Clockwork Princess (Page 59)

Clockwork Princess(59)
Author: Cassandra Clare

She had brought it to Jem that year on the bridge. It was 1937 and the Blitz had not yet come to level the buildings around Saint Paul’s, to strafe the sky with fire and burn the walls of the city Tessa loved. Still, there was a shadow over the world, the hint of a coming darkness.

"They kill each other and kill each other, and we can do nothing," Tessa had said, her hands on the worn stone of the bridge parapet. She was thinking of the Great War, of the spendthrift waste of life. Not a Shadowhunter war, but out of blood and war were demons born, and it was the responsibility of the Nephilim to keep demons from wreaking even greater destruction.

We cannot save them from themselves, Jem had replied. He wore his hood up, but the wind blew it back, showing her the edge of his scarred cheek.

"There is something coming. A horror Mortmain could only have imagined. I feel it in my bones."

No one can rid the world of all evil, Tessa.

And when she drew his dagger, wrapped in silk, though still dirty and stained with earth and Will’s blood, from the pocket of her coat and gave it to him, he bent his head and held it to him, hunching his shoulders over it, as if protecting a wound to his heart.

"Will wanted you to see it," she said. "I know you cannot take it with you."

Keep it for me. There may come a day.

She did not ask him what he meant, but she kept it. Kept it when she left England, the white cliffs of Dover retreating like clouds in the distance as she crossed the Channel. In Paris she found Magnus, who was living in a garret apartment and painting, an occupation for which he had no aptitude whatsoever. He let her sleep on a mattress by the window, and in the night, when she woke up screaming for Will, he came and put his arms around her, smelling of turpentine.

"The first one is always the hardest," he said.

"The first?"

"The first one you love who dies," he said. "It gets easier, after."

When the war came to Paris, they went to New York together, and Magnus reintroduced her to the city she had been born in-a busy, bright, buzzing metropolis she barely recognized, where motorcars crowded the streets like ants, and trains whizzed by on elevated platforms. She did not see Jem that year, because the Luftwaffe was strafing London with fire and he had deemed it too dangerous to meet, but in the years after-

"Tessa?"

Her heart stopped.

A great wave of lurching dizziness passed over her, and for a moment she wondered if she were going mad, if after so many years the past and present had blended within her memories until she could no longer tell the difference. For the voice she heard was not the soft, silent voice-within-her-mind of Brother Zachariah. The voice that had echoed in her head once a year for the past one hundred and thirty years.

This was a voice that drew out memories stretched thin by years of recollection, like paper unfolded and refolded too many times. A voice that brought back, like a wave, the memory of another time on this bridge, a night so long ago, everything black and silver and the river rushing away under her feet …

Her heart was pounding so hard, she felt as if it might break through her rib cage. Slowly she turned, away from the balustrade. And stared.

He stood on the pavement in front of her, smiling shyly, hands in the pockets of a pair of very modern jeans. He wore a blue cotton jumper pushed up to the elbows. Faint white scars decorated his forearms like lacework. She could see the shape of the rune of Quietude, which had been so black and strong against his skin, faded now to a faint imprint of silver.

"Jem?" she whispered, realizing why she had not seen him when she’d been searching the crowd for him. She had been looking for Brother Zachariah, wrapped in his parchment-white robe, moving, unseen, through the throng of Londoners. But this was not Brother Zachariah.

This was Jem.

She couldn’t tear her gaze away from him. She had always thought Jem was beautiful. He was no less beautiful to her now. Once he had had silver-white hair and eyes like gray skies. This Jem had raven-black hair, curling slightly in the humid air, and dark brown eyes with glints of gold in the irises. Once his skin had been pale; now it had a flush of color to it. Where his face had been unmarked before he’d become a Silent Brother, there were two dark scars, the first runes of the Brotherhood, standing out starkly and blackly at the arch of each cheekbone.

Where the collar of his jumper dipped slightly, she could see the delicate shape of the parabatai rune that had once tied him to Will. That might tie them still, if one imagined souls could be tied even over the divide of death.

