Slowly Jem put the violin back into its case and laid the bow beside it. He straightened and turned to her. His expression was shy, though his white shirt was soaked through with sweat and the pulse in his neck was pounding.
Tessa was speechless.
"Did you like it?" he said. "I could have given you … jewelry, but I wanted it to be something that was wholly yours. That no one else would hear or own. And I am not good with words, so I wrote how I felt about you in music." He paused. "Did you like it?" he said again, and the soft dropping-off of his voice at the end of the question indicated that he expected to receive an answer in the negative.
Tessa raised her face so that he could see the tears on it. "Jem."
He dropped to his knees before her, his face all contrition. "Ni jue de tong man, qin ai de?"
"No-no," she said, half-crying, half-laughing. "I am not hurt. Not unhappy. Not at all."
A smile broke across his face, lighting his eyes with delight. "Then you did like it."
"It was like I saw your soul in the notes of the music. And it was beautiful." She leaned forward and touched his face lightly, the smooth skin over his hard cheekbone, his hair like feathers against the back of her hand. "I saw rivers, boats like flowers, all the colors of the night sky."
Jem exhaled, sinking down onto the floor by her chair as if the strength had gone out of him. "That is a rare magic," he said. He leaned his head against her, his temple against her knee, and she kept up the stroking of his hair, carding her fingers through its softness. "Both my parents loved music," he said abruptly. "My father played the violin, my mother the qin. I chose the violin, though I could have learned either. I regretted it sometimes, for there are melodies of China I cannot play on the violin, that my mother would have liked me to know. She used to tell me the story of Yu Boya, who was a great player of the qin. He had a best friend, a woodcutter named Zhong Ziqi, and he would play for him. They say that when Yu Boya played a song of water, his friend would know immediately that he was describing rushing rivers, and when he played of mountains, Ziqi would see their peaks. And Yu Boya would say, ‘It is because you understand my music.’" Jem looked down at his own hand, curled loosely on his knee. "People still use the expression ‘zhi yin’ to mean ‘close friends’ or ‘soul mates,’ but what it really means is ‘understanding music.’" He reached up and took her hand. "When I played, you saw what I saw. You understand my music."
"I don’t know anything about music, Jem. I cannot tell a sonata from a partita-"
"No." He turned, rising up onto his knees, bracing himself on the arms of her chair. They were close enough now that she could see where his hair was damp with sweat at his temples and nape, smell his scent of rosin and burned sugar. "That is not the kind of music I mean. I mean-" He made a sound of frustration, caught at her hand, brought it to his chest, and pressed it flat over his heart. The steady beat hammered against her palm. "Every heart has its own melody," he said. "You know mine."
"What happened to them?" Tessa whispered. "The woodcutter and the musician?"
Jem’s smile was sad. "Zhong Ziqi died, and Yu Boya played his last song over his friend’s grave. Then he broke his qin and never played again."
Tessa felt the hot press of tears under her lashes, trying to force its way through. "What a terrible story."
"Is it?" Jem’s heart skipped and stuttered under her fingers. "While he lived and they were friends, Yu Boya wrote some of the greatest music that we know. Would he have been able to do that alone? Our hearts, they need a mirror, Tessa. We see our better selves in the eyes of those who love us. And there is a beauty that brevity alone provides." He dropped his gaze, then raised it to hers. "I would give you everything of myself," he said. "I would give you more in two weeks than most men would give you in a lifetime."
"There is nothing you haven’t given me, nothing I am dissatisfied with… ."
"I am," he said. "I want to be married to you. I would wait for you forever, but …"
But we do not have forever. "I have no family," Tessa said slowly, her eyes on his. "No guardian. No one who might be … offended … by a more immediate marriage."
Jem’s eyes widened slightly. "I- Do you mean that? I would not want you to not have all the time you require to prepare."
