The room is dark, except for the soft flickering of the firelight that illuminates Will's face and the books behind him. He lets out a sigh, and closes his eyes for a moment, cradling the warm cup of peppermint tea in his hands as he leans back in the large, black, moderately comfortable armchair. He listens to the slow crackling of the fire as he tries to relax. He had come to the library hoping to find some peace, hoping to be alone with his thoughts for a while. Alas, he had gotten exactly that, but instead of finding peace of mind, he has only found more festering room for his pain. So this is why I try to keep myself busy all the time. He chuckles, thinking how absurdly unbearable everything has become. It is proving difficult to even summon the strength to force himself out of bed every morning, knowing that he will have to suffer another day watching the love of his life slip away from him, into the heart of his parabati. Jem had not said anything, or acted any differently, but he could tell by the way Jem looked at her. "No. I cannot think like this." He whispers to himself. "There is still a chance that Tessa might love me." But I've already destroyed that small chance, at least five times over. Will shakes his head, trying to empty it of the sorrow that is eating him from the inside out, even if just for a moment.
A loud creak echoes through the library, jerking Will from his thoughts just in time to see Tessa enter, and he smiles, seeing the book in her hand and recalling her relentless reading habit. He squints to see the title. "A Tale of Two Cities". Will shakes his head with a mixture of amusement and astonishment as Tessa reaches up to put it on a shelf. She is too small and can't reach high enough, and he watches, a grin teasing his lips, as she goes to fetch a ladder. She obviously assumes that she is alone. After all, it would be atrocious for someone to be up at this hour. She is humming a familiar tune that Will can't quite make out. Tessa climbs the ladder, and while her back is turned, he stands and quietly picks his way over to stand behind her.
"Done with that one already? I believe that's the third time this week!" Tessa squeals and attempts to twirl around with not much success, and the ladder, the book, and Tessa topple to the ground with a loud crash. Will manages to half catch her, but they crumple to the floor in an awkward position, amongst a small pile of fallen books.
"Will! You really mustn't sneak up on people like that!" she scolds. "You frightened me half to death. And oh, look what you've done. Just about knocked half the books onto the floor." Tessa rises, brushing off her dress, and stoops to pick up some books they have knocked down. Will rises to join her, chuckling a bit.
"Sorry about that, but really, haven't you already read that twice this week?" Tessa raises her eyebrows, throwing him an exasperated look before responding.
"Yes, I have. Is there something wrong with that?"
"No, no. It's just that one would think you would get tired of the same story after reading it as many times as you have." He grins at her as he reaches up to place an old, green volume back in its place.
"Well, it is hard to become tired of something, when it has become one of your only friends in this harsh new world I have been thrown into." Will begins to object, but Tessa cuts him off, holding up her hand.
"Yes, I know. I have Charlotte, Jessamine, Jem, and Henry. I suppose I could count you. It really depends on how infuriating you have been that day. But I and everyone else know that I don't belong here, no matter how much they insist otherwise. You would have to be an idiot not to see it…" She sighs, pausing for a moment, and continues; a slight tone of sadness barely audible in her voice. "I have never been like any of you, and it seems that there is an invisible barrier that separates you all from me. We are just different. Yes, I know that Charlotte cares for me, and possibly Jem; and I truly appreciate that. However, it just doesn't make up for the lack of true friends. We all know that I will have to leave eventually, I can't stay here forever." She bows her head and turns away, embarrassed at her outburst.
There is a strange silence between them for a moment, and Will gazes at her, taking in her words. He takes a deep breath as he tries to think of something to say. He has never been good at comforting people. Then again, he's always tried to shy away from that sort of thing. It is all he can do to hold in his thoughts, to resist telling her that he might die if she leaves.
"Tessa… You know that Charlotte loves you. No one wants you to leave. It's just… We don't know what you are, so the Clave is investigating your case to see if you can stay… Our best guess, with your ability is that you're a warlock. But you know, even Jessamine is growing fond of you." Tessa laughs half-heartedly.
"Yes, well…" She shakes her head and sighs, stooping to pick up more books. "What are you doing in here at this hour, anyway? It's nearly twelve." Will gives her a sideways glance.
"Oh, you know the usual. I couldn't sleep, so I decided to come in here and think about the world, the meaning of life, and the greater good." Tessa lets out a disbelieving giggle.
