She waited, the only sound in the room the crackle and pop of the damp wood in the fireplace.
“I’ve never been afraid of anyone like this,” he finished, biting off the words as he spoke them.
Clary knew what it cost Jace to say it, how much of his life had been expertly hiding fear and pain and any perceived vulnerability. She wanted to say something in reply, something about how he shouldn’t be afraid, but she couldn’t. She was afraid as well, and she knew they both had good reason to be. There was no one in Idris who had better reason than they did to be terrified.
“He risked a lot, coming here,” Jace said. “He let the Clave know he can get in through the wards. They’ll try to shore them up again. It might work, it might not, but it’ll probably inconvenience him. He wanted to see you badly. Badly enough to make it worth the risk.”
“He still thinks he can convince me.”
“Clary.” Jace rose to his feet and moved toward her, his hand outstretched. “Are you—”
She flinched, away from his touch. Startled light flared in his golden eyes.
“What’s wrong?” He glanced down at his hands; the faint glow of the fire in his veins was visible. “The heavenly fire?”
“Not that,” she said.
“Sebastian. I should have told you before, but I just—I couldn’t.”
He didn’t move, just looked at her. “Clary, you can tell me anything; you know you can.”
She took a deep breath and stared into the fire, watching the flames—gold and green and sapphire blue—chase each other. “In November,” she said. “Before we came to the Burren, after you’d left the apartment, he realized I’d been spying. He crushed my ring, and then he—he hit me, pushed me through a glass table. Knocked me to the ground. I almost killed him then, almost shoved a piece of glass through his throat, but I realized that if I did, I’d be killing you, and so I couldn’t do it. And he was so delighted. He laughed and he shoved me down. He was pulling at my clothes and reciting pieces of the Song of Solomon, telling me about how brothers and sisters used to marry to keep royal bloodlines pure, how I belonged to him. Like I was a piece of monogrammed luggage with his name stamped on me. . . .”
Jace looked shocked in a way she had rarely seen him shocked; she could read the levels of his expression: hurt, fear, apprehension. “He . . . Did he . . . ?”
“Rape me?” she said, and the word was awful and ugly in the stillness of the room. “No. He didn’t. He . . . stopped.” Her voice fell to a whisper.
Jace was as white as a sheet. He opened his mouth to say something to her, but she could hear only the distorted echo of his voice, as if she were underwater again. She was shaking all over, violently, though it was warm in the room.
“Tonight,” she said, finally. “I couldn’t move, and he pushed me up against the wall, and I couldn’t get away, and I just—”
“I’ll kill him,” Jace said. Some color had washed back into his face, and he looked gray. “I’ll cut him into pieces. I’ll cut his hands off for touching you—”
“Jace,” Clary said, feeling suddenly exhausted. “We have a million reasons to want him dead. Besides,” she added with a mirthless laugh, “Isabelle already cut his hand off, and it didn’t work.”
Jace closed his hand into a fist, drew it up against his stomach, and dug it into his solar plexus as if he could cut off his own breath. “All that time I was connected to him, I thought I knew his mind, his desires, what he wanted. But I didn’t guess, I didn’t know. And you didn’t tell me.”
“This isn’t about you, Jace—”
“I know,” he said. “I know.” But his hand was so tightly fisted that it was white, the veins standing out in a stark topography across the back of it. “I know, and I don’t blame you for not telling me. What could I have done? How am I not completely useless here? I was just standing five feet from him, and I have fire in my veins that ought to be able to kill him, and I tried and it didn’t work. I couldn’t make it work.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just—you know me. I only have two reactions to bad news. Uncontrollable rage and then a sharp left turn into boiling self-hatred.”
She was silent. Above everything else she was tired, so tired. Telling him what Sebastian had done had been like lifting an impossible weight, and now all she wanted was to close her eyes and disappear into the darkness. She had been so angry for so long—anger always under the surface of everything. Whether she was shopping for presents with Simon or sitting in the park or alone at home trying to draw, the anger was always with her.
Jace was visibly struggling; he wasn’t trying to hide anything from her, at least, and she saw the quick flicker of emotions behind his eyes: rage, frustration, helplessness, guilt, and, finally, sadness. It was a surprisingly quiet sadness, for Jace, and when he spoke at last, his voice was surprisingly quiet too. “I just wish,” he said, not looking at her but at the floor, “that I could say the right thing, do the right thing, to make this easier for you. Whatever you want from me, I want to do it. I want to be there for you in whatever the right way is for you, Clary.”
“There,” she said softly.
