They were all at home that Friday evening when the doorbell rang. Outside, it was the crisp cold of early March, the sky deep purple and streaked with the red and gold remnants of the just-set sun. Inside, Ronan was cooking dinner, the smell of it wafting easily into the living room where Blue was sprawled on a sofa with her laptop. It smelled good, some kind of stir-fry that was probably going over rice. (It had surprised them both, when they had all moved in together: Blue that Ronan was actually a good cook, Ronan that Blue was willing to eat things that weren't yogurt. That was long ago, though, and now neither fact seemed the slightest bit remarkable.) Adam was upstairs, possibly checking his email or meditating or reading his Tarot cards. In any event, Blue was both the least busy person in the house, and the one closest to the door, so when the doorbell rang, she was the one who got up and swung it open.
It was Gansey.
She stared at him for a long moment. "You're dead," she finally said. "You've been dead for seven years." She closed the door between them, then leaned against it, gasping for breath, her heart racing. It felt as though all the oxygen had been sucked out of the room. Abruptly she opened it again. He was still there, though she wouldn't have been surprised if he had vanished. "Don't go away. I have to tell the others."
"I will remain on this spot," he assured her, and she closed the door again.
"Ronan," she croaked, when she thought she had control of her voice. She could barely force the words through her throat, and her voice came out weak and thready. She should get Adam as well, she knew, but he wouldn't hear her feeble call, and the stairs seemed impossibly far away, unimaginably steep, unclimbable. She took a deep breath and tried again. "Ronan. Come here. Please."
"Hang on, gotta turn down the stove." Ronan stepped into the living room at the same time that Adam came racing down the stairs. "Who was at the door?" Then he caught sight of Adam, white-faced, lips set in a hard line, something clutched tightly in his hand. "What's wrong, babe?"
"It's Gansey," said Blue helplessly, and Adam held up the card in his hand, face out so they both could see: Death.
"Kiss him," said Adam. "Just like Sleeping Beauty."
Blue looked down at the tomb they'd uncovered deep in the cave, the sleeping king. Glendower, finally, on a thick stone slab, a carving of ravens at his head. Under the beard and the deep lines around his eyes, she thought he looked a little like Gansey. He wore a helmet with a gold band around it, and armor made of chain and plate, and he lay with his hands crossed over his breast, eyes closed. His chest did not rise and fall; he wasn't breathing. Maybe he was dead. She didn't want to kiss a corpse.
"What I mean is, you need to kiss Gansey," said Adam gently. "It's the same thing. That is," he added, frowning, "I think that's what you're supposed to do. The cards weren't totally clear on it. But I'm pretty sure."
"What, now?" A small frisson of alarm trickled down her spine. "But we just found him. Don't you want to – I don't know, celebrate?" Before you die.
"We talked about this," Gansey reminded her. He took her hand and stroked her fingers. His skin was warm, his presence solid. "This is what I've been looking for. Waking him will be all the celebration I need."
"It's meant to be, Jane. I'm not afraid."
"Wait," said Noah. He'd been hanging back, near the mouth of the cave. He'd said over and over again that he wasn't comfortable underground, but he wouldn't let them leave him behind, and now he came forward to where the four of them stood. "Kiss me first. Please."
She nodded, and letting go of Gansey's hand she stepped close to Noah. His arms went around her, and she pressed her lips to his cold ones. No, she realized, they were cool, but they weren't cold. Not like they'd been before, that first time they'd kissed – her only other kiss – out in the yard at 300 Fox Way. He felt warm, alive, vibrant, and she wondered if he was pulling all that energy from her, or if it was Cabeswater doing it, the magical forest that surrounded them – and then he gave a sigh, and vanished.
"Sorry," came his voice from the cave mouth, faint and wispy. She could see his vague outline in the shadows when she looked that way. "I don't like this place."
Blue didn't like it either. It was humid, with a sharp chill that cut through her clothes, and it smelled of decaying things. The stalactites – she thought that was what they were called, the ones that hung down from the roof – made a ragged ceiling, slimy water dripping from their tips, spattering their clothes with tiny droplets. There was a weird and unsettling hum in the air, like a buzzing just below the threshold of hearing.
"It's time," said Gansey, startling her. She'd been staring at a stalactite, lost in thought. He held out his arms to her. "Okay, I'm ready. Blue, kiss me."
It was like coming home, to slide into Gansey's arms, to tilt her face up to his, to breathe in the scent of mint. She felt she'd done this a hundred times. He held her close and she locked her hands around the back of his neck and their mouths touched softly and it was perfect.
