Darkness ebbed in the corners of the room, spiraling against the walls and washing over the curtained windows. It roused Amael from his sleep, shadows flickering against the tips of his wings and begging the Illyrian to wake—to tend to the mate that was writhing in his arms. Amael's hazel eyes fluttered open to the cold press of iced-over hands against his chest, his tattooed skin covered in a thin layer of frost.
Celeste twisted and curled into his embrace, her pallid face buried into the crook of his sweat-slicked neck. The Spring Court was hotter than the Night, and Amael had shucked off his shirt hours ago to combat the stifling heat. But the icy palms pressing into his chest had cooled him, a chill settling deep into his bones that he had not thought Celeste capable of.
He gently pried her away from him. "Celeste," Amael whispered, smoothing back her hair and drumming his fingers against her cheek. She whimpered, her breath cold against his skin. "Celeste, wake up. You're dreaming," he placed a kiss to her forehead, ignoring the salty taste of the sweat that was gathering at her brow. "You're safe."
Another whimper escaped her, sparkling frost spreading from the tips of her fingers. "Amael," she said hoarsely, squeezing her eyes shut tighter. She absently curled in closer to him, to the warmth of his body as hers shivered from the magic in her veins. "Where are you? I—I can't find you."
"I'm here," Amael said, tracing his thumb against the curve of her cheekbone. "Open your eyes. Don't let the magic control you," he banished the shadows that swirled near the edges of their bed, scattering them with half a thought in their direction. "Come back to me."
The Princess of the Night Court thrashed in his arms as she struggled to break free from the darkness, her magic having sank its talons deep into her mind while she slept. Celeste had never spent the night away from home before—not since her family's last trip to the Summer Court all those years ago—and the distance had worked her into a frenzy she could hardly control.
The moment they had arrived at Tamlin's manor, she had begged Lucien to show her to where she would be sleeping. Amael had silently followed them, and no one had argued when the Shadowsinger dropped his belongings in the corner of the bedroom and proclaimed that they would be sharing it. The others had quickly left them alone, and Celeste had spent the better part of the afternoon pacing along the windows and trying to fend off her magic.
Amael tipped back her head before gently pressing a kiss to her mouth. "Wake up," he said, his tone soft but unyielding. "Before you turn us both into a glacier. Even the Steppes aren't as cold as your fingers."
It was the humor in his words that hauled her back from the edge, and the fear that perhaps Celeste was hurting him. Her eyes fluttered, then opened entirely to find Amael smiling faintly. A rasping breath escaped from her, and she tore her hands away from his chest and willed the ice out of her veins. "I'm sorry," she said hoarsely, pleading for the magic to settle back into her bones. "I didn't—"
"It's all right," Amael told her, brushing her hair back from in front of her face. The frost cleared from his skin, revealing the swirling tattoos that lie beneath; Illyrian marks for honor and glory on the battlefield. Celeste's eyes were drawn to them. "Can you send away the shadows, or should I? I don't mind."
She took a breath in through her nose. "I can do it," Celeste said, silencing the darkness inside of her. She locked it beneath the iron chain that Amren had helped her build in her mind, stowing it away until she deemed she were ever in need of it. Shadows flitted from the bedroom, furling into the walls and slipping through the cracks in the window. She breathed again. "There."
"Good," Amael praised quietly, pulling her close. "Do you need anything?"
Celeste shook her head. "No," she murmured, scanning the intricate whirls of his tattoo. It flowed over his chest and shoulder, then curled around the back of neck and down between the center of his wings. "I knew you had them, but you never showed me your tattoos," she absently traced over the lines with her finger, icy still against the warmth radiating from his skin. Amael did not move. "Cassian did these for you after you passed your Blood Rite, right?"
He hummed an acknowledgement. "Half the other novices that were sent into the mountains tried to kill me. It was a riveting two weeks," Amael saw the subdued fear that flashed through Celeste's pale eyes. He pressed his palm to her cheek. "I passed," he reminded her. "I could fight with the Illyrian legions now, if I wanted to."
"In another world," Celeste mused quietly. "Do you think that I could have trained with you in the Steppes? That we could have gone into those mountains together and taken the Blood Rite?"
The Shadowsinger mauled over her words, choosing his own carefully. "Perhaps," Amael said. "But I can't imagine you in the Steppes; I don't want to. I also can't imagine you taking the Blood Rite," he tugged at her chin when Celeste turned away from him, wounded as though he had slighted her. "Had you been in those mountains with me, and had anyone dared to come near you, I'd have slaughtered every single one of them."
She did not balk from him, from his willingness to shed blood for her. "Well, what about you?" Celeste said. "What if I had slaughtered everyone who so much as looked at you wrong?"
Amael snorted. "You'd be better off burning the entire camp to the ground, then," he told her. "I'm the bastard son of the High Lord's bastard spymaster. The Illyrians hate me almost as much as they do my father. And Cassian and Rhys, for that matter. Maybe you should burn down their camp. I could help you," he smiled at the breathy laugh that escaped from her. "We could light some torches, go door to door."
"Don't be stupid," Celeste chided, then gently poked him in the chest. "I'm sure I have fire magic in me somewhere. We have no need for torches."
