Fears All the Way Down - Chapter Six
ao3 - masterpost
Hey, babes! Here are our canon fixes for the week:
1. When Nesta was six, she met with a man who declared more or less immediately that she would forever be hopeless at playing an instrument or singing, but that she had a good ear for music. Bull.
2. Nesta is apparently so desperate for a friend that she gives the House life, but never really hangs out with the priestesses. Um. Okay? Sounds fake, but okay.
3. Both Gwyn and Emerie have never left their homes in Sangravah and Illyria, respectively, except for when the IC brings them to the library. Not exactly a fix, but something we will start to explore.
Since Nesta's accomplished virtually nothing in her life, she expects her ideas of "new things" to try to be easy to come up with. But after an hour of brainstorming in bed that Thursday evening, she only has two things scribbled in the notebook Thalia gave her: Wear yellow and Learn to play the trumpet.
"Don't suppose you have a trumpet in here?" Nesta says to the House.
The House only pulls the curtains shut in answer.
"Bedtime," she agrees, shutting the notebook and placing it on her bedside table. "I think this one-per-day rule is a bit much, don't you? Especially considering these self-defense lessons. Do you think other girls will come?" Nesta doesn't always wait for an answer when talking to the House. It tends to interject as it pleases, generally by opening doors or magicking a cup of tea in front of her. "I think that Emerie girl would like to. From Illyria, I told you about her...oh, thank you," she adds, for the House has placed the novel Nesta started last night by her pillow. "Shall I read aloud, then?"
She does, until she falls asleep.
The next morning, she draws looks from the hood-less girls and slight double-takes from the veiled priestesses; no doubt courtesy of the bright yellow dress the House had pulled out of her wardrobe this morning. She ignores them, not stopping until she reaches Clotho's office. When she knocks, Thalia's voice calls for her to enter.
"Well!" Thalia says, smiling.
"I'm never wearing this color again. It washes me out." Ruins the detox and more regulated eating she's had this past month.
"I think you look lovely," she insists, and Clotho nods. "But that's certainly your prerogative. Is that the worst consequence?"
"Yes, yes," Nesta says impatiently, waving a hand. "It won't kill me to try new things. Lesson learned."
Thalia looks over at Clotho. Perhaps she can tell what the priestess looks like under her hood, or perhaps she talks to her mind-to-mind like Feyre and Rhysand do, but Nesta almost thinks they exchange a glance of some sort. Amused, perhaps?
"Can either of us help you with anything, Nesta?" Thalia asks pleasantly, and gestures for her to sit down.
"Maybe," Nesta says taking a seat. Her cheeks color slightly as she does; why is she bashful about this all of a sudden? Around Thalia and Clotho? "I...well, I've started some self-defense, you know."
"We know." They both did, had both asked her how it was going. "You're still enjoying it, aren't you?"
"I...I am-it's good for me." Enjoy is a strong word.
"You said it helps keep you focused," Thalia says. "Centered."
"Yes. It...makes me feel good." She doesn't normally struggle with her words so much, does she? Does she sound like an idiot to the two of them, or just to her own ears? No, Clotho and Thalia would never say that about her. Never even think it. It's only her who's like this, trapped in her own wretched mind, slave to something dark and horrible and become just as vile-
But no, that isn't true. It's not just her who feels that way. And that's why she's here.
"It makes me feel more in control," Nesta says finally. "Of my life and my body."
Thalia leans back, satisfied. Clotho doesn't move. Nesta wonders if they know, if they can guess at what just went on in her mind. Either way, they both wait for her to continue.
"And I thought," she says, pausing to draw breath, "that maybe some other girls might be interested. With...Cassian."
At this, Clotho does cock her head.
"We meet in the mornings. Not on Tuesdays and not over the weekend," she adds, just so they aren't sitting in silence.
After a few moments that feel ridiculously long, Thalia says, "I think that's a wonderful idea, Nesta."
For a brief, strange moment, something happens. Nesta breathes in as Thalia finishes her sentence-not in relief or any emotion in particular, just to breathe-and as she does so, something inside of her shifts. Un-constricts.
But it's gone just as soon as it arrives, and before Nesta has time to dwell upon it, one of Clotho's notes appears. For a select group of girls, perhaps.
