She reached up and touched his cheek, so close to hers, and then the fragile skin of his throat, where the blood beat hard beneath the surface. His eyelashes fluttered down as he fol owed the movement of her finger with his eyes, like silvery rain.
"Take them," she whispered.
He bent down to her; their mouths met again, and the shock of sensation was so strong, so overpowering, that she shut her eyes against it as if she could hide in the darkness. He murmured and gathered her against him.
They rol ed sideways, her legs scissoring around his, their bodies shifting to press each other closer and closer still so it became hard to breathe, and yet they could not stop. She found the buttons on his shirt, but even when she opened her eyes, her hands were shaking almost too hard to undo them.
Clumsily she worked them free, tearing the fabric. As he shrugged the shirt free of his shoulders, she saw that his eyes were lightening to a pure silver again. She had only a moment to marvel at that, though; she was too busy marveling at the rest of him. He was so thin, without Will ‘s cording of muscle, but there was something about his fragility that was lovely, like the spare lines of a poem. Gold to airy thinness beat. Though a layer of muscle stil covered his chest, she could see the shadows between his ribs. The pendant of jade Will had given him lay below his angular col arbones.
"I know," he said, looking down at himself self-consciously. "I am not-I mean, I look-"
"Beautiful," she said, and she meant it. "You are beautiful, James Carstairs."
His eyes went wide as she reached to touch him. Her hands had stopped shaking. They were exploratory, fascinated now. Her mother had owned a very old copy of a book once, she remembered, its pages so fragile they were liable to turn to dust when you touched them, and she felt that same responsibility of enormous care now as she brushed her fingers over the Marks on his chest, across the hollows between his ribs and the slope of his stomach, which shuddered under her touch; here was something that was as breakable as it was lovely.
He did not seem to be able to stop touching her, either. His skil ed musician’s hands grazed her sides, skimming up her bare legs beneath her nightdress. He touched her as he usual y touched his beloved violin, with a soft and urgent grace that left her breathless. They seemed to share his fever now; their bodies burned, and their hair was wet with sweat, pasted to their foreheads and necks. Tessa didn’t care; she wanted this heat, this near- pain. This was not herself, this was some other Tessa, some dream Tessa, who would behave like this, and she remembered her dream of Jem in a bed surrounded by flames. She had just never dreamed she would burn with him.
She wanted more of this feeling, she knew, more of this fire, but none of the novels she had read told her what happened now. Did he know? Will would know, she thought, but Jem, like her, she sensed, must have been following an instinct that ran as deep as her bones. His fingers slipped into the nonexistent space between them, finding the buttons that held her nightdress closed; he bent to kiss her bared shoulder as the fabric slid aside. No one had ever kissed her bare skin there before, and the feeling was so startling that she put out a hand to brace herself, and knocked a pil ow from the bed; it hit the smal side table. There was the sound of a crash. A sudden sweet dark scent, as of spices, fil ed the room.
Jem jerked his hands back, a look of horror on his face. Tessa sat up as well, pul ing the front of her nightdress together, suddenly self-conscious. Jem was staring over the side of the bed, and she fol owed his line of sight. The lacquer box that held his drugs had fal en and broken open. A thick layer of shining powder lay across the floor. A faint silvery mist seemed to rise from it, carrying the sweet, spicy smell.
Jem pulled her back, his arm around her, but there was fear in his grip now rather than passion. "Tess," he said in a low voice. "You can’t touch this stuff.
To get it on your skin would be-dangerous. Even to breathe it in-Tessa, you must go."
She thought of Will, ordering her out of the attic. Was this how it was always going to be-some boy would kiss her, and then order her away as if she were an unwanted servant? "I won’t go," she flared. "Jem, I can help you clean it up. I am-"
Your friend, she was about to say. But what they had been doing was not what friends did. What was she to him?
"Please," he said softly. His voice was husky. She recognized the emotion.
It was shame. "I do not want you to see me on my knees, grubbing around on the floor for the drug that I need to live. That is not how any man wants the girl he-" He took a shaking breath. "I’m sorry, Tessa."
