"Before I’d give you up," she said. "Don’t you know that?"
And then she said nothing else, for Henry put his arms around her and kissed her. Kissed her in such a way that she no longer felt plain, or conscious of her hair or the ink spot on her dress or anything but Henry, whom she had always loved. Tears well ed up and spilled down her cheeks, and when he drew away, he touched her wet face wonderingly.
"Real y," he said. "You love me, too, Lottie?"
"Of course I do. I didn’t marry you so I’d have someone to run the Institute with, Henry. I married you because-because I knew I wouldn’t mind how difficult directing this place was, or how badly the Clave treated me, if I knew yours would be the last face I saw every night before I went to sleep." She hit him lightly on the shoulder. "We’ve been married for years, Henry. What did you think I felt about you?"
He shrugged his thin shoulders and kissed the top of her head. "I thought you were fond of me," he said gruffly. "I thought you might come to love me, in time."
"That’s what I thought about you," she said wonderingly. "Could we real y both have been so stupid?"
"Well, I’m not surprised about me," said Henry. "But honestly, Charlotte, you ought to have known better."
She choked back a laugh. "Henry!" She squeezed his arms. "There’s something else I have to tell you, something very important-"
The door to the drawing room banged open. It was Will. Henry and Charlotte drew apart and stared at him. He looked exhausted-pale, with dark rings about his eyes-but there was a clarity in his face Charlotte had never seen before, a sort of bril iance in his expression. She braced herself for a sarcastic remark or cold observation, but instead he just smiled happily at them.
"Henry, Charlotte," he said. "You haven’t seen Tessa, have you?"
"She’s likely in her room," said Charlotte, bewildered. "Will, is something the matter? Oughtn’t you be resting? After the injuries you sustained-"
Will waved this away. "Your excel ent iratzes did their work. I don’t require rest. I only wish to see Tessa, and to ask you-" He broke off, staring at the letter on Charlotte’s desk. With a few strides of his long legs, he had reached the desk and snatched it up, and read it with the same look of dismay Henry had worn. "Charlotte-no, you can’t give up the Institute!"
"The Clave Will find you another place to live," Charlotte said. "Or you may stay here until you turn eighteen, though the Lightwoods-"
"I wouldn’t want to live here without you and Henry. What d’you think I stay for? The ambiance?" Will shook the piece of paper til it crackled. "I even bloody miss Jessamine-Well, a bit. And the Lightwoods Will sack our servants and replace them with their own. Charlotte, you can’t let it happen.
This is our home. It’s Jem’s home, Sophie’s home."
Charlotte stared. "Will, are you sure you haven’t a fever?"
"Charlotte." Will slammed the paper back down onto the desk. "I forbid you to resign your directorship. Do you understand? Over all these years you’ve done everything for me as if I were your own blood, and I’ve never told you I was grateful. That goes for you as well, Henry. But I am grateful, and because of it I shall not let you make this mistake."
"Will," said Charlotte. "It is over. We have only three days to find Mortmain, and we cannot possibly do so. There simply is not time."
"Hang Mortmain," said Will. "And I mean that literal y, of course, but also figuratively. The two-week limit on finding Mortmain was in essence set by Benedict Lightwood as a ridiculous test. A test that, as it turns out, was a cheat. He is working for Mortmain. This test was his attempt to leverage the Institute out from under you. If we but expose Benedict for what he is- Mortmain’s puppet-the Institute is yours again, and the search for Mortmain can continue."
"We have Jessamine’s word that to expose Benedict is to play into Mortmain’s hands-"
"We cannot do nothing," Will said firmly. "It is worth at least a conversation, don’t you think?" Charlotte couldn’t think of a word to say. This Will was not a Will she knew. He was firm, straightforward, intensity shining in his eyes. If Henry’s silence was anything to go by, he was just as surprised. Will nodded as if taking this for agreement.
"Excel ent," he said. "I’ll tell Sophie to round up the others."
And he darted from the room.
Charlotte stared up at her husband, all thoughts of the news she had wished to tell him driven from her mind. "Was that Will?" she said final y.
Henry arched one ginger eyebrow. "Perhaps he’s been kidnapped and replaced by an automaton," he suggested. "It seems possible . . ."