Behind them, Ronan gave an ironic wolf-whistle, and Adam told him to shut up and pay attention to the cave, damn it. Blue tried to shut the noises they made out of her head. She was kissing Gansey, kissing him for the first and probably the last time, and she did not doubt the prophecies she had been told again and again. She had seen him in the churchyard on St. Mark's eve, ten months ago. He was her true love, and she was going to kill him. She'd tried to talk him out of it, and he'd refused to listen. She was going to enjoy it while she could.
His hands ranged across her back, one sliding to her tilted neck, one shaping the curve of her hip. She slid one of her hands to where she could unfasten one of his shirt buttons and slip her fingers in to touch his chest, and he gasped into her mouth, pressing the whole length of his body against hers. The hand on her neck moved to cup her chin, light fingers tracing lines on her jaw, brushing her hair away from her face.
Blue's hand splayed across his chest. He was warm, so much warmer than Noah had ever been, and his heart beat in a fast rhythm that matched the blood pounding in her ears. Why couldn't this last forever? Why did it have to be the only time? She hoped Ronan and Adam were paying attention to the cave, damn it, or whatever it was Adam had said. This embrace felt so intimate that the thought of them watching was horribly embarrassing.
"Blue," Gansey murmured against her lips. "Blue, if this is the last thing I do, I don't care, I'm happy."
"Shh." She sought his mouth again, let her eyes fall closed so she could concentrate on the feel of his lips against hers. They'd talked and they'd talked, all of them, before finally entering the cave. It was a waste of time to talk now, when they could be kissing. Vaguely she was aware of Adam and Ronan talking in low, urgent voices. She wondered how much time they had.
Not much, as it turned out.
The low hum built until it broke through into a register she could hear, and then it got louder, and then louder still, swirling around them, grating in her ears. Ronan barked out a curse, and she opened her eyes. The stalactites are crumbling, she thought; then Adam pushed her hard, yelling something about getting down, watching out, and she fell to the floor, and Adam covered her with his body. Ronan was on Gansey, flailing his arms as though fanning him. "It's not fucking working!" he shouted. "I can't change them!"
"Use the Epi-pen!"
"I did! They're still coming! Fuck!"
The cave floor was damp and cold, wet mud seeping into her clothes. Something bit her on the back of her left hand. Then there was another bite, and a third, and then Adam muttered, "Sorry," and slapped at her hand.
He pulled her hand under the cover of his body, and she saw the wasps.
"Do it, Parrish!"
"I – I keep getting stung, I can't – " She saw him gulp. His mouth clamped down on his words, pursed like a toothless old man's. He looked terrified, his skin pale and grayish.
"Please," she whispered, though she wasn't sure what she was asking him for. He gulped again, and closed his eyes...
...and suddenly the air was filled not with wasps but with flowers. Petals sprinkled down on them from the roof of the cave. "Blue lily, lily blue," she said, remembering Gwenllian's song; that's what they were, lilies, pale blue like the midday sky. She wondered what time it was.
Adam opened his eyes slowly, wearily. "Sorry," he said again. He slid off her and lay on the cave floor, looking up at the falling petals, his breaths hard and ragged.
"Took your sweet time," said Ronan, and there was something harsh and angry in the way he spat out the words that made Blue turn to look at him. He was crouched beside a still and silent Gansey, his hand on Gansey's chest. "If you'd been doing your magic instead of feeling Blue up, he'd still be alive."
She shouldn't have been surprised. She'd been told all her life she'd kill him, after all. But still there was that unsettling feeling that there ought to have been a loophole. That something would have changed at the last moment, that the magic she'd felt while kissing Gansey would have blossomed into a protective halo around them both. How could he be dead? It was wrong. It was all wrong.
"I didn't," whispered Adam. "I tried."
"Are you happy now, Adam?" Ronan's face was shiny with anger and tears. "Is this what you wanted?"
Adam put his face in his hands. Blue couldn't hear him sobbing but she knew he was, knew it by the spasms in his shoulders, the short gasping breaths.
"He was trying!" she snapped. "He was getting stung!"
"He killed Gansey!"
"I killed Gansey!" She'd kissed Gansey, and he'd died, just as she'd been told would happen all her life. She kissed her true love, and he died, and it didn't matter that he'd told her to kiss him, that in some way it had been connected to his search for Glendower, that they'd both agreed weeks ago, when they'd figured it out from the books, that this was the way it would have to be.
A painful knot contracted in her chest; the heart was only a muscle, she knew, only the organ that sent blood through the body, but to her it felt like it was going to burst from grief, like in the stories. She'd die of a broken heart, and they'd bury her next to him. Well, probably the Ganseys wouldn't want someone like her in the same graveyard as their golden child, but she knew that Adam and Ronan would fight for her right to be buried next to the boy she loved, the boy she'd killed.