"What kind of preparation do you imagine I might require?" Tessa said, and for just that moment her thoughts ghosted back to Will, to the way he had put his hands in the fire to save Jem’s drugs, and watching him, she could not help but remember that day in the drawing room when he had told her he loved her, and when he had left, she had closed her hand around a poker, that the burning pain of it against her skin might shut out, even for a moment, the pain in her heart.
Will. She had lied to him then-if not in exact words, then in implication. She had let him think she did not love him. The thought still gave her pain, but she did not regret it. There had been no other way. She knew Will well enough to know that even had she broken things off with Jem, he would not have been with her. He could not have stood a love bought at the price of his parabatai’s happiness. And if there was some part of her heart that belonged to Will and Will alone, and always would, then it served no one to reveal it. She loved Jem, too-loved him even more now than she had when she had agreed to marry him.
Sometimes one must choose whether to be kind or honorable, Will had said to her. Sometimes one cannot be both.
Perhaps it did depend on the book, she thought. But in this, the book of her life, the way of dishonor was only unkindness. Even if she had hurt Will in the drawing room, over time as his feelings for her faded, he would someday thank her for keeping him free. She believed that. He could not love her forever.
She had set her feet on this path long ago. If she intended to see it through next month, then she could see it through the next day. She knew that she loved Jem, and though there was a part of her that loved Will as well, it was the best gift she could give both of them that neither Will nor Jem should ever know it.
"I don’t know," Jem said, gazing up at her from the floor, his expression a mixture of hope and disbelief. "The Council has not yet approved our request … and you do not have a dress …"
"I do not care about the Council. And I do not care what I wear, if you do not. If you mean it, Jem, I will marry you whenever you like."
"Tessa," he breathed. He reached for her as if he were drowning, and she ducked her head down to brush her lips against his. Jem raised himself up on his knees. His mouth ghosted across hers, once, twice, until her lips opened and she could taste his burned-sugar sweetness. "You are too far away," he whispered, and then his arms were around her, and there was no space between them, and he was drawing her down off the chair, and they were kneeling together on the floor, their arms around each other.
He held her to him, and her hands traced the shape of his face, his sharp cheekbones. So sharp, too sharp, the bones of his face, the pulse of his blood too close to the surface of the skin, collarbones as hard as a metal necklace.
His hands slid from her waist to her shoulders; his lips skimmed across her collarbone, the hollow of her throat, as her fingers twisted in his shirt, drawing it up so that her palms were against his bare skin. He was so thin, his spine sharp under her touch. Against the firelight she could see him painted in shadow and fire, the moving golden path of the flames turning his white hair to gilt.
I love you, he had said. In all the world, you are what I love the most.
She felt the hot press of his mouth again at the hollow of her throat, then lower. His kisses ended where her dress began. She felt her heart beating beneath his mouth, as if trying to reach him, trying to beat for him. She felt his shy hand slip around her body, to where the lacings fastened her dress closed… .
The door opened with a creak, and they sprang apart, both gasping as if they had been running a race. Tessa heard her own blood thunder loudly in her ears as she stared at the empty doorway. Beside her Jem’s gasp turned into a hitch of laughter.
"What-," she began.
"Church," he said, and Tessa dropped her gaze down to see the cat sauntering across the floor of the music room, having nudged the door open, and looking very pleased with himself.
"I’ve never seen a cat look so self-satisfied," she said as Church-ignoring her, as always-padded up to Jem and nudged at him with his head.
"When I said we might need a chaperon, this wasn’t what I had in mind," said Jem, but he stroked the cat’s head anyway, and smiled at her out of the corner of his mouth. "Tessa," he said. "Did you mean what you said? That you would marry me tomorrow?"
She raised her chin and looked directly into his eyes. She could not bear the thought of waiting, and wasting another instant of his life. She wanted suddenly and fiercely to be tied to him-in sickness, in health, for better, for worse-tied to him with a promise and able to give him her word and her love without holding back.
"I meant it," she said.
The dining room was not quite full, not everyone having yet arrived for breakfast, when Jem made his announcement.