For once Charlotte could only find herself in agreement.
Glumly Tessa finished the sandwiches and the rest of the tea, cursing her inability to keep her nose out of other people’s business. Once she was done, she put on her blue dress, finding the task difficult without Sophie’s assistance. Look at yourself, she thought, spoiled after just a few weeks of having a lady’s maid. Can’t dress yourself, can’t stop nosing about where you’re not wanted. Soon you’ll be needing someone to spoon gruel into your mouth or you’ll starve. She made a horrible face at herself in the mirror and sat down at her vanity table, picking up the silver-backed hairbrush and pul ing the bristles through her long brown hair.
A knock came at the door. Sophie, Tessa thought hopeful y, back for an apology. Well, she would get one. Tessa dropped the hairbrush and rushed to throw the door open.
Just as once before she had expected Jem and been disappointed to find Sophie on her threshold, now, in expecting Sophie, she was surprised to find Jem at her door. He wore a gray wool jacket and trousers, against which his silvery hair looked nearly white.
"Jem," she said, startled. "Is everything all right?"
His gray eyes searched her face, her long, loose hair. "You look as if you were waiting for someone else."
"Sophie." Tessa sighed, and tucked a stray curl behind her ear. "I fear I have offended her. My habit of speaking before I think has caught me out again."
"Oh," said Jem, with an uncharacteristic lack of interest. Usual y he would have asked Tessa what she had said to Sophie, and either reassured her or helped her plot a course of action to win Sophie’s forgiveness. His customary vivid interest in everything seemed oddly missing, Tessa thought with alarm; he was quite pale as well, and seemed to be glancing behind her as if checking to see whether she was quite alone. "Is now-that is, I would like to speak to you in private, Tessa. Are you feeling well enough?"
"That depends on what you have to tell me," she said with a laugh, but when her laugh brought no answering smile, apprehension rose inside her.
"Jem-you promise everything’s all right? Will -"
"This is not about Will," he said. "Wil is out wandering and no doubt perfectly all right. This is about-Well, I suppose you might say it’s about me." He glanced up and down the corridor. "Might I come in?"
Tessa briefly thought about what Aunt Harriet would say about a girl who all owed a boy she was not related to into her bedroom when there was no one else there. But then Aunt Harriet herself had been in love once, Tessa thought. Enough in love to let her fiance do-well, whatever it was exactly that left one with child. Aunt Harriet, had she been alive, would have been in no position to talk. And besides, etiquette was different for Shadowhunters.
She opened the door wide. "Yes, come in."
Jem came into the room, and shut the door firmly behind him. He walked over to the grate and leaned an arm against the mantel; then, seeming to decide that this position was unsatisfactory, he came over to where Tessa was, in the middle of the room, and stood in front of her.
"Tessa," he said.
"Jem," she replied, mimicking his serious tone, but again he did not smile.
"Jem," she said again, more quietly. "If this is about your health, your-il ness, please tell me. I Will do whatever I can to help you."
"It is not," he said, "about my il ness." He took a deep breath. "You know we have not found Mortmain," he said. "In a few days, the Institute may be given to Benedict Lightwood. He would doubtless all ow Will and me to remain here, but not you, and I have no desire to live in a house that he runs. And Will and Gabriel would kil each other inside a minute. It would be the end of our little group; Charlotte and Henry would find a house, I have no doubt, and Will and I perhaps would go to Idris until we were eighteen, and Jessie-I suppose it depends what sentence the Clave passes on her. But we could not bring you to Idris with us. You are not a Shadowhunter."
Tessa’s heart had begun to beat very fast. She sat down, rather suddenly, on the edge of her bed. She felt faintly sick. She remembered Gabriel’s sneering jibe about the Lightwoods’ finding "employment" for her; having been to the bal at their house, she could imagine little worse. "I see," she said. "But where should I go-No, do not answer that. You hold no responsibility toward me. Thank you for tell ing me, at least."
"You all have already been as kind as propriety has all owed," she said, "given that all owing me to live here has done none of you any good in the eyes of the Clave. I shall find a place-"
"Your place is with me," Jem said. "It always Will be."
"What do you mean?"
