Just when I had clawed my way back to the land of the living, Matthew had sent me to the valley of the dead.
My gut churned, and I almost threw up.
Unable to stop myself, I started out over the lava rock. Felt like I was stepping on graves in a cemetery.
Then came the scent of . . . honeysuckle? I followed the smell, limping farther across the rock toward the middle of the valley.
Vines began to tangle among the roses, but in the distance was a clearing. I hurried toward it, ignoring the pain in my leg. Within the clearing were two grave sites with epitaphs. One was circled with ivy, the other with blooming honeysuckle.
Evie had created these memorials. I read:
Treasured friend, ally, and guardian.
Loyal and strong to the end.
You will be dearly missed.
To the end. Had Evie known Selena sacrificed herself to save my life? Just like Clotile had done a year ago.
Each day after the apocalypse stretched out like a month of life before it. I felt as if Selena had watched my six and fought beside me—for years. Fitting that her memorial was beside . . . mine.
Jackson Daniel Deveaux
Beloved son, brother, friend, leader,
and intended husband.
I love you.
I dropped to my knees.
Evie smelled like honeysuckle whenever she was happy with me. She’d wanted it to bloom on my grave forever.
All my life, I’d figured I would die young, buried in a forgotten paupers’ cemetery somewhere. I never thought I would have been loved like this. She’d made me sound as if I’d made a difference, as if I’d be missed.
I reached for the stone to trace those treasured words. As soon as I made contact, visions appeared in my head.
From Matthew? The Fool was giving them to me, as he often had with Evie! I saw her in the days after Richter’s attack; I heard her thoughts.
In one scene, she was missing an arm, clinging to a tower. Her head whipped up as she lit on the idea of going back in time and saving me. All she had to do was find Tess. Evie’s grief transformed into a frantic determination.
More scenes played out. She stole from survivors and abducted another Arcana. She knew she was turning into a black hat, but she was ruthless to get to Tess.
To save me.
She made it to the empty fort. A shell of what it once was. I thought of all the work that had gone into building it—all the blood, sweat, and dreams I’d poured into that place. And I hadn’t even been able to provide a light to guide Evie’s way inside.
Within those walls, she dug up a grave. Tess’s. The girl had tried to reverse time to save us all—and she’d died from it.
Evie appeared to die right with her, rocking the girl’s withered corpse. All of Evie’s hopes of bringing me back from the dead had been pinned on reaching Tess. . . .
I grazed my fingers over the words on my memorial: I love you. She had been crazed as she carved this rock, this gravestone.
She was broken: Jack and I had marveled at the snow.
The vision faded. I clenched my fists and yelled to the sky. How the fuck could Matthew let her suffer like that? Filled with rage, I staggered back across that rock, then stumbled down the mountain.
He was waiting for me.
I lunged at him. “What the hell you thinking?” My fist shot out, connecting with his mouth.
He went reeling, but struggled back to his feet.
“I should kill you!”
Holding his jaw, he spat blood. “I broke her smile.”
I yelled, punching his face again. “Goddamn it, coo-yôn! Why?” I barely pulled myself off him.
He gave me a bloody grin. The sosie was back.
Took everything in me not to hit him again. “Why did you want me here? Why?”
After all the agony Evie had gone through at that gravestone, I was desperate to find her and show her I’d lived.
Then came a traitorous thought . . . maybe she should think I’m dead.
Was this the new viewpoint Matthew had promised? When I’d told him to take me to her, he’d said, if you make it. He hadn’t been talking about my recovery. He’d been talking about my chances of never reaching her—by my own choosing.
Fifty-fifty, which way I’d go.
Fighting for breath, I said, “Can she be happy with Domīnija?”
“Can anyone be happy A.F.?”
I rubbed my hand over my forehead. “Is she with her grandmother?”
“Tredici gave the Tarasova to her.”
So Evie had reunited with her last living relative—what she’d wanted most. The two had been delivered from the Ash, tucked away in a place with food and heat and luxuries.
Safe at last.
No, no, what the hell are you thinking, Jack? A life without Evie wasn’t worth living. You really believe you can go on without her? I tried to look at this coldly: she was critical to my survival; survival was everything A.F.
Not to feel her with my every step? J’tombe en botte. I fall to ruin.
And no one could love her more than I did—no one. She’d known what she wanted, and she’d chosen me. I was her intended husband. I would put the choice to her again.
Which would mean opening up all her wounds. My gut twisted. In that vision, more than her smile had been broken. What if my return from the dead pushed her over the edge for good?
Besides, she hadn’t chosen me only for me. She’d chosen the future I’d offered her. Now I couldn’t offer her a goddamned thing. I thought of my empty pack, of starting all over again.
I had nothing.
I was right back to where I’d been before the Flash, slowly strangling to death ’cause I wasn’t good enough for her.