He looked up. “What?”
“What you just said. That was perfect.”
He blinked. “Well, that’s good, because I’m not sure I have an encore in me. What part of it was perfect?”
She felt her lip quirk slightly at the side. There was something so Jace about his reaction, his strange mixture of arrogance and vulnerability, of resilience and bitterness and devotion. “I just want to know,” she said, “that you don’t think any differently of me. Any less.”
“No. No,” he said, appalled. “You’re brave and brilliant, and you’re perfect and I love you. I just love you and I always have. And the actions of some lunatic aren’t going to change that.”
“Sit down,” she said, and he sat down on the creaking leather sofa, his head tipped back, looking up at her. The reflected firelight clustered like sparks in his hair. She took a deep breath and walked over to him, settled herself carefully in his lap. “Could you hug me?” she said.
He put his arms around her, held her against him. She could feel the muscles in his arms, the strength in his back as he put his hands on her gently, so gently. He had hands made for fighting, and yet he could be so gentle with her, with his piano, with all the things he cared about.
She settled against him, sideways in his lap, her feet on the sofa, and leaned her head against his shoulder. She could feel the rapid beat of his heart. “Now,” she said. “Kiss me too.”
He hesitated. “Are you sure?”
She nodded. “Yes. Yes,” she said. “God knows we haven’t exactly been able to do all that much lately, but every time I kiss you, every time you touch me, it’s a victory, if you ask me. Sebastian, he did what he did because—because he doesn’t understand the difference between loving and having. Between giving yourself and taking. And he thought that if he could make me give myself, then he’d have me, I’d be his, and to him that’s love, because he doesn’t know anything else. But when I touch you, I do it because I want to, and that’s all the difference. And he doesn’t get to have that or take it away from me. He doesn’t,” she said, and she leaned up to kiss him, a light touch of lips to lips, bracing her hand against the back of the sofa.
She felt him draw in his breath at the slight spark that jumped between their skins. He brushed his cheek against hers, the strands of their hair tangling together, red and gold.
She settled back down against him. The flames leaped in the grate, and some of their warmth soaked into Clary’s bones. She was resting against the shoulder that was marked with the white star of the men of the Herondale family, and she thought of all those who had gone before Jace, whose blood and bones and lives had made him what he was.
“What are you thinking?” he said. He was drawing his hand through her hair, letting the loose curls slip between his fingers.
“That I’m glad I told you,” she said. “What are you thinking?”
He was silent for a long moment, as the flames rose and fell. Then he said, “I was thinking of what you said about Sebastian being lonely. I was trying to remember what it was like to be in that house with him. He took me for a lot of reasons, sure, but half of it was just to have company. The company of someone who he thought might understand him, because we’d been raised the same. I was trying to remember if I’d ever actually liked him, liked spending time with him.”
“I don’t think so. Just from being there, with you, you never seemed at ease, not exactly. You were you, but not you. It’s hard to explain.”
Jace looked at the fire. “Not that hard,” he said. “I think there’s a part of us, separate even from our will or our minds, and it was that part he couldn’t touch. It was never really exactly me, and he knew that. He wants to be liked, or really loved, for what he is, genuinely. But he doesn’t think he has to change to be worthy of being loved; instead he wants to change the whole world, change humanity, make it into something that loves him.” He paused. “Sorry about the armchair psychology. Literally. Here we are in an armchair.”
But Clary was deep in thought. “When I went through his things, at the house, I found a letter he’d written. It wasn’t finished, but it was addressed to ‘my beautiful one.’ I remember thinking it was weird. Why would he be writing a love letter? I mean, he understands sex, sort of, and desire, but romantic love? Not from what I’ve seen.”
Jace drew her up against him, fitting her more neatly against the curve of his side. She wasn’t sure who was soothing whom, just that his heart beat steadily against her skin, and the soap-sweat-metal smell of him was familiar and comforting. Clary softened against him, exhaustion catching her up and dragging her down, weighting her eyelids. It had been a long, long day and night, and a long day before that. “If my mom and Luke get here while I’m sleeping, wake me up,” she said.
“Oh, you’ll be woken up,” Jace said drowsily. “Your mother will think I’m trying to take advantage of you and chase me around the room with a fireplace poker.”
She reached up to pat his cheek. “I’ll protect you.”
Jace didn’t reply. He was already asleep, breathing steadily against her, the rhythms of their heartbeats slowing to match each other. She lay awake as he slept—looking into the leaping flames and frowning, the words “my beautiful one” echoing in her ears like the memory of words heard in a dream.