Lady Midnight – chapter 23

Cristina came out of Emma’s bedroom looking somber.

 

Mark caught a glimpse of the room before the door closed behind her: He saw Emma’s still form, looking small beneath a pile of heavy covers, and Julian sitting on the bed beside her. His brother’s head was bent, his dark hair falling to cover his face.

Mark had never seen him so miserable.

 

“Is she all right?” he asked Cristina. They were alone in the corridor. Most of the kids were still asleep.

 

Mark didn’t want to remember his brother’s face when Julian had woken up near the quickbeam and seen Mark kneeling over Emma’s body, her stele in his hand, drawing healing runes on her lacerated skin with the shaking, unpracticed hand of someone long unused to the language of angels.

 

He didn’t want to remember the way Julian had looked when they’d come inside, Mark carrying Cortana and Julian with Emma in his arms, her blood all over his shirt, her hair matted with it. He didn’t want to remember the way Emma had screamed when the whip came down, and the way she’d stopped screaming when she collapsed.

 

He didn’t want to remember Kieran’s face as Mark and Julian had raced back toward the Institute. Kieran had tried to stop Mark, had put his hand on his arm. His face had been bleached and pleading, his hair a riot of black and despairing blue.

 

Mark had shaken off his grip. “Touch me again with your hand and you will see it parted from your wrist forever,” he had snarled, and Gwyn had pulled Kieran away from him, speaking to him in a voice that was equal parts sternness and regret.

“Let him be, Kieran,” he said. “Enough has been done here this day.”

 

They’d carried Emma into her bedroom, and Julian had helped lay her down on the bed while Mark had gone to get Cristina.

 

Cristina hadn’t screamed when he’d awoken her, or even when she’d seen Emma in her torn and blood-soaked clothes. She had gone to work helping them: She’d put Emma into clean, dry clothes, had retrieved bandages for Jules, had washed the blood from Emma’s hair.

“She will be all right,” Cristina said now. “She will heal.”

 

Mark didn’t want to remember the way Emma’s skin had opened as the whip had come down, or the sound the whip made. The smell of blood mixing with the salt of the ocean air.

 

“Mark.” Cristina touched his face. He turned his cheek into her palm, involuntarily. She smelled like coffee and bandages. He wondered if Julian had told her everything—of Kieran’s suspicions of her, of

 

Mark’s inability to protect his brother or Emma.

 

Her skin was soft against his; her eyes, upturned, were wide and dark. Mark thought of Kieran’s eyes, like fragments of the glass inside a kaleidoscope, shattered and polychromatic. Cristina’s were steady. Singular.

 

She brought her hand down the side of his jaw, her expression thoughtful. Mark felt as if his whole body were tightening into a knot.

“Mark?” It was Julian’s voice, low, from the other side of the door.

“You should go in to your brother.” Cristina lowered her hand, brushing his shoulder once, reassuringly. “This is not your fault,” she said. “It is not. You understand?”

Mark nodded, unable to speak.

“I will wake the children and tell them,” she said, and set off down the hall, her stride as purposeful as if she were in gear, though she was wearing a T-shirt and pajama bottoms.

Mark took a deep breath and pushed open the door to Emma’s bedroom.

Emma lay unmoving, her pale hair spread out over the pillow, her chest rising and falling with steady breaths. They had used sleep runes on her, as well as runes to kill pain, stop blood loss, and heal.

 

Julian was still sitting beside her. Her hand was limp on the blanket; Julian had moved his own hand close to hers, their fingers interlocking but not touching. His head was turned away from Mark’s; Mark could only see the hunched set of his shoulders, the way the vulnerable curve of the nape of his neck looked like the curve of Emma’s back as the whip came down.

He seemed very young.

“I tried,” Mark said. “I tried to take the lashes. Gwyn wouldn’t allow it.”

“I know. I saw you try,” Julian said in a flat voice. “But Emma’s killed faeries. You haven’t. They wouldn’t have wanted to whip you, once they had the chance to whip her. It didn’t matter what you did.”

 

Mark cursed himself silently. He had no idea what the human words were with which he could comfort his brother.

 

“If she died,” Julian went on in the same flat voice, “I would want to die. I know that’s not healthy. But it’s the truth.”

 

“She won’t die,” Mark said. “She’s going to be fine. She just needs to recover. I have seen what men— what people—look like when they’re going to die. There is a look that comes over them. This is not it.”

 

“I can’t help wondering,” said Julian. “This whole business. Someone’s trying to bring back the person they loved, a person who died. It feels almost wrong. As if maybe we should let them.”

 

“Jules,” Mark said. He could feel the jagged edges of his little brother’s emotions, like the touch of a razor on skin long covered by bandages. This was what it meant to be family, he thought. To hurt when someone else hurt. To want to protect them. “They’re taking lives. You can’t pay for tragedy with more tragedy, or draw life from death.”

 

“I just know that if it were her, if it were Emma, I would do the same thing.” Julian’s eyes were haunted. “I would do whatever I had to.”

 

“You wouldn’t.” Mark put his hand on Julian’s shoulder, pulling him around. Julian moved reluctantly to face his brother. “You would do the right thing. All your life, you’ve done the right thing.”

“I’m sorry,” Julian said.

You’re sorry? All of this, Jules, the convoy— If I hadn’t told Cristina about Gwyn’s cloak—” “They would have found something else to punish you with,” said Julian. “Kieran wanted to hurt you.

