Clockwork Princess (Page 9)

Clockwork Princess(9)
Author: Cassandra Clare

Against his own will, almost, Will felt himself understanding; he would have done anything, he thought, told any lie, taken any risk, to make Tessa love him. He would have done-

Almost anything. He would not betray Jem for it. That was the one thing he would not do. And here Jem stood, his hand in Will’s, his eyes asking for Will’s sympathy, his understanding. And how could Will not understand? He recalled himself in Magnus’s drawing room, begging to be sent to the demon realms rather than live another hour, another moment, of a life he could no longer bear.

"So you are dying for love, then," Will said finally, his voice sounding constricted to his own ears.

"Dying a little faster for love. And there are worse things to die for."

Will released Jem’s hand; Jem looked from the ring to him, his eyes questioning. "Will-"

"I’ll go to Whitechapel," said Will. "Tonight. I will get you all the yin fen there is, everything you could need."

Jem shook his head. "I cannot ask you to do something that goes against your conscience."

"My conscience," Will whispered. "You are my conscience. You have ever been, James Carstairs. I will do this for you, but I will extract one promise first."

"What sort of promise?"

"You asked me years ago to cease looking for a cure for you," Will said. "I want you to release me from that promise. Free me to look, at least. Free me to search."

Jem looked at him with some wonder. "Just when I think I know you perfectly, you surprise me again. Yes, I will free you. Search. Do what you must. I cannot fetter your best intentions; it would only be cruel, and I would do the same for you, were I in your place. You know that, don’t you?"

"I know it." Will took a step forward. He put his hands on Jem’s shoulders, feeling how sharp they were beneath his grip, the bones like the wings of a bird. "This is not some empty promise, James. Believe me, there is no one who knows more than I do the pain of false hope. I will look. If there is anything to be found, I will find it. But until then-your life is yours to live as you choose."

Incredibly, Jem smiled. "I know that," he said, "but it is gracious of you to remind me."

"I am nothing if not gracious," Will said. His eyes searched Jem’s face, that face as familiar to him as his own. "And determined. You will not leave me. Not while I live."

Jem’s eyes widened, but he said nothing. There was no more to be said. Will dropped his hands from his parabatai’s shoulders and turned toward the door.

Cecily stood where she had stood earlier that day, the knife in her right hand. She sighted along her eye line, then drew the knife back and let it fly. It stuck in the wall, just outside the drawn circle.

Her conversation with Tessa had not relieved her nerves; it had only made them worse. There had been an air of trapped, resigned sadness about Tessa that had made Cecily feel prickly and anxious. As angry as she was at Will, she could not help but feel that Tessa held some fear for him, some dread she would not speak of, in her heart, and Cecily longed to know what it was. How could she protect her brother if she didn’t know what he needed protecting from?

After retrieving the knife, she raised it to shoulder level again and let fly. It stuck even farther outside the circle this time, prompting an angry exhale of breath. "Uffern nef!" she muttered in Welsh. Her mother would have been horrified, but then, her mother was not there.

"Five," said a drawling voice from the corridor outside.

Cecily started and turned. There was a shadow in the doorway, a shadow that as it moved forward became Gabriel Lightwood, all tousled brown hair and green eyes as sharp as glass. He was as tall as Will, perhaps taller, and more lanky than his brother. "I don’t take your meaning, Mr. Lightwood."

"Your throw," he said with an elegantly outflung arm. "I rate it at five points. Your skill and technique may, perhaps, require work, but the native talent is certainly there. What you require is practice."

"Will has been training me," she said as he drew closer.

The corner of his mouth turned up slightly. "As I said."

"I suppose you could do better."

He paused, and jerked the knife from the wall. It sparked as he twirled it between his fingers. "I could," he said. "I was trained by the best, and I had been training Miss Collins and Miss Gray-"

"I heard. Until you grew bored. Not the commitment one might perhaps look for in a tutor." Cecily kept her voice cool; she remembered Gabriel’s touch as he had lifted her to her feet at Lightwood House, but she knew Will disliked him, and the smug distance in his voice grated.

