It was over.
Benjamin was dead and could no longer torment anyone.
And Matthew, though broken, was alive.
After Benjamin fell, everything seemed to happen at once. Ysabeau pulled the vampire’s dead body away. Baldwin was at Matthew’s side, calling for Marcus and checking on his injuries. Verin and Gallowglass and Hamish burst into the room. Fernando followed soon thereafter.
I stood in front of Matthew and cradled his head against my heart, sheltering him from further harm. With one hand I held up the iron implement that was keeping him alive.
“We need to move him, Diana.” Marcus’s calm voice couldn’t disguise his urgency. He put his hand around the spike, ready to take my place.
“Don’t let her see me,” Matthew’s voice was raw and guttural. His skeletal hand twitched on the arm of the chair in protest, but it was not able to do more. “I beg you. Not like this.”
With nearly every inch of Matthew’s body injured, there were precious few places I could touch him that wouldn’t compound his pain. I located a few centimeters of undamaged flesh gleaming in the glow cast by and dropped a kiss as soft as down on the tip of his nose.
Unsure if he could hear me, and knowing that his eyes were swollen shut, I let my breath wash over him, bathing him in my scent. Matthew’s nostrils flared a fraction, signaling that he had registered my proximity. Even that little movement made him wince, and I had to steel myself not to cry out at what Benjamin had done to him.
“You can’t hide from me, my love,” I said instead, praying to the goddess that my words reached him. “I see you, Matthew. And you will always be perfect in my eyes.”
His breath came out in a ragged gasp, his lungs unable to expand fully because of the pressure from broken ribs. With a herculean effort, Matthew cracked one eye open. It was filmed over with blood, the pupil shot wide and enormous from blood rage and trauma.
“It’s dark.” Matthew’s voice took on a frantic edge, as though he feared that the darkness signaled his death. “Why is it so dark?”
“It’s all right. Look.” I blew on my fingertip, and a blue-gold star appeared on the tip of my finger.
“See. This will light our way.”
It was a risk, and I knew it. He might not be able to see the small ball of fire, and then his panic would only increase. Matthew peered at my finger and flinched slightly as the light came into focus. His pupil tightened a tiny amount in response, which I took as a good sign.
His next breath was less ragged as his anxiety subsided.
“He needs blood,” Baldwin said, keeping his voice level and low.
I tried to push my sleeve up without lowering my gleaming finger, which Matthew was staring at fixedly.
“Not yours,” Ysabeau said, stilling my efforts. “Mine.”
Matthew’s agitation rose again. It was like watching Jack struggle to rein in his emotions.
“Not here,” he said. “Not with Diana watching.”
“Not here,” Gallowglass agreed, giving my husband back some small measure of control.
“Let his brothers take care of him, Diana.” Baldwin lowered my hand.
And so I let Gallowglass, Fernando, Baldwin, and Hamish lace their arms together into a sling while Marcus held the iron spike in place.
“My blood is strong, Diana,” Ysabeau promised, gripping my hand tightly. “It will heal him.”
I nodded. But I had told Matthew the truth earlier: In my eyes he would always be perfect. His outward wounds didn’t matter to me. It was the wounds to his heart, mind, and soul that had me worried, for no amount of vampire blood could heal those.
“Love and time,” I murmured, as though trying to figure out the components of a spell, watching from a distance as the men settled an unconscious Matthew into the cargo hold of one of the cars that were waiting for us. “That’s what he needs.”
Janet came up and put a comforting hand on my shoulder.
“Matthew Clairmont is an ancient vampire,” she observed, “and he has you. So I’m thinking love and time will do the trick.”
When the sun passeth through the water-bearer’s sign, it betokens great fortune, faithful friends, and the aide of princes. Therefore, do not feare changes that take place when Aquarius ruleth the earth.
Matthew said only one word on the flight: “Home.”
We arrived in France six days after the events in Chelm. Matthew still couldn’t walk. He wasn’t able to use his hands. Nothing remained in his stomach for more than thirty minutes. Ysabeau’s blood, as promised, was slowly mending the crushed bones, damaged tissues, and injuries to Matthew’s internal organs. After being initially unconscious due to a combination of drugs, pain, and exhaustion, he now refused to close his eyes to rest.
