for different reasons that my brother," Cassian said slowly, keeping his eyes down and his attention on his ministrations.
"How did you find out? You had been practicing with Amren, she would have said something if she assumed you could have Made weapons."
Nesta’s eyes darkened at the mention of Amren. That was still a sore topic, though it hadn’t been until this rush of memories, which made it all the more frustrating. At the end of the day, Nesta hadn’t learned even the tip of the iceberg with her abilities, with Amren. Not that she’d had much better luck here, but she also hadn’t realized just how vast they could be.
Her hands, cradled by Cassian, held power behind them even she still didn’t fully understand. They itched for a sword at the same time as they itched to touch Cassian. “I Made swords - two swords, one dagger.” Nesta’s lip twitched again. “I named one of them Ataraxia, before I killed Lanthys with it.” She knew Cassian would be proud of her for that one, as it was one of the few deaths she took pleasure in.
But it was also a reminder of how much she had to tell him, if he knew none of it. Of Feyre. That would have to wait, Nesta didn’t have the mental capacity for rehashing that conversation and the pain that followed, especially when they knew what was still to come. Her next words sounded small, quieter. “Can we take a bath and go back to bed?”
"You killed Lanthys?" Cassian couldn't stop the rough disbelief in his voice. Lanthys was a constant reminder, a terror that lived deep in his bones. Cassian had very few nightmares, memories fading in and out over the centuries, but Lanthys remained. But that wisp of a horror lived deep within the Prison, which meant Nesta was there or something worse happened. There were too many questions—How? Why? When?—that plagued him. Cassian knew with certainty that he would have been there if Nesta was, even without the memories.
But the fact that she killed him meant that it was not that simple. Was he not able to protect her? But as he cleared away the dirt and grim, uncovering rough calluses from swordwork and strength in her grip, maybe Nesta truly didn't need him to do so anymore. His brow furrowed, and he dropped the rag on the small table beside their bed.
"You are a wonder, Nesta Archeron," Cassian said. He looked up to her, sensing her exhaustion more plainly than before. He had never heard her sound so slight. He nodded and rose from his crouched position, stopping only to frame her face with his hands and kissing her forehead. "I have so many questions, but I will not push you. I just need to know you are and will be alright until then."
Nesta let out a little noise of agreement. She had, and she was. There was no smugness, but no shying away from it either. It had needed to be done, to protect them both, and her sword had been the only thing that could do it.
It was out of order, telling him that after the blood rite, but everything felt out of order right now. Nesta’s everything ached, and she - if she was being honest - could probably use a healer to check her over. But she was stubborn, and in no hurry to go face the light of day or the public. She stood with him, and Nesta’s hand came up to stop him from moving away any farther. He didn’t have a shirt for her to tug on, so she went for his arm instead, her fingers wrapping partially around the muscle.
“I love you.” She hadn’t been able to say it when she was on that mountain, very far away from him. So it was important now that she did, before that chance was robbed from her again.
Cassian was ready to scoop her up into his arms and bring her to the bathroom so she didn't have to think about doing anything but relaxing for the foreseeable future. He could tell there was more. A year's worth of memories, each punctuated by something even more alarming to Cassian, meant that this was not over. And every fiber of his being wanted to somehow make it easier.
But he never got the chance, Nesta was stopping him. He glanced down to the hand on his arm, then her face. He expected different words to slip from her lips, but Cassian's face went soft, almost surprised when she said I love you. He knew this, but it was rare that she said it so plainly. "And I you, Nesta."
He kissed her then, placating, an attempt to steal away that uncertainty from her expression. He never knew how to help, but he could give until it did. "No matter what happened, what is happening, that doesn't change right now," Cassian said, fiercely. He couldn't imagine a life where he stopped loving Nesta, even if she killed Lanthys or entered the Blood Rite or held a power that was beyond reason.
"And if I said something stupid to you, in whatever memories are now in there, know that I was absolutely wrong. You don't have to tell me, but I probably did it, and would still do it, out of love."
Finally, she laughed, a low chuckle that got caught in her throat halfway. She was pointedly not going to bring up the last conversation they had back home, where Cassian had irrefutably said stupid things, but as it was similar to things they had already covered here, Nesta could sit on it without too much anger.
The kiss helped, but she still pinched one of his abs before slipping out from under his arm and towards the bathroom. “I’m glad you know how common it is for you to say something stupid. We don’t have to talk about it.” Before she got too far away, Nesta snagged him by the hand to pull. “I’d rather wreck the shower. Then I’ll fill in some of the blanks.”
Some, but not all. Not now, and not before she talked to Elain. A little extra pain for them both could wait, if she could help it.
Cassian thought he imagined it, that sweet and beautiful sound of Nesta's laughter. Relief coursed through him, the morning not unsalvageable. He knew there would be more conversations as Nesta remembered and divulged the rest of her memories, but Cassian could wait. And he would be with her every step of the way.
He allowed himself to be pulled, marveling at the newfound strength in her. "You might have to warn me," Cassian said as he crowded her into the bathroom, pressing kisses to every part he could reach, "especially if I am about to say the same stupid thing again. It's the only way I'll learn."