Lady Midnight – chapter 20

The formal dining room at the Institute was rarely used—the family ate in the kitchen except for the rare instances when Uncle Arthur was with them. The room was hung with framed portraits of Blackthorns, brought from England, their names etched under their images. Rupert. John. Tristan. Adelaide. Jesse. Tatiana. They gazed down blankly on a long oak table surrounded by high-backed chairs.

 

Mark settled himself on the table, glancing around the walls. “I like them,” he said. “The portraits. I always have.”

 

“They seem friendly to you?” Emma was leaning against the doorway. The door was cracked partly open, and through it she could see the foyer and Julian talking to his brothers and sisters.

 

Livvy was gripping her saber and looked furious. Ty, beside her, was blank-faced, but his hands were busy at work, tangling and untangling.

 

“Tavvy’s awake playing upstairs,” Drusilla was saying. She was in pajamas, her brown hair mussed. “Hopefully he’ll pass out. Usually he can sleep through a war. I mean—”

 

“That wasn’t a war,” Julian said. “Though there were some bad moments before Malcolm showed up.” “Julian called Malcolm, huh?” Emma said, turning back into the dining room. “Even though you were

here, and Malcolm didn’t know you’re back?”

“He had to,” Mark said, and Emma was struck by how human he sounded. He looked human too, in his jeans and sweater, perched casually on the table. “There were three hundred Followers surrounding the place, and we couldn’t call the Conclave.”

 

“He could have asked you to hide,” said Emma. There was blood and dirt on her jacket. She flung it over the back of a nearby chair.

 

“He did,” Mark said. “I refused.” “What? Why did you do that?”

Mark said nothing, only looked at her. “Your hand,” he said. “It’s bleeding.”

Emma glanced down. He was right; there was a cut across her knuckles. “It’s nothing.”

 

He reached out to take her hand in his, gazing critically at the blood. “I could draw you an iratze,” he said. “Just because I don’t want them on my skin doesn’t mean I won’t draw them on anyone else.”

 

Emma retracted her hand. “Don’t worry about it,” she said, returning to peeking into the entryway. “What about next time?” Ty was asking. “We’re going to have to call the Conclave. We can’t do this on

 

our own or expect Malcolm always to be there.” “The Conclave can’t know,” Julian said.

 

“Jules,” Livvy said. “I mean, we all get it, but isn’t there some way— I mean, the Conclave would have

 

to understand about Mark—he’s our brother—” “I’ll handle it,” Julian said.

“What if they come back?” Dru said in a small voice.

“Do you trust me?” Julian asked gently. She nodded. “Then don’t worry about it. They won’t be back.” Emma sighed to herself as Julian sent his siblings upstairs. He stood, watching them go, and then turned

 

toward the dining room. Emma drew away from the door and sat down in one of the high-backed chairs just as Julian came into the room.

 

The witchlight chandelier above glared down brightly: an unforgivingly harsh interrogation white. Julian shut the door behind him and leaned against it. His blue-green eyes blazed in his colorless face. When he reached up to push his hair off his forehead, Emma saw that his fingers were bleeding where he had bitten his nails down to the quick.

 

The quick. She’d learned the term from Diana, watching Julian bite his hands bloody while Ty and Livvy practiced in the training room. “Biting his nails down to the quick won’t help him learn to hold a sword,” Diana had said, and Emma had gone and looked the term up.

 

The quick: the soft, tender flesh underneath the fingernail. Also means “living,” as in “the quick and the dead.”

 

She couldn’t help thinking of it as life after that, as if Julian were trying to bite into the bloody matter of his life, to cauterize the messiness somehow. She knew he did it when he was upset and anxious: when Ty was unhappy, when Uncle Arthur had a meeting with the Clave, when Helen called and he told her everything was fine, she and Aline shouldn’t worry, and yes, he understood why they couldn’t come back from Wrangel Island.

And he was doing it now.

“Julian,” said Emma. “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. You don’t have to tell us anything —”

 

“I do, actually,” he said. “I need to talk for a little while without being interrupted. After that, I’ll answer any questions you have. All right?”

Mark and Emma nodded.

“After the Dark War, it was only because of Uncle Arthur that they let us come back here, to our home,” he said. “It was only because we had a guardian that we were allowed to stay together. A guardian who was related to us, not too young or too old, someone willing to promise to look after six children, make sure they were tutored and trained. No one else would have done it except Helen, and she was exiled—”

“And I was gone,” Mark said bitterly.

 

“It wasn’t your fault—” Julian stopped, took a deep breath, and shook his head minutely. “If you talk,” he said, “if you say anything, I won’t be able to get through this.”