"He told you to kiss him. It's his fault." Ronan glared at Adam, who was slowly uncoiling himself and getting to his feet.
"The wasps killed Gansey," he said dully. "Or fate. Or Glendower."
Glendower. She'd almost forgotten. "Is he awake?"
"I think you have to kiss him, now."
"Why do I have to do all the kissing?" she demanded through her tears. She imagined her mother's voice: "So much potential, Blue! The Page of Cups with a cup full of potential, that's what you are." Apparently her potential was stored in her lips. Potential to raise a king, potential to kill one. "I think I've done more than enough kissing!"
"We have to see this through, Blue. You know that."
She did. She couldn't argue with Adam on that point. Sighing, she made her way to the slab where Glendower lay.
Glendower didn't look quite as dead as he'd been when they'd entered the tomb. His color seemed more natural than before, and as she watched, the chainmail that lay across the curve of his chest moved fractionally up, then down, in the rhythm of slow breathing. Asleep, not dead. Like Sleeping Beauty, she thought, remembering Adam's words. She looked over her shoulder. Adam and Ronan stood next to each other, Adam gripping Ronan's arm and saying something too quiet for her to hear into Ronan's ear. Ronan still looked miserable and angry. She hesitated over the body. He was still a strange old man. She wondered for a moment if she could get away with kissing him on his bearded cheek.
"Do it, Sargent," Ronan ground out, and she took a deep breath and bent to kiss Glendower.
A weird, tingly feeling burned across her lips, and she jerked back.
"What happened?" said Adam immediately.
She touched her mouth. It felt normal now. "I don't know. Like static electricity."
"A favor," said Ronan suddenly, stepping up next to her. She looked at him, confused, but he was looking past her, at Glendower, and she followed the line of his glance. "I want the favor."
Glendower's eyes were open.
"Gansey said you'd grant a favor to us if we woke you," Ronan repeated. "I want his life back. I want him alive."
Slowly the king sat up. With one hand he touched the helmet he wore, and his lips curved in a faint smile. Blue thought he looked a little as though he'd expected them to steal it and was surprised to find it still there. He looked toward where Gansey's body lay still and lonely on the floor of the cave, and then gave Blue a slow nod. "It was she who woke me. It is she who gains the favor." His voice was elegant, with the same odd almost-British accent she'd heard from Artemus.
"The same thing," she stammered. "I mean, I want Gansey to be alive."
"That is not in my power. As well you know, Jane."
Anger swept through her, crimson and unstoppable. "You don't have the right to call me that!"
"But that is your name. Why should I not call you by name?" He reached out and took one of her hands. His skin felt normal, warm, alive. "Siân Lawgoch, Jane of the Red Hand, herald of the sleeping king of the Britons. Are you not pleased to have raised me again?"
Jane of the Red Hand. Malory's tapestry, the medieval girl with red hands and her face. She wrenched her hand from his grip. "That wasn't me. I'm Blue Sargent."
He regarded her steadily. "You are now. And I am Owen Glendower –" only he didn't say it like that, it sounded liquid and smooth, like he was saying it in another language – "and I am also this Gansey."
"You're not Gansey," said Ronan. Each word dripped venom. "Gansey is dead. You killed him."
Glendower inclined his head. "You could see it that way."
Ronan turned away and knelt again by Gansey's body. "Jesus fuck. What do we do now?"
"I don't know." Adam sounded as lost as Ronan did, as lost as Blue felt. Raising Glendower had been Gansey's obsession, and now it was done, and the one person among them who wanted it most was dead.
"I don't like this place," whined Noah. "Can I go yet? Please?"
"Oh, Noah," said Blue. Her eyes filled with tears, though whether for Noah or Gansey she wasn't sure. For all of them. For this whole sad, sorry mess that had swept them all up, for the quest that had given them so much and then taken it away, taken everything away.
"The circle closes," said Glendower quietly.
There was a shout from the front of the cave. "Here they are!"
Blue raised her head. "Artemus?"
It was not just Artemus but everyone in Henrietta, it seemed: Maura and the Gray Man and Calla and Gwenllian, and things got confused for a while. Artemus rushed up to Glendower and knelt before him in the muck on the cave floor, while Maura hugged Blue. "I hate caves," her mother said in her ear. "Let's get out of here."
"Gansey." She couldn't complete the sentence.
"Leave him," said Gwenllian airily. "He can have this tomb. It's nicer than mine was."