The girl he what? But she could not ask; she was over-whelmed-with pity, with sympathy, with shock at what they had done. She leaned forward and kissed his cheek. He didn’t move as she slipped from the bed, retrieved her dressing gown, and went quietly out of the room.
* * * The corridor was the same as it had been when Tessa had crossed it moments-hours-minutes?-before: dim with lowered witchlight stretching far in either direction. She had just slipped into her own bedroom and was about to shut the door when her eye caught a flicker of movement down at the end of the hall. Some instinct held her in place, the door almost shut, her eye pressed to the barely open crack.
The movement was someone walking down the hall. A fair-haired boy, she thought for a moment, in confusion, but no-it was Jessamine, Jessamine dressed in boys’ clothes. She wore trousers and a jacket open over a waistcoat; a hat was in her hand, and her long fair hair was tied back behind her head. She glanced behind her as she hurried down the hall, as if afraid of being fol owed. A few moments later she had vanished around the corner, out of sight.
Tessa slid the door shut, her mind racing. What on earth was that about? What was Jessamine doing, wandering the Institute in the dead of night, dressed like a boy? After hanging up her dressing gown, Tessa went to lie down on her bed. She felt tired down in the marrow of her bones, the sort of tired she had felt the night her aunt died, as if she had exhausted her body’s capacity to feel emotion. When she closed her eyes, she saw Jem’s face, and then Will ‘s, his hand to his bloody mouth. Thoughts of the two of them swirled together in her head until she fell asleep final y, not sure if she was dreaming of kissing one of them, or the other.
Chapter 10: The Virtue of Angels
The virtue of angels is that they cannot deteriorate;
their flaw is that they cannot improve. Man’s
flaw is that he can deteriorate; and his virtue is
that he can improve.
"I suppose you all know by now," Will remarked at breakfast the next morning, "that I went to an opium den last night."
It was a subdued morning. It had dawned rainy and gray, and the Institute felt leadenly weighted down, as if the sky were pressing on it. Sophie passed in and out of the kitchen carrying steaming platters of food, her pale face looking pinched and smal ; Jessamine slumped tiredly over her tea; Charlotte looked weary and unwel from her night spent in the library; and Will ‘s eyes were red-rimmed, his cheek bruised where Jem had hit him. Only Henry, reading the paper with one hand while he stabbed at his eggs with the other, seemed to have any energy.
Jem was conspicuous mainly by his absence. When Tessa had woken up that morning, she had floated for a moment in a blissful state of forgetfulness, the events of the night before a dim blur. Then she had sat bolt upright, absolute horror crashing over her like a wave of scalding water.
Had she really done all those things with Jem? His bed-his hands on her -the spilled drugs. She had raised her hands and touched her hair. It fel free over her shoulders, where Jem had tugged it out of its plaits. Oh, God, she thought. I really did all that; that was me. She had pressed her hands to her eyes, feeling an overwhelming mix of confusion, terrified happiness- for she could not deny that it had been wonderful in its way-horror at herself, and hideous and total humiliation.
Jem would think she had utterly lost control of herself. No wonder he couldn’t face her at breakfast. She could barely face herself in the mirror.
"Did you hear me?" Will said again, clearly disappointed at the reception of his announcement. "I said I went to an opium den last night."
Charlotte looked up from her toast. Slowly she folded her newspaper, set it on the table beside her, and pushed her reading glasses down her upturned nose. "No," she said. "That undoubtedly glorious aspect of your recent activities was unknown to us, in fact."
"So is that where you’ve been all this time?" Jessamine asked listlessly, taking a sugar cube from the bowl and biting into it. "Are you quite a hopeless addict now? They say it takes only one or two doses."
"It wasn’t really an opium den," Tessa protested before she could stop herself. "That is to say-they seemed to have more of a trade in magic powders and things like that."
"So perhaps not an opium den precisely," said Will, "but still a den. Of vice!" he added, punctuating this last bit by stabbing his finger into the air.
"Oh, dear, not one of those places that’s run by ifrits," sighed Charlotte.
"Real y, Will -"
"Exactly one of those places," said Jem, coming into the breakfast room and sliding into a chair beside Charlotte-quite as far away from Tessa as it was possible to sit, she noticed, with a pinching feeling in her chest. He didn’t look at her either. "Off Whitechapel High Street."
