Clockwork Prince (Page 27)

Clockwork Prince(27)
Author: Cassandra Clare

Will, I can’t-

I know the Law. I just want to know if they live. His eyes had pleaded with her. Charlotte, please . . .

"Charlotte?"

She looked up from the fire. Jem stood in the doorway of the drawing room. Charlotte, still half-caught in the web of the past, blinked at him. When he had first arrived from Shanghai, his hair and eyes had been as black as ink. Over time they had silvered, like copper oxidizing to verdigris, as the drugs had worked their way through his blood, changing him, kil ing him slowly.

"James," she said. "It’s late, isn’t it?"

"Eleven o’clock." He put his head to the side, studying her. "Are you all right? You look as if your peace of mind has been rather cut up."

"No, I just-" She gestured vaguely. "It is all this business with Mortmain."

"I have a question," Jem said, moving farther into the drawing room and lowering his voice. "Not whol y unrelated. Gabriel said something today, during training-"

"You were there?"

He shook his head. "Sophie told it to me. She didn’t like to carry tales, but she was troubled, and I can’t blame her. Gabriel asserted that his uncle had committed suicide and that his mother had died of grief because-well, because of your father."

"My father?" Charlotte said blankly.

"Apparently Gabriel’s uncle, Silas, committed some infraction of the Law, and your father discovered it. Your father went to the Clave. The uncle kil ed himself out of shame, and Mrs. Lightwood died of grief. According to Gabriel, ‘The Fairchilds don’t care about anyone but themselves and the Law.’"

"And you are tell ing me this because . . . ?"

"I wondered if it was true," said Jem. "And if it is, perhaps it might be useful to communicate to the Consul that Benedict’s motive for wanting the Institute is revenge, not selfless desire to see it run better."

"It’s not true. It can’t be." Charlotte shook her head. "Silas Lightwood did kil himself-because he was in love with his parabatai-but not because my father told the Clave about it. The first the Clave knew of it was from Silas’s suicide note. In fact, Silas’s father asked my father for help in writing Silas’s eulogy. Does that sound like a man who blamed my father for his son’s death?"

Jem’s eyes darkened. "That’s interesting."

"Do you think Gabriel’s simply being nasty, or do you think his father lied to him to-"

Charlotte never finished her sentence. Jem doubled up suddenly, as if he had been punched in the stomach, with a fit of coughing so severe that his thin shoulders shook. A spray of red blood spattered the sleeve of his jacket as he raised his arm to cover his face.

"Jem-" Charlotte started forward with her arms out, but he staggered upright and away from her, holding his hand out as if to ward her off.

"I’m all right," he gasped. "I’m fine." He wiped blood from his face with the sleeve of his jacket. "Please, Charlotte," he added in a defeated voice as she moved toward him. "Don’t."

Charlotte stopped herself, her heart aching. "Is there nothing-"

"You know there’s nothing." He lowered his arm, the blood on his sleeve like an accusation, and gave her the sweetest smile. "Dear Charlotte," he said. "You have always been like the best sort of older sister I could have hoped for. You do know that, don’t you?"

Charlotte just looked at him, openmouthed. It sounded so much like a good-bye, she could not bear to reply. He turned with his usual light tread and made his way out of the room. She watched him go, tell ing herself it meant nothing, that he was no worse than he had been, that he still had time. She loved Jem, as she loved Will -as she could not help loving them all -and the thought of losing him shattered her heart. Not only for her own loss, but for Will ‘s. If Jem died, she could not help but feel, he would take all that was stil human about Will with him when he went.

* * * It was nearly midnight when Will returned to the Institute. It had begun raining on him when he’d been halfway down Threadneedle Street. He had ducked under the awning of Dean and Son Publishers to button his jacket and pul his scarf tight, but the rain had already gotten into his mouth-great, icy drops that tasted of charcoal and silt. He had hunched his shoulders against the needlelike sting of it as he’d left the shelter of the awning and headed past the Bank, toward the Institute.