Mark ducked his chin. “My apologies.”

“Even if you hadn’t been taken, Mark, you’d have been too young. Only someone over eighteen can run an Institute and be the guardian of children.” Julian glanced down at his hands, as if struggling internally, and then looked back up. “The Clave thought Uncle Arthur would be that guardian. So did we. I thought it when he came here, and even for weeks afterward. Maybe months. I don’t remember. I know that he never really bothered to try to get to know any of us, but I told myself it didn’t matter. I told myself we didn’t need a guardian who would love us. Just someone who would keep us together.”

 

His eyes locked with Emma’s, and the next words he spoke seemed to be directly to her.

 

“We loved each other enough, I thought. For it not to matter. Maybe he couldn’t show affection, but he could still be a good custodian of the Institute. Then as he came downstairs less and less, and the letters from other Institutes and calls from the Clave went unanswered, I started to realize there was more that was seriously wrong. It was soon after the Cold Peace, and territorial disputes were ripping the city apart, vamps and werewolves and warlocks going after what used to belong to faeries. We were besieged

 

with calls, visits, demands we handle the problem. I’d go up to the attic, bring Arthur his food, beg him to deal with what needed to be done to keep the Clave from stepping in. Because I knew what would happen if they did. We’d no longer have a guardian, and then we’d no longer have a home. And then—”

He took a deep breath.

 

“They would have sent Emma to the new Academy in Idris. It was what they wanted to do in the first place. They would have sent the rest of us to London, probably. Tavvy was just a baby. They would have placed him with another family. Drusilla too. As for Ty—imagine what they would have done with Ty. The moment he didn’t act the way they thought he should, they would have shoved him into the ‘dregs’ program at the Academy. Separated him from Livvy. It would have killed them both.”

 

Julian paced restlessly up to the portrait of Jesse Blackthorn and stared into his ancestor’s green eyes. “So I begged Arthur to respond to the Clave, to do anything that would show that he was the head of the Institute. Letters were piling up. Urgent messages. We didn’t have weapons and he wouldn’t requisition them. We were running out of seraph blades. I came upstairs one night to ask him—” His voice cracked. “To ask him if he’d sign letters if I wrote them, about the territorial disputes, and I found him on the floor with a knife. He was cutting his skin open, he said, to let the evil out.”

 

He stared steadfastly at the portrait.

“I bandaged him up. But after that I talked to him, and I realized. Uncle Arthur’s reality is not our reality. He lives in a dreamworld where sometimes I’m Julian and sometimes I’m my father. He talks to people who aren’t there. Oh, there are times when he’s clear about who he is and where he is. But they come and go. There are bad periods where he doesn’t know any of us for weeks. Then times of clarity where you might imagine he was getting better. But he’ll never get better.”

 

“You’re saying he’s mad,” said Mark. “Madness” was the faerie word for it; it was a faerie punishment, in fact, the bringing down of madness, the shattering of someone’s mind. “Lunacy” was what Shadowhunters called it. Emma had a sense there were different words for it among mundanes—a faint sense she had from bits and pieces of movies she had seen, books she had read. That there was a less cruel and absolute way to think about those whose minds ran differently than most—whose thoughts gave them pain and fear. But the Clave was cruel and absolute. It was there in the words that described the code by which they lived. The Law is hard, but it is the Law.

 

“Lunatic, I guess the Clave would say,” said Julian with a bitter twist to his mouth. “It’s amazing that you’re still a Shadowhunter if you have a sickness of the body, but apparently not if you have a sickness of the mind. I knew even when I was twelve that if the Clave found out what kind of state Arthur was really in, they’d take the Institute. They’d break up our family and scatter us. And I would not let that happen.

 

He looked from Mark to Emma, his eyes blazing.

 

“I had enough of my family taken from me during the war,” he said. “We all did. We’d lost so much. Mother, Father, Helen, Mark. They would have torn us apart until we were adults and by then we wouldn’t be a family anymore. They were my children. Livvy. Ty. Dru. Tavvy. I raised them. I became Uncle Arthur. I took the correspondence, I answered it. I did the requisitioning. I drew up the patrol schedules. I never let anyone know Arthur was sick. I said he was eccentric, a genius, hard at work in his attic. The truth was—” He looked away. “When I was younger I hated him. I never wanted him to come out of his attic, but sometimes he had to. The disputes over territory had to be handled in person. There were face-to-face meetings that couldn’t be avoided, and no one was going to hold their important summit with a twelve-year-old boy. So I went to Malcolm. He was able to create a drug that I could give to Uncle Arthur. It forced periods of clarity. They only lasted a few hours, and afterward Arthur would have headaches.”

