I’ve Always Liked to Play With Fire (part 3)
NESTA ARCHERON X FEMALE!READER (future Neris x reader)
summary: You and Nesta have made a plan, and now it’s time to put it into action
warnings: angst, more inner circle slander lmao
word count: 2.9k
DO NOT REPOST ANYWHERE
a/n: sorry this is so short! It’s a bit of a filler chapter but things will pick up soon. It’s a bit slow right now because it’s an extreme slowburn fic but I have so many big plans for it! Eris won’t appear until part 5 probably but I promise it will be worth it
feedback is appreciated, just no hate pls! these are just my opinons, im more curious to see how you all like the writing and characterization and storylines!
read on ao3
The first rays of sun crept their way into the room, illuminating the navy sheets with a soft golden glow. You blinked the sleep from your eyes, your surroundings beginning to sharpen. With a jolt, you noticed how Nesta’s head had migrated onto your pillow, gently crooked against your shoulder. Her long legs gently brushed against yours underneath the sheets, cold despite the warmth of the blanket.
You took a moment to gaze at her sleeping form. Her face was relaxed for once – her eyebrows were not drawn together in a glare, nor her lips twisted downward into a frown. That chestnut golden hair you loved had come undone, waving down her shoulders like honey. She snored slightly, a soft sound indicating she was not suffering from the nightmares you knew plagued her throughout the night. She looked like a gift from the Mother herself, an ethereal being sent from another world. Truthfully, you could have spent hours gazing at her, but with a heavy heart you untangled your legs from hers, and gently lifted her head from your shoulder before crawling out of the bed and silently slipping back into your room.
You both knew what you had to do next. Nesta had mentioned that Azriel liked to get up early discreetly and take his breakfasts in the big dining area, rather than sit on the stools at the kitchen countertops like you and Nesta frequently did. You knew he did it to keep an eye on the female but without getting into her space, and it made the perfect stage.
Once in your room, you bathed with lavender-scented soap, careful to wash any trace of Nesta’s scent off of you. You hated scrubbing yourself so viciously, as if her essence was poison to your skin, but you knew that Azriel would pick up on it. The water was so hot it almost burned, but you let it fuel you with fire.
You didn’t want to stage a fake fight with Nesta. Truthfully, you should have planned it beforehand. You had no idea what you were going to say, or her. All you could do was hope that it would fool everyone.
After drying off and braiding your hair back, you slipped on a pink gown from the closet, smoothing the skirt and taking a deep breath before heading to the kitchen. You had no idea if Azriel was actually in the other room or not, nor did you dare peek through the window as you walked by to check. You just had to pray Nesta was right.
Taking a seat at the stool next to the counter, you grabbed a pancake from the stack placed in front of you. Normally you loved the food in the House of Wind, but today it tasted like ash in your mouth as your stomach churned with anxiety. Would you and Nesta really be able to manipulate the Inner Circle and pull this off? Sure, they’d easily believe that you and her would get into a fight, but you had to be careful. If you two moved too quickly to cooperation, they would get suspicious. The fine line you and Nesta were balancing on was tedious at best, and you only hoped you didn’t make things worse.
Silently, Nesta entered the room. Rather than sitting beside you as she had been lately, she simply grabbed a cup of tea and perched herself on the other end of the counter, not sparing you a glance.
This is it. You thought to yourself with a nervous swallow. Showtime.
“You ok?” You began carefully, unsure how to initiate the fake fight. Nesta ignored you, not even blinking once to acknowledge your presence.
So you tried again, knowing where it was heading. “I just wanted to say thank you for standing up for me last night. Against Rhysand. I appreciate it.”
Nesta was quiet for a moment, then laughed bitterly. It was cold, utterly heartless. “I didn’t do it for you.”
“What do you mean?” You asked, acting puzzled. Finally, Nesta turned to actually face you. There was no trace of warmth in her gaze, no evidence of the soft, gentleness in her features that was there this morning. Slate blue eyes stared at you like chips of ice, unfeeling.
