"You mean Tessa."
"I do mean Tessa. Or do you deny that she holds your heart?" Magnus had begun to descend the stairs; he paused, and looked back at Will.
"I do not," Will said. "But she will be sorry that you have left without saying good-bye to her."
"Oh," Magnus said, turning at the bottom of the steps, with a curious smile. "I don’t think that will be necessary. Tell her I will see her again."
Will nodded. Magnus turned away, hands in the pockets of his coat, and began to walk toward the gates of the Institute. Will watched until his retreating figure faded into the whiteness of the falling snow.
Tessa had slipped out of the ballroom without anyone noticing. Even the usually keen-eyed Charlotte was distracted, sitting beside Henry in his wheeled chair, her hand in his, smiling at the antics of the musicians.
It did not take Tessa long to find Will. She had guessed where he would be, and she was correct-standing on the front steps of the Institute, without a coat or hat, letting the snow fall on his head and shoulders. There was a white dusting of it all over the courtyard, like icing sugar, frosting the line of carriages waiting there, the black iron gates, the flagstones upon which Jessamine had died. Will was staring intently ahead of him, as if trying to discern something through the descending flakes.
"Will," Tessa said, and he turned to look up at her. She had caught up a silk wrap, but nothing heavier, and she felt the cool sting of snowflakes against the bare skin of her neck and shoulders.
"I should have been more polite to Elias Carstairs," Will said by way of reply. He was looking up at the sky, where a pale crescent of moon darted in between thick sweeps of cloud and fog. Flakes of white snow had fallen and mixed with his black hair. His cheeks and lips were flushed with the cold. He looked more handsome than she had ever remembered him. "Instead I behaved as I would have-before."
Tessa knew what he meant. For Will there was only one before and after.
"You are allowed to have a temper," she said. "I have told you before, I do not want you to be perfect. Only to be Will."
"Who will never be perfect."
"Perfect is dull," Tessa said, descending the last step to stand beside him. "They are playing ‘complete the poetic quotation’ inside now. You could have made quite a showing. I do not think there is anyone there who could challenge your knowledge of literature."
"Other than you."
"I would be difficult competition indeed. Perhaps we could make ourselves a team of sorts, and divide the winnings."
"That seems bad form." Will spoke absently, tilting back his head. The snow circled whitely about them, as if they stood at the bottom of a whirlpool. "Today, when Sophie Ascended …"
"Is that something that you would have wanted?" He turned to look at her, white snowflakes caught in his dark lashes. "For yourself?"
"You know that isn’t possible for me, Will. I am a warlock. Or at least, that is the closest approximation of what I am. I cannot ever be fully Nephilim."
"I know." He looked down at his hands, opening his fingers to let snowflakes settle, melting, on his palms. "But in Cadair Idris you said that you had hoped to be a Shadowhunter-that Mortmain had dashed those hopes-"
"I did feel that way at the time," she allowed. "But when I became Ithuriel-when I Changed and destroyed Mortmain-how could I hate something that allowed me to protect the ones I care about? It is not easy to be different, and even less so to be unique. But I begin to think I was never meant for an easy road."
Will laughed. "The easy road? No, not for you, my Tessa."
"Am I your Tessa?" She drew her wrap closer around herself, pretending her shiver was just the cold. "Are you bothered by what I am, Will? That I am not like you?"
The words hung between them, unspoken: There is no future for a Shadowhunter who dallies with warlocks.
Will paled. "Those things I said on the roof, so long ago-you know I did not mean them."
"I do not wish you other than you are, Tessa. You are what you are, and I love you. I do not love just the parts of you that meet with the Clave’s approval-"
She raised her eyebrows. "You are willing to endure the rest?"