"We can't do that to his family," said Blue, looking at Maura. "They'd want to know what had happened to him. They deserve to be able to bury him." She hugged her mother again, thinking again of the last time they were in a cave together. The idea of just allowing Gansey's family to think he'd disappeared somewhere appalled her. She remembered the Czerny family, their wordless grief when they buried Noah's bones; but at least it was something definite, an end to seven years of not knowing. "Like Noah." It hit her then, a sudden hammer to the gut, and she looked straight at Glendower. "That was the favor, wasn't it."
"He's gone," said Adam. He frowned and made some complex gesture with his hands that Blue couldn't interpret. "I mean, really gone. The energy of the ley line shifted just before everyone came in, I think – I mean, I felt...." His voice trailed off, and he shook his head. There was an odd note in his voice, an anguish that seemed out of proportion with the fact of Noah's disappearance. He swallowed. "We'll carry Gansey out. I guess I could call his parents."
"What are they doing?" asked Maura. She was looking past Blue toward the slab, where Artemus and Gwenllian now stood, each turned slightly toward Glendower, who now stood between them. "Artemus?"
But it was Gwenllian who answered. "This is none of your concern now. Go. Take the husk if you want it."
After some deliberation, the Gray Man lifted Gansey's body across his shoulders and began walking toward the cave mouth. Ronan and Adam followed, arguing fiercely but quietly about something Blue couldn't quite make out. As she turned to go, Glendower held up a hand. "Will you stay with me, Jane?"
"Not on your life," said Blue fervently, and she followed the others out.
They all went together to the funeral, which was held in Washington D.C. They hardly spoke on the drive, which was miserable. The weather was as bad as their collective mood, sheets of icy rain sleeting out of a black sky to freeze onto the asphalt, and Ronan drove too fast for the conditions, a scowl set on his face that warned Blue and Adam that if they complained they'd be dumped out on the highway to walk the rest of the way, goddamn it.
The service was tasteful and understated and Blue felt profoundly uncomfortable. Her mother had ordered her to buy an actual black dress, which made her feel as though she was wearing a costume. Helen introduced her to Gansey's parents as Adam's girlfriend, and Blue couldn't bring herself to correct her. She hadn't been Gansey's girlfriend, anyway, not really. Helen's words were perfectly nice but there was something in her tone that sounded like a sharp blade, and even though Blue knew that Helen couldn't know the role she had played in Gansey's death she still felt the guilt weighing her down, like any harshness directed at her would be only natural, her own fault.
On the way back to Henrietta she dozed in the back seat of Ronan's BMW, letting Ronan and Adam's sharp, furious conversation flow over her in waves. At one point she woke to hear Adam saying, "Maybe she's jealous. She fluttered her eyelashes a lot at me when I was up there, you know." His voice trailed off uncertainly, then finished, in a rushed mumble: "With Gansey."
"That time when you came back with that shitty car, yeah."
"You know it's not true. But we have to stick together. We're all that's left."
Blue wondered what it was that wasn't true. Because he did come back with the Hondayota, so that wasn't it.
"Yeah," said Ronan, and neither of them spoke for a long time, and eventually Blue drifted off to sleep again.
They did stick together, though. It was as though with the loss of Gansey (and Noah; of course he was already dead, had been dead for eight years at this point, but that didn't mean they didn't grieve for the loss of his ghostly presence) the rest of them had to draw even closer to hold their depleted circle together. It had been a joyous, all-encompassing, obsessive friendship among the five of them. Now it was less joyous, but no less obsessive, and they shut out the rest of the world as completely as they could.
It turned out that Gansey, being Gansey, had actually written a will, and he'd left the Pig to Ronan and the Suburban to Blue, and Monmouth, astonishingly, to Adam.
Adam didn't have much stuff to move, but Blue and Ronan helped him anyway, setting his books and things in the room that had been Noah's. The Henrietta model they left on the floor. None of them could stand the thought of moving any of Gansey's things out of Monmouth. And anyway, it was only going to be until next fall, when they went to college.
College. Every time she thought of it, Blue rolled the word around in her mind with delight, savoring the idea, the sheer audacious plan they had cooked up, she and Adam and Ronan. It was a wondrous thing to Blue, that they'd all be going to college together. The memory of that horrible meeting with Ms. Shiftlet still stung. Reach schools, match schools, and safety schools, the guidance counselor had chirped. A sensible backup plan; code for all you can afford is a community college, so don't bother applying to any real schools.
Just after they'd learned about Gansey's will they had been preparing the space, making room for Adam's few possessions, when Ronan had said, "If you want to get the kitchen out of the bathroom we could build something downstairs."
Adam had shrugged. "It's only until the end of the school year. I don't care."
"Like you're going somewhere?"