“That dinner was meant to humiliate me, not you.” Nesta snapped. “So don’t pretend you’re the victim of all of this. I wasn’t about to let them walk all over me like dirt.”
“I never said that,” You insisted. “I just meant–”
“I don’t care what you meant,” She interrupted sharply. “I’m not your shield to protect you from them, so don’t treat me like one.”
You kept reminding yourself over and over again that this fight wasn’t real, that it was all just temporary. But you could not keep the bite out of your voice.
“I didn’t ask for you to challenge him like that,” You hissed. “So don’t blame me for your choice just because it’s going to have consequences like you being stuck up here for even longer. I stuck up for you too, you know. And I don’t see you bitching about it.”
“Am I supposed to thank you?” Nesta laughed sharply.
“Friends look out for each other, so maybe, yeah!”
“We are not friends.”
The words hit you like a ton of bricks. You went still, not having to fake your reaction. You knew this was planned, but her words cut you nonetheless. It’s just pretend, you kept telling yourself.
“We aren’t friends, are we?” Your voice was full of venom, not all of it forced. “Who else do you have, Nesta? Who have you not pushed away yet? I am the only person who likes you right now, but you’re making it really fucking hard.”
“I don’t care if you like me or not.”
“Do you care if I hate you?”
“Go ahead, everyone else does. Maybe you can join them now.”
“I see why they do now.”
This time, it was Nesta’s turn to flinch. You regretted the words as soon as you said them. You and her had not discussed how far to push, what limits were in place. Something told you that her flinch was not a planned reaction – your words struck hard, visibly twisting her expression into something else. The fire in her eyes was quenched momentarily, overwhelmed with hurt for a split second before her cold gaze returned.
“Well next time they come to force you to help them, don’t come crying to me about it.” Nesta’s voice didn’t have the same bite to it as it did before – it wobbled slightly at the end, her chin lifting higher as if she could keep at bay any tears that threatened to spill down her cheeks. She stood up, leaving her untouched cup of tea on the counter and storming out.
You watched her go, anxiety pooling in your stomach. Had Azriel heard your fight? Did he believe it was real? You really hoped so, for the thought of having to redo an argument with Nesta filled you with dread. Picking at the food on your plate, you told yourself over and over again that none of what you guys said was real, that neither of you actually meant what you had said.
You couldn’t get the image of Nesta’s face out of your head as you told her you can see why the Inner Circle hates her, the way it changed from anger to sadness as if she wasn’t acting at all. You knew something had happened between her and Rhysand’s court that had made those specific words twist her gut like a knife – either that or she was just a really, really good actress.
We are not friends.
That phrase Nesta had spat out congested your thoughts like a swarm of bees. You knew she said it for the sake of the fight, but was there an extent of truth to it? The two of you only crossed paths because you were both prisoners of some sort to the Night Court. You doubted that you’d have met her otherwise, or if she even would have given you a second glance. All your time spent reading books in silence or sipping tea on the balcony, you wondered if it was only because you two just happened to be the only females in the House of Wind.
Did Nesta see you as a friend? You couldn’t figure out your dynamic still – it had only been a short amount of time since you met her, yet it felt like you had known her your whole life. Part of you felt something else for her though, something like friendship but different. You felt like a crushing schoolgirl, but for some reason it felt deeper than that. The fierceness with which she stood up for you at the dinner, the way you two got comfortable with each other so easily, and how you could just tell if she was in the library or not… there was something between you two that you couldn’t figure out what it was.
You weren’t stupid enough to believe that she reciprocated whatever strange feelings you had towards her. Stories of Nesta and Cassian during the way with Hybern crept into every village on Prythian – how she and the war general shared a kiss during the end of the world, wishing they’d had more time together. How Nesta had covered Cassian’s wounded body with her own, preparing to die with him. It was clear that there was something between the Cauldron-born female and the Illyrian general.