"Well, Mr. Herondale. I didn't realize that you were generally one to have such profound thoughts. Especially ones that entertain such prompts as the greater good. I must say that this takes me greatly by surprise!" Will chuckles, shrugging his shoulders.
"I surprise myself just as much sometimes. It's ghastly, having thoughts on matters such as the good of people other than myself, but they just come flouncing into my mind whenever they please, always without knocking. It's quite annoying, really." He can see that Tessa is trying to suppress a grin, and his heart flutters.
"May I ask the same of you, Miss Gray? Do you have some reason for wandering around at this hour by yourself, other than the poor excuse that you must return your books at twelve at night?" She smiles, and walks towards the fire, all the books safely back where they belong.
"I couldn't sleep either. My room feels excessively hot, and I decided that I needed to cool off a bit."
"Should I call Sophie? Have her bring in some Ice or something?" Tessa seats herself in an armchair across from his, and he can't help noticing how straight she sits, how perfect her figure is as the firelight reflects around the room, making her skin glow.
"I thank you for your concern, Will, but I think I shall be alright in a few minutes. I don't want to wake up Sophie just because I am feeling over heated. I am not a baby."
They sit in silence for a few moments, and Will returns to coddling his tea, glancing up at her every now and again, fascinated by how the firelight on her hair. By the angel, I don't think she realizes how beautiful she is… She is looking at him, the soft curve of her lips moving with her words.
"Will, why on earth are you staring at me like that? Is something wrong?" Will snaps out of his gaze, and quickly looks towards the fireplace. His heart feels like it may burst at any moment, and he can hardly bear being this close to her.
"No, nothing. I'm fine, you're fine. In fact, we're all fine, as far as I know." He silently curses his hypocrisy as he takes a sip of tea. Tessa folds her arms, resting them on her lap, and she rolls her eyes.
"You really are an interesting character. One moment you are as charming as can be, then the next you are reclusive, secretive; trusting no one. I just don't understand it all… I wish I did."
Will looks down at his distorted, twisted reflection on the side of the blue and white china cup, and thinks how grateful he is to not look like that, with small eyes, a large, bulbous nose, and a pointy, elongated chin. Although, that is probably how I'd look, if my inner self was portrayed through looks instead of actions. He sets down his cup on the lamp table, having grown tired of the drink. He rests his forehead on his fist, running his other hand through his hair, and he sighs, trying to hold in the words he so desperately wants to spill out to her.
"Will, are you alright? If you're sick I can call for Charlotte if I have to…" He holds up his hand and tilts his head up to look at her, meeting her eyes.
"Tessa… You said that you wished you could understand it all… Do you really want to? Do you truly want to understand me?" Tessa stares at him, surprise and confusion written across her face. Will takes a deep breath and gulps, not believing what he is about to do as he waits for her answer.
"Just tell me, yes or no."
"Well… Yes, I-I suppose…" Will leans back in his chair letting out breath he hadn't realized he was holding, and looks down at the floor, hating himself more for even offering her an explanation. I am such an idiot… This might kill her… Why did I even suggest this?
"Alright… I suppose I shall have to start from the beginning then… But you must swear that you will not speak of this to anyone." Tessa shifts in her seat, and reluctantly nods her head.
"Yes, alright. I swear." Will pauses, trying to think how to begin.
"Alright…When I was younger, five or six years ago, before I came to the institute I had two sisters, Ella and Cecily. I loved them both dearly, and Ella, my older sister… She was very protective of me. One day, being my curious self, I went exploring in our basement, and found a box. I wanted to know what it was, so I opened it. A large demon flew out and attacked me, and Ella came rushing in to defend me, using my father's old seraph blade she had found…. She was a good fighter, but not good enough, and a spike from the demon's tail found her leg and stuck. Ella managed to fight it off, but just before it left, it... It cast a curse on me. It told me that anyone who loved me would die. He pointed at Ella and said that the curse would begin with her." Will pauses, almost not being able to bear the memory, and rubs his hands over his face, pinching the bridge of his nose.
"Ella comforted me, telling me everything was going to be alright… The next morning I woke to the sounds of my mother screaming, and I ran to Ella's room. My parents tried to block the door, but I saw what I needed to see. Ella, lying on her bed, dead and swollen up to twice her size, purple and green. I was terrified, and, being twelve years old, with a fresh curse on me and not knowing what else to do, I ran away not wanting anyone else to die. I came here, to the institute, where Charlotte took me in. I've been here ever since, every waking day a reminder of what happened to Ella."