Gabriel touched the tip of his finger to the point of the knife. Blood sprang up in a red bead. He had callused fingers, with a spray of freckles across the backs of his hands. "You changed your gear."

"It was covered in blood and ichor." She glanced at him, her gaze raking him up and down. "I see you have not."

For a moment an odd look flashed across his face. Then it was gone, but she had seen her brother hide emotion enough times to recognize the signs. "None of my clothes are here," he said, "and I do not know where I will be living. I could return to one of the family residences, but-"

"You are considering remaining at the Institute?" Cecily said in surprise, reading it on his face. "What does Charlotte say?"

"She will allow it." Gabriel’s face changed briefly, a sudden vulnerability showing where only hardness had shown before. "My brother is here."

"Yes," said Cecily. "So is mine."

Gabriel paused for a moment, almost as if that had not occurred to him. "Will," he said. "You do look very much like him. It is … unnerving." He shook his head then, as if clearing it of cobwebs. "I just saw your brother," he said. "Pounding down the front steps of the Institute as if the Four Horsemen were chasing him. I don’t suppose you’d know what that’s about?"

Purpose. Cecily’s heart leaped. She seized the knife out of Gabriel’s hand, ignoring his startled exclamation. "Not at all," she said, "but I intend to find out."

Just as the City of London seemed to shutter itself as the workday ended, the East End was bursting into life. Will moved through streets lined with stalls selling secondhand clothes and shoes. Rag-and-bone men and knife sharpeners pushed their carts through the byways, shouting their wares in hoarse voices. Butchers lounged in open doorways, their aprons spattered with blood, carcasses hanging in their windows. Women putting out washing called to each other across the streets in voices so tinged with the accent of everyone born within the sound of Bow Bells that they might as well have been speaking Russian, for all that Will could understand them.

A faint drizzle had begun to fall, dampening Will’s hair as he crossed in front of a wholesale tobacconist’s, closed now, and turned a corner onto a narrower street. He could see the spire of Whitechapel Church in the distance. The shadows gathered in here, the fog thick and soft and smelling of iron and rubbish. A narrow gutter ran down the center of the street, filled with stinking water. Up ahead was a doorway, a gas carriage lamp hanging to either side. As Will was passing, he ducked into it suddenly and thrust out his hand.

There was a cry, and then he was hauling a slim, black-clad figure toward him-Cecily, a velvet cloak thrown on hastily over her gear. Dark hair spilled from the edges of her hood, and his own blue eyes gazed back at him, snapping with fury. "Let go of me!"

"What are you doing following me about the back streets of London, you little idiot?" Will gave her arm a light shake.

Her eyes narrowed. "This morning it was cariad, now it’s idiot?"

"These streets are dangerous," Will said. "And you know nothing of them. You are not even using a glamour rune. It is one thing to declare you are not afraid of anything when you live in the country, but this is London."

"I am not afraid of London," Cecily said defiantly.

Will leaned close, almost hissing into her ear. "Fyddai’n wneud unrhyw dda yn ddweud wrthych i fynd adref?"

She laughed. "No, it would not do you any good to tell me to go home. Rwyt ti fy mrawd ac rwy eisiau mynd efo chi."

Will blinked at her words. You are my brother and I want to go with you. It was the sort of thing he was used to hearing Jem say, and though Cecily was unlike Jem in every other conceivable way, she did share one quality with him: an absolute stubbornness. When Cecily said she wanted something, it did not express an idle desire but an iron determination.

"Don’t you even care where I’m going?" he said. "What if I were going to Hell?"

"I’ve always wanted to see Hell," Cecily said calmly. "Doesn’t everyone?"

"Most of us spend our time struggling to stay out of it," said Will. "I am going to an ifrit den, if you must know, to purchase drugs from violent, dissolute reprobates. They may clap eyes on you and decide to sell you."

"Wouldn’t you stop them?"

"I suppose it would depend on how much they would give me."

She shook her head. "Jem is your parabatai," she said. "He is your brother, given to you by the Clave. But I am your sister by blood. Why will you do anything in the world for him but you only want me to go home?"

"How do you know the drugs are for Jem?"

"I am not a fool, Will."