 

You hurt him, so he wanted to hurt you. I’m sorry—sorry about Kieran, because I can see you cared about him. I’m sorry I didn’t know you’d left anyone you cared about behind. I’m sorry that for years I thought you were the one who had freedom, that you were enjoying yourself in Faerie while I killed myself here trying to raise four kids and run the Institute and keep Arthur’s secrets. I wanted to believe you were okay —I wanted to believe one of us was okay. So much.”

 

“You wanted to believe I was happy, just as I wanted to believe the same about you,” Mark said. “I had thought about whether you were happy, thriving, living. I had never stopped to wonder what kind of man you might have grown up to be.” He paused. “I am proud of you. I have had little hand in the shaping of you, but I am proud nonetheless to call you my brother—to call all of you my brothers and sisters. And I will not leave you again.”

Julian’s eyes widened, their color Blackthorn bright in the gloom. “You won’t go back to Faerie?” “No matter what happens,” Mark said, “I will stay here. I will always, always stay here.”

 

He put his arms around Julian and held him tightly. Julian exhaled, as if he were letting go of something heavy that he had carried for a long time, and leaning on Mark’s shoulder, he let his older brother bear just a little of his weight.

 

Emma dreamed about her parents.

 

They were in the small white-painted Venice house they had lived in when she was a child. She could see the faint glimmer of the canals from the window. Her mother sat at the kitchen island, a cloth spread out in front of her. On the cloth lay an array of knives, sorted from smallest to largest. The largest was Cortana, and Emma gazed at it hungrily, drinking in the smooth goldness, the sharp glow of the blade.

 

Compared to the brilliance of the weapon, her mother seemed a shadow. Her hair glowed, and her hands, as she worked, but the edges of her were indistinct, and Emma was terrified that if she reached for her mother she would disappear.

 

Music rose around them. Emma’s father, John, came into the kitchen, his violin tucked against his shoulder. Usually he played with a shoulder rest but not now. The violin poured forth music like water and—

The sharp crack of a whip, pain like fire.

 

Emma gasped. Her mother lifted her head. “Is something wrong, Emma?”

 

“I—no, nothing.” She turned toward her father. “Keep playing, Dad.” Her father gave his gentle smile. “You sure you don’t want to try?”

 

Emma shook her head. Whenever she touched bow to strings, it made the sound of a strangled cat. “Music is in the blood of the Carstairs,” he said. “This violin once belonged to Jem Carstairs.”

 

Jem, Emma thought. Jem, who had helped her through her parabatai ceremony with gentle hands and a thoughtful smile. Jem, who had given her his cat to watch over her.

 

Pain that went through skin like a blade. Cristina’s voice saying, “Emma, oh, Emma, why did they hurt you so much?”

 

Her mother lifted Cortana. “Emma, I’m sure you’re a thousand miles away.” “Maybe not quite that far.” Her father lowered his bow.

“Emma.” It was Mark’s voice. “Emma, come back. For Julian, please. Come back.”

“Trust him,” said John Carstairs. “He will come to you, and he will need your help. Trust James Carstairs.”

 

“But he said he had to go, Papa.” Emma had not called her father Papa since she was very small. “He said there was something he was looking for.”

“He is about to find it,” said John Carstairs. “And then there will be yet more for you to do.”

“Jules, come have something to eat—”

“Not now, Livvy. I need to stay with her.”

“But, Papa,” Emma whispered. “Papa, you’re dead.”

John Carstairs smiled sadly. “As long as there is love and memory, there is no true death,” he said. He put bow to strings and began to play again. Music rose up, swirling around the kitchen like smoke. Emma stood up from the kitchen chair. The sky was darkening outside, the setting sun reflected in the

 

canal water. “I have to go.”

 

“Oh, Em.” Her mother came around the kitchen island toward her. She was carrying Cortana. “I know.”

 

Shadows moved across the inside of her mind. Someone was holding her hand so tightly it hurt. “Emma, please,” said the voice she loved the most in the world. “Emma, come back.”

 

Emma’s mother placed the sword in her hands. “Steel and temper, daughter,” she said. “And remember that a blade made by Wayland the Smith can cut anything.”

 

“Go back.” Her father kissed her on the forehead. “Go back, Emma, to where you are needed.” “Mama,” she whispered. “Papa.”

 

She tightened her grip on the sword. The kitchen whirled away from her, folding up like an envelope. Her mother and father disappeared into it, like words written long ago.

 

“Cortana,” Emma gasped.

 

She thrashed upward and cried out in pain. Sheets were tangled around her waist. She was in bed, in her room. The lamps were on but dimly lit, the window cracked open slightly. The table next to the bed was piled with bandages and folded towels. The room smelled of blood and burning.

 

“Emma?” An incredulous voice. Cristina was sitting at the foot of the bed, a roll of bandages and some scissors in her hand. She dropped them to the floor as she saw that Emma’s eyes were open, and flung herself onto the bed. “Oh, Emma!”

 

She threw her arms around Emma’s shoulders, and for a moment, Emma clung to her. She wondered if this was what it was like to have an older sister, someone who could be your friend and also take care of you.

“Ouch,” Emma said meekly. “It hurts.”

 

Cristina pulled back. Her eyes were red-rimmed. “Emma, are you all right? Do you remember everything that happened?”