"Assuming I get in." Adam's mouth was compressed into a thin line. He pulled something out of the refrigerator, made a face at it, and dropped it into the trash can.
"Of course you'll get in," said Blue, glaring at Ronan. She was sitting on the floor pulling the mismatched pots and pans from the cabinet under the sink. They were junk, she decided, but they were better than the ones Adam had, and she slid them back into the cabinet. "They'll give you a scholarship too, with your grades," she added, trying not to sound envious.
"And Cabeswater's going to let you go?" asked Ronan.
Adam slammed the refrigerator door hard, making Blue jump. "Cabeswater apparently doesn't care what I do," he said, and stalked out into the main room.
Ronan frowned at Blue. "What." It was a flat statement, not a question, but she shrugged her incomprehension. He jerked his head toward the door, then strode off after Adam. Blue followed.
Adam had sunk down onto the corner of Gansey's bed, which still sat in the middle of the room. "Cabeswater's not talking to me. It's got Glendower and Artemus and Gwenllian. It doesn't need me." He sounded angry and sad, and a little bewildered, like a small child who has just seen his favorite toy snatched away by a playground bully. "It's weird, really. When Gansey told us about the favor, I was going to ask to be freed from my obligations to Cabeswater."
"You told me were going to ask for Gansey's life," said Blue.
"That was later. I mean, the first time he told us. Then I realized Cabeswater was here," he said, thumping his own chest with the flat of a hand. "I didn't want to lose it. I didn't want to be freed. But now everything feels wrong. I can still sense the ley line – everything Persephone taught me is still there. But Cabeswater isn't speaking through me any more."
"That's interesting," said Ronan, his voice sharp. "Because Chainsaw was gone when I got back here after all that shit with Glendower went down, and she never came back. I've been shut out, too." He held out his hand and curled his fingers into a fist, then opened them to reveal his empty palm. "No dreams. No nothing." His fingers curled again into a fist, and for a moment Blue thought he was going to punch the wall. The anger that always seethed in him seemed closer to the surface than usual, as though any small thing would cause it to bubble out and explode.
Blue and Adam stared at him. "But you're the Greywaren," Blue finally said.
"And yet," echoed Adam.
There was a pause. "Well," said Blue brightly, "I haven't changed. I still have zero psychic powers." And I killed my true love by kissing him, go me.
A trill of Irish music interrupted them. Ronan pulled his phone from out his pocket. "Yeah?"
"Matthew," Adam told Blue. "That's his ringtone."
"She's okay?" said Ronan into the phone. He sounded more animated than he had all afternoon, his earlier flat tones gone. "Are they still there? Did they say – huh." He leaned against the wall, curled around his phone, listening to whatever it was Matthew was telling him.
"Did you call Declan yet? No, you go ahead and do it. I'll see you on Sunday." The phone went back into his pocket, and he looked across the room at them, smiling. Blue couldn't remember the last time she'd seen Ronan smile. "My mother's back at the Barns."
"Awake?" asked Adam, and Ronan nodded.
"Glendower woke her, and Artemus brought her home." He looked at Blue. "Then he went back to the forest."
"That's great. I mean, about your mother." She tried not to let her disappointment show in her voice, but she wished Artemus had stayed in Henrietta. When they'd found him with Maura in the cave of the third sleeper, she'd thought she'd finally have her answers: why her parents had got together in the first place, why he'd left before she was born. Some small part of her had nurtured the tiny, ridiculous fantasy that that he might be so delighted by the human being he'd helped to create, that he'd want to get to know her.
He'd seemed pleased to meet her, true, and to greet Maura again. But then he'd gone off with Gansey – with Gansey! – and they'd plotted and planned, talked long into the night about Glendower and where his tomb had to be, and of course her mother had refused to allow her to join them. She'd felt it was robbing her of her time with them both. Ronan and Adam and Noah had been just as resentful. It had taken a while, but they'd finally convinced Gansey that it was something they deserved to do together, just the five of them. Without Artemus.
And look where it got us. Noah was gone and Gansey was dead, and Artemus was with his king. Everyone had left them; even Cabeswater had abandoned them.
Adam looked thoughtful. "So there's nothing keeping any of us here. No reason we can't all go off to college next fall."
"Easy for you to say," muttered Blue. Reach, match, and safety.
Ronan looked at both of them, then started laughing. "All right, Parrish, you win. We're all going off to college next fall. You write my essay, I'll find us an apartment."
"I'll try to get a loan," Blue said doubtfully.
"The First Bank of Lynch will be happy to – shut up, Sargent, we're doing this together or not at all, so stop trying to shoot us in the foot."
She shut up.
And in the fall, they went to college. Together.