What you didn’t know, however, was what happened to them after the war. Whatever had been blossoming between them showed no signs of being present now. Nesta had not spoken about Cassian specifically, snapping at him whenever he tried to tease her around the House. If you hadn’t known about their moment during the war, you’d have thought she hated him. No trace of a promise to die together lingered between the two, only cold empty space. You could tell Cassian was trying with her, in his own unhelpful way. You respected him for it, but wanted to shake him by his obnoxiously broad shoulders and tell him that trying to mold her into a warrior to fight side by side with him was NOT the way to get Nesta to open up.
Cassian was part of the Inner Circle, yet he didn’t appear to be sticking up for Nesta, even after what apparently happened between them during the war. He was Rhysand’s good little soldier, doing his bidding whenever asked. You felt bad for him in a way, having caught glimpses of Cassian looking longingly at Nesta when she turned away from him. It was evident he cared for her in his own way.
But if he truly cared for her, he wouldn’t have let his High Lord and Lady lock Nesta up against her will.
After forcing yourself to eat another bite of your breakfast, you dumped your plate's remains in the bin and placed it in the sink. As you turned to leave, you didn’t dare glance in the direction you suspected Azriel was hidden. He gave no indication of his presence as you trudged up the hallway to your room.
It had been a few hours since your fake fight with Nesta, and you had remained in your room, sitting by the fireplace with a soft blanket wrapped around your shoulders. Part of you wondered if this plan was a bad idea. As much as you hated them, the Inner Circle was not stupid – they were a group with immense power and knowledge, who were used to sniffing out enemies.
You had felt Rhys and Feyre try and scrape the edges of your mind with their daemati abilities. Luckily, you had been taught from a young age how to shield your mind from such powers. But given what you had heard about the High Lord and Lady, if they really wanted to break your mind they probably could.
Then there was the Morrigan and her power of truth, whatever the fuck that meant. You had no idea what her abilities were other than winnowing and being unable to mind her own business. You had heard of how she fought in the war all those centuries ago, but that was it.
Amren, who you had grown up fearing, was no longer a threat apparently. She had lost her powers in the war, becoming just a high fae – you weren’t sure what she brought forth to the inner circle other than a bad attitude. And Cassian and Azriel were a whole other puzzle entirely.
You prayed none of them would figure out what you had planned with Nesta. Surely they’d believe easily that Nesta would eventually snap at you and damage whatever friendship you had, making it easier for them to swoop in and dig in their claws. That was the easy part, and now you had to keep up the act.
The hard part would be getting to Eris. Somehow, he was involved in the Night Court’s scheming. But you had known him since you became friends with his brother – he hated the Inner Circle, and surely was not working with them for any reason but his own secret agenda.
You guessed you and Eris had that in common, which would make him more inclined to help you. The stories of his cruelty made you uneasy – Lucien had always told you that his brother was too much like his father, relishing in the torment of others. But you had never seen that side of him. Sure, he was cold and untrustworthy, but he had never brought you any harm.
You had no choice but to trust him inevitably.
It would take a while before the Inner Circle would believe your act. They knew you and Nesta wouldn’t just change your minds overnight about working with them. It would take a few weeks, you suspected at the least. Nesta would gain Cassian’s trust, which left you with Azriel.
That’s where you were a little nervous. The spymaster was intimidating and hard to read, known for his unfeeling ability to pry information from enemies with Truth Teller. With Cassian assigned to work with Nesta, you did not doubt Azriel would be tasked with you. Rhysand would likely want to use you as a spy for the Spring Court, making you keep an eye on Tamlin instead of making Lucien do it. Azriel would likely be the one to oversee this, which made you nervous.
But you were willing to do whatever it took to get out of this situation. And maybe get a sense of justice, payback to Feyre for manipulating your own court.
As the fire began to die out, you took a look outside the window. The sun was beginning to set, which meant it was time to leave your first note for Nesta in one of the books. You two had agreed upon a system where you each pick a different book every week and leave notes in the chapters for the other. This week, Nesta would pick a smutty romance book with a red cover, and you would pick the same genre with a blue cover.