 

Emma thought of the way Arthur had clutched his head after the meeting with the faerie representatives in the Sanctuary. The memory of the agony on his face—she couldn’t push it away, though she wanted to.

“Sometimes I’d try to keep him out of the way with other methods,” Julian said, his voice full of self-

 

loathing. “Like tonight, Malcolm gave him a sleeping draught. I know it’s wrong. Believe me, I’ve felt like I might go to Hell for it. If there is a Hell. I knew I shouldn’t do what I was doing. Malcolm kept quiet, he never told anyone, but I could tell he didn’t exactly approve. He wanted me to tell the truth. But the truth would have destroyed our family.”

 

Mark leaned forward. His expression was unreadable. “What about Diana?”

“I never exactly told her,” said Julian. “But I think she’s guessed at least some of it.”

 

“Why couldn’t she have been asked to run the Institute? Instead of it being in the hands of a twelve-year-old boy?”

 

“I asked her. She said no. She said it was impossible. She was genuinely sorry, and she said she’d help however she could. Diana has—her own secrets.” He turned away from the portrait of Jesse. “One last thing. I said I hated Arthur. But that was a long time ago. I don’t hate him now. I hate the Clave for what they would do to him, to us, if they knew.”

 

He bent his head. The extraordinarily bright witchlight turned the edges of his hair to gold and the scars on his skin to silver.

 

“So now you know,” he said. His hands tightened on the back of the chair. “If you hate me, I understand. I can’t think of anything else I could have done. But I’d understand.”

 

Emma stood up from her chair. “I think we knew,” she said. “We didn’t know . . . but we knew.” She looked at Julian. “We did, didn’t we? We knew someone was taking care of everything and that it wasn’t Arthur. If we let ourselves believe he ran the Institute, it was because it was easier. It was what we wanted to be true.”

 

Julian closed his eyes. When he opened them again, they were fixed on his brother. “Mark?” he said, and the question was implicit in the single word: Mark, do you hate me?

 

Mark slid off the table. The witchlight turned his pale hair to white. “I have no right to pass judgment upon you, brother. Once I was the elder, but now you are elder than I. When I was in the faerie country, each night I would think of each of you—of you and Helen, of Livvy and Ty and Dru and Tavvy. I gave the stars your names, so that when I saw them wink to light in the sky I felt as if you were with me. It was all I could do to still the fear that you were hurt or dying and that I would never know. But I have come back to a family not just alive and healthy, but whose bonds have not been severed, and that is because of what you have done. There is love here, among you. Such love as takes my breath out of my body. There has even been enough love left for me.”

 

Julian was looking at Mark with hesitant astonishment. Emma tasted tears in the back of her throat. She wanted to go to Julian and put her arms around him, but a thousand things held her back.

“If you want me to tell the others,” Julian said hoarsely, “I will.”

“Now is not the time to decide,” Mark said, and in that single sentence, in the way he looked at Julian now, for the first time since Mark had returned Emma could see a world in which Mark and Julian had been together, had raised their siblings together and come to agreements about what to do together. For the first time, she could see the harmony they had lost. “Not when there are enemies circling us and the Institute, not when our lives and blood are on the line.”

 

“It’s a heavy burden to bear, this secret,” said Julian, and there was a warning in his tone, but hopefulness as well. Emma’s heart ached for the wrongness of all of it: for the painful and desperate choices made by a twelve-year-old boy to keep his family with him. For the darkness that surrounded Arthur Blackthorn, which was not of his making but which if revealed would only find him punished by his own government. For the weight of a thousand lies, told in good faith, because lies told in good faith were still lies. “And if the Followers go through with their threat—”

 

“But how did they know?” Emma said. “How did they know about Arthur?”

Julian shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said. “But I think we’re going to need to find out.”

 

Cristina watched as Diego, having laid her down on one of the infirmary beds, realized that he couldn’t sit beside her with a sword and crossbow attached to him and began awkwardly to remove them.

Diego was rarely awkward. In her memory he was graceful, the more graceful of the two Rocio Rosales brothers, though Jaime was more warlike and more fierce. He hung his crossbow and sword up, then unzipped his dark hoodie and flung it over one of the pegs near the door.

 

He was facing away from her; through his white T-shirt she could see that he had dozens of new scars, and even more Marks, some of them permanent. A great black rune for Courage in Battle spread down his right shoulder blade, a tendril of it rising above his collar. He looked as if he’d grown broader, his waist, shoulders, and back hard with a new layer of muscle. His hair had grown out, long enough to touch his collar. It brushed against his cheek as he turned to look at her.