 

Emma put a hand to her head. Her throat hurt. She wondered if it was from screaming. She hoped not. She hadn’t wanted to give Iarlath the satisfaction. “I . . . how long have I been passed out?”

 

“Out? Oh, asleep. Since this morning. All day, really. Julian has been in here with you the whole time. I finally convinced him to eat something. He’ll be horrified that you woke up and he wasn’t here.” Cristina pushed Emma’s tangled hair back.

 

“I should get up. . . . I should see . . . Is everyone all right? Did anything happen?” Her mind suddenly full of awful images of the faeries, done with her, going after Mark or Julian or somehow, even, the children, Emma tried to swing her legs over the side of the bed.

 

“Nothing has happened.” Cristina pushed her back gently. “You are tired and weak; you need food and runes. A whipping like that . . . You can whip someone to death, you know that, Emma?”

“Yes,” Emma whispered. “Will my back be scarred forever?”

“Probably,” Cristina said. “But it won’t be bad—the iratzes closed the wounds quickly. They couldn’t quite heal them all. There will be marks, but they will be light.” Her eyes were red. “Emma, why did you do it? Why? You really think your body is so much stronger than Mark’s or Julian’s?”

 

“No,” Emma said. “I think everyone is strong and weak in different ways. There are things I’m terrified of that Mark isn’t. Like the ocean. But he’s been tortured enough—what it would have done to him, I don’t even know. And Julian . . . I felt it when they whipped him. In my body, in my heart. It was the worst feeling I’ve ever felt, Cristina. I would have done anything to stop it. It was selfish.”

 

“It was not selfish.” Cristina caught Emma’s hand and squeezed it. “I have thought now for a while that I would never want a parabatai,” she said. “But I would feel differently, I think, if that parabatai could have been you.”

 

I wish you were my parabatai, too, Emma thought, but she couldn’t say it—it felt disloyal to Julian, despite everything.

 

Instead she said, “I love you, Cristina,” and squeezed the other girl’s hand back. “But the investigation —I should go with you—”

“To where? The library? Everyone has been reading and searching all day for more information about Lady Midnight. We will find something, but we have plenty of people to look at pages.”

“There are other things to do besides look at pages—”

The door opened, and Julian was on the threshold. His eyes widened and for a moment they were all Emma could see, like blue-green doors to another world.

 

“Emma.” His voice sounded rough and cracked. He was wearing jeans and a loose white shirt and beneath it the outline of a bandage, wrapping around his chest, was visible. His eyes were red, his hair tousled, and there was a faint sprinkling of stubble along his chin and cheeks. Julian never went without shaving, ever since the first time he’d shown up with stubble and Ty had told him, without preamble, “I don’t like it.”

“Julian,” Emma said, “are you all ri—”

But Julian had thrown himself across the room. Without seeming to see anything but Emma, he dropped to his knees and flung his arms around her, burying his face against her stomach.

 

She reached down with a shaking hand and stroked his curls, raising her eyes in alarm to meet Cristina’s. But Cristina was already rising to her feet, murmuring that she would tell the others that Julian was looking after Emma. Emma heard the lock click as she closed the bedroom door behind her.

 

“Julian,” Emma murmured, her hand tangling in his hair. He wasn’t moving; he was entirely still. He breathed in shakily before lifting his head.

“By the Angel, Emma,” he said in a cracked whisper. “Why did you do it?”

She winced, and he was suddenly on his feet. “You need more healing runes,” he said. “Of course, I’m so stupid, of course you need them.” It was true: She did hurt. Some places ached dully, others with a sharper pain. Emma breathed in as Diana had taught her—slowly, steadily—as he retrieved his stele.

 

He dropped down on the bed beside her. “Hold still,” he said, and put the instrument to her skin. She felt the pain ebb until it was a dull ache.

“How long—when did you wake up?” Emma asked.

He was in the act of putting his stele back on the table. “If you mean did I see them whip you, no,” he said grimly. “What do you remember?”

 

“I remember Gwyn and the others came . . . Iarlath . . . Kieran.” She thought of blazing-hot sun, a tree with bark the color of blood. Black and silver eyes. “Kieran and Mark love each other.”

 

“They did,” Julian said. “I’m not sure how Mark feels about him now.” She drew in a ragged breath. “I dropped Cortana—”

 

“Mark brought it inside,” he said in a voice that indicated that Cortana was the last thing on his mind. “God, Emma, when I came back to consciousness the convoy was gone and you were on the ground, bleeding, and Mark was trying to lift you up and I thought you were dead,” he said, and there was not a trace of remoteness in his voice, just a fierce wildness she had never really associated with Julian before. “They whipped you, Emma, you took the whipping meant for Mark and for me. I hate that you did that, you understand, I hate it—” Emotion crackled and burned in his voice, like a fire raging out of control. “How could you?”

 

“Mark couldn’t have stood the whipping,” she said. “It would have broken him. And I couldn’t have borne watching them whip you. It would have broken me.”

 

“You think I don’t feel the same way?” he demanded. “You think I haven’t been sitting here all day totally shattered and ripped apart? I’d rather cut my arm off than have you lose a fingernail, Emma.”

“It wasn’t just about you,” she said. “The kids— Look, they expect me to fight, to get hurt. They think: There’s Emma, scratched up again, cut up and bandaged. But you, they look to you in a way they don’t look to me. If you were seriously hurt, it would scare them so badly. And I couldn’t stand thinking of them

 

so scared.”