Will finishes, and looks up at Tessa, her lips parting as she gazes at him in shock, her face filled with sadness and sympathy. What have I done? Will quickly looks away and inhales sharply, not wanting to meet her eyes.
"Will… I… I never-" He rises suddenly and paces over to a reading table, the memory flashing in his mind, remembering his parents coming to find him, trying to persuade him to come home with them back to Wales.
"I know. But don't feel sorry Tessa, please. If anything, you should be getting as far away from me as possible." I can't lose you too. He hears Tessa stand and walk to his side, and tries to ignore the rapid rhythm of his heart.
"Will, I know that I said that that I don't belong here, that there is a curtain separating me from everyone else, but no; I can't leave right now. Not with Mortmain still running about goodness knows where. You know I can't. And besides, Charlotte and Henry- and Jem; they all love you, and none of them are dead, are they?" Will clenches his fists, pressing his knuckles into the hard mahogany as he ducks his head.
"Yes, they are alive. Alive and living proof that they all hate me." His voice cracks, not wanting to hear or believe his own words. "Can you not see it Tessa? This, the curse… It's the reason I push everyone away, the reason I have to be so cruel to the people I love. The fact that they are all still alive proves that my method is working quite well!" They are silent for a moment, and Tessa reaches out, touching his arm lightly. Will flinches away from her soft fingers.
"No Will. I know they love you, all of them. By the angel, I even suspect that Jessamine is quite fond of you, even if she doesn't show it." Will chuckles half-heartedly.
"Tess, you're starting to speak like a Shadowhunter." Tessa dismisses this comment, and turns away to the fireplace, wrapping her arms around herself. She mumbles something that he can't quite make out, and turns his head towards her.
"Sorry, can you repeat that?"
"No, It… It was nothing. Just talking to myself, that's all."
"Oh, and what was it that you had to say to yourself? Something about me being utterly deplorable and ungrateful for treating people the way I do? " Tessa shakes her head, and says nothing.
"Oh Tessa, It can't have been so horrible that you can't tell me. Chances are I've heard it already from someone else. I've heard it all; really, the only thing I haven't been told yet is "Congratulations, we have discovered that you are the rightful heir to the throne!" Or perhaps a devout declaration of love for me."
"What? Yes, I'm now an heir to the throne, or yes, it's too horrible for me to hear? I highly doubt both…"
"Yes Will... I… I love you… I love you so much it hurts." Will's head whips up and he spins around to face her disbelievingly, not sure if he has started to drift off, or if he misheard her.
"Pardon... You , you what?" Tessa's silhouette is outlined by the light of the fire, making the ends of her hair glow as she looks at him, her voice lowering to a whisper.
"Will, I love you more than anyone else; I don't want to leave the institute. I can't… I wouldn't be able to leave pretending that I had never known you, had never loved you. " As the words leave her mouth, Will feels his heart soar with joy, and his stomach plunge in horror. He leans against the table to steady himself, crossing his arms. This has to be some mistake. She is confused, that's all.
"I know I will have to leave eventually; that the Clave doesn't want me here, but when you first walked into my room at the Dark Sister's place, I thought you were an angel come to rescue me. The longer I am with you, the harder it will be for me to leave when the time comes… Oh Will; please don't look at me that way!"
"Tess… Don't say that. Please, I can't…" Tessa moves to stand in front of him, brushing her hand against his cheek like a warm summer breeze, and he sharply sucks in his breath. His eyelids flutter closed at her touch as her fingers rest lightly at his jawline.
"Will, I know it is hard to believe, but I do love you. Yes, those words on the rooftop, and in the attic… They did hurt, but I forgive you. I understand now that you were trying to protect me. It almost worked too. But here I am loving you, alive and well." Will's heart flutters at these words, and his eyes widen as he realizes that they ring true. Here she is, the love of his life giving a speech on how much she loves him, and she isn't showing any signs of immediate death. Rather, she is pulsing with life. No, I can't take any risks… Yet, if she really has loved me all this time as she says, why isn't she dead?
Will takes her hand and presses it against his cheek lightly, savoring her warmth as he closes his eyes and his breathing grows ragged and unsteady.
"Tessa… I can't let you risk your life to love me. I-I can't let you risk your good, bright future just because you love some hopeless and foolish boy with a curse. Please, I beg of you to stay away from me; If not for your own sake, then for mine. You can go out and find some other charming, wealthy man who has everything to give to you, including love, and a good life." He hears Tessa sigh, and he opens his eyes, to see her own stormy gray ones exploring his face.