He raked a hand through his dark, snow-dampened hair. "No. I am misspeaking. There is nothing about you that I can imagine not loving. Do you really think it is so important to me that you be Nephilim? My mother isn’t a Shadowhunter. And when I saw you Change into the angel-when I saw you blaze forth with the fire of Heaven-it was glorious, Tess." He took a step toward her. "What you are, what you can do, it is like some great miracle of the earth, like fire or wildflowers or the breadth of the sea. You are unique in the world, just as you are unique in my heart, and there will never be a time when I do not love you. I would love you if you were not in any part a Shadowhunter at all-"
She gave him a shaky smile. "But I am glad that I am, if only by half," she said, "since it means that I may stay with you, here, in the Institute. That the family I have found here can remain my family. Charlotte said that if I chose, I could cease to be a Gray and take the name my mother should have had before she was married. I could be a Starkweather. I could have a true Shadowhunter name."
She heard Will exhale a breath. It came out a puff of white in the cold. His eyes were blue and wide and clear, fixed on her face. He wore the expression of a man who had steeled himself to do a terrifying thing, and was carrying it through. "Of course you can have a true Shadowhunter name," Will said. "You can have mine."
Tessa stared at him, all black and white against the black-and-white snow and stone. "Your name?"
Will took a step toward her, till they stood face-to-face. Then he reached to take her hand and slid off her glove, which he put into his pocket. He held her bare hand in his, his fingers curved around hers. His hand was warm and callused, and his touch made her shiver. His eyes were steady and blue; they were everything Will was: true and tender, sharp and witty, loving and kind. "Marry me," he said. "Marry me, Tess. Marry me and be Tessa Herondale. Or be Tessa Gray, or be whatever you wish to call yourself, but marry me and stay with me and never leave me, for I cannot bear another day of my life to go by that does not have you in it."
The snow was swirling down around them, white and cold and perfect. The clouds above had parted, and through the gaps she could see the stars.
"Jem told me what Ragnor Fell said about my father," Will went on. "That for my father there was only ever one woman he loved, and it was her for him, or nothing. You are that for me. I love you, and I will only ever love you until I die-"
He bit his lip. His hair was thick with snow, his lashes starred with flakes. "Was that too grand a statement? Did I frighten you? You know how I am with words-"
"Oh, I do."
"I recall what you said to me once," Will went on. "That words have the power to change us. Your words have changed me, Tess; they have made me a better man than I would have been otherwise. Life is a book, and there are a thousand pages I have not yet read. I would read them together with you, as many as I can, before I die-"
She put her hand against his chest, just over his heart, and felt its beat against her palm, a unique time signature that was all its own. "I only wish you would not speak of dying," she said. "But even for that, yes, I know how you are with your words, and, Will-I love all of them. Every word you say. The silly ones, the mad ones, the beautiful ones, and the ones that are only for me. I love them, and I love you."
Will began to speak, but Tessa covered his mouth with her hand.
"I love your words, my Will, but hold them for a moment," she said, and smiled into his eyes. "Think of all the words I have held inside all this time, while I did not know your intentions. When you came to me in the drawing room and told me that you loved me, it was the hardest thing I have ever done to send you away. You said you loved the words of my heart, the shape of my soul. I remember. I remember every word you said from that day to this. I will never forget them. There are so many words I wish to say to you, and so many I wish to hear you say to me. I hope we have all our lives to say them to each other."
"Then you will marry me?" Will said, looking dazed, as if he did not quite believe in his good fortune.
"Yes," she said-the last, the simplest, and most important word of all.
And Will, who had words for every occasion, opened his mouth and closed it on silence, and instead reached for her to pull her against him. Her wrap fell onto the stairs, but his arms were warm around her, and his mouth hot against hers as he slanted his head down to kiss her. He tasted like snowflakes and wine, like winter and Will and London. His mouth was soft against hers, his hands in her hair, scattering white berries across the stone steps. Tessa held fast to Will as the snow swirled around them. Through the windows of the Institute, she could hear the faint sound of the music playing in the ballroom: the pianoforte, the cello, and rising above it all, like sparks leaping toward the sky, the sweet, celebratory strains of the violin.
"I can’t believe we’re really going home," Cecily said. Her hands were clasped in front of her, and she was bouncing up and down in her white kid boots. She was bundled into a red winter coat, the brightest thing in the dark crypt except the Portal itself, great and silver and shining against the far wall.
