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The Fortunes of Men

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The women of 300 Fox Way banished silence the way the Doges of Venice once cast out the Jews. Sound breathed and swelled in every corner and joist of the patchwork house -- small, spidery sounds of far-off phone lines and large, tromping sounds of clanging laughter and clashing cookware.

The Gray Man loved the bigness and the littleness of that noise, loved how it made him feel both minuscule and infinite within it. In the time before Maura and Blue and 300 Fox Way, his life contained only his noises: his thready heartbeat, his inner recitations, his aimless shuffling. Empty noises.

Now, the Gray Man hoarded slips of quiet, spinning them together in his mind like a net.

No, not a net.

A parachute.

No, not a parachute. A tent. A sequestered space lit from within, fluttering the feathered tatters of all his past resolves, now pleasantly frayed from the frenetic chatter of the house...

A fanciful image, even for him. Especially for him.

Maybe that was why the fragile Friday calm set his nerves to burning. In the span of twenty minutes, everyone vanished from the house, taking their various sounds with them: Orla to some high school bonding event, Jimi and the cousins to a traveling carnival, Calla on what might have been a date, but could also be a blood sacrifice.

Blue had been the last to leave, bounding to the door in a haze of organza and lace. She yelled something about fortunes and cakes, her tone floaty and blithe. Maura called something back, equally blithe, but more wry than floaty. The Pig thundered away, leaving contrails of quiet in its wake.

The Gray Man thought of the fortunes of men, of blood brothers and actual brothers, of the fortunes that favor, and of wheels that turn everything, each thing in its season.

Alone in the kitchen, Maura folded eggs into yellow cake mix. The room smelled of butter and warmth and dry flowers. He thought she would hum or sing to fill up the empty space, but she simply stirred until the batter smoothed to saffron ripples. On the table, a stack of cards crouched amidst bowls and teacups and mismatched spoons.

He watched her, knowing with a kind of airless clarity that she knew he was watching her. The soundlessness of the house pressed its fingertips around them, sealing them inside. He felt a sense of protectiveness over what lived there, like something softly at rest after far too long at war.

When she spoke, her words were soft as wing beats. "Here," she said. "Keep stirring."

He did as she bade, taking the spoon from her. Their fingers grazed, a meaningful graze. She drizzled in vanilla, almond extract, honey, and a twist of lemon, not measuring anything, but neither was she guessing.

"Deep family secret?" he asked.

"Mostly," she answered.

Maura rubbed a pan with a stick of butter, then dusted it with confectioner's sugar. For a moment, the Gray Man breathed in the layered scents of lavender oil, beeswax, and icing sugar. Not the type to swoon, he simply savored. Maura, seeming pleased, lay her hand on his hand. She took both spoon and bowl from him and poured the batter into the pan.

She pointed. He opened the oven. She placed the pan inside. She shut the oven door and leaned against it.

"How much time do we have?" he asked.

"You mean in this moment or in a lifetime?"

He answered, "Yes."

Maura took his hand and laced their fingers. She turned his wrist to study the colorless hairs and faded scars on the back of his hand. She examined his nails and her nails. She tested his grip against hers.

"Minutes," she said. "Maybe years."

"Years," he said. "New ground, for me."

She folded his arms around her, curling against him. She asked, "Deep family secret?"

He answered, "Mostly."

Maura moved his hand to the top of the deck of cards. "Cut them," she said.

He did. Before turning the card, he said, "Which is it?"

"Wheel of Fortune," she said.

And he said, "Sum sceal wildne fugel, wloncne atemian, heafoc on honda, oþþæt seo heoroswealwe."

Maura knew him well enough to know he wasn't finished. She waited, and she listened.

"The Fortunes of Men," he said. "That part's about hawks and bachelors." He tapped the unturned card. "And blood."

"Relation blood or killing blood?"

And he thought, How precisely she understands me. And how plain the pleasure of being understood.

"Relation blood," he said. "With a chosen family, the hawk becomes a devoted servant to the bachelor's needs."

Her mouth curved in a knowing smile. She said, "Then you're the hawk."

"I am," he agreed.

"But you're also the bachelor," she said.

The Gray Man lifted his chin. He stared down into her upturned face. In the light of her expression, he read the reason for the suddenly silent house, her baking, the careful examination of their linked hands. He sensed the impending decision, the scraps of words snagged in the cracks between their conversations. There were factors, he knew, things they'd left unspoken, things neither wanted to say.

But now Adam had left for the Cotswolds. Now the Greywaren had left along with him. Now Blue had saved Gansey. Now Gansey had subverted Blue's curse. Now Artemus... existed.

Now Maura and the Gray Man needed to speak.

Instead, the Gray Man had gathered these bits of quiet like tufts of wool or fluffs of silk. He hunched beneath them, listening, waiting... Hiding?

He? The Gray Man? Hiding? He might have run, once, but he was never one to hide.

"Was," he told her. "I was the bachelor."

"And now?"

He eyed her. Did she not know his answer? She did understand him, better, maybe, than anyone save for himself. But knowing and understanding, they both knew, were two very different things.

The Gray Man said, "You were in a cave for Blue's birthday."

Maura nodded. "I was."

"Then whose birthday -- ?"

She blinked, once, a knowing blink. "Yours," she said.

The Gray Man said, "I'm a Taurus."

And Maura said, "Different kind of beginning."

"Then you do know," he said.

She flipped the card. "I know you," she said. She slipped the card and her hands into his pockets and pulled him forward for a kiss. They parted, long, long moments later, and he breathed in the smell of the cake and the scent of her skin and the warm weight of the silent house.

Again, he said, "How long do we have?"

"This moment or a lifetime?" she asked.

The Gray Man said, "Lifetime."

"Well, then," Maura said. "Welcome home."