He laughed, and it was a deep, rumbling sound that was like music to Celeste's pointed ears. Amael did not laugh enough, did not smile enough, and she wondered if she were to blame. Amael sobered. "What's wrong?" he asked, cupping her face between the palms of his hands. She frowned at him. "The mating bond, I—you're sad. I can feel it."
Celeste blinked at him. "I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't realize."
"What's wrong?" Amael repeated, stroking his thumb against her cheek. "Apart from being here in the Spring Court.
She hesitated for just a moment, worrying at her bottom lip and catching it between her teeth. "I love your laugh," Celeste blurted, a blush coloring her face. "And you don't do it enough. You don't smile enough, either. It's like you're always sad," she looked away from him. "And I wonder whether or not it's my fault."
"No," Amael said fiercely, but not without restraint. "Don't think like that. I'm not—I'm not sad, Celeste. I worry. It's different."
"But you worry because of me," she reminded him, tracing her fingers over the intricate designs of his tattoo again. "You shouldn't have to, and you don't deserve it. You don't deserve any of this."
Amael swallowed, his wings rustling in the darkness behind him. Words began to rise to the tip of his tongue that he could not stop himself from speaking. "I worry, Celeste, because I love you," his chest tightened at the widening of his mate's eyes, at the unreadable emotion that flickered there. "Please don't feel obligated to—"
"Do you mean that?" Celeste asked, and it was doubt that tumbled down their mating bond. She did not deserve Amael, to be loved by him, and the Illyrian could see it on her face. He could see it in the way she would not look at him, in the way her fingers trembled against his chest and began to grow cold with more ice.
He took her hand and squeezed it. "I do," Amael murmured, resisting the urge to pull her close and wrap her up in his arms. "With or without the mating bond."
Celeste hesitated, then wriggled out of Amael's embrace. He held his breath and watched as she scrambled off the bed; as she stalked to the corner of the room and to the bags that they had yet to unpack. Celeste rifled through her belongings, grumbling as she dug to the bottom of the pack that was full of her art supplies.
"What are you doing?"
She did not answer him, continuing her search. Celeste retrieved a small leather bag that had sifted beneath her paints and brushes, and clutched it tightly between her hands. It was silly, and perhaps Amael would not be impressed, but it was the best she had been able to do on such short notice.
"You might know more about the mating bond than I do," Celeste said, stumbling through the darkness of the room and perching herself on the edge of the bed beside Amael. "It's supposed to be declared by a priestess and made official, but we weren't given the luxury of time," she bit her lip and handed the bag to him. "It's not much, but I can't cook and I don't want to raid Tamlin's kitchen."
Amael untied the bag and chuckled, dumping the array of small pastries and candy into the palm of his hand. "I would never have asked you to cook for me," he told her, taking a strawberry tart and breaking it in half, handing her the bigger piece. "But I know that among the High Fae, they make a big deal over the female offering the male food."
"It's the best I could do," Celeste murmured, her cheeks pink with embarrassment. Amael deserved better than this. "Nuala and Cerridwen caught me stealing from the kitchen. They probably reported it to your father."
He shrugged his shoulders, muscles rippling and rolling beneath his tan skin. "You stole all my favorites, so I'm not complaining," Amael bit off the corner of his tart, strawberries gushing through the pastry dough. "Until we get home, this is official enough for me. Thank you."
Celeste looked up at him, gnawing on a piece of partially melted chocolate that she had plucked from Amael's palm. "I'm sorry I couldn't offer you more, but I do accept the mating bond, in case that wasn't obvious," she finished off the candy before twisting to face Amael, her eyes once again filled with doubt. "I'm sorry you're stuck with me as a mate."
"I'm not stuck with you," Amael chided gently, his heart fracturing at the fear that still lingered between the bond, the feeling that she still was not enough for him. "I told you—I love you, with or without the mating bond. I didn't need it to feel this way. I'd have rejected the bond if it were with anyone else."
She huffed, but appreciated the sentiment. "Males can't reject the mating bond," Celeste reminded him. "It's too primal and deeply rooted in who they are."
"I'd like to think I'm different from the average Fae male," Amael told her, carefully pouring their stolen goods back into the bag when he was certain that Celeste was finished snacking. He set it on the stand next to the bed, then reached for Celeste's hand and squeezed it gently. "It's late," he said. "We should probably get some more sleep. Now that Cassian knows you want him to help train you, I have no doubt he'll tear down that door and drag us out of bed in the morning."
Celeste cringed. "You're right."
She crawled over Amael, settling back down into the pillows and blankets on the side of the bed that she had claimed. Amael laid down beside her, his wing lifting up and over Celeste to draw her closer against him. She curled into his chest, pressing her face into the space between his neck and shoulder. Warmth radiated off his body, and Celeste didn't bother to sink all the way down into the duvets.
They settled after several moments of adjusting themselves to get comfortable, Amael's arms sliding under and around his mate. He closed his eyes when Celeste fell still in his embrace, the palm of her hand pressed to the center of his chest. It would stay there for the rest of the night.
"Amael?" Celeste whispered, her breath warm against his skin.
"Hmm?" he nuzzled his nose into her hair. "What is it?"
She pressed an experimental kiss to his shoulder, just above his tattoo. "I love you, too."
Author's Note: Here's a fluffy Camael (is this the ship name we settled on?) chapter. I promise it'll pick back up in the next update, but I needed something to ease my sorry ass back into writing, and this was it. Hopefully the "I love you" makes up for it. Lol.