And he hardly ever spoke. When he did, it was usually to refuse something.
“No,” he said when we turned toward Sept-tours. “Our home.”
Faced with a range of options, I told Marcus to take us to Les Revenants. It was a strangely fitting name given its present owner, for Matthew had returned home more ghost than man after what Benjamin had done to him.
No one had dreamed that Matthew would prefer Les Revenants to Sept-Tours, and the house was cold and lifeless when we arrived. He sat in the foyer with Marcus while his brother and I raced around lighting fires and making up a bed for him. Baldwin and I were discussing which room would be best for Matthew given his present physical limitations when the convoy of cars from Sept-Tours filled the courtyard. Not even the vampires could beat Sarah to the door, she was so eager to see us. My aunt knelt in front of Matthew. Her face was soft with compassion and concern.
“You look like hell,” she said.
“Feel worse.” Matthew’s once-beautiful voice was harsh and grating, but I treasured every terse word.
“When Marcus says it’s okay, I’d like to put a salve on your skin that will help you heal,” Sarah said, touching the raw skin on his forearm.
The cry of a furious, hungry baby split the air.
“Becca.” My heart leaped at the prospect of seeing the twins again. But Matthew did not seem to share my happiness.
“No.” Matthew’s eyes were wild, and he shook from head to toe. “No. Not now. Not like this.”
Since Benjamin had taken control of Matthew’s mind and body, I insisted that now Matthew was free he should be allowed to set the terms of his own daily existence and even his medical treatment. But this I would not allow. I scooped Rebecca out of Ysabeau’s arms, kissed her smooth cheek, and dropped the baby into the crook of Matthew’s elbow.
The moment Becca saw Matthew’s face, she stopped crying.
The moment Matthew had his daughter in his arms, he stopped shaking, just as I had the night she was born. My eyes filled at his terrified, awestruck expression.
“Good thinking,” Sarah murmured. She gave me the once-over. “You look like hell, too.”
“Mum,” Jack said, kissing me on the cheek. He tried to give me Philip, but the baby squirmed away from me, his face twisting and turning.
“What is it, little man?” I touched Philip’s face with a fingertip. My hands flashed with power, and the letters that now waited under the surface of my skin rose up, arranging themselves into stories that had yet to be told. I nodded and gave the baby a kiss on the forehead, feeling the tingle on my lips that confirmed what had already revealed to me. My son had power—lots of power. “Take him to Matthew, Jack.”
Jack knew full well the horrors Benjamin was capable of committing. He steeled himself to see evidence of them before he turned. I saw Matthew through Jack’s eyes: his hero, home from battle, gaunt and wounded. Jack cleared his throat, and the growling sound had me concerned.
“Don’t leave Philip out of the reunion, Dad.” Jack wedged Philip securely into the crook of Matthew’s other arm.
Matthew’s eyes flickered with surprise at the greeting. It was such a small word— Dad— but Jack had never called Matthew anything except Master Roydon and Matthew. Though Andrew Hubbard had insisted that Matthew was Jack’s true father, and although Jack had been quick to call me “Mother,” he had been strangely reluctant to bestow a similar honor on the man he worshipped.
“Philip gets cross when Becca gets all the attention.” Jack’s voice was roughened with suppressed rage, and he made his next words deliberately playful and light. “Granny Sarah has all kinds of advice on how to treat younger brothers and sisters. Most of it involves ice cream and trips to the zoo.” Jack’s banter didn’t fool Matthew.
“Look at me.” Matthew’s voice was weak and raspy, but there was no mistaking that this was an order.
Jack met his eyes.
“Benjamin is dead,” Matthew said.
“I know.” Jack looked away, shifting restlessly from one foot to the other.
“Benjamin can’t hurt you. Not anymore.”
“He hurt you. And he would have hurt my mother.” Jack looked at me, and his eyes filled with darkness.
Fearing that the blood rage would engulf him, I took a step in Jack’s direction. I stopped before taking another, forcing myself to let Matthew handle it.
“Eyes on me, Jack.”