Through it Tessa could catch a glimpse, like a glimpse in a dream, of blue sky (the sky outside the Institute was a spitting London gray) and snow-dusted hills. Will stood beside her, his shoulder brushing hers. He looked pale and nervous, and she longed to take his hand. "We’re not going home, Cecy," he said. "Not to stay. We’re visiting. I wish to introduce our parents to my fiancee"-and at that his pallor faded slightly, his lips curving into a smile-"that they might know the girl I am going to marry."
"Oh, pish tosh," said Cecily. "We can use the Portal to see them whenever we want! Charlotte is the Consul, so we cannot possibly get in trouble."
Charlotte groaned. "Cecily, this is a singular expedition. It is not a toy. You cannot simply use the Portal whenever you like, and this excursion must be kept a secret. None but we here can know you visited your parents, that I allowed you to break the Law!"
"I won’t tell anyone!" Cecily protested. "And neither will Gabriel." She glanced at the boy at her side. "You won’t, will you?"
"Why are we bringing him along, again?" Will inquired, of the world in general as well as his sister.
Cecily put her hands on her hips. "Why are you bringing Tessa?"
"Because Tessa and I are going to be married," Will said, and Tessa smiled; the way that Will’s little sister could ruffle his feathers like no one else was still amusing to her.
"Well, Gabriel and I might well be married," Cecily said. "Someday."
Gabriel made a choking noise, and turned an alarming shade of purple.
Will threw up his hands. "You can’t be married, Cecily! You’re only fifteen! When I get married, I’ll be eighteen! An adult!"
Cecily did not look impressed. "We may have a long engagement," she said. "But I cannot see why you are counseling me to marry a man my parents have never met."
Will sputtered. "I am not counseling you to marry a man your parents have never met!"
"Then we are in agreement. Gabriel must meet Mam and Dad." Cecily turned to Henry. "Is the Portal ready?"
Tessa leaned close to Will. "I do love the way she manages you," she whispered. "It is quite entertaining to watch."
"Wait until you meet my mother," Will said, and slipped his hand into hers. His fingers were cold; his heart must have been racing. Tessa knew he had been up all night. The idea of seeing his parents after so many years was as terrifying to him as it was joyful. She knew that admixture of hope and fear, infinitely worse than just one alone.
"The Portal is quite ready," said Henry. "And remember, in an hour I shall open it again, that you may return through it."
"And understand that this is just this once," Charlotte said anxiously. "Even if I am the Consul, I cannot allow you to visit your mundane family-"
"Not even at Christmas?" said Cecily, with large, tragic eyes.
Charlotte weakened visibly. "Well, perhaps Christmas …"
"And birthdays," said Tessa. "Birthdays are special."
Charlotte put her hands over her face. "Oh, by the Angel."
Henry laughed, and swept an arm toward the door. "Go on through," he said, and Cecily went first, vanishing through the Portal as if she had stepped through a waterfall. Gabriel followed, and then Will and Tessa, holding tightly to each other’s hands. Tessa concentrated on the warmth of Will’s hand, the pulse of blood through his skin, as the cold and darkness took them, whirling them about for breathless, ageless moments. Lights burst behind her eyes, and she emerged from the darkness suddenly, blinking and stumbling. Will caught her to him, keeping her from falling.
They were standing on the wide curved drive in front of Ravenscar Manor. Tessa had seen the place only from above, when she and Jem and Will had visited Yorkshire together, not realizing that Will’s family inhabited the house now. She recalled that the manor was held in the cup of a valley, with hills sweeping up on either side, covered in gorse and heather-patched now with a dusting of snow. The trees had been green then; they were leafless now, and from the dark slate roof of the manor hung sparkling icicles.
The door was dark oak, a heavy brass knocker set in the center. Will looked at his sister, who nodded minutely at him, then squared his shoulders and reached to lift and release it. The resultant crash seemed to echo through the valley, and Will swore under his breath.