You knew Cassian and Azriel would be at dinner now. No doubt would Azriel be telling Cassian about the fight he overheard this morning – Cassian would insist on checking up on Nesta, and Azriel would convince him to give her, and you, some space. Neither Illyrian would be looking for you two, which made the perfect opportunity.
You crept down the hallway, treading as softly as you could. You did not know what spies and systems Azriel and the House had set up, but you wanted to move without being caught if you could. Holding your breath, you entered the reading nook you had shared with Nesta, note in hand. It read:
Nesta, I just wanted to say I’m sorry. I hated that fight, even though it was fake. I should have gone a different route with the argument. I care about you, and I don’t hate you and I never will.
Grabbing a blue cover from the romance section, you carefully inserted the note into the first chapter. While no other person in the House showed interest in the reading nook, you were nervous that someone would end up finding the note.
You scolded yourself for thinking like that, and shook your head. You had to trust that the plan would work. As quick and quietly as you entered, you left to return to your room.
When morning came, you forced yourself to sit through breakfast. Nesta was nowhere to be found, and you were itching to race to the bookshelf to see if your note was gone. But you had to wait until a bit later, when you normally took up residence in the reading nook. The wait was excruciating, but finally it was time.
As you scanned the shelves, your hand found a smutty book with a red cover – Nesta’s book. You didn’t even check to see if the note within your own book was gone, you just reached for this one like it was calling to you. Prying open the first couple pages, a piece of parchment slid into your palm. You practically tore it open.
It’s ok. You said what you needed to say. I think it worked, but we’ll find out tomorrow. Let’s get out of here together.
And so it began.
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Begged & Borrowed Time (v, ao3)
(Chapter five: Below the wall, Nesta tries to forget all about Cassian, but it’s proving to be incredibly difficult when she can’t get any of the things he’s said out of her head) (chapter four, or start from the beginning)
His final farewell, tossed down a path darkened with rain, stayed with her for days afterwards. A goodbye called out in a voice that was rough and low, as seamless as the rain itself, and even though she was soaked to the bone, even though she was chilled and damp and longing for warmth, Nesta had almost stopped and called out a farewell of her own.
But the rain was cold, and she didn’t want to turn back and have one last look at him, at the creature that made her question everything she thought she knew. No— so she had buried her goodbyes in her chest and her hands in the pockets of her cloak, continued on her way and tried desperately to forget the way he had looked at her. The way he had risen to defend the Archeron estate without a second thought, and how he had lingered— waited, as she had walked away.
It had been days. Days, and she couldn’t forget his voice. Still heard it at every turn— You’re unhappy, echoing as she sat at the dinner table with her husband and his brother, the father-in-law she detested and the mother-in-law she pitied. What does your husband call you, lingering in her ears at night, the low kick of his voice making her breath catch as she lay beside Tomas in the darkness. As her husband’s hands roamed her waist, touched her skin as though he owned it. Sweetheart— in the quiet, small hours of the morning when sleep refused to come, she heard that too. When all she could see was his face, those hazel eyes, burning behind her closed lids, she heard that voice. She gritted her teeth against the memory, tried to banish it, to exile it and cast it forever into forgetting— but still, she saw his face, heard his voice. Heard it, and felt it burrow its way deep inside, to a place where none could work it free.
Sweetheart, as she rolled over and put her back to her sleeping husband, the man beside her spent, the only one of them sated. Sweetheart, as Nesta closed her eyes and prayed for sleep. Something inside her reached out into the darkness, brushed up against the memory of those words. Come now, princess, he’d said, and as the darkness deepened, something deep in her chest fought to keep hold of that voice. And with her husband’s touch still lingering lamentably on her skin, Nesta remembered Cassian’s words.
And clung to them.
But who was he, to invade her mind?
