Clockwork Princess (Page 52)

Clockwork Princess(52)
Author: Cassandra Clare

She turned, and looked. And drew in her breath.

It was Jem, and not Jem.

He wore the parchment robes of a Silent Brother, open at the throat to show the collar of an ordinary shirt. His hood was thrown back, revealing his face. She could see the changes in him, where she had only barely seen them in the noise and confusion of the battle at Cadair Idris. His delicate cheekbones were scarred with the runes she had noticed before, one on each, long slashes of scars that did not look like ordinary Shadowhunter runes. His hair was no longer pure silver-streaks of it had darkened to black-brown, no doubt the color he had been born with. His eyelashes, too, had darkened to black. They looked like fine strands of silk against his pale skin-though he was no longer as pale as he had been.

"How is it possible?" she whispered. "That you are here?"

"I was called from the Silent City by the Council." His voice was not the same either. There was an undertone of something cool to it, something that had not been there before. "Charlotte’s influence, I was given to understand. I am allowed an hour with you, no more."

"An hour," Tessa echoed, stunned. She put a hand up to push her hair from her face. What a fright she must look, in her crumpled nightgown, her hair hanging in tangled plaits, her lips dry and cracked. She reached for the clockwork angel at her neck-a familiar, habitual gesture, meant to comfort, but the angel was no longer there. "Jem. I thought you were dead."

"Yes," he said, and there was that remoteness in his voice still, a distance that reminded her of the icebergs she had seen off the side of the Main, floes drifting far out in icy water. "I’m sorry. I’m sorry I couldn’t somehow-that I couldn’t tell you."

"I thought you were dead," Tessa said again. "I can’t believe you’re real, now. I dreamed of you, over and over. There was a dark corridor and you were walking away from me, and however I called out, you could not, would not, turn to see me. Perhaps this is only another dream."

"This is no dream." He rose to his feet and stood in front of her, his pale hands interlaced in front of him, and she could not forget that this was how he had proposed to her-standing, as she sat upon the bed, looking up at him, incredulous, as she was now.

He opened his hands slowly, and on the palms, as on his cheeks, she saw great black runes scored. She was not familiar enough with the Codex to recognize them, but she knew instinctively that they were not the runes of an ordinary Shadowhunter. They spoke of a power beyond that.

"You told me it was impossible," she whispered. "That you could not become a Silent Brother."

He turned away from her. There was something to his motions now that was different, something of the gliding softness of the Silent Brothers. It was both lovely and chilling. What was he doing? Could he not bear to look at her?

"I told you what I believed," he said, his face turned toward the window. In profile, she could see that some of the painful thinness of his face had faded. His cheekbones were no longer so pronounced, the hollows at his temples no longer so dark. "And what was true. That the yin fen in my blood prevented the runes of the Brotherhood from being placed upon me." She saw his chest rise and fall beneath the parchment robes, and it almost startled her: It seemed so human, the need to draw breath. "Every effort that had ever been made to wean me slowly from the yin fen had nearly killed me. When I ceased to take it because there was no more, I felt my body begin to break, from the inside out. And I thought that I had nothing more to lose." The intensity in Jem’s voice warmed it-was that a tone of humanity there, a crack in the armor of the Brotherhood? "I begged Charlotte to call the Silent Brothers and asked them to place the runes of the Brotherhood on me at the very last possible moment, the moment when the life was leaving my body. I knew that the runes might mean I died in agony. But it was the only chance."

"You said that you did not wish to become a Silent Brother. Did not wish to live forever …"

He had taken a few steps across the room and was beside her vanity table. He reached down and lifted something metallic and glittering from a shallow jewelry dish. She realized with a shock of surprise that it was her clockwork angel.

"It no longer ticks," he said. She could not read his voice; it was distant, as smooth and cool as stone.

"Its heart is gone. When I changed into the angel, I freed it from its clockwork prison. It no longer lives within. It no longer protects me."