"Jem," she breathed again. At first glance he looked perhaps nineteen years old, or twenty, a bit older than he had been when he had become a Silent Brother. When she looked more deeply, she saw a man-the long years of pain and wisdom at the backs of his eyes; even the way he moved spoke of the care of quiet sacrifice. "You are"-her voice rose with wild hope-"this is permanent? You are not bound to the Silent Brothers anymore?"

"No," he said. There was a rapid hitch in his breath; he was looking at her as if he had no idea how she would react to his sudden appearance. "I am not."

"The cure-you found it?"

"I did not find it myself," he said slowly. "But-it was found."

"I saw Magnus in Alicante only a few months ago. We spoke of you. He never said …"

"He didn’t know," Jem said. "It has been a hard year, a dark year, for Shadowhunters. But out of the blood and the fire, the loss and the sorrow, there have been born some great new changes." He held out his arms, self-deprecatingly, and with a little amazement in his voice, as he said: "I myself am changed."

"How-"

"I will tell you the story of it. Another story of Lightwoods and Herondales and Fairchilds. But it will take more than an hour in the telling, and you must be cold." He moved forward as if to touch her shoulder, then seemed to remember himself, and let his hand fall.

"I-" Words had deserted her. She was still feeling the shock of seeing him like this, bone-deep. Yes, she had seen him every year, here in this place, on this bridge. But it was not until this moment that she realized how much she had been seeing a Jem transmuted. But this-this was like falling into her own past, all the last century erased, and she felt dizzy and elated and terrified with it. "But-after today? Where will you go? To Idris?"

He looked, for a moment, honestly bewildered-and despite how old she knew him to be, so young. "I don’t know," he said. "I’ve never had a lifetime to plan for before."

"Then … to another Institute?" Don’t go, Tessa wanted to say. Stay. Please.

"I do not think I will go to Idris, or to an Institute anywhere," he said, after a pause so long that she felt as if her knees might give way under her if he did not speak. "I don’t know how to live in the world as a Shadowhunter without Will. I don’t think I even want to. I am still a parabatai, but my other half is gone. If I were to go to some Institute and ask them to take me in, I would never forget that. I would never feel whole."

"Then what-"

"That depends on you."

"On me?" A sort of terror gripped her. She knew what she wanted him to say, but it seemed impossible. In all the time she had seen him, since he had become a Silent Brother, he had seemed remote. Not unkind or unfeeling, but as if there were a layer of glass between him and the world. She remembered the boy she had known, who’d given his love as freely as breathing, but that was not the man she had met only once each year for more than a century. She knew how much the time between then and now had changed her. How much more must it have changed him? She did not know what he wanted from his new life or, more immediately, from her. She wanted to tell him whatever he wanted to hear, wanted to catch at him and hold him, to seize his hands and reassure herself of their shape-but she did not dare. Not without knowing what he wanted from her. It had been so many years. How could she presume he still felt as he once had?

"I-" He looked down at his slender hands, gripping the concrete of the bridge. "For a hundred and thirty years every hour of my life has been scheduled. I thought often of what I would do if I were free, if there were ever a cure found. I thought I would bolt immediately, like a bird released from a cage. I had not imagined I would emerge and find the world so changed, so desperate. Subsumed in fire and blood. I wished to survive it, but for only one reason. I wished …"

"What did you wish for?"

He did not reply. Instead he reached over to touch her pearl bracelet with light fingers. "This is your thirtieth-anniversary bracelet," he said. "You still wear it."

Tessa swallowed. Her skin was prickling, her pulse racing. She realized she hadn’t felt this, this particular brand of excited nervousness, in so many years that she had nearly forgotten it. "Yes."

"Since Will, have you never loved anyone else?"

"Don’t you know the answer to that?"

"I don’t mean the way you love your children, or the way you love your friends. Tessa, you know what I’m asking."

"I don’t," she said. "I think I need you to tell me."