 

Julian’s fingers tightened into a hard spiral. She could see the pulse running under his skin. She thought, randomly, of some graffiti she had seen on the side of the Malibu Pier: Your heart is a weapon the size of your fist.

“God, Emma,” he said. “What I’ve done to you.”

“They’re my family too,” she said. Emotion was threatening to choke her. She bit it back.

 

“Sometimes I wish—I’ve wished—that we were married and they were our kids,” he said rapidly. His head was bowed.

“Married?” Emma echoed, shocked.

His head came up. His eyes were burning. “Why do you think that I—”

 

“Love me less than I love you?” she said. He flinched visibly at the words. “Because you said so. I as much as told you on the beach how I felt, and you said ‘not that way, Emma.’”

“I didn’t—”

“I’m tired of lying to each other,” said Emma. “Do you understand? I’m sick of it, Julian.”

 

He scrubbed his hands through his hair. “I can’t see any way for this to be all right,” he said. “I can’t see anything but a nightmare where everything falls apart, and where I don’t have you.”

 

“You don’t have me now,” she said. “Not in the way that matters. The truthful way.” She tried to kneel up on the bed. Her back ached, and her arms and legs felt tired, as if she had run and climbed for miles.

Julian’s eyes darkened. “Does it still hurt?” He fumbled among the items on the nightstand, came up with a vial. “Malcolm made me this a while ago. Drink it.”

 

The vial was full of a chartreuse-gold liquid. It tasted a little like flat champagne. The moment Emma swallowed it, she felt a numbness sweep over her. The ache in her limbs receded, and a cool, flowing energy replaced it.

 

Julian took the vial from her and dropped it onto the bed. He slid one arm under her knees, the other under her shoulders, and lifted her bodily off the bed. For a moment she clung to him in surprise. She could feel his heart beating, smell his soap and paint and cloves scent. His hair was soft against her cheek.

“What are you doing?” she said.

 

“I need you to come with me.” His voice was tight, as if he were screwing his courage up to do something horrible. “I need you to see something.”

 

“You make it sound like you’re a serial killer with a freezer full of arms,” Emma muttered as he shouldered open the door.

“The Clave would probably be happier about that.”

Emma wanted to rub her cheek against his, feel the roughness of his stubble. He was entirely a mess, actually, his shirt on inside out and his feet bare. She felt a rush of affection and wanting so intense that her whole body tightened.

“You can put me down,” she said. “I’m fine. I don’t need to be princess-carried.”

 

He laughed, a short, choked laugh. “I didn’t know that was a verb,” he said, but he set her on her feet. Carefully and slowly, and they leaned into each other, as if neither of them could stand the fact that in a moment, they would no longer be touching.

 

Emma’s heart began to pound. It pounded as she followed Julian down the empty corridor, and it pounded as they started up the back staircase and went into his studio. It pounded as she leaned against the paint-covered island, and Julian went to take a key from a drawer by the window.

 

She saw him breathe in, his shoulders rising. He looked the way he had when he was steeling himself to be whipped.

 

Having gathered his courage, he went to the door of the locked room, the one that no one but him ever entered. He turned the key in the lock with a decisive click and the door sprang open.

 

He stood aside. “Go in,” he said.

 

Years of ingrained habit and respect for Julian’s privacy held Emma back. “Are you sure?” He nodded. He was pale. She drew away from the island and crossed the room with a sense of

 

apprehension. Maybe he did have bodies in there. Whatever it was, it had to be something awful. She’d never seen him look like he did now.

 

She stepped inside the room. For a moment she thought she’d stepped into a funhouse of mirrors. Reflections of herself stared back from every surface. The walls were covered with tacked-up sketches and paintings, and there was an easel as well, set up in one corner near the single window, with a half-finished drawing on it. Two countertops ran the length of the east and west walls, and those, too, were covered in art.

Every image was of her.

There she was training, holding Cortana, playing with Tavvy, reading to Dru. In one watercolor, she was sleeping on the beach, her head pillowed on her hand. The details of the slope of her shoulder, the individual grains of sand stuck to her skin like sugar, had been rendered so lovingly that she felt almost dizzy. In another, she rose above the city of Los Angeles. She was naked, but her body was transparent— one could see only the outlines of it, and the stars of the night sky shone through her. Her hair tumbled down like brilliant light, illuminating the world.

 

She remembered what he’d said to her when they were dancing. I was thinking about painting you. Painting your hair. That I’d have to use titanium white to get the color right, the way it catches light and almost glows. But that wouldn’t work, would it? It’s not all one color, your hair, it’s not just gold: It’s amber and tawny and caramel and wheat and honey.

 

She reached up to touch her hair, which she’d never thought of as anything but ordinary blond, and then stared at the painting clipped to the easel. It was half-finished, an image of Emma striding out of the ocean, Cortana strapped to her hip. Her hair was down, as it was in most of the pictures, and he had made it look like the spray of the ocean at sunset, when the last rays of daylight turned the water to a brutal gold. She looked beautiful, fierce, as terrible as a goddess.

 

She bit her lip. “You like my hair down,” she said. Julian gave a short laugh. “Is that all you have to say?”

 

She turned to look at him directly. They were standing close together. “These are beautiful,” she said. “Why didn’t you ever show them to me? To anyone?”

 

He exhaled, gave her a slow, sad smile. “Ems, no one could look at these and not know how I feel about you.”