"Yes, I think we have the same few in mind...Of course, Nesta, you're welcome to share this with all of the students, but just between Clotho and myself, I think we'll privately encourage four or five...yes, thank you for bringing this up to us, Nesta," Thalia says, finishing with another warm smile.
Don't go just yet, Nesta, please, Clotho writes as Thalia takes her leave. I wanted to ask you how you were doing.
"I'm well. Thank you."
I'm glad to hear these self-defense lessons have something to do with that...our own lectures and exercises too, I hope?
Nesta raises her head slightly as her cheeks tinge pink. "I-yes. I think so." Clotho waits, unmoving, until Nesta sighs and says, "I do like the lectures."
Wonderful. Which ones?
Nesta answers honestly, "All of them." It's...it's quite something, to learn things. Things she never knew, never imagined, from females who are so passionate about them. "And...I like the jewelery. I like working with my hands."
I'm so very happy to hear you're finding yourself here, Nesta, Clotho's pen writes out. Have you given any thought to a more permanent assignment?
"I...thought you were supposed to."
With your input, of course. We would never want you to do something you were uncomfortable with.
But Gwyn's not comfortable with Merrill, is she? "I don't know. There's not really anything wrong with any of the priestesses, I suppose." It's only when Clotho begins lightly shaking with amusement that Nesta realizes she probably shouldn't have said that. "That is...I like them." She does. Enough.
Well, I'm happy to hear that, too.
Nesta rises, rather abrupt. "I've got to sort books," she says, and doesn't wait for a proper goodbye before leaving.
The amount Nesta has improved after only a few short weeks of being in the library floors Cassian. Her weight gain, voluntarily asking him for self-defense lessons, her performance in said lessons, and she still manages to find time to ask if other girls can join. Not even touching upon the fact that she's said she doesn't feel so dependent on alcohol anymore.
It shows incredible strength of character, and it makes Cassian's heart swell so much that he almost doesn't care when he meets an unfamiliar, tipsy young male he realizes must be one of the rebels in Windhaven, glaring at him.
"What are you doing outside of your camp, boy?" Boy, he says, because he is one. He's not yet participated in the Rite.
"Visiting family," the boy slurs. "Sir," he adds, mocking.
"Go home," he orders, trying to imitate Nesta when she's at her coldest.
Perhaps it works, because the boy blanches before sneering and turning away.
He has to tell Rhys they're getting more brazen. Normally Cassian wouldn't care at all what any of them say to him-or at least, say he doesn't care-but if these pricks are bringing Nesta into it, all bets are off. He's going to follow up on whoever that was and make sure he doesn't come back to this camp until this situation is under control. Until the threat on the throne, on Nesta's life, is vanquished.
Shaking himself, he pushes into Emerie's shop. "Good morning."
She looks up. "You're back. Hello," she adds.
He gives her a smile. "Who was that?"
Emerie does not return his expression. "My baby cousin, Bellius," she says, bitter. "But never mind him." Just like that, Emerie phases out of her ire and into a cool, detached expression. Just like Nesta, he thinks. Perhaps that was why they liked each other-if they liked each other. "What can I help you with?"
"Perhaps you can help me," he says. "Nesta-Lady Nesta-you met here a few weeks ago?"
"Yes," she says, careful. "I remember."
"Well," he says, unsure of how to introduce the subject. "She's...started taking some self-defense lessons. For exercise. With me."
Emerie looks unconvinced. "For exercise?"
"And she thought you might be interested in joining. And that you have some friends who might be interested, too."
Emerie's face doesn't betray anything. She studies him, and it's been about ten seconds before she says, "Did she?"
"Yes," he says, feeling only slightly like perhaps the two of them training together might not be good for him.
"Hm," she says. After another minute of her own quiet deliberation, she says, slowly, "I will attend one of these lessons...and then I will...consult with my friends."
"All right," Cassian says, thankful that it's over. "Someone will be along to pick you up Monday morning."
He doesn't dawdle too long in saying goodbye. He has a lot to cover before Monday-figure out the best way to introduce self-defense to very traumatized, potentially, females, and now he'll have Emerie, and Nesta. What kind of dynamic will that create?
But he's been a soldier his whole life. Surely he can handle a few young females.