"Will, you really are dimwitted, aren't you? Can't you see? I don't care about your curse; I don't care about dying… Well alright, I might care a little… But that's not the point. I never want to leave you without knowing that you love me back… Is that too much for me to ask?" Will doesn't reply immediately. Instead, he lets go of her hand, and walks over to stand in front of the fire. My god, she really won't give up, will she? He shakes his head as he feels himself giving in.
"Tessa, I… No, it's not. I do love you, with all of my heart. The reason I was so horrible to you was because I wanted, needed you to hate me so I would know that you were safe. I hated myself, and still do, for treating you the way I have, and it is torture to have to treat the ones I love with such… such vileness. But I do love you, Tess… I can't fully express the amount of love I have for you…" Will turns, to see Tessa standing where he left her, with a hand covering her mouth, concealing a smile.
"I am sorry… I have not had much practice with declarations of love… I am not very good with these sorts of words, so if I have let your book character expectations down-"
"No, Will. It was perfect. And frankly, my book character expectations are not very high… They are all hopeless at this sort of thing." Tessa makes to move towards him, but he reaches her first, taking her soft slim hands in his rough, battled scarred ones. He turns them over and with his thumb, traces patterns on her wrist with a gentleness that is foreign to him.
"Tessa… Do you really want this? Do you really want to be with me, only knowing that you could die at any moment? Because if you did die… I would not be able to live with the burden, knowing that it was my fault." Tessa smiles softly at him, sending his mind reeling.
"Yes, I do want this, and if I die, of course it will not be your fault. It will have been fully mine, having been the one who chose to take the risk. I ask of you not to burden yourself even more with the worry." Will grins, and pulls her into an embrace, all of his thoughts becoming vague and fuzzy as he nuzzles his face in her hair. They stand like this for a few minutes, just listening to each other's breathing.
"Will…" Tessa whispers, "If the curse hurts everyone who loves you… Why do you let Jem in, instead of pushing him away like everyone else?" Will's heart sinks, sure that she knows the answer already, but knowing that she would ask about it anyway. If this doesn't make her loathe me, then nothing will.
"Tessa… I know this will make me sound despicable… But when Jem first came to the institute, I had been here for about a year, and I was alone, training by myself every day without a friend, or anyone. When Charlotte first introduced us, I insulted him…" Will smiles weakly, recalling the day he met his parabati. "He responded only by laughing and insulting me back. I admired him, and agreed to let Jem train with me, and when I found out that he was going to die anyway…" He pauses, not needing to finish the sentence, and waits for Tessa to draw away in disgust. But to his surprise, she doesn't move, or make any indication of revulsion. Instead she just sighs and places her hand over his heart, lightly clutching the rough material of his white shirt.
"You decided that maybe you could be loved by someone after all…Will… That doesn't make you a horrible person at all. It is natural to want to be loved; it is a necessity of life. No one, not even you, can live completely without it... You and Jem were meant to be parabati, you help him live, and he helps you live. He needed someone to love, as did you, and he took the risk same as you did, knowing that his time was limited. There is nothing wrong with that." Will's heart skips a beat, and he lifts her face ever so slightly with his fingers, seeing her beautiful gray eyes widening as they grow darker.
"Tess, how did I ever think I could live without you?" Before she can respond, he leans down and kisses her fully on the mouth, feeling her soft warm lips under his, and fireworks explode behind his eyes. He has kissed her before, but when they were both drugged or when he was delusional. This kiss is completely different, both of them fully conscious and aware, meaning every small gesture. He feels Tessa snaking her arms around his neck, and he groans into her mouth, his fingers tangling in her hair or skimming over her back as desire courses through his veins. Kissing her is like taking a breath of fresh air after being kept shut in a musty cell, and he savors the feeling of her arms around him, her delicate frame pressed against him.
"Will…" She whispers into his mouth between kisses. "Will, I love you so much…" He pulls her closer to him pressing the small of her back with his hand, and caresses her face with his lips, murmuring her name against her skin. Feeling her fingers exploring the plains of his back sends pleasant shocks down his spine, and he grins.
"Tessa." He whispers gently as he kisses her forehead. "You have no idea how much I have wanted this, ever since you came into my life. It was agony to even look at you… And now… Now all I can feel is pure joy." Tessa takes his hand and leads him to a burgundy, black and gold embroidered sofa, where they settle themselves, her head resting on his shoulder. He puts his arm around her, stroking her shoulder with his thumb.