"Tessa and I are going to get married," he said, very calmly, draping his napkin over his lap.
"Is this meant to be a surprise?" asked Gabriel, who was dressed in gear as if he intended to train after breakfast. He had already taken all the bacon from the serving platter, and Henry was looking at him mournfully. "Aren’t you engaged already?"
"The wedding date was set for December," said Jem, reaching beneath the table to give Tessa’s hand a reassuring squeeze. "But we have changed our minds. We intend to marry tomorrow."
The effect was galvanic. Henry choked on his tea and had to be pounded on the back by Charlotte, who appeared to have been stricken speechless. Gideon dropped his cup into his saucer with a clatter, and even Gabriel paused with his fork halfway to his mouth. Sophie, who had just come in from the kitchen carrying a rack of toast, gave a gasp. "But you can’t!" she said. "Miss Gray’s dress was ruined, and the new one isn’t even started yet!"
"She can wear any dress," Jem said. "She does not have to wear Shadowhunter gold, for she is not a Shadowhunter. She has several pretty gowns; she can choose her favorite." He ducked his head shyly toward Tessa. "That is, if that is all right with you."
Tessa did not answer, for at that moment Will and Cecily had crowded in through the doorway. "I have such a crick in my neck," Cecily was saying with a smile. I can hardly believe I managed to fall asleep in such a position-"
She broke off as both of them seemed to sense the mood of the room and paused, glancing around. Will did seem better rested than he had the day before, and pleased to have Cecily by him, though that cautious good mood was clearly evaporating as he glanced around at the expressions of the others in the room. "What’s going on?" he said. "Has something happened?"
"Tessa and I have decided to move up our wedding ceremony," Jem said. "It will be in the next few days."
Will said nothing, and his expression did not change, but he went very white. He did not look at Tessa.
"Jem, the Clave," Charlotte said, ceasing to pound Henry’s back and standing up with a look of agitation on her face. "They have not approved your marriage yet. You cannot go against them-"
"We cannot wait for them either," Jem said. "It could be months, a year-you know how they prefer to delay than give an answer they fear you will not like."
"And it is not as if our marriage can be their focus at the moment," Tessa said. "Benedict Lightwood’s papers, searching for Mortmain-all must take priority. But this is a personal matter."
"There are no personal matters to the Clave," Will said. His voice sounded hollow and odd, as if he were a great distance away. There was a pulse pounding at his throat. Tessa thought of the delicate rapport they had begun to build between them over the past few days and wondered if this would destroy it, dashing it into pieces like a fragile craft against rocks. "My mother and father-"
"There are Laws about marriage to mundanes. There are no Laws about marriage between a Nephilim and what Tessa is. And if I must, like your father, I will give up being a Shadowhunter for this."
"I would have thought you of all people would understand that," said Jem, the look he bent on Will both puzzled and hurt.
"I am not saying I don’t understand. I’m only urging you to think-"
"I have thought." Jem sat back. "I have a mundane marriage license, legally procured and signed. We could walk into any church and marry today. I would much prefer you all be there, but if you cannot be, we will do it regardless."
"To marry a girl just to make her a widow," said Gabriel Lightwood. "Many would say that was not a kindness."
Jem went rigid beside Tessa, his hand stiff in hers. Will started forward, but Tessa was already on her feet, burning holes in Gabriel Lightwood with her eyes.
"Do not dare speak about it as if Jem has all the choice about it and I have none," she said, never moving her eyes from his face. "This engagement was not forced on me, nor do I have any illusions about Jem’s health. I choose to be with him for however many days or minutes we are granted, and to count myself blessed to have them."
Gabriel’s eyes were as cold as the sea off the Newfoundland coast. "I was only concerned for your welfare, Miss Gray."
"Better to look out for your own," Tessa snapped.
And now those green eyes narrowed. "Meaning?"
"I believe the lady means," Will drawled, "that she is not the one who killed her father. Or have you so quickly recovered from it that we have no need for concern for your sensibilities, Gabriel?"