Seven dead, counting his mother. Zack hurt, his brother non-responsive, Olivia refusing to leave her room. Her screams rang down the hall even now.
Blake listened to Jamie’s account without hearing it, without understanding. He refused to allow himself to understand. Because none of it happened. He was asleep, had been asleep the whole time. He’d fallen asleep, dreamed everything from his kidnapping onward. None of it had happened.
But he knew it had. Nothing short of tragedy could have shaking his brother so. Whit had been the strong one, had always been the strong one. But even as another cough racked his frail body, echoing wetly from failing lungs, Blake didn’t hate Whit, didn’t envy him. No, he loved his brother, and he always had.
More the pity. When he died, Blake wondered if he’d have the strength to move on, to continue acting as Ace, even if there were only five other Cards.
“Can you promise me something?” he asked Jamie, craning his neck to look into her eyes. The tears hiding there surprised him. Blake shifted uncomfortably on the soft mattress they’d placed him on, after he’d collapsed just inside his mother’s room. The pillows were too fluffy, swallowing his head.
Jamie nodded, wordless. He trusted her to keep whatever promise he extracted from her, to do whatever he wanted. It was his dying wish, after all.
“After I die, make sure Ace doesn’t hurt himself.”
And she ran from him, burying her face in her hands as she sprinted out the door. Blake wondered how long it would take for them to stop crying over him. He’d been dying his whole life, and eventually the constant grieving gets irritating.
And so he waited, each breath harder, more painful and shallow and difficult than the last, wheezing air through a swollen throat, into dying lungs. His heart beat a quick staccato, rapping against his ribs like a hammer. Blake wondered which would kill him first.
Zack came to see him as well, helping him wash the hated dye from his hair. Blake never had understood why exactly he’d had to dye it, while Whit had left his own hair white. It hadn’t been fair. Life, he was beginning to understand, seldom was.
But, even if he hadn’t been able to live as himself, Blake was allowed to die that way. The blonde came out easily enough, and for the first time since his father’s death, he saw his own hair, white as new-fallen snow. Not as soft, especially when soaked in sweat and plastered to his forehead as fevers came and went, but close.
Those fevers were the hardest part about dying. They made each moment burning agony or freezing hell. They left him panting and gasping, twitching against invisible bonds, flinching from imagined needles. His thoughts too suffered, drawing time and again to that room, the fire he’d felt there, the pain and humiliation and hopelessness.
And then Jamie was there, cold cloth in hand, wiping the salt from his skin, and Blake couldn’t stop his hand from reaching up. She really did look like and angel, her eyes so large, glistening with unshed moisture, her hair framing her face. The light made it glow. He just had to touch her, to reassure himself that he hadn’t died.
For the first time, Jamie didn’t flinch from the contact. Blake felt energy fill him as if drawn through his fingertips, and pushed himself up on his elbow. His face less than a foot from hers, and still she didn’t draw away.
“You look like an angel,” he whispered. The girl didn’t respond.
Then again, it wasn’t like he gave her time to. Without thinking, Blake kissed her. It was slow and sweet and made him remember kinder times. It was perhaps the greatest comfort he could have received.
She didn’t leave him after that, not even when Zack came to sit with him. She never left, holding his hand and crying and whispering sweet, useless nothings. Blake saw her whenever he regained consciousness, regained sanity, long enough to open his eyes.
In the end it made no difference.
Blake opened his eyes, met hers, held them. Zack was there too, and Whit. But he only saw Jamie. “Goodbye,” he muttered, closing his eyes one last time.
Blake wished as he floated in the darkness that he’d had words moving, beautiful, emotional enough to comfort them. That he’d been a creature of words like Wyth. That he’d been able to leave them with something to comfort them.
But he was just a boy, just a dying boy who’d always been dying until finally there was no more dying to be done. No fancy words could change that. But they’d chosen to care about him, to love him, despite it.
He smiled a little as even the blackness faded, taking the pain away with it.
White was a beautiful color.