"Gabriel, please," Gideon said. "Come with me."
"Who Will take care of father? What Will people say about our family if we both abandon him?" Gabriel said, bitterness and desperation coloring his tone. "Who Will manage the estates, the Council seat-"
"I don’t know," said Gideon. "But it does not need to be you. The Law-"
Gabriel’s voice shook. "Family before Law, Gideon." His eyes locked with his brother’s for a moment; then he looked away, chewing his lip, and went to stand behind Benedict, his hand on the back of his father’s chair.
Benedict smiled; in this one thing, at least, he was triumphant. Charlotte rose to her feet, her chin held high. "I trust we Will see you tomorrow, in the Council chamber, Benedict. I trust you Will know what to do," she said, and swept from the room, Gideon and Tessa on her heels. Only Will hesitated a moment, in the doorway, his eyes on Gabriel, but when the other boy did not look at him, he shrugged at last and went out after the others, shutting the door behind him.
They rode back to the Institute in silence, rain lashing against the windows of the carriage. Charlotte attempted several times to speak to Gideon, but he was silent, staring at the blurred view of streets as they rol ed by. Tessa could not tell if he was angry, or regretted his actions, or might even be relieved.
He was as impassive as always, even as Charlotte explained to him that there would always be a room for him at the Institute, and that they could hardly express their gratitude for what he had done. At last, as they rattled down the Strand, he said, "I had really thought Gabriel would come with me.
Once he knew about Mortmain . . ."
"He does not understand yet," said Charlotte. "Give him time."
"How did you know?" Will looked at Gideon keenly. "We only just discovered what happened to your mother. And Sophie said you had no idea -"
"I had Cyril deliver two notes," said Charlotte. "One for Benedict and one for Gideon."
"He slipped it into my hand while my father was not looking," Gideon said.
"I had only just time to read it before you came in."
"And you chose to believe it?" Tessa said. "So quickly?"
Gideon looked toward the rain-washed window. His jaw was set in a hard line. "Father’s story about Mother’s death never made sense to me. This made sense."
Crowded into the damp carriage, with Gideon only a few feet from her, Tessa felt the oddest urge to reach out to him, to tell him that she too had had a brother whom she had loved and had lost to what was worse than death, that she understood. She could see now what Sophie liked in him-the vulnerability under the impassive countenance, the solid honesty beneath the handsome bones of his face.
She said nothing, however, sensing it would not be welcome. Will, meanwhile, sat beside her, a bundle of coiled energy. Every once in a while she would catch a flash of blue as he looked at her, or the edge of a smile- a surprisingly sweet smile, something like giddiness, which she had never associated with Will before. It was as if he were sharing a private joke with her, only she was not entirely sure she knew what that joke was. Still, she felt his tension so keenly that her own calm, or what there was of it, was entirely cut up by the time they finally reached the Institute and Cyril-soaked to the skin, but friendly as always-came around the carriage to open the doors.
He helped Charlotte out first, and then Tessa, and then Will was beside her, having jumped down from the carriage and narrowly skirted a puddle. It had stopped raining. Will glanced up at the sky and took hold of Tessa’s arm. "Come along," he whispered, steering her toward the front door of the Institute.
Tessa glanced back over her shoulder, to where Charlotte stood at the foot of the steps, having succeeded, it seemed, in finally getting Gideon to speak to her. She was gesturing animatedly, using her hands.
"We ought to wait for them, oughtn’t we-," Tessa began.
Will shook his dark head determinedly. "Charlotte Will be blathering at him for ages about what room he wants to stay in, and how grateful she is for his help, and all I want is to talk to you."
Tessa stared at him as they entered the Institute. Will wanted to talk to her.
He had said so before, true, but to speak so straightforwardly was very unlike him.
A thought seized her. Had Jem told him of their engagement? Was he angry, thinking her not worthy of his friend? But when would Jem have had a chance? Perhaps while she was dressing-but, then, Will did not look angry.
"I can’t wait to tell Jem about our meeting," he said as they mounted the stairs. "He’l never believe that scene-for Gideon to turn on his father like that! It’s one thing to tell secrets to Sophie, another to renounce your whole all egiance to your family. Yet he cast away his family ring."