 

She put her hand on the counter. It suddenly seemed important to have something to keep her steady on her feet. “How long have you been drawing me?”

 

He sighed. A moment later his hand came to rest in her hair. His fingers twined in the strands. “My whole life.”

“I remember you used to, but then you stopped.”

“I never stopped. I just learned to hide it.” His smile vanished. “My last secret.” “I very much doubt that,” Emma said.

 

“I have lied and lied and lied.” Julian spoke slowly. “I’ve made myself an expert at lying. I stopped thinking lies could be destructive. Even evil. Until I stood on that beach and told you I didn’t feel that way about you.”

 

She was gripping the counter so hard her hand ached. “Feel what way?” “You know,” he said, drawing away from her.

 

Suddenly, she thought she’d done too much, pushed him too far, but the desperation to know inside her overrode that. “I need to hear it. Spell it out for me, Julian.”

 

He went toward the door. Took hold of the knob—for a moment she thought he was going to leave the

 

room—and he swung the door of the small room closed. Locked it, closing them inside. Turned to her. His eyes were luminous in the dim light.

“I tried to stop,” he said. “That’s why I went to England. I thought if I was away from you, maybe I’d stop feeling what I was feeling. But as soon as I got back, the first second that I saw you, I knew it hadn’t made any difference.” He looked around the room, his expression almost resigned. “Why all these paintings of you? Because I’m an artist, Emma. These pictures are my heart. And if my heart was a canvas, every square inch of it would be painted over with you.”

Her gaze locked with his. “You mean it,” she said. “You really mean it.”

“I know I lied to you on the beach. But I swear on our parabatai oaths, I’m telling you the truth now.” He spoke clearly, deliberately, as if he couldn’t bear a single word he was telling her to be misunderstood or lost. “I love everything about you, Emma. I love the way I can recognize your footsteps in the hallway outside my room even when I didn’t know you were coming. No one else walks or breathes or moves like you do. I love the way you gasp when you’re asleep, like your dreams have surprised you. I love the way when we stand together on the beach our shadows blend into one person. I love the way you can write on my skin with your fingers and I can understand it better than I could understand someone else shouting in my ear. I didn’t want to love you like this. It’s the worst idea in the world that I love you like this. But I can’t stop. Believe me, I’ve tried.”

 

It was the pain in his voice that convinced her. It was the same pain that had beaten in her own heart for so long that she’d stopped knowing it for what it was. She let go of the counter. She took a step toward Julian, and then another one. “Are you— Are you in love with me?”

His smile was soft and sad. “So much.”

 

A moment later she was in his arms and kissing him. She couldn’t have said how it happened exactly, just that it seemed inevitable. And that for all that Julian’s voice had been quiet when he’d spoken, his mouth on hers was eager and his body was wanting and desperate. He clutched her to him, his lips tracing the outline of her mouth. Her hands were fierce in his hair—she’d always loved his hair, and now that she could touch it freely, she buried her hands in the thick waves, winding them around her fingers.

 

His hands slid to the backs of her thighs and he lifted her up as if she weighed nothing. She locked her hands around his neck, clinging on as he held her against him with one arm. She was aware of him grabbing at the papers covering the counter, knocking them to the floor along with tubes of paint, until he’d cleared a space where he could set her down.

 

She pulled him in, keeping her legs wrapped around his waist. There was nothing closed about him now, nothing diffident or remote or reticent as their kisses grew deeper, wilder, hotter.

 

“Tell me I didn’t screw this up forever,” Julian gasped between kisses. “I was such an ass on the beach —and when I saw you with Mark in your room—”

 

Emma slid her hands down to his shoulders, broad and strong under her grip. She felt drunk on kissing. This was what people fought wars over, she thought, and killed each other over, and destroyed their lives for: this nerve-shredding mixture of longing and pleasure. “Nothing was happening—”

 

His hands stroked her hair. “I know it’s ridiculous. But when you had a crush on Mark, when you were twelve, it was the first time I remember ever being jealous. It doesn’t make any sense, I know that, but the things we’re most frightened of, we can’t make ourselves dismiss them. If you and Mark ever . . . I don’t think I could come back from that.”

 

Something about the raw honesty in his voice touched her. “Everyone has things they’re afraid of,” she whispered, moving closer into his arms. She slid her fingers under the hem of his shirt. “It’s part of being human.”

 

His eyes slipped half-closed. His fingers raked down through her hair; his hands caressed her back lightly, then found her waist, pulling her harder into him. Her head fell back, almost banging into one of the cabinets; his lips burned on her collarbone. His skin was hot under her touch. She could understand

 

suddenly why people talked about passion as fire: She felt as if they had caught aflame and were burning like the dry Malibu hills, about to become ashes that would mix together forever.

“Tell me you love me, Emma,” he said against her throat. “Even if you don’t mean it.” She gasped; how could he think, how could he not realize—?

 

There was the sound of footsteps in the studio. “Julian?” Livvy’s voice echoed through the door. “Hey, Jules, where are you?”

 

Emma and Julian ripped themselves away from each other in a panic. They were both disheveled, their hair mussed, their lips kiss-swollen. Nor could Emma imagine how they’d explain why they’d locked themselves into Julian’s private room.

 

“Juuules!” Livvy was yelling now, good-naturedly. “We’re in the library and Ty sent me to get you. . . .” Livvy paused, most likely looking around the room. “Seriously, Julian, where are you?”

The knob of the door turned.