Nesta has taken to carrying around her notebook wherever she goes, just in case she gets an idea of some new thing she can try. A girl named Deridre approaches her and asks her what self-defense is like, and if it's at all like the meditative yoga they do with the priestess Agata, so she writes that down. She goes to one of Daphne's lectures for the first time and learns about resuscitation and scrawls the name of a method to stop choking that seems simple enough to learn. Gwyn sees her writing and says, "You know, your finger nails are shaped so nicely. How come you never paint them?" so she adds that to her list, too.
She finds, actually, that it's quite nice to carry the book around. It's nice to have an excuse to write with such a fine pen. It's been years since she has.
Her sisters visit her over the weekend at her invitation and they are thrilled by her new things.
"I could teach you to paint," Feyre suggests.
Nesta wants to reply that the idea is to attempt things that do not make her want to pitch herself off the veranda, but instead she says, "You already tried that."
"Right," she says, deflating.
"But," she says, oddly disturbed by this response, and grasping for something to say, "maybe we can...sculpt. Or something. One day."
Feyre brightens at this. "Whenever you have time," she says, happily.
"How's self-defense going, Nesta?" Elain asks, would-be casual.
Nesta rolls her eyes. "You've heard we're inviting other girls?"
"Oh, Nesta, I just think it's such a grand idea-"
"Everyone's really excited about it, honestly, they've been trying for something like this for so long-"
"And with the Illyrian girls, Cassian said-"
"We know it's not exactly a unit, but still so impressive-"
"And we hear you're doing really well!"
"Yes! Really well! Maybe I could join you one day, too," Feyre says, hopeful.
"I'd watch. Or, or maybe even try some!"
Nesta takes a sip of water. She forgets how much noise these two make, honestly. "I don't think it's as exciting as you've imagined," she says. "Sure, you can come one day. Maybe not while the other girls...I'm a bit nervous," she confesses, suddenly. "Clotho and Thalia wouldn't let if they thought it was a bad idea, but I don't know..." She looks out onto the rainy city. The House keeps the interior warm for her, but sometimes she thinks she can still feel the cold in her bones anyway. "I mean, I'm the only one who ever leaves the library, and it could go really wrong. Obviously, no one's going to force herself to do this, and they can just no, but-uh," she finishes on a stammer, as she turns back to look at her sisters.
For there are shining silver tears in Elain's eyes, and Feyre's face looks cracked.
What has she said? What horrible thing has she done?
"No, no," Feyre says hurriedly, reading her expression.
"Sorry, Nesta," Elain says, bringing her hands to wipe her eyes. "It's just...it's just so nice to see you like this...about something."
"Oh," Nesta says, eventually.
Her sisters leave in the evening, but the likeness of their faces in her mind do not. Their expressions, their...love.
Is she really so different now, she wonders all weekend. Is she so much better? She doesn't feel particularly much of anything.
If this is better, then what had she been before?
Monday morning rolls around quickly, and she is decked in the uniform the House has supplied her and finished with a light breakfast, waiting at the arena on the roof before the sun has even fully risen.
"Nervous too?" Cassian says from behind her as he neatly lands in.
"I suppose," she says, not turning around.
"How long have you been here?"
He chuckles. "Maybe more nervous than I am. Well...shall we begin?"
"No one's here yet."
"So? We can start just the two of us." He shrugs out of his jacket. "Would put us at ease, at least, don't you think?"
Us, he says. Like they are the same. They get nervous by the same things and the same things calm them down and they do it all together.
"Yes," she says, clearly needing it.
The movements come easier than on Thursday. Each time she gets better, and it is, she will admit, a rare sort of feeling. To know that she is improving at something. To feel it in her blood and bones.
Cassian's instructions leave no room for worrying in her mind. When she slips out of his holds, breaks out of his grip, all she can think of are his body and hers, anticipation of his next move and victory when she gets it right, or disgruntlement when she is wrong. They move through the steps in sync, almost like the ballet she used to study, and she is so consumed with it that she does not notice until they are done that they have an audience.
Not a particularly big one. Gwyn, Deirdre, and Azriel has brought Emerie, but an audience nonetheless.
"All right," Cassian says. "So what Nesta and I just did is called the Grunge Hook." He launches through into an explanation of what it means and Nesta blinks as she realizes he must have known they all had arrived. Seen them, heard them.