What tricks had he played on her, this fae from above the wall? The one with the name that felt so lovely on her tongue, the one that hadn’t blanched from her glare, but grinned— What had he done, to haunt her so? Nesta didn’t know how his voice had become the one lulling her to sleep, his face the one she saw each night before the darkness swallowed her. What spell had he cast over her, to make her think of him even as she lay beside her husband?
Some fae magic, she was sure. Something he’d woven with that smile, those eyes.
Blinking in the pale morning light, Nesta pushed the thought away. She turned her head instead, and found the bed beside her empty. The rough-spun fabric of the cotton pillowcase was coarse against her skin, and the sheets on Tomas’ side were cold. A small, weak smile pulled at her lips as something almost close to contentment curled and settled inside her. The absence of her husband, the distance between his body and hers— the silence, the solitude, was the nearest thing to a gift she could hope for these days. With a laconic huff, she noted the irony— noted how the only thing that brought her even some semblance of happiness these days was waking up alone.
And there it was again, his voice reverberating inside her skull. She fought to keep it out, but even as she tried, some part of her held on, some part of her that had snagged on him. Some part of him that had snagged on her. It was ludicrous. Ridiculous to boot, and utterly unacceptable. Nesta rolled onto her back with another huff, one that nobody would hear, entirely undignified and unladylike. Folding her arms over her chest, she looked up at the white-washed ceiling and positively cursed the godsforsaken bat. Cursed that damned smile, that easy, cocksure grin. Her lip twisted into a scowl as she remembered it—
And faltered. She faltered as she remembered the way his eyes had flicked up to the ceiling of the morning room, listening for Elain, ensuring she was safe. She swallowed as she remembered the way he had looked at Feyre, a loyalty so fierce burning in his eyes that Nesta had barely been able to watch. She closed her eyes when she recalled the look in his eyes as he’d left that morning room, fingers curled around the door handle. As she’d asked his name, and he’d paused, and she’d felt the air between them tighten.
Even now, his name was hushed in her thoughts, quiet and whispered as though it was something she ought to hold close to her chest. Cassian— the barest murmur inside her mind.
Nesta huffed for a third time, and threw back the covers. There would be no rest— no peace. Not with his voice echoing in her head, the remnants of the words he’d spoken haunting her. It was as though he’d gotten stuck inside her mind, the endless flapping of those stupid wings hiding around every corner, waiting for her. She cursed him anew as she dressed, fixing the stays and laces of her corset and skirts with fingers that weren’t as sure as she’d have liked, and as she made for the courtyard, for the outside air that would blow away the cobwebs he’d wrapped her in, her steps weren’t as decisive as she’d have liked, either.
With every step - every single one - she cursed that fae warrior, and every damned word he’d spoken.
But the courtyard was to hold no peace for her, either.
Surrounded on three sides by the dove-grey stones of the house, the small square of age-worn paving was open to the sky. In the centre, Nesta suspected there had once been a fountain. A patch of slightly newer, slightly less cracked stones clustered in a small, perfect, circle— put down when whatever had been there before had been ripped out and thrown away. The circle housed a small block now, a woodcutter’s block in a woodcutter’s courtyard. The borders beneath the windows might once have had flowers— but now there was only broken brick and dull grey walls. All colour, all decoration, leeched by time and poverty.
Drained, just like that the ember of contentment she’d felt that morning. She felt it wither and die inside her, because in that woodcutter’s circle, blade aloft and sun glancing off the sweat on his brow, stood her husband. There would be no peace, none at all, and as Nesta looked out to the side of the courtyard not bordered by brick, she glimpsed the road that lay ahead, the path bordered by trees. Tomas stiffened when her steps sounded, but it was the only indication he gave, his only acknowledgement of her presence. She wondered what he would do if she kept walking. If she took that path into the village and never glanced back.
He spared her nothing. No good morning, or how did you sleep. Not even a hello. He only raised his arm again, the axe arcing in the air, silver blade gleaming lethal in the daylight.