He flushed, the color dark against his pale skin. "I mean," he said, "Tessa Gray, Will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"
Tessa sat bolt upright. "Jem!"
They stared at each other for a moment. At last he said, trying for lightness, though his voice cracked, "That was not a no, I suppose, though neither was it a yes."
"You can’t mean it."
"I do mean it."
"You can’t-I’m not a Shadowhunter. They’l expel you from the Clave-"
He took a step closer to her, his eyes eager. "You may not be precisely a Shadowhunter. But you are not a mundane either, nor provably a Downworlder. Your situation is unique, so I do not know what the Clave Will do. But they cannot forbid something that is not forbidden by the Law. They Will have to take your-our-individual case into consideration, and that could take months. In the meantime they cannot prevent our engagement."
"You are serious." Her mouth was dry. "Jem, such a kindness on your part is indeed incredible. It does you credit. But I cannot let you sacrifice yourself in that way for me."
"Sacrifice? Tessa, I love you. I want to marry you."
"I . . . Jem, it is just that you are kind, so selfless. How can I trust that you are not doing this simply for my sake?"
He reached into the pocket of his waistcoat and drew out something smooth and circular. It was a pendant of whitish-green jade, with Chinese characters carved into it that she could not read. He held it out to her with a hand that trembled ever so slightly.
"I could give you my family ring," he said. "But that is meant to be given back when the engagement is over, exchanged for runes. I want to give you something that Will be yours forever."
She shook her head. "I cannot possibly-"
He interrupted her. "This was given to my mother by my father, when they married. The writing is from the I Ching, the Book of Changes. It says, When two people are at one in their inmost hearts, they shatter even the strength of iron or bronze."
"And you think we are?" Tessa asked, shock making her voice small. "At one, that is?"
Jem knelt down at her feet, so that he was gazing up into her face. She saw him as he had been on Blackfriars Bridge, a lovely silver shadow against the darkness. "I cannot explain love," he said. "I could not tell you if I loved you the first moment I saw you, or if it was the second or third or fourth.
But I remember the first moment I looked at you walking toward me and realized that somehow the rest of the world seemed to vanish when I was with you. That you were the center of everything I did and felt and thought."
Overwhelmed, Tessa shook her head slowly. "Jem, I never imagined-"
"There is a force and strength in love," he said. "That is what that inscription means. It is in the Shadowhunter wedding ceremony, too. For love is as strong as death. Have you not seen how much better I have been these past weeks, Tessa? I have been il less, coughing less. I feel stronger, I need less of the drug-because of you. Because my love for you sustains me."
Tessa stared. Was such a thing even possible, outside of fairy tales? His thin face glowed with light; it was clear he believed it, absolutely. And he had been better.
"You speak of sacrifice, but it is not my sacrifice I offer. It is yours I ask of you," he went on. "I can offer you my life, but it is a short life; I can offer you my heart, though I have no idea how many more beats it shall sustain. But I love you enough to hope that you Will not care that I am being selfish in trying to make the rest of my life-whatever its length-happy, by spending it with you.
I want to be married to you, Tessa. I want it more than I have ever wanted anything else in my life." He looked up at her through the veil of silvery hair that fell over his eyes. "That is," he said shyly, "if you love me, too."
Tessa looked down at Jem, kneeling before her with the pendant in his hands, and understood at last what people meant when they said someone’s heart was in their eyes, for Jem’s eyes, his luminous, expressive eyes that she had always found beautiful, were full of love and hope.
And why should he not hope? She had given him every reason to believe she loved him. Her friendship, her trust, her confidence, her gratitude, even her passion. And if there was some smal locked away part of herself that had not quite given up Will, surely she owed it to herself as much as to Jem to do whatever she could to destroy it.
Very slowly she reached down and took the pendant from Jem. It slipped around her neck on a gold chain, as cool as water, and rested in the hollow of her throat above the spot where the clockwork angel lay. As she lowered her hands from its clasp, she saw the hope in his eyes light to an almost unbearable blaze of disbelieving happiness. She felt as if someone had reached inside her chest and unlocked a box that held her heart, spil ing tenderness like new blood through her veins. Never had she felt such an overwhelming urge to fiercely protect another person, to wrap her arms around someone else and curl up tightly with them, alone and away from the rest of the world.