Even after years in London, rain made him think of home. He stil remembered the way it had rained in the countryside, in Wales, the green fresh taste of it, the way it felt to rol over and over down a damp hil side, getting grass in your hair and clothes. If he shut his eyes, he could hear his sisters’ laughter echo in his ears. Will, you’ll ruin your clothes; Will, Mother will be furious . . .

Will wondered if you could ever really be a Londoner if you had that in your blood-the memory of great open spaces, the wideness of the sky, the clear air. Not these narrow streets choked with people, the London dust that got everywhere-in your clothes, a thin powdering on your hair and down the back of your neck-the smel of the filthy river.

He had reached Fleet Street. Temple Bar was visible through the mist in the distance; the street was slick with rain. A carriage rattled by as he ducked into an all ey between two buildings, the wheels splashing dirty water up against the curb.

He could see the spire of the Institute in the distance now. They had certainly already finished supper, Will thought. Everything would be put away.

Bridget would be asleep; he could duck into the kitchen and cobble together a meal from bread and cheese and cold pie. He had been missing a great many meals lately, and if he was truthful with himself, there was only one reason for it: He was avoiding Tessa.

He did not want to avoid her-indeed, he had failed miserably at it that afternoon, accompanying her not just to training but also to the drawing room afterward. Sometimes he wondered if he did these things just to test himself.

To see if the feelings had gone. But they had not. When he saw her, he wanted to be with her; when he was with her, he ached to touch her; when he touched even her hand, he wanted to embrace her. He wanted to feel her against him the way he had in the attic. He wanted to know the taste of her skin and the smel of her hair. He wanted to make her laugh. He wanted to sit and listen to her talk about books until his ears fell off. But all these were things he could not want, because they were things he could not have, and wanting what you could not have led to misery and madness.

He had reached home. The door of the Institute swung open under his touch, opening onto a vestibule full of flickering torchlight. He thought of the blur the drugs had brought to him in the den on Whitechapel High Street. A blissful release from wanting or needing anything. He had dreamed he was lying on a hil in Wales with the sky high and blue overhead, and that Tessa had come walking up the hil to him and had sat down beside him. I love you, he had said to her, and kissed her, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Do you love me?

She had smiled at him. You will always come first in my heart, she had said.

Tell me this is not a dream, he had whispered to her as she’d put her arms around him, and then he’d no longer known what was waking and what was sleeping.

He shrugged out of his coat as he went up the stairs, shaking out his wet hair. Cold water was trickling down the back of his shirt, dampening his spine, making him shiver. The precious packet he had bought from the ifrits was in his trousers pocket. He slipped his hand in, touching his fingers to it, just to be sure.

The corridors burned with low witchlight; he was halfway down the first one when he paused. Tessa’s door was here, he knew, across from Jem’s. And there, in front of her door, stood Jem-though "stood" was perhaps not the right word. He was pacing back and forth, "wearing a path in the carpet," as Charlotte would have said.

"James," Will said, more surprised than anything else.

Jem’s head jerked up, and he backed away from Tessa’s door instantly, retreating toward his own. His face went blank. "I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to find you wandering the hal s at all hours."

"I think we can agree that the reverse is more out of character," said Will.

"Why are you awake? Are you all right?"

Jem cast a last glance at Tessa’s door, and then turned to face Will. "I was going to apologize to Tessa," he said. "I think my violin playing was keeping her awake. Where have you been? Assignation with Six-Fingered Nigel again?"

Will grinned, but Jem didn’t return the smile. "I’ve something for you, actual y. Come along, let me into your room. I don’t want to spend all night standing about in the hall."

After a moment’s hesitation Jem shrugged and opened his door. He went in, Will following; Will shut and bolted the door behind them as Jem threw himself into an armchair. There was a fire in the grate, but it had burned down to pale red-gold coals. He looked at Will. "What is it, then-," he began, and bent almost double, convulsed by a hard cough. It passed quickly, before Will could move or speak, but when Jem straightened, and brushed the back of his hand across his mouth, it came away smeared with red. He looked at the blood expressionlessly.

Will felt sick. He approached his parabatai, producing a handkerchief, which Jem took, and then the silver powder he’d bought in Whitechapel.