Julian stood frozen. The knob jiggled again, the door rattling against its lock. Emma tensed.

 

There was the sound of a sigh. The knob stopped jiggling. Footsteps moved away from them, and then the studio door banged closed.

 

Emma looked at Julian. She felt as if her blood had frozen and then unthawed suddenly; it was pounding through her veins like a spring torrent. “It’s okay,” she breathed.

 

Julian caught her and hugged her fiercely, his bitten-nailed hands digging into her shoulders. He gripped her so tightly she could barely breathe.

 

Then he let go. He did it as if he was forcing himself, as if he were starving and he was putting aside the last piece of food he had. But he did it.

“We’d better go,” he said.

 

Back in her bedroom, Emma showered and changed as quickly as she could. She slid on jeans and couldn’t help a wince as her T-shirt came down over her head, scraping against the bandages on her back. She was going to need new ones soon, and probably another iratze.

She headed out, only to discover that the hallway was already occupied.

 

“Emma,” Mark said, unhitching himself from the wall. His voice sounded tired. “Julian said you were all right. I—I’m so sorry.”

 

“It’s not your fault, Mark,” she said. “It is,” he said. “I trusted Kieran.”

“You trusted him because you loved him.”

 

He glanced at her, surprised. He looked off-kilter, and not just because of his eyes: It was as if someone had reached inside him and shaken the roots of his beliefs. She could still hear him screaming as Iarlath whipped first Julian and then her. “It was that clear?”

 

“You looked at him like—” Like I look at Julian. “Like you look at someone you love,” she said. “I’m sorry I didn’t realize it before. I thought you . . .” Liked Cristina, maybe? Kieran sure seemed jealous of her. “Liked girls,” she finished. “Teach me to make assumptions.”

 

“I do,” he said quizzically. “Like girls.” “Oh,” she said. “You’re bisexual?”

 

“Last time I checked, that’s what you call it,” he said with a brief look of amusement. “There are no real words for these things in Faerie, so . . .”

She winced. “Double sorry on the assumptions.”

“It’s all right,” he said. “You are correct about Kieran. He was all I had for a long time.”

 

“If it makes any difference, he does love you,” said Emma. “I could see it on his face. I don’t think he expected any of us to be hurt. I think he thought they’d bring you back to Faerie, where you could be with

 

him. He would never have thought—”

 

But at that, at the memory of the whip coming down not just on her back but on Julian’s, her throat closed.

 

“Emma,” Mark said. “The day that I was taken by the Hunt—the last thing I said to Julian was that he should stay with you. I thought of you, even when I was gone, as this delicate girl, this little thing with blond braids. I knew if anything happened to you, even then, Julian would be heartbroken.”

 

Emma felt her own heart skip a beat, but if Mark meant anything out of the ordinary by “heartbroken,” it wasn’t evident.

 

“Today, you protected him,” Mark said. “You took the whipping that was meant for him. It was not easy to watch what they did to you. I wish it had been me. I wish it a thousand times. But I know why my brother wanted to protect me. And I am grateful to you for protecting him in turn.”

Emma breathed past the tightness in her throat. “I had to do it.”

 

“I will always owe you,” Mark said, and his voice was the voice of a prince of Faerie, whose promises were more than promises. “Anything you want, I will give it to you.”

 

“That’s quite a promise. You don’t have to—” “I want to,” he said with finality.

 

After a moment Emma nodded, and the strangeness was broken. Mark the faerie lapsed back into being Mark Blackthorn, filling her in on the progress of the investigation as they headed down to join the others. In order to keep Uncle Arthur from finding out about what had happened with Emma and the faerie convoy, Julian had arranged for Arthur to attend a meeting with Anselm Nightshade at the pizza place on Cross Creek Road. Nightshade had sent a car for Arthur earlier, promising they both would return when night fell.

 

The rest of the family had been in the library. They had torn through piles of books in search of information about Lady Midnight.

“Did they learn anything?” she asked.

“I’m not sure. I was just on my way to the library when Mr. Hot and Sexy showed up and said he had information.”

 

“Whoa.” Emma held up her hand. “Mr. Hot and Sexy?” “Perfect Diego,” Mark grumbled.

 

“Okay, look, I know you haven’t been back from Faerie all that long, but here in the human world, Mr. Hot and Sexy is not an effective insult.”

 

Mark didn’t get a chance to reply; they had reached the library. The moment they went inside, Emma was nearly knocked off her feet by a rushing figure with a determined hug—it was Livvy, who promptly burst into tears.

 

“Ouuuch,” Emma said, glancing around. The whole room was covered in stacks of paper, piles of books. “Liv, mind the bandages.”

 

“I can’t believe you let those faeries whip you, oh, I hate them, I hate the Courts, I’ll kill all of them—” “‘Let’ is maybe not the word,” Emma said. “Anyway, I’m all right. It was fine. It didn’t even hurt that

much.”

 

“Ooh, you liar!” said Cristina, emerging from behind a stack of books with Diego beside her. Interesting, Emma thought. “It was very heroic, what you did, but also very stupid.”

 

Diego looked at Emma with serious brown eyes. “If I had known what was to happen, I would have stayed and volunteered to be whipped myself. I am more muscular and larger than you, and I probably could have taken it better.”

 

“I took it fine,” said Emma, annoyed. “But thanks for the reminder that you’re an enormous hulk. I might have forgotten otherwise.”