"No, more’s the pity," Will muttered. "Jem-Jem is all the better part of myself. I would not expect you to understand. I owe him this."

"Then what am I?" Cecily asked.

Will exhaled, too exasperated to check himself. "You are my weakness."

"And Tessa is your heart," she said, not angrily but thoughtfully. "Not a fool, as I told you," she added at his startled expression. "I know that you love her."

Will put his hand to his head, as if her words had caused a splitting pain there. "Have you told anyone? You mustn’t, Cecily. No one knows, and it must remain that way."

"I would hardly tell anyone."

"No, I suppose you wouldn’t, would you?" His voice had gone hard. "You must be ashamed of your brother-harboring illicit feelings for his parabatai’s fiancee-"

"I am not ashamed of you, Will. Whatever you feel, you have not acted on it, and I suppose we all want things we cannot have."

"Oh?" Will said. "And what do you want that you cannot have?"

"For you to come home." A strand of black hair was stuck to her cheek by the dampness, making her look as if she had been crying, though Will knew she had not.

"The Institute is my home." Will sighed and leaned his head back against the stone archway. "I cannot stand out here arguing with you all evening, Cecy. If you are determined to follow me into Hell, I cannot stop you."

"Finally, you have seen sense. I knew you would; you are related to me, after all."

Will fought the urge to shake her, again. "Are you ready?"

She nodded, and Will raised his hand to knock on the door.

The door flew open, and Gideon stood on the threshold of his bedroom, blinking as if he had been in a dark place and had just come out into the light. His trousers and shirt were wrinkled, and one of his braces had slid halfway down his arm.

"Mr. Lightwood?" Sophie said, hesitating on the threshold. She was carrying a tray in her hands, loaded with scones and tea, just heavy enough to be uncomfortable. "Bridget told me you had rung for a tray-"

"Yes. Of course, yes. Do come in." As if snapped into full wakefulness, Gideon straightened and ushered her over the threshold. His boots were off, kicked into a corner. The whole room lacked its usual neatness. Gear was strewn over a high-backed chair-Sophie winced inside to think what that would do to the upholstery-a half-eaten apple was on the nightstand, and sprawled in the middle of the bed was Gabriel Lightwood, fast asleep.

He was clearly wearing his brother’s clothes, for they were far too short at his wrists and ankles. Asleep he looked younger, the usual tension smoothed from his face. One of his hands clutched a pillow as if for reassurance.

"I couldn’t wake him," Gideon said, unconsciously hugging his elbows. "I ought to have brought him back to his own room, but …" He sighed. "I couldn’t bring myself."

"Is he staying?" Sophie asked, setting the tray down on the nightstand. "At the Institute, I mean."

"I-I don’t know. I think so. Charlotte told him he was welcome. I think she terrified him." Gideon’s mouth quirked slightly.

"Mrs. Branwell?" Sophie bristled, as she always did when she thought her mistress was being criticized. "But she is the gentlest of people!"

"Yes-that is why I think she terrified him. She embraced him and told him that if he remained here, the incident with my father would be put into the past. I am not sure which incident with my father she was referring to," Gideon added dryly. "Most likely the one where Gabriel supported his bid to take over the Institute."

"You don’t think she meant the most recent?" Sophie pushed a lock of hair that had come free back under her cap. "With the …"

"Enormous worm? No, oddly, I don’t. It is not in my brother’s nature, though, to expect to be forgiven. For anything. He understands only the strictest discipline. He may think Charlotte is trying to play a trick on him, or that she is mad. She showed him to a room he could have, but I think the entire business frightened him. He came to speak to me about it, and fell asleep." Gideon sighed, looking at his brother with a mixture of fondness, exasperation, and sorrow that made Sophie’s heart beat in sympathy.

"Your sister …," she began.

"Oh, Tatiana wouldn’t even consider staying here for a moment," Gideon said. "She has fled to the Blackthorns’, her in-laws, and good riddance. She is not a stupid girl-in fact, she considers her intelligence to be quite superior-but she is a self-important and vain one, and there is no love lost between her and my brother. And he had been awake for days, mind you. Waiting in that great blasted house, locked out of the library, pounding on the door when no answer came from my father …"