"Here," he said, feeling awkward. He hadn’t felt awkward around Jem in five years, but there it was. "I went back to Whitechapel, got this for you."

Jem, having cleaned the blood from his hand with Will ‘s handkerchief, took the packet and stared down at the yin fen. "I have enough of this," he said.

"For at least another month." He looked up then, a sudden flicker in his eyes.

"Or did Tessa tell you-"

"Did she tell me what?"

"Nothing. I spilled some of the powder the other day. I managed to retrieve most of it." Jem set the packet down on the table beside him. "This wasn’t necessary."

Will sat down on the trunk at the foot of Jem’s bed. He hated sitting there- his legs were so long, he always felt like an adult trying to squeeze behind a schoolroom desk-but he wanted to bring his eyes level with Jem’s.

"Mortmain’s minions have been buying up the yin fen supply in the East End," he said. "I confirmed it. If you had run out and he was the only one with a supply . . ."

"We would have been put in his power," said Jem. "Unless you were Will ing to let me die, of course, which would be the sensible course of action."

"I would not be Will ing." Will sounded sharp. "You’re my blood brother. I’ve sworn an oath not to let any harm come to you-"

"Leaving aside oaths," said Jem, "and power plays, did any of this have to do with me?"

"I don’t know what you mean-"

"I had begun to wonder if you were capable of the desire to spare anyone suffering."

Will rocked back slightly, as if Jem had pushed him. "I . . ." He swal owed, looking for the words. It had been so long since he had searched for words that would earn him forgiveness and not hatred, so long since he had sought to present himself in anything but the worst light, that he wondered for a panicked moment if it were even something he was still able to do. "I spoke to Tessa today," he said final y, not noticing that Jem’s face paled even more markedly. "She made me understand-that what I did last night was unforgivable. Though," he added hastily, "I do still hope that you Will forgive me." By the A ngel, I’m bad at this.

Jem raised an eyebrow. "For what?"

"I went to that den because I could not stop thinking about my family, and I wanted-I needed-to stop thinking," said Will. "It did not cross my mind that it would look to you as if I were making a mockery out of your sickness. I suppose I am asking your forgiveness for my lack of consideration." His voice dropped. "Everyone makes mistakes, Jem."

"Yes," said Jem. "You just make more of them than most people."

"I-"

"You hurt everyone," said Jem. "Everyone whose life you touch."

"Not you," Will whispered. "I hurt everyone but you. I never meant to hurt you."

Jem put his hands up, pressing his palms against his eyes. "Wil -"

"You can’t never forgive me," Will said, hearing the panic tinging his own voice. "I’d be-"

"Allone?" Jem lowered his hands, but he was smiling now, crookedly. "And whose fault is that?" He leaned back against the seat, his eyes half-lidded with tiredness. "I would always have forgiven you," he said. "I would have forgiven you if you hadn’t apologized. In fact, I wasn’t expecting you would.

Tessa’s influence, I can only guess."

"I am not here at her request. James, you are all the family I have." Will ‘s voice shook. "I would die for you. You know that. I would die without you. If it were not for you, I would be dead a hundred times over these past five years.

I owe you everything, and if you cannot believe I have empathy, perhaps you might at least believe I know honor-honor, and debt-"

Jem looked actual y alarmed now. "Will, your discomposure is greater than my anger warranted. My temper has cooled; you know I have never had much of one."

His tone was soothing, but something in Will could not be soothed. "I went to get you that medicine because I cannot bear the thought of you dying or in pain, certainly not when I could have done something to prevent it. And I did it because I was afraid. If Mortmain came to us and said he was the only one who had the drug that would save your life, you must know I would give him whatever he wanted so that I could get it for you. I have failed my family before, James. I would not fail you-"

"Will." Jem rose to his feet; he came across the room to Will and knelt down, looking up into his friend’s face. "You begin to concern me. Your regret does you admirable credit, but you must know . . ."

Will looked down at him. He remembered Jem as he had been when he had just come from Shanghai, and had seemed to be all great dark eyes in a pinched white face. It had not been easy to make him laugh then, but Will had set himself to trying. "Know what?"