Matthew’s skin was gray with effort. He had uttered more words since Jack’s arrival than he had in a full week, and they were sapping his strength. Jack’s wandering attention returned to the head of his clan.
“Take Rebecca. Give her to Diana. Then come back.”
Jack did as asked, while the rest of us watched warily in case either he or Matthew lost control.
With Becca safely in my arms, I kissed her and told her in a whisper what a good girl she was not to fuss at being taken from her father.
Becca frowned, indicating she was playing this game under protest.
Back at Matthew’s side, Jack reached for Philip.
“No. I’ll keep him.” Matthew’s eyes were getting ominously dark, too. “Take Ysabeau home, Jack. Everybody else go, too.”
“But, Matthieu,” Ysabeau protested. Fernando whispered something in her ear. Reluctantly she nodded. “Come, Jack. On the way to Sept-Tours, I will tell you a story about the time Baldwin attempted to banish me from Jerusalem. Many men died.”
After delivering that thinly veiled warning, Ysabeau swept Jack from the room.
“Thank you, Maman, ” Matthew murmured. He was still supporting Philip’s weight, and his arms shook alarmingly.
“Call if you need me,” Marcus whispered as he headed out the door.
As soon as it was just the four of us in the house, I took Philip from Matthew’s lap and plunked both babies in the cradle by the fireplace.
“Too heavy,” Matthew said wearily as I tried to lift him from the chair. “Stay here.”
“You will not stay here.” I studied the situation and decided on a solution. I marshaled the air to support my hastily woven levitation spell. “Stand back, I’m going to try magic.” Matthew made a faint sound that might have been an attempt at laughter.
“Don’t. The floor’s okay,” he said, his words slurring with exhaustion.
“The bed’s better,” I replied firmly as we skimmed over the floor to the elevator.
During our first week at Les Revenants, Matthew permitted Ysabeau to come and feed him. He regained some of his strength and a bit more mobility. He still couldn’t walk, but he could stand provided he had assistance, his arms hanging limply at his sides.
“You’re making such quick progress,” I said brightly, as though everything in the world were rosy.
Inside my head it was very dark indeed. And I was screaming in anger, fear, and frustration as the man I loved struggled to find his way through the shadows of the past that had overtaken him in Chelm.
When the sun is in Pisces, expect weariness and sadness. Those who can banish feare will experience forgiveness and understanding. You will be called to work in faraway places.
“I want some more of my books,” Matthew said with deceptive casualness. He rattled off a list of titles.
“Hamish will know where to find them.” His friend had gone back to London briefly, then returned to France. Hamish had been ensconced in Matthew’s rooms at Sept-Tours ever since. He spent his days trying to keep clueless bureaucrats from ruining the world economy and his nights depleting Baldwin’s wine cellar.
Hamish arrived at Les Revenants with the books, and Matthew asked him to sit and have a glass of Champagne. Hamish seemed to understand that this attempt at normalcy was a turning point in Matthew’s recovery.
“Why not? Man cannot live on claret alone.” With a subtle glance at me, Hamish indicated that he would take care of Matthew.
Hamish was still there three hours later—and the two of them were playing chess. My knees weakened at the unexpected sight of Matthew sitting on the white side of the board, considering his options. Since Matthew’s hands were still useless—the hand was a terribly complicated bit of anatomical engineering, it turned out—Hamish moved the pieces according to Matthew’s encoded commands.
“E4,” Matthew said.
“The Central Variation? How daring of you.” Hamish moved one of the white pawns.
“You accepted the Queen’s Gambit,” Matthew said mildly. “What did you expect?”
“I expect you to mix things up. Once upon a time, you refused to put your queen at risk. Now you do it every game.” Hamish frowned. “It’s a poor strategy.”
“The queen did just fine last time,” I whispered in Matthew’s ear, and he smiled.
When Hamish left, Matthew asked me to read to him. It was now a ritual for us to sit in front of the fire, the snow falling past the windows and one of Matthew’s beloved books in my hand: Abelard, Marlowe, Darwin, Thoreau, Shelley, Rilke. Often Matthew’s lips moved along with the words as I uttered them, proving to me—and, more important, to him—that his mind was as sharp and whole as ever.