“Argh! Stop it!” Cristina dissolved into a torrent of Spanish.

 

Emma held her hands up. “Cristina, slow down.” “Would it help?” said Diego. “Do you speak Spanish?” “Not much,” Emma said.

He gave a small smile. “Ah, well, in that case, she’s complimenting us.”

 

“I know those weren’t compliments,” Emma said, but then the door opened and it was Julian, and suddenly everyone was deputized to help carry books and line them up on the table and sort papers. Ty was sitting at the head of the table as if he were leading a board meeting. He didn’t smile at Emma exactly, but gave her a sideways glance that Emma knew meant affection, and then looked back down at what he was doing.

 

Emma didn’t look at Julian, no more than a glance, at least. She didn’t think she could. She was aware of his presence as she crossed the room to the long table, though. He came and stood at Ty’s left, looking down at his notes.

“Where are Tavvy and Dru?” she asked, lifting the top volume from a stack of books.

 

“Tavvy was getting stir-crazy. Dru took him down to the beach,” said Livvy. “Ty thinks he might have figured something out.”

 

“Who she was,” Ty said. “Our Lady Midnight. Tavvy’s book reminded me of a story I read in one of the Blackthorn history books—”

“But we’ve looked through all the Blackthorn history books,” Julian said.

Ty gave him a superior look. “We looked at everything going back a hundred years,” he said. “But Tavvy’s book said Lady Midnight was in love with someone she was forbidden to love.”

 

“And so we thought, what’s a forbidden love?” said Livvy eagerly. “I mean, people who are related, gross, and people who are way younger or older than each other, which is also gross, and people who are sworn enemies, which is not gross but is sort of sad . . .”

 

“People who like Star Wars and people who like Star Trek,” said Emma. “Et cetera. Where are you going with this, Livs?”

 

“Or parabatai, like Silas Pangborn and Eloisa Ravenscar,” Livvy went on, and Emma was instantly sorry she’d made a joke. She felt herself become very, very aware of where Julian was standing, how close he was to her, how much he had tensed. “But that doesn’t seem likely. So then we thought—it was totally forbidden to fall in love with Downworlders before the Accords. It would have been a big scandal.”

 

“So we dug into the earlier histories,” said Ty. “And we found something. There was a family of Blackthorns who had a daughter who fell in love with a warlock. They were going to run off together, but her family caught them. She was sent to be an Iron Sister.”

 

“‘Her parents trapped her in an iron castle.’” Mark had caught up Tavvy’s book. “That’s what that means.”

 

“You speak the language of fairy tales,” said Diego. “Not surprising, I suppose.” “So then she died,” said Emma. “What was her name?”

 

“Annabel,” said Livvy. “Annabel Blackthorn.” Julian exhaled. “Where did all this happen?”

“In England,” said Ty. “Two hundred years ago. Before ‘Annabel Lee’ was ever written.”

“I found something as well,” said Diego. From the inside pocket of his jacket, he produced a slightly wilted-looking stem with several leaves clustered on it. He laid it on the table. “Don’t touch it,” he said as Livvy reached out. She drew her hand back. “It’s belladonna. Deadly nightshade. Only fatal if ingested or absorbed in the bloodstream, but still.”

“From the convergence site?” said Mark. “I noticed it there.”

 

“Yes,” said Diego. “It is much deadlier than your average belladonna. I suspect it was what was smeared on the arrows that I bought at the Shadow Market.” He frowned. “The odd thing is that it

 

normally only grows in Cornwall.”

 

“The girl who fell in love with the warlock,” Ty said. “That was in Cornwall.”

Everything in the room suddenly seemed very clear and bright and harsh, like a photograph brought into sudden focus. “Diego,” Emma said. “Who did you buy the arrows from? In the Market?”

Diego frowned. “A human with the Sight. I think his name was Rook—”

“Johnny Rook,” said Julian. His eyes, meeting Emma’s, were dark with a sudden realization. “You think—”

She held out her hand. “Give me your phone.”

She was aware of the others looking at her curiously as she took the phone from Julian and strode across the room, dialing as she went. The line rang several times before it picked up.

“Hello?”

“Rook,” she said. “It’s Emma Carstairs.”

“I told you not to call me.” His voice was cold. “After what your friend did to my son—”

 

“If you don’t talk to me now, the next visit you get will be from the Silent Brothers,” she snapped. There was rage in her voice, though little of it was actually about him. Anger was rising in her like a tide; anger, and the sense of betrayal. “Look, I know you sold my friend some arrows. They were poisoned. With a poison only the Guardian of the Followers would have access to.” She was gambling now, but she could tell by the silence on the other end of the phone that her shot in the dark wasn’t going wide. “You said you didn’t know who he was. You lied.”

 

“I didn’t lie,” Rook said after a pause. “I don’t know who he is.” “Then how do you know it’s a he?”

 

“Look, he always showed up in a robe and gloves and a hood, okay? Completely covered. He asked me to distill those leaves, make a compound he could use. I did it.”

“So you could poison the arrows?”

She could hear the smirk in Rook’s voice. “I had a little left over and thought I’d amuse myself. Centurions aren’t too popular around the Shadow Market, and belladonna’s illegal.”

 

Emma wanted to scream at him, wanted to scream that one of the arrows he’d poisoned for fun had nearly killed Julian. She held herself back. “What else did you do for the Guardian?”