Nesta watched it come down with a hiss, the wooden block beneath giving way under its edge, sundering with a crack that echoed on the broken flagstones. It was loud enough to set the birds in the trees fleeing, and Nesta watched as they took flight. Watched them go until they were distant shapes on the horizon, entirely lost.
It was Saturday.
So caught up was she in trying to forget the winged warriors she’d met at her sister’s table, she’d forgotten what day it was. Forgotten, that Tomas’ father always took the great piles of chopped wood to market on a Saturday. Forgot that he took his eldest son, Jonah, with him, and left Tomas behind to make his way, methodically, through a pile of logs waiting to be chopped for next week’s market.
She should have left. Should have turned back around the moment she saw the courtyard wasn’t empty, but she lingered at the edge, the breeze rustling her skirts. She didn’t know why she watched him. Any other wife, she supposed, might have watched with adoration. With affection, at least. Might even have brought him something warm to eat as he raised his hand into the air again, the axe rising with it. Nesta only looked with apathy, with careful and considered emptiness as he executed each brutal swing.
Why did you marry him?
Cassian’s question burned in her throat, the memory of it scalding as she stood and watched Tomas bring the axe down again. She didn’t know the answer anymore. Didn’t know how to carry on with her lies now that the truth had been spoken, even if it had been spoken to a beast from above the wall.
Another hiss as that axe cut through the air, another crack as another log cleaved beneath the sharp, wicked edge. Tomas adjusted his grip on the smooth, polished handle and— gods, she hated those hands. She could still feel them, ghosting across her skin, pawing gracelessly at her as he chased his own pleasure, grabbing and gripping at her as though she were nothing but a vessel for his own release. She knewit could be worse— he’d not yet raised those hands to her in anger, and she’d never woken with bruises circling her wrists like manacles, not like her mother-in-law, but… gods, she really did hate those hands.
The day she had married him, those hands had gripped her wrists. When her family and his had joined in the ruins of the old temple, that long-abandoned place of worship, he had taken her hand in his own, and his touch had been cold. Even then, trepidation had flickered in her veins, and she remembered looking up, at the altar that was crumbling and withered with age, and wondering if it was a good idea after all. If she shouldn’t have held out for something better.
The human realms hadn’t practised religion in centuries, but they still buried their dead in the temple grounds. Still took their vows at the altar, even when it was ruined and open to the elements. Tradition had outlasted even the gods, and even though the white stone pillars were crumbling now… the mortals beneath the wall clung to their traditions, held to them even in the absence of divinity. So Nesta had taken her vows in a place of lost faith, a place of ruin and decay. Once rich, now empty and devoid of meaning. She didn’t think it could have gotten any more ironic.
Another crack, another log broken in two. The blade sang, whistled with each strike, and with every thud, every dull sound of splitting oak, Nesta remembered how her heart had hammered on her wedding day, pounded as an axe of a different kind fell. His axe came down again— again, again, sundering and cleaving, and Nesta thought of how the officiant had wound a ribbon around their hands, tying them together. She didn’t think the length of silk was supposed to feel like iron. Like a chain, rough against her skin, and though the ribbon itself was long gone… she could feel it still, and there was no axe that could split it now, no blade sharp enough to sever it.
Nesta thought, then, of Feyre. Perhaps because of the desperate longing coiling in her bones, or the desire to get away, or perhaps it was just the thought of the great overgrown bat and the words that had dogged her since they’d left his mouth… She didn’t know how to explain it, but Nesta found herself standing in that courtyard thinking of her sister, of how Feyre had escaped her lord and found another.
The bonds that held Feyre had shattered beneath Rhysand’s touch, and now Feyre had a lord who valued her enough to put a crown on her head. Who looked at her like she’d hung the stars in the sky herself, like he’d jump in front of any blade meant for her sister’s heart.
Oh, Nesta envied her.
Envied Feyre the chance she’d had to walk away.
