I shivered, and Henry covered me with the blanket once more. I didn’t have it in me to tell him I wasn’t cold.
“She was the one to send those nightmares,” he said. “And the one to try to run you off the road. She saw the potential in you as we all did, and it is my guess that she feared the only way to stop you was to get to you before you were in Eden Manor.”
She’d almost succeeded, too. If I hadn’t been sure before, I was now certain that the only reason the car hadn’t crashed into the trees was because Henry had been there to protect us.
“What’s going to happen to her?”
“I do not yet know. She must have known she could not get away with it, as she did not try to run or deny her involvement, but—” He hesitated. “I suspect she thought she would be above punishment. In light of all that has happened, I thought it appropriate that you have a hand in deciding her fate.”
I started to ask why she thought she wouldn’t be punished, but part of me already knew. “She loves you so much that she couldn’t stand the thought of you being with anyone else. She thought she was the only person who could make you happy.”
“And instead she is the one who almost ruined the rest of my existence.” Henry bent down and kissed my knuckles. Another shiver ran through me, completely different from the first. “I am the one who failed, not you, and I will do what I must to spend the rest of our time together making it up to you.”
“You didn’t fail me.” I tried to turn on my side to face him, but movement brought only pain. “I’m the one who failed you.”
He must have known I meant the test, but he shook his head anyway. “You could never fail me. I should have seen the signs long before this and never allowed her anywhere near you, and for that, I am so very sorry.”
I was silent for a long moment, and at last I said in a small voice, “Are we okay? Not—not this, but the drink and—”
“Yes,” he said. “I apologize for the way I reacted that morning. I was not angry at you, I was angry—” He stopped, fury briefly contorting his face, but when I blinked, his expression was blank. “It was not your fault. It was a tainted drink, nothing more.”
“Even if I failed, I still love you, you know.” Several seconds passed, and when it was clear he wasn’t going to say anything in reply, I closed my eyes and sighed. My body screamed for sleep, and with my mind numb from the loss of my mother, I was sure that any attempt to resist would be lost.
I couldn’t be sure, but as I found the edge of consciousness, his voice reached me, gentle and warm and everything I so badly needed to hear.
“I love you, too.”
For the next week, Henry stayed by my side. Whatever was in the sweet tonic Walter kept pouring down my throat worked, and I spent most of the time asleep. Eventually the nightmares faded, but I still woke up gasping, unable to forget what the freezing water of the river felt like as it closed in around me.
The pain of my mother’s death didn’t dull, but I slowly managed to accept that it would be there for a long time, and wallowing in misery when I was supposed to be healing would only hurt Henry. It would be an insult to the gift she’d given me to ignore what she wanted for me, and the past six months had prepared me for this. They’d given me the chance to say goodbye in a way I would have never been able to do without Henry. Even though it hurt just as much, there was a kind of peace inside of me that wouldn’t have otherwise been there. I held on to the hope that if the council decided to accept me despite what had happened between me and Henry, that I would one day be able to visit her, to talk to her and walk with her again. Death wasn’t the end; Ava was proof of that. But I still mourned her. I still missed her.
I had a steady stream of visitors. At first it was Henry and Walter, but after I insisted, Ava was allowed into my room as well. The moment she saw me, she flew to the side of my bed, her eyes red and puffy.
“Kate! Oh, God, you’re all right—they said you were okay, but I was afraid they were just saying that ’cause you know how people can be, but you’re really here and awake and oh, my God.”
She wrapped her arms around me so loosely that I could barely tell they were there, but I didn’t care if it hurt a little. I hugged her as tightly as I could and then spent the next thirty seconds paying for it. Pain shot through me, reaching all the way to the tips of my fingers and toes, but it was worth it.
“I’m sorry!” she said, flushing deeply as I gasped. On the other side of the bed, Henry looked worried, but by now he was used to me overexerting myself. As long as my stitches didn’t start to bleed, everything was fine.
“Don’t,” I said once I could talk again. “I wanted to hug you. I am so monumentally sorry for everything. For yelling at you about Theo, for saying all that awful stuff to you—you didn’t deserve it, any of it.”
She waved her hand dismissively. “It doesn’t matter. You were right—I was being an idiot. But you’re alive! You’re going to make it, and I won’t be stuck here without my best friend.” She gave me a look she must’ve intended to be stern, but it made me smile. “You know, none of this would’ve happened if you had let me teach you how to swim.”
“Yeah, you were right on that,” I said, ignoring the part where I’d been stabbed before being thrown into the river. I doubted it’d matter much to Ava. “Tell you what—once Henry says I’m all right, we can find someplace on the grounds and you can teach me how.”