Her cheeks go cold. She can never notice anything else when he's there. Certainly not as they were; touching, talking...
"So Emerie and Nesta, and, ah, Miss..."
"Gwyn," Gwyn says at the same time Deirdre says, "Deirdre."
"Right," Cassian says. "Well, you two pair up."
Emerie walks over to Nesta and they are ready faster than the other two. Nesta tenses. They have not yet been outside-perhaps this was a mistake-what will Gwyn think of her now? She won't sit next to her for lectures anymore, won't come help her put books away-
But it is only a moment, and then Gwyn turns to Cassian and says, "I guess we should have dressed differently."
"You can wear whatever you're comfortable with," he says. "And you don't have to do anything you don't want to, either."
So Deirdre keeps her hood secured on, but Gwyn shrugs her robe off entirely to reveal simple, like-colored dress. Perhaps she'd like leggings and a skirt like Nesta's, she thinks. If she decides to continue...if other girls decide to join...
Emerie's, surprisingly, not as good at the movements as Nesta is. Surprisingly because Nesta doesn't really think of herself as good at this, just better than before, and because, well, Emerie's Illyrian, and all the Illyrians Nesta knows...
"It's your wings," Azriel says, approaching. "They throw you off balance."
She droops. "So I can't. Because I'm clipped."
Nesta flinches-it's such an ugly word. But what to say?
Azriel answers before she can, his shadows clearing from his face. "Of course not," he says, patient. "Just hold yourself this way," and he shows her how to maneuver her wings.
Emerie seems as though her emotions sway easier than Nesta's, as she appears cheered up by this. "Let's try again," she says to Nesta.
And they do, but it is not like before, with Cassian. It is not as in sync, and she is not as focused. Over on the other side, under Cassian's watch, Gwyn and Deirdre are doing even worse.
When the hour is done, Deirdre hurries back down faster than she has moved throughout the whole lesson, and Gwyn shoots Nesta a small smile, and nods her head once at Azriel, before saying, "Good to see you again," and leaving. Emerie says, "Thanks for thinking of me," and perhaps sounds a bit more genuine, but she turns to ask Azriel to take her back right after, and then she is gone too.
"Brilliant," Nesta says aloud, miserable.
Cassian looks over at her, surprised. "What?"
"Are you kidding me? That was horrible."
Cassian laughs. "Are you kidding me? That was great!"
"Enough," she snaps, skin burning. "I don't need-"
"Woah," he says, raising his hands. "Woah. Seriously, Nesta, what's wrong?"
She clenches her hands into fists. "Stop mocking me."
"I'm not!" he protests, and his stupid eyes are wide and innocent and his stupid voice is confused and concerned when he says, "Come on, why are you upset?" so she has no choice but to answer.
"They hated it and they were bad."
Cassian laughs again. A real laugh this time, with his head tilting back, and the sound echoing in the mountains. Her heart lurches. She ignores it.
"They did not hate it," he says, eyes twinkling. "And they were not bad. They're novices. Not everyone's a born natural like you, with a perfectly paired partner in me," he teases, winking, almost as though good-natured.
"They couldn't get away fast enough." Deirdre didn't even take off her hood. So much for helping other females.
Cassian's grin falters. Shit. Had she said that out loud?
He moves closer to her. "Do you know how many clipped Illyrian females have agreed to come to anything remotely similar to this?"
"You know I don't," she snaps, but he doesn't rise to her bait.
"None," he says, calm. "Emerie is the first. Do you know how long Deirdre's been in here?"
"No," she says. Longer than Gwyn, but not more than that.
"Since before Amarantha took over."
Nesta winces. Over fifty years, at least, then.
"And she came...you convinced her to come."
"I didn't," she says. "Thalia-"
"She told me," he interrupts. "She told me you told her what it was like and she wanted to try it."
Nesta stills at this. "Well...what does it matter if she just tries it once?"
He laughs-again! Why does he laugh so often? "Aren't you doing that? Trying things once? Oh, no, I don't mean it in a bad way, Nes, don't look like that. I'm just saying...okay. So it's not for everyone. Maybe she tries it once and never does it again. But it's still worth a whole fucking lot that she tried. And that's because of you. And how do you know she's not going to try again, anyway? Because she left when the hour was up?"