"It is as you said," Tessa said as they turned at the top of the stairs and made their way down the corridor. Will ‘s gloved hand was warm on her arm.
"Gideon’s in love with Sophie. People Will do anything for love."
Will looked at her as if her words had jolted him, then smiled, that same maddeningly sweet smile he had given her in the carriage. "Amazing, isn’t it?"
Tessa made as if to answer, but they had reached the drawing room. It was bright inside; the witchlight torches were high, and there was a fire in the grate. The curtains were drawn back, showing squares of leaden sky. Tessa took off her hat and gloves and was just laying them on a smal Moroccan table when she saw that Will, who had fol owed her in, was drawing closed the bolt on the door.
Tessa blinked. "Will, why are you locking-"
She never finished her sentence. Covering the space between them in two long strides, Will reached her and caught her up in an embrace. She gasped in surprise as he took her by the arms, walking her backward until they half- col ided with the wall, her crinolette protesting.
"Will," she said in surprise, but he was pinning her to the wal with his body, his hands sliding up her shoulders, into her damp hair, his mouth sudden and hot on hers. She fell and spun and drowned in the kiss; his lips were soft and his body was hard against her, and he tasted like rain. Heat spread through the pit of her stomach as his mouth moved urgently on hers, Will ing her response.
Jem’s face flashed against the back of her closed eyelids. She put her hands flat against Will ‘s chest and shoved him away from her, as hard as she could. Her breath came out on a violent exhalation: "No."
Will took a surprised step backward. His voice, when he spoke, was throaty and low. "But last night? In the infirmary? I-you embraced me-"
I did? With an acute shock she realized that what she had taken for a dream had been no dream after all. Or was he lying? But no. There was no manner in which he could have known what she had dreamed.
"I . . ." Her words stumbled over themselves. "I thought I was dreaming . . ."
The hazy look of desire was fast vanishing from his eyes, replaced by hurt and confusion. He almost stammered: "But even today. I thought you-you said you were as eager to be alone with me as I was-"
"I imagined you wanted an apology! You saved my life at the tea warehouse, and I am grateful, Will. I thought you wanted me to tell you that-"
Will looked as if she had slapped him. "I didn’t save your life so you’d be grateful!"
"Then, what?" Her voice rose. "You did it because it’s your mandate? Because the Law says-"
"I did it because I love you!" he half-shouted, and then, as if registering the shocked look on her face, he said in a more subdued voice, "I love you, Tessa, and I have loved you, almost since the moment I met you."
Tessa laced her hands together. They were icy cold. "I thought you couldn’t be crueler than you were on the roof that day. I was wrong. This is crueler."
Will stood motionless. Then he shook his head slowly, from side to side, like a patient denying the deadly diagnosis of a physician. "You . . . don’t believe me?"
"Of course I don’t believe you. After the things you said, the way you’ve treated me-"
" I had to," he said. "I had no choice. Tessa, listen." She began to move toward the door; he scrambled to block her way, his blue eyes burning.
"Please listen. Please."
Tessa hesitated. The way he said "please" -the catch in his voice-this was not like it had been on the roof. Then he had barely been able to look at her. Now he was staring at her desperately, as if he could Will her to remain with desire alone. The voice that cried within her that he would hurt her, that he was not sincere, grew softer, buried under an ever loudening treacherous voice that told her to stay. To hear him out.
"Tessa." Will pushed his hands through his black hair, his slim fingers trembling with agitation. Tessa remembered what it was like to touch that hair, to have her fingers wound through it, like rough silk against her skin.
"What I am going to tell you I have never told another living soul but Magnus, and that was only because I needed his help. I have not even told Jem." Will took a deep breath. "When I was twelve, living with my parents in Wales, I found a Pyxis in my father’s office."
She was not sure what she had expected Will to say, but this was not it. "A Pyxis? But why would your father keep a Pyxis?"