His hand closed around the angel, the wings digging hard into the flesh of his palm. "I must tell you," he said. "When I received Charlotte’s demand that I come here, it was against my wishes."

"You did not wish to see me?"

"No. I did not want you to look at me as you are looking at me now."

"Jem-" She swallowed, tasting on her tongue the bitterness of the tisane he had given her. A whirl of memories, the darkness under Cadair Idris, the town on fire, Will’s arms around her-Will. But she had thought Jem was dead. "Jem," she said again. "When I saw you alive, there below Cadair Idris, I thought it was a dream or a lie. I had thought you dead. It was the darkest moment of my life. Believe me, please believe me, that my soul rejoices to see you again when I thought that I never would. It’s just that …"

He released his grip on the metal angel, and she saw the lines of blood on his hand, where the tips of the wings had cut him, scored across the runes on his palm. "I am strange to you. Not human."

"You will always be human to me," she whispered. "But I cannot quite see my Jem in you now."

He closed his eyes. She was used to dark shadows on his lids, but they were gone now. "I had no choice. You were gone, and in my stead Will had gone after you. I did not fear death, but I feared deserting you both. This, then, was my only recourse. To live, to stand and fight."

A little color had come into his voice: There was passion there, under the cold detachment of the Silent Brothers.

"But I knew what I would lose," he said. "Once you understood my music. Now you look at me as though you do not know me at all. As though you never loved me."

Tessa slid out from beneath the coverlet and stood. It was a mistake. Her head swam suddenly, her knees buckling. She threw out a hand to catch at one of the posts of the bed, and found herself with a handful of Jem’s parchment robes instead. He had darted toward her with the graceful quiet tread of the Brothers that was like smoke unfurling, and his arms were around her now, holding her up.

She went still in his arms. He was close, close enough that she should have been able to feel warmth coming off his body, but she did not. His usual scent of smoke and burned sugar was gone. There was only the faint scent of something dry and as cold as old stone, or paper. She could feel the muffled beat of his heart, see the pulse in his throat. She stared up at him in wonder, memorizing the lines and angles of his face, the scars on his cheekbones, the rough silk of his eyelashes, the bow of his mouth.

"Tessa." The word came out on a groan, as if she had hit him. There was the faintest trace of color in his cheeks, blood under snow. "Oh, God," he said, and buried his face in the crook of her neck, where the curve of her shoulder began, his cheek against her hair. His palms were flat against her back, pressing her harder against him. She could feel him trembling.

For a moment she was unmoored by the heady relief of it, the feeling of Jem under her hands. Perhaps you did not really believe in a thing until you could touch it. And here was Jem, who she had thought was dead, holding her, and breathing, and alive.

"You feel the same," she said. "And yet you look so different. You are different."

He broke away from her at that, with an effort that made him bite his lip and corded the muscles in his throat. Holding her gently by the shoulders, he guided her to sit down again upon the edge of the bed. When he released her, his hands curled into fists. He took a step back. She could see him breathing, see the pulse going in his throat.

"I am different," he said in a low voice. "I am changed. And not in a way that can be undone."

"But you are not entirely one of them yet," she said. "You can speak-and see-"

He exhaled slowly. He was still staring at the post of the bed as if it held the universe’s secrets. "There is a process. A series of rituals and procedures. No, I am not quite a Silent Brother yet. But I will be soon."

"So the yin fen did not prevent it."

"Almost. There was-pain when I made the transition. Great pain, that nearly killed me. They did what they could. But I shall never be like other Silent Brothers." He looked down, his lashes veiling his eyes. "I shall not be-quite as they are. I will be less powerful, for there are some runes, still, that I cannot withstand."

"Surely they can just wait now for the yin fen to leave your body completely?"

"It will not. My body has been arrested in the state it was in when they put these first runes on me here." He indicated the scars on his face. "Because of it, there will be skills I cannot achieve. It will take me much longer to master their vision and speech of the mind."

"Does that mean they will not take your eyes-sew your lips shut?"