"Tess, that's a nice dress you're wearing. It suits you, red and gold." Tessa laughs as she glances down at her attire.
"Why thank you Will. Unfortunately it is not mine; I owe my thanks to Jessamine for lending it to me today." Will smiles, not very surprised.
He leans over and picks a book off the floor, looking at the cover: "Pride and Prejudice".
"Do you like this one?" She nods her head.
"Yes, it is one of my favorites. I love Elizabeth's flaming stubbornness, and yet how she cannot see that Darcy loves her. And Mrs. Bennett's ignorance, and daftness, and Mr. Bennett's wisdom. And above all, Mr. Darcy's fierce passion for Elizabeth, and his persistence, and his redemption; he is a prime example of how much love can change one person so much…" Will opens his mouth, but, for once, cannot find any words. Instead, he just leans in and kisses her softly once, then embraces her as if his life depends on it. In a way it does. After what feels like an eternity, Tessa draws away and rests her head on his chest, her arm twined around his as she listens to his steady heartbeat.
They sit like this in silence, just enjoying each other's presence, and after a while he hears Tessa's breathing slow, signifying that she has fallen asleep. He looks down at her, and takes in her face, a quintessence of peace. No worry or anxiety visible, only happiness and perfection. He gently brushes a strand of hair out of Tessa's face and lets his fingers skim across her thick eyelashes, the soft firelight sending patches of light dancing across her face illuminating her pale, creamy skin.
Will ponders waking Tess and take her to her room, but he doesn't want to move, worried that he will lose all of this; that he will wake up to find that it was all a dream. He glances at the old wooden grandfather clock that decorates the left wall, which reads two o-clock, and realizes how long they have been there.
"Tess…" He whispers, "Tess, wake up." She cracks her eyes open sleepily, yawning.
"I'm going to take you back to your room, so you can get some proper sleep, alright? I will help you walk, if you like." Tessa stares at him dazedly, looking slightly confused.
"Walk? But…" She yawns again, covering her mouth, then continues, her voice slurred. "Why can't we take the carriage? It is several blocks to the theater Mr. Darcy, and we might be late if we walk…" Mr. Darcy? Theater? It is Wills turn to be confused for a moment before he realizes that she is still asleep and dreaming, and he suppresses a chuckle.
"You are right, Miss. Gray, and besides, I wouldn't want you to get your lovely dress dirty. We shall take the carriage." Tessa smiles blearily at him and holds out her hand, and Will takes it, shaking his head. He stands, scooping her small frame into his arms, and hoists her up slowly, making sure he doesn't disturb her. He kisses Tessa's forehead as he carries her across the room, pushing one of the heavy oak doors open with his back and stepping into the hallway. Her head lolls against his shoulder as he walks down the corridor musty red, and he realizes that she smells distinctly of lilac- his favorite scent. He remembers that his mother used to smell like lilac, and a powerful wave of nostalgia rushes over him for a moment.
Will is so caught up in his thoughts that when he turns the corner, he nearly runs into bed- disheveled Jem, who blinks in surprise.
"Blimey Will! You nearly gave me a heart attack-" He stops abruptly, taking in the sight of Tessa bundled in Wills arms, and his eyes fill with panic.
"By the angel, is Tessa alright? Is she hurt? What happened?" Will shakes his head.
"Jem, she is fine. Nothing is wrong, I'm quite sure." Jem gives him a curious look.
"Well then why on earth are you carrying her around in the middle of the night? And why do you look so happy?" Will panics for a moment, rushing for how to respond. He certainly can't declare right then and there that they have just been making declarations of love to each other. It's not the right time.
"I-I found her asleep in the library, so I decided to take her back to her room. She was just talking in her sleep, and it made me laugh, is all."
"Well, alright. Just don't drop her. I'm not sure it would end very well, as her training has improved greatly." Jem smiles at him, throwing a glance at Tessa's sleeping face, and continues in the direction of the kitchen.
After a few turns they reach Tessa's room, and Will pushes through the open door, which creaks sharply. He crosses the room and lays Tessa gently on her large bed, and she stirs, moaning into a pillow. He smiles, watching her chest rise and fall slowly. I wish I could know that kind of peace, if even for a moment. Will gazes at her one more time, and leaves the room, shutting the door quietly behind him.