Nesta reddens slightly.
"Fuck," he says, and this time it doesn't amuse her, his easy swearing. "I-shit. Nesta. I'm not trying to hurt your feelings."
She startles. "I-what?"
"I just mean..." He runs his fingers through his hair. "Look. You did a good thing. Whether or not they continue, you did a good thing. And I think they will, for the record. Emerie might not want to come every day, you know, she might not have time...but I think Gwyn liked it enough."
Nesta feels something inside of her flutter. "She did?"
Cassian nods. "Definitely." He looks at her for another moment, then shakes his head.
"What?" she asks, dreading the answer.
"Nothing," he says. "I just don't understand how you can't possibly be so proud of yourself. Especially today." He shrugs slightly, completely oblivious to what is happening inside of her. That feeling from Clotho's office. What is that?
But it is gone as soon as it arrives, just like last time. He says, "See you tomorrow, Nesta," and leaves. And then she does too.
Cassian, Nesta learns over the course of the next few weeks, is right.
Not about her, obviously. But about the females still being interested.
Gwyn's excited about it. "I didn't realize you were so good," she gushes.
Nesta huffs in amusement. "Hardly."
"Well, better than the rest of us!"
"Just a bit more practice," she says. And there is something about the lessons with Cassian...though they don't do as much together, though, anymore. Not with the others there now. She almost wishes that she had not invited everyone for each of the lessons...maybe one morning with him just to herself.
But that's-that's just absurd. He's hardly hers.
Deirdre finds her that Monday, too, and thanks her for convincing her to go. Nesta privately wonders what on earth it was she had said that worked, because the conversation barely stands out in her mind, but she tells Deirdre she's glad to hear she enjoyed it, anyway.
"I think Roslin and Ananke would like it too," she says. "Thalia told them it would be good for them, but they were too nervous. I'll try and convince them...I didn't realize how much fun it would be," she adds with a gentle laugh.
"Oh," Nesta says. "Oh...well, good. I mean, good to hear. I hope they...join too."
And Cassian is right about Emerie as well. She does not come on Tuesday, but she does on Wednesday, and tells Nesta she thinks she can keep coming twice a week.
"And your friends?" she asks.
"They're interested," she tells her. "But I think I have to work a little harder at convincing them."
Nesta nods, not wanting to ask what they might have stopping them from coming. Whatever happened to Emerie's wings-whoever had clipped her-perhaps those females have someone like that in their lives.
It is on the second Wednesday that Emerie arrives that Nesta asks her if she'd like to stay a while longer. She'd already asked Azriel the day before if he could possibly take her back after lunch, and he'd agreed.
There was something odd about talking to Azriel, she noticed. Something about those shadows. Something about the way they-looked?-at her. Something...
But Emerie agrees, if a bit shyly, and she asks Gwyn if she'd like to take lunch with the two of them instead of in the priestesses' dining hall, and Nesta has her new thing for the day: hosting people for a meal.
They ogle everything openly, jaws dropping as the House pulls out chairs for them and food appears as Nesta requests it.
"Thank you," she says.
"You're...talking to the House?" Gwyn asks.
"Oh. Thank you," she adds.
"Thank you," Emerie says quickly.
The House likes them too. Nesta can tell. There's a bit more effort being made here today, she thinks, as she notes a fancy bouquet in the middle of the table and finer china than she normally uses. Nesta smiles to herself.
Nesta searches for something she can say, a safe topic that has nothing to do with self-defense, but Gwyn beats her to it. "So, how do you two know each other?" she asks.
"Nesta came to Illyria to scare some rebels who are trying to kill her," Emerie answers casually.
Gwyn jerks her head towards Nesta. "Really?"
"Not quite how I would have phrased it," Nesta says. "But true enough, I suppose."
"Why are they trying to kill you?" Gwyn says, eyes wide.
Wonderful. What a fantastic luncheon this is.
"They don't like me very much."
"They're scared of her," Emerie says. "And they want to overthrow the High Lord and High Lady." She turns to Nesta. "What do you think of that?"
Nesta raises an eyebrow as she cuts into her food. "Of killing my sister and Rhysand? Well, I've certainly thought of it myself, at times."