The axe glinted in the weak, wintry sun as it arced once more. She’d never get the same chance— not in a world where everything she had, everything she was, belonged to her husband. She had no money, no rights, of her own, so— there was no escaping her bonds. No fae lord to save her, no handsome warrior coming to spirit her away. Cassian’s voice sounded in the depths of her mind again, but as Nesta looked up at the sky, at the endless spread of blue above, she didn’t know if she’d ever see him again.
She didn’t even know if she wanted to ever see him again, and that terrified her, because the answer should have been obvious. She should have been glad the moment she turned her back, the moment that letter had left her hands. But should was the key word, the vital one, because even though she knew she should have walked away and not longed to look back… She found herself still thinking of him, of the way he’d softened as he told her he reminded her of his mother. The way he had smirked, and the way he had waited in the rain— waited for her to turn. She should have forgotten all of it.
With a sigh, she brought her eyes back down, only to be met with a green-eyed stare. Tomas was looking at her at last, expectant, with the axe head buried in the chopping block. He’d brought it down with such force that the handle trembled when he removed his hand, but there was no trace of real emotion on his face. Nothing but an impassive, flat stare, filled to the brim with entitled disdain. Blinking, he waited for her to speak. To fawn, to fuss, as any proper wife would— but there was nothing in the world Nesta wanted to give him, nothing she wanted to say.
So Tomas pulled out a scrap of fabric from his pocket and wiped at his forehead, at the sweat gathered there in exertion, even despite the cold. The silence lingered, settled, and as he looked at her, he waited still. Waited, and waited, and waited, and when he was done, he pocketed the cloth and grunted at her as he examined his hands. She wondered whether he expected her to rush forth and bring him some ointment for the blisters, or some gloves to guard against the chafe. She remembered well the bite of an axe handle in her own palm, but she remained, statuesque, at the edge of the courtyard, the space between them jagged and fraught.
Tomas flexed his fingers to release the stiffness that she knew from experience came from gripping the axe for so long in the cold. With a curl of his knuckles he looked at her and sighed, tired of waiting.
“You could bring me something hot to drink, you know.”
He flicked his eyes back to the axe still buried blade-first in the chopping block. His voice was cool and distant, filled with some feeble attempt at command. As though she were his to order, to do with as he pleased, and Nesta bristled at the instruction. There was nothing so tiring as this spoiled child of a man, and as he rolled his eyes, Nesta tried not to remember that other voice, one that was darker and smoother and so infinitely more powerful. One that might even have said please, that might have winked at her and—
Gods. Nesta pulled herself, caught herself before she went over that edge. It went against everything her mother had taught her, everything that was proper, to think of another man’s voice when her husband spoke to her, but—
“Any other wife wouldn’t have to be told,” Tomas added curtly, flatly.
He nodded his head towards the door as if to say, Go on then, run along, and suddenly, Nesta forgot the point in trying. Her endeavour to be proper guttered when Tomas’ eyes flared, her mother’s lessons fading with every look he gave her. When the memory came of her hand wrapped around Cassian’s dagger… This time, she didn’t pull herself back from that brink but let herself go rushing over it. She heard Cassian’s laugh, low and husky, and didn’t push it away. She embraced it. Recalled the feel of the leather hilt of his dagger in her palm, how her fingers had slipped so, so effortlessly into the grooves worn by his. She wondered what Tomas would do if he knew that only days ago, she’d felt the breath of a fae warrior dancing across her cheeks. If he knew another man had been barely an inch from her, taunting and teasing her and threatening to gut Tomas himself.
Watch me run a man through, sweetheart, he’d said. Shall I start with your delightful husband?
Yes— Yes, she thought now, biting her tongue so hard she damn near drew blood. Hatred surged, undiluted and raw, vehement in its urgency, its potency. She watched as Tomas folded his arms across his chest, clenching her fists as a barrage of Cassian’s words engulfed her, and she let herself drown, let herself be lost. There’s an anger you can barely conceal, as her heart hammered. A ruthless streak, as she forced air into her lungs. Anger boiled in her veins, bitterness writhing like a creature of its own, and she hated that he had been right. That great overgrown bat, that ridiculous sparrow, had known her for so brief a time, and yet he had seen through her with startling ease.