"We were once going to be married," he said. "And I have loved you all this time-a century and a half. And I know that you loved Will. I saw you together over the years. And I know that that love was so great that it must have made other loves, even the one we had when we were both so young, seem small and unimportant. You had a whole lifetime of love with him, Tessa. So many years. Children. Memories I cannot hope to-"

He broke off with a violent start.

"No," he said, and let her wrist fall. "I can’t do it. I was a fool to think- Tessa, forgive me," he said, and drew away from her, plunging into the throng of people surging across the bridge.

Tessa stood for a moment in shock; it was just a moment, but it was enough time for him to vanish into the crowd. She put out a hand to steady herself. The stone of the bridge was cold under her fingers-cold, just as it had been that night when they had first come to this place, where they had first talked. He had been the first person she had ever voiced her deepest fear to: that her power made her something other, something that was not human. You are human, he had said. In all the ways that matter.

She remembered him, remembered the lovely dying boy who had taken the time to comfort a frightened girl he did not know, and had not voiced a word of his own fear. Of course he had left his fingerprints on her heart. How could it be otherwise?

She remembered the time he had offered her his mother’s jade pendant, held out in his shaking hand. She remembered kisses in a carriage. She remembered walking into his room, spilled full with moonlight, and the silver boy standing in front of the window, wringing music more beautiful than desire out of the violin in his hands.

Will, he had said. Is it you, Will?

Will. For a moment her heart hesitated. She remembered when Will had died, her agony, the long nights alone, reaching across the bed every morning when she woke up, for years expecting to find him there, and only slowly growing accustomed to the fact that that side of the bed would always be empty. The moments when she had found something funny and turned to share the joke with him, only to be shocked anew that he was not there. The worst moments, when, sitting alone at breakfast, she had realized that she had forgotten the precise blue of his eyes or the depth of his laugh; that, like the sound of Jem’s violin music, they had faded into the distance where memories are silent.

Jem was mortal now. He would grow old like Will, and like Will he would die, and she did not know if she could bear it again.

And yet.

Most people are lucky to have even one great love in their life. You have found two.

Suddenly her feet were moving, almost without her volition. She was darting into the crowd, pushing past strangers, gasping out apologies as she nearly tripped over the feet of passersby or knocked into them with her elbows. She didn’t care. She was running flat out across the bridge, skidding to a halt at the very end of it, where a series of narrow stone steps led down to the water of the Thames.

She took them two at a time, almost slipping on the damp stone. At the bottom of the steps was a small cement dock, ringed around with a metal railing. The river was high and splashed up between the gaps in the metal, filling the small space with the smell of silt and river water.

Jem stood at the railing, looking out at the water. His hands were jammed tightly into his pockets, his shoulders hunched as if against a strong wind. He was staring ahead almost blindly, and with such fixed intent that he didn’t seem to hear her as she came up behind him. She caught at his sleeve, swinging him around to face her.

"What," she said breathlessly. "What were you trying to ask me, Jem?"

His eyes widened. His cheeks were flushed, whether from running or the cold air, she wasn’t sure. He looked at her as if she were some bizarre plant that had sprung up on the spot, astonishing him. "Tessa-you followed me?"

"Of course I followed you. You ran off in the middle of a sentence!"

"It wasn’t a very good sentence." He looked down at the ground, and then up at her again, a smile, as familiar as her own memories, tugging at the corner of his mouth. It came back to her then, a memory lost but not forgotten: Jem’s smile had always been like sunlight. "I never was the one who was good with words," he said. "If I had my violin, I would be able to play you what I wanted to say."

"Just try."

"I don’t-I’m not sure I can. I had six or seven speeches prepared, and I was running through all of them, I think."

His hands were stuffed deep into the pockets of his jeans. Tessa reached out and took him gently by the wrists. "Well, I am good with words," she said. "So let me ask you, then."

He drew his hands from his pockets and let her wrap her fingers around his wrists. They stood, Jem looking at her from under his dark hair-it had blown across his face in the wind off the river. There was still a single streak of silver in it, startling against the black.