They both laugh. Nesta blinks. Then she smiles slightly.
"I have to assume I'm against them," she says. "But to be honest, I don't really understand any of the politics here. I'm...not very well-informed."
"Oh, neither am I," Gwyn says, shaking her head. "It's terrible. I mean, I've lived in this court all my life, and I'm so pitifully ignorant. It's ridiculous. I don't know the first thing about Illyria, like. Or even Velaris, really. And I have no excuse. I live in a library, for gods' sakes."
"I don't know of any books I'd recommend for you to learn about Illyria," Emerie says, thoughtful. "Not unless you read Illyrian, that is."
"See, I didn't even know there was an Illyrian until you just said that. Pathetic."
"Can you recommend other books?" Nesta says, latching on the chance to steer the conversation away from the history of the Night Court and into perhaps the only topic she might be able to contribute to.
"Oh, of course," Emerie says, pausing to swallow. "What do you like?"
"Romance," Nesta says, as Gwyn says, "Adventure."
"Ooh, The Knight Society. That's both. You can read that together."
Gwyn grins at Nesta. "Book club," she says. "What's it about?"
Emerie launches into a description of the book-the series, actually-and eventually, Nesta finds herself not looking for things to say, but rather just...talking. Not forced. Not desperate. Just a part of the conversation. Easy, flowing...fun, almost.
Funny, at least. Emerie is clutching her sides laughing as she describes the worst romance novel she ever read and Gwyn giggles, her hands covering her mouth, but Nesta says thoughtfully, "That's not such a horrible idea, though."
"No, no, the premise is atrocious, yes," she says. "But that exact scene...that has potential."
"Potential, right," Emerie says, laughing still.
"No, I mean it," she says, but she lets it go, lets the conversation drift naturally.
She is disappointed when Azriel comes to take Emerie back, but picked up by the fact that they all are. Emerie promises to make time to stay for lunch again, either Monday or Wednesday of next week.
"This was so lovely," Gwyn says to her, wistful, as they walk down to the library together. "So much nicer than in the dining hall.
"Really?" Nesta says before she can stop herself. "Well...I eat lunch every day. You can join...if you'd like."
Gwyn brightens. "I would!"
So after two weeks of lessons with other girls (Roslin and Ananke have joined, and Lorelei and Ilana, too, though the later doesn't participate so much as watch), and more random assignments from Clotho, and new things for Thalia, Nesta finally finds herself with a few hours of quiet after Friday evening's lecture has been canceled.
"Shall we read?" she says to the House.
Lights flicker in answer. Too many for the usual yes or no. This means Nesta has to follow.
"All right," she says, standing. "To the veranda?" she asks. But it's too cold out, so she hopes not.
Instead, the House leads her to a room she hasn't been in since her first stay, upon first exploration. She has had no need.
"Oh," she says at the door, softly.
The knob turns slightly, not fully opening. The House giving her the final decision.
But she doesn't want to hurt its feelings, so she opens the door.
The music room-a conservatory, it can be called-just by the sheer size of it-is grander than she remembers. She had opened the door and not even stepped inside, that first time. Just stood there, frozen, before snapping the door shut and hurrying away.
She takes a slow step in, but almost as though she is being walked by some other being, she takes another, and then another, and before she knows it, she is seated at the piano.
Ballroom grand. Enormous. Sleek and glossy and it would sound just perfect, she knows.
Lights flicker from behind. She turns and lets out a little laugh.
"Thanks," she says, shaking her head at the spotlight, "but I don't think I'm going to be learning the trumpet this evening."
The lights stop, as if the House is acquiescing.
The lights above her now flicker briefly. So will you play the piano, then?
Nesta inhales and exhales deeply. Slowly. Again. And again. The same way Cassian has her do after lessons.
There's really...there's really nothing stopping her. There's no reason not to. If she were to pick up her notebook and write down the reasons why she can't play right now, there wouldn't be any.
So why can't she do it?
She doesn't have an answer. So with another deep breath, Nesta closes her eyes and gently presses her thumb to middle C.
The sound is soft, and then that feeling, from with Thalia and Clotho, and Cassian, hits her again. But as she hits the second note, it does not fade away. It stays this time. So she plays.
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