"And how do you and Tessa know so much about it?" asked Jessamine, who appeared revitalized by either her sugar intake or the expectation of some good gossip, or both.
"I used a tracking spel to find Will last night," said Jem. "I was growing concerned at his absence. I thought he might have forgotten the way back to the Institute."
"You worry too much," said Jessamine. "It’s sil y."
"You’re quite right. I won’t make that mistake again," said Jem, reaching for the dish of kedgeree. "As it turned out, Will wasn’t in need of my assistance at all."
Will looked at Jem thoughtful y. "I seem to have woken up with what they call a Monday mouse," he said, pointing at the bruised skin under his eye.
"Any idea where I got it?"
"None." Jem helped himself to some tea.
"Eggs," said Henry dreamily, looking at his plate. "I do love eggs. I could eat them all day."
"Was there really a need to bring Tessa with you to Whitechapel?"
Charlotte asked Jem, sliding her glasses off and placing them on the newspaper. Her brown eyes were reproachful.
"Tessa is not made of delicate china," said Jem. "She Will not break."
For some reason this statement, though he said it still without looking at her, sent a flood of images through Tessa’s mind of the night before-of clinging to Jem in the shadows of his bed, his hands gripping her shoulders, their mouths fierce on each other’s. No, he had not treated her as if she were breakable then. A boiling flood of heat seared her cheeks, and she looked down quickly, praying for her blush to go away.
"You might be surprised to know," said Will, "that I saw something rather interesting in the opium den."
"I’m sure you did," said Charlotte with asperity.
"Was it an egg?" Henry inquired.
"Downworlders," said Will. "Almost all werewolves."
"There’s nothing interesting about werewolves." Jessamine sounded aggrieved. "We’re focusing on finding Mortmain now, Will, if you haven’t forgotten, not some drug-addled Downworlders."
"They were buying yin fen," said Will. "Buckets of it."
At that Jem’s head snapped up and he met Will ‘s eyes.
"They had already begun to change color," said Will. "Quite a few had silver hair, or eyes. Even their skin had started to silver over."
"This is very disturbing." Charlotte frowned. "We should speak to Woolsey Scott as soon as this Mortmain matter is cleared up. If there is an issue of addiction to warlock powders in his pack, he Will want to know about it."
"Don’t you think he already does?" said Will, sitting back in his chair. He looked pleased to have finally gotten a reaction to his news. "It is his pack, after all."
"His pack is all of London’s wolves," objected Jem. "He can’t possibly keep real track of them all."
"I’m not sure you want to wait," said Will. "If you can get hold of Scott, I’d speak to him as soon as possible."
Charlotte tilted her head to the side. "And why is that?"
"Because," said Will. "One of the ifrits asked a werewolf why he needed so much yin fen. Apparently it works on werewolves as a stimulant. The answer was that it pleased the Magister that the drug kept them working all night long."
Charlotte’s teacup crashed into her saucer. "Working on what?"
Will smirked, clearly pleased at the effect he was having. "I’ve no idea. I lost consciousness about then. I was having a lovely dream about a young woman who had mislaid nearly all her clothes . . ."
Charlotte was white-faced. "Dear God, I hope Scott isn’t caught up with the Magister. De Quincey first, now the wolves-al our all ies. The Accords . . ."
"I’m sure it Will all be all right, Charlotte," said Henry mildly. "Scott doesn’t seem the sort to get tangled up with Mortmain’s sort."
"Perhaps you should be there when I speak with him," said Charlotte.
"Nominal y, you are the head of the Institute-"
"Oh, no," said Henry with a look of horror. "Darling, you’l be quite all right without me. You’re such a genius where these negotiations are concerned, and I’m simply not. And besides, the invention I’m working on now could shatter the whole clockwork army into pieces if I get the formulations right!"
He beamed round the table proudly. Charlotte looked at him for a long moment, then pushed her chair back from the table, stood up, and walked out of the room without another word.
Will regarded Henry from beneath half-lidded eyes. "Nothing ever disturbs your circles, does it, Henry?"