 

“I don’t need to tell you anything, Carstairs. You don’t have any proof I know the Guardian that well—” “Really? Then how did you know that body was going to be dumped at the Sepulchre?” Rook was

 

silent. “Do you know what the prisons in the Silent City are like? Do you really want to experience them firsthand?”

“No—”

“Then tell me what else you did for him. The Guardian. Did you use necromancy?”

 

“No! Nothing like that.” Now Rook sounded a little panicked. “I did things for the Followers. Made luck charms for them, made sure they’d have some windfalls, access to parties, premieres, have people fall in love with them. Get their deals made. No big things. Just enough to keep them happy and believing that it was worth it to stay. Believing the Guardian was taking care of them and they were going to get everything they wanted.”

“And what did he do for you in return?”

“Money,” Rook said flatly. “Protection. He warded my house against demons. He has some magical power, that guy.”

“You worked for a guy who sacrificed people,” Emma pointed out.

“It was a cult.” Rook was practically snarling. “Those have always existed—they always will. People want money and power and they’ll do anything to get them. That’s not my fault.”

 

“Yeah, people sure will do anything for money. You’re proof of that.” Emma tried to rein in her temper, but her heart was pounding. “Tell me anything else about this guy. You must have noticed his voice—they

 

way he walked—anything weird about him—”

 

“Everything’s weird about a guy who shows up completely wrapped in fabric. I couldn’t even see his shoes, okay? He didn’t sound like he was all there. He’s the one who told me to tell you about the Selpulchre. He babbled a lot of nonsense, once he said he came to L.A. to bring back love—”

 

Emma hung up. She looked at the others with her heart slamming against her chest. “It’s Malcolm,” she said, her voice sounding distant and tinny in her ears. “Malcolm’s the Guardian.”

They looked at her with silent, stunned expressions.

“Malcolm’s our friend,” said Ty. “That doesn’t— He wouldn’t do that.”

“Ty’s right,” said Livvy. “Just because Annabel Blackthorn was in love with a warlock—”

 

“She was in love with a warlock,” Emma repeated. “In Cornwall. Magnus said Malcolm used to live in Cornwall. A plant from Cornwall is growing around the convergence. Malcolm’s been helping us with the investigation, but he hasn’t, really. He never translated a word of what we gave him. He told us this was a summoning spell—it’s not, it’s a necromantic spell.” She started to pace up and down. “He has that ring with the red stone, and the earrings I found at the convergence site were rubies—okay, it’s not exactly conclusive, but he’d have to have clothes for her, right? For Annabel? She couldn’t go around in grave clothes when he brought her back. It makes more sense for the necromancer to keep clothes there for the person they were raising from the dead than it does for them to keep clothes for themselves.” She whirled to find the others staring at her. “Malcolm only moved to L.A. about five months before the attack on the Institute. He says he was away when it happened, but what if he wasn’t? He was High Warlock. He could have easily found out where my parents were that day. He could have killed them.” She looked over at the others. Their expressions ran the gamut between shock and disbelief.

 

“I just don’t think Malcolm would do that,” Livvy said in a small voice.

“Rook told me that the Guardian he met with concealed his identity,” Emma said. “But he also said the Guardian told him that he’d come to L.A. to bring back love. Remember what Malcolm said while we were watching movies? ‘I came here to bring true love back from the dead.’” She gripped the phone so tightly it hurt. “What if he really meant it? Literally? He came here to bring his true love back from the dead. Annabel.”

 

There was a long silence. It was Cristina, to Emma’s surprise, who finally broke it. “I do not know Malcolm well, or love him as you do,” she said in her soft voice. “So forgive me if what I say hurts. But I think Emma is right. One of these things could be a coincidence. But not all of them. Annabel Blackthorn fell in love with a warlock in Cornwall. Malcolm was a warlock in Cornwall. That itself is enough to raise suspicion high enough that it should be investigated.” She looked around with earnest dark eyes. “I’m sorry. It is just that the next step for the Guardian is Blackthorn blood. And therefore we cannot wait.”

 

“Don’t be sorry, Cristina. You’re right,” Julian said. He looked at Emma, and she could see the unspoken words behind his eyes: This is how Belinda knew about Arthur.

 

“We need to find him,” Diego said, his clear, practical voice cutting through the quiet. “We must move immediately—”

 

The library door burst open and Dru came rushing in. Her face was pink and her wavy brown hair had come out of its braids. She nearly collided directly with Diego, but jumped back with a squeak.

“Dru?” It was Mark who spoke. “Is everything all right?”

She nodded, bounding across the room toward Julian. “What did you need me for?” Julian looked puzzled. “What do you mean?”

 

“I was down on the beach with Tavvy,” she said, leaning against the edge of the table to catch her breath. “Then he came and said you had to talk to me. So I came running back—”

“What?” Julian echoed. “I didn’t send anyone down to the beach for you, Dru.”

“But he said . . .” Dru looked suddenly alarmed. “He said you needed to see me right away.”

 

Julian rose to his feet. “Where’s Tavvy?”

 

Her lip began to wobble. “But he said . . . He said if I ran back, he’d walk Tavvy home. He gave him a toy. He’s watched Tavvy before, I don’t understand, what’s wrong—?”

“Dru,” Julian said in a carefully controlled voice. “Who is ‘he’? Who has Tavvy?”

Dru swallowed, her round face stricken with fright. “Malcolm,” she said. “Malcolm has him.”

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