He had cut through every broken and shattered piece of her, right to her aching, raging core. And he understood.
You and I are more alike than you realise.
She hadn’t regretted turning away from him so potently until that moment. Hadn’t regretted refusing to give him a proper goodbye until then, until she stood in that courtyard, her husband watching her with contempt as hatred bubbled in her gut, and she realised that Cassian just might have been the only person in either realm to really see her. To understand her, and she’d walked away. Turned her back without a farewell, and there was no telling, now, when she’d see him again.
Tomas cleared his throat. As if he could tell that her mind was elsewhere, with someone else. Someone far too far away. Her husband tilted his head and looked at her pointedly, still waiting. Waiting for her to do as he asked, ever the simpering little housewife; the woman he expected to bend around him, to give way beneath his own will. As if he were the axe, and she were just another one of those logs, waiting to break beneath his edge.
Bastard— But she gave him a tight, terse, nod anyway, because there was no way for her to win this. No way to come out victorious in this battle of wills, and at least if she agreed to make his damned tea, there was a chance he’d choke on it. So she turned, headed for the door that would take her to the kitchen, to the kettle and the stove.
“And eat something too,” he barked across the distance as she reached that door. Her steps stilled, a suspicious, wary kind of surprise filtering through that molten hatred. It wasn’t like him to give a damn what she did and didn’t do, whether she ate at all— and she doubted he’d suddenly grown to care for her. His eyes dropped to her abdomen, to the flat plane of her stomach, and Nesta felt bile rise in her throat as understanding surged like a wave. “We had hoped you might be on the way to giving me a son by now.”
Static silence rang in her ears, loud and growing louder. A ringing that threatened to deafen her. It was partnered by the memory of Cassian’s dagger between her fingers, and that - the thought of his blade, the thought of him - soothed some edge in her that grew sharper, that longed to cut and make bleed. She bit her tongue anew as her husband’s gaze roved over her stomach, and one word broke from the din: we.
“My father and I have discussed it,” he continued, as if that weren’t the most abhorrent thing he could have said, the most infuriating words she’d ever heard. If Nesta thought she had hated the Mandray men before… Gods, it doubled as he spoke those words. Tripled. “You need to eat more if there’s to be a babe.”
Her skin crawled, and something inside her curdled, revulsion and disgust warring with her bitten tongue. She wanted to hiss, wanted to rage, wanted to demand of him where he thought they’d find the money to feed and clothe a child, where they’d house one in this place, where every room was riddled with cold and damp. It made her shiver, the thought of Tomas having such a claim on her, of her blood mixing with his. There was a reason she’d learned what mugwort looked like when it grew in the wild. A reason she made a point of picking it whenever she saw it, grinding it up and mixing it into her tea. A reason she hid it in a small pouch at the back of the pantry, in a disused drawer beneath empty jars. Her lips curled into a sneer, and that ringing grew louder, and louder. The memory of that dagger in her hand, and the warrior who owned it, grew more and more comforting with every passing second.
She didn’t wait to hear the rest of his speech, his scolding. Nesta pulled the door open so hard she heard the ageing hinges groan, threatening to snap altogether. She hoped they would. Hoped they’d break. Hoped they’d crumble and take the whole damned house with them. She’d be damned if her womb were to quicken with his child, and if he wanted one so badly— well, perhaps he’d have to have their marriage pronounced null and void and find somebody else willing to bear one for him.
Reluctantly, she made his tea.
She hoped the milk was off as she poured it in, hoped it would make him sick for days, and when she brought it out and shoved it into his waiting hands, she cared little as the water spilled and scalded her own skin. She welcomed it, hoped it would burn him too. With a silent glare, Tomas took it, ire brimming in his eyes as he set the chipped mug down on the floor with a clatter.
And when Nesta turned, he raised his axe and brought it down again on another waiting block of wood, but this time— this time he brought it down so hard he nicked the blade.