"I don’t know." His voice was soft now, almost entirely the voice of the Jem she knew. There was a flush across his cheekbones, and she thought of a pale column of hollow marble slowly filling with human blood. "They will have me for a long time. Perhaps forever. I cannot say what will happen. I have given myself over to them. My fate is in their hands now."

"If we could free you from them-"

"Then the yin fen that remains in me would burn again, and I would be as I was. An addict, dying. This is my choice, Tessa, because it is death otherwise. You know that it is. I do not want to leave you. Even knowing that becoming a Silent Brother could ensure my survival, I fought it as if it were a prison sentence. Silent Brothers cannot marry. They cannot have parabatai. They can live only in the Silent City. They do not laugh. They cannot play music."

"Oh, Jem," Tessa said. "Perhaps the Silent Brothers cannot play music, but neither can the dead. If this is the only way you can live, then I rejoice in my soul for you, even as my heart sorrows."

"I know you too well to think that you would feel another way."

"And I know you well enough to know that you feel bowed by guilt. But why? You have done nothing wrong."

He bent his head so that his forehead rested on the bedpost. He closed his eyes. "This is why I did not want to come."

"But I am not angry-"

"I did not think you would be angry," Jem burst out, and it was like ice cracking across a frozen waterfall, freeing a torrent. "We were engaged, Tessa. A proposal-an offer of marriage-is a promise. A promise to love and care for someone always. I did not mean to break mine to you. But it was that or die. I wanted to wait, to be married to you and live with you for years, but that wasn’t possible. I was dying too fast. I would have given it up-all of it up-to be married to you for a day. A day that would never have come. You are a reminder-a reminder of everything I am losing. The life I will not have."

"To give up your life for one day of marriage-it would not have been worth it," Tessa said. Her heart was pounding out a message that spoke to her of Will’s arms around her, his lips on hers in the cave under Cadair Idris. She didn’t deserve Jem’s gentle confessions, his penitence, or his longing. "Jem, I must tell you something."

He looked at her. She could see the black in his eyes, threads of black alongside the silver, beautiful and strange.

"It’s about Will. About Will, and me."

"He loves you," Jem said. "I know he loves you. We spoke of it before he left here." Though the coldness had not returned to his voice, he sounded suddenly almost unnaturally calm.

Tessa was shocked. "I didn’t know you had ever talked of it with each other. Will did not say."

"Nor did you ever tell me of his feelings, though you knew for months. We all have our secrets that we keep because we do not want to hurt the people who love us." There was a sort of warning in his voice, or was she imagining it?

"I do not want to keep secrets from you any longer," Tessa said. "I thought you were dead. Will and I both did. In Cadair Idris-"

"Did you love me?" he interrupted. It seemed an odd question, and yet he asked it without implication or hostility, and waited quietly for her answer.

She looked at him, and Woolsey’s words came back to her, like the whisper of a prayer. Most people never find one great love in their life. You are lucky enough to have found two. For a moment she put aside her confession. "Yes. I loved you. I love you still. I love Will, too. I cannot explain it. I didn’t know it when I agreed to marry you. I loved you, I still love you, I never loved you less for all that I love him. It sounds mad, but if anyone might ever understand-"

"I do," Jem said. "There is no need to tell me more about yourself and Will. There’s nothing you could have done that would cause me to cease loving either of you. Will is myself, my own soul, and if I am not to have the keeping of your heart, then there is no other I would rather have that honor. And when I am gone, you must help Will. This will be-it will be hard for him."

Tessa searched his face with her gaze. The blood had left his cheeks; he was pale, but composed. His jaw was set. It said all she needed to understand: Do not tell me more. I do not want to know.

Some secrets, she thought, were better told; some were better left the burden of the carrier, that they might not cause pain to others. It was why she had not told Will she loved him, when there was nothing either of them could do about it.

She closed her mouth on what she had been intending to say, and said instead: "I do not know how I will manage without you."

"I ask myself the same thing. I do not want to leave you. I cannot leave you. But if I stay, I die here."