"A memento from his Shadowhunting days? Who can guess? But do you recal the Codex discussing curses and how they can be cast? Well, when I opened the box, I released a demon-Marbas-who cursed me. He swore that anyone who loved me was doomed to die. I might not have believed it-I was not well schooled in magic-but my elder sister died that night, horribly. I thought it was the beginning of the curse. I fled my family and came here. It seemed to me the only way to keep them safe, not to bring them death on death. I did not realize at first that I was walking into a second family. Henry, Charlotte, even bloody Jessamine-I had to make sure that no one here could ever love me. To do so, I thought, would be to put them into deadly danger. For years I have held everyone at arm’s length-everyone I could not push away entirely."
Tessa stared at him. The words echoed in her head. Held everyone at arm’s length-pushed everyone away- She thought of his lies, his hiding, the unpleasantness to Charlotte and Henry, the cruelties that seemed forced, even the story of Tatiana, who had only loved him the way little girls did, and whose affections he had crushed. And then there was . . . "Jem," she whispered.
He looked at her miserably. "Jem is different," he whispered.
"Jem is dying. You let Jem in because he was already near death? You thought the curse wouldn’t affect him?"
"And with every year that passed, and he survived, that seemed more likely. I thought I could learn to live like this. I thought when Jem was gone, after I turned eighteen, I’d go live by myself, not inflict myself or my curse on anyone-and then everything changed. Because of you."
"Me?" said Tessa in a quiet, stunned voice.
The ghost of a smile touched his mouth. "When I first met you, I thought you were unlike anyone else I had ever known. You made me laugh. No one but Jem has made me laugh in, good God, five years. And you did it like it was nothing, like breathing."
"You did not even know me. Will -"
"Ask Magnus. He’l tell you. After that night on the roof, I went to him. I had pushed you away because I thought you had begun to realize how I felt about you. In the Sanctuary that day, when I thought you were dead, I realized you must have been able to read it on my face. I was terrified. I had to make you hate me, Tessa. So I tried. And then I wanted to die. I had thought I could bear it if you hated me, but I could not. I realized you would be staying in the Institute, and that every time I saw you it would be like standing on that roof all over again, making you despise me and feeling as if I were choking down poison. I went to Magnus and demanded that he help me find the demon who had cursed me in the first place, that the curse might be lifted. If it was, I thought, I could try again. It might be slow and painful and nearly impossible, but I thought I could make you care for me again, if only I could tell you the truth. That I could gain your trust back-build something with you, slowly."
"Are-are you saying the curse is lifted? That it’s gone?"
"There is no curse on me, Tessa. The demon tricked me. There never was a curse. all these years, I’ve been a fool. But not so much a fool that I didn’t know that the first thing I needed to do once I had learned the truth was tel you how I really felt." He took another step forward, and this time she did not move back. She was staring at him, at the pale, almost translucent skin under his eyes, at the dark hair curling at his temples, the nape of his neck, at the blue of his eyes and the curve of his mouth. Staring at him the way she might stare at a beloved place she was not sure she would ever see again, trying to commit the details to memory, to paint them on the backs of her eyelids that she might see it when she shut her eyes to sleep.
She heard her own voice as if from very far away. "Why me?" she whispered. "Why me, Will ?"
He hesitated. "After we brought you back here, after Charlotte found your letters to your brother, I-I read them."
Tessa heard herself say, very calmly, "I know you did. I found them in your room when I was there with Jem."
He looked startled. "You said nothing to me about it."
"At first I was angry," she admitted. "But that was the night we found you in the ifrit den. I felt for you, I suppose. I told myself you had only been curious, or Charlotte had asked you to read them."
"She didn’t," he said. "I pulled them out of the fire myself. I read them all.
Every word you wrote. You and I, Tess, we’re alike. We live and breathe words. It was books that kept me from taking my own life after I thought I could never love anyone, never be loved by anyone again. It was books that made me feel that perhaps I was not completely alone. They could be honest with me, and I with them. Reading your words, what you wrote, how you were lonely sometimes and afraid, but always brave; the way you saw the world, its colors and textures and sounds, I felt-I felt the way you thought, hoped, felt, dreamed. I felt I was dreaming and thinking and feeling with you. I dreamed what you dreamed, wanted what you wanted-and then I realized that truly I just wanted you. The girl behind the scrawled letters. I loved you from the moment I read them. I love you still."