 

She’d been able to fight off her shock at seeing Diego in the whirl of events since she’d seen his face in the alley. But now it was only the two of them, alone in the infirmary, and she was looking at him and seeing the past. The past she’d run away from and tried to forget. It was there in the way he pulled out the chair beside her bed and leaned over to carefully unlace her boots, pull them away, and roll up the left leg of her pants. It was there in the way his lashes brushed his cheeks when he concentrated, running the point of his stele over her leg beside the wound, circling it in healing runes. It was there in the freckle at the corner of his mouth and the way he frowned as he sat back and surveyed his rune work critically. “Cristina,” he said. “Is it better?”

 

The pain had eased. She nodded, and he sat back, his stele in his hand. He was gripping it tightly enough that the old scar across the back of his hand stood out whitely, and she remembered the same scar and his fingers unbuttoning his shirt in her bedroom in San Miguel de Allende, while the bells of the parroquia rang out through the windows.

“It’s better,” she said.

“Good.” He put the stele away. “Tenemos que hablar.”

“In English, please,” she said. “I am trying to keep up my practice.”

 

An irritated look passed across his face. “You don’t need the practice. Your English is perfect, as mine is.”

“Modest as always.”

His smile flashed out. “I’ve missed you giving me a hard time.”

“Diego . . .” She shook her head. “You shouldn’t be here. And you shouldn’t say you miss me.”

 

His face was all sharp lines: pronounced cheekbones and jaw and temples. Only his mouth was soft, the corners turned down now in unhappiness. She remembered the first time she had ever kissed him, in the Institute garden, then pushed the recollection away viciously.

 

“But it is the truth,” he said. “Cristina, why did you run away like that? Why didn’t you answer any of my messages or calls?”

She held up a hand. “You first,” she said. “What are you doing in Los Angeles?”

He rested his chin on his folded arms. “After you left, I couldn’t stay. Everything reminded me of you. I was on leave from the Scholomance. We were going to spend the summer together. Then you were gone. One minute you were in my life, and then you were ripped out of it. I was lost. I went back to study but I thought only of you.”

“You had Jaime,” she said in a hard voice.

 

“No one has Jaime,” he said. “You think he didn’t panic when you left? The two of you were supposed to be parabatai.

 

“I think he’ll live.” Cristina could hear her own voice, cold and small; it seemed to have frozen down to a tiny sliver of ice.

 

He was silent for a moment. “Reports were coming through to the Scholomance from L.A.,” he said. “Flares of necromantic magic. Your friend Emma’s efforts to investigate the deaths of her parents. The

 

Clave thought she was making a fuss about nothing, that it was clear Sebastian had killed her parents but she wouldn’t accept it. I thought she might be right, though. I came out here to look into it, and my first day, I went to the Shadow Market. Look, it’s a long story—I found my way to Wells’s house—”

“Where you decided it was a good idea to shoot a fellow Nephilim with a crossbow?”

 

“I didn’t know they were Shadowhunters! I thought they were murderers— I wasn’t shooting to kill—” “No manches,” Cristina said bluntly. “You should have stayed and told them you were Nephilim.

Those arrows were poisoned. Julian nearly died.”

“I gathered that.” Diego looked rueful. “The arrows weren’t poisoned by me. If I’d had any idea, I would have stayed. The weapons I bought at the Shadow Market must have been tainted without my knowing.”

 

“Well, what were you doing buying weapons there anyway? Why didn’t you come to the Institute?” Cristina demanded.

 

“I did,” Diego said, flattening her with surprise. “I came looking for Arthur Blackthorn. I found him in the Sanctuary. I tried to tell him who I was, why I was here. He told me the damnation of the Blackthorns was their own private business, that they didn’t want any interference, and that if I knew what was good for me I’d get out of town before everything burned.”

“He said that?” Cristina sat up in astonishment.

 

“I realized I wasn’t welcome here. I thought, even, that the Blackthorns might be involved in the necromancy somehow.”

“They would never—!”

“Well, you can say that. You know them. I didn’t know them. All I knew was that the head of the Institute had told me to go away, but I couldn’t because you were here. Maybe in danger, maybe even in danger from the Blackthorns. I had to get weapons at the Market because I was afraid that if I went to any of the usual weapons caches it would be found out that I was still here. Look, Cristina, I am not a liar—”

 

“You don’t lie?” Cristina demanded. “You want to know why I left home, Diego? In May we were in San Miguel de Allende. I’d gone to the Jardín, and when I came back, you and Jaime were sitting up on the terrace. I was coming through the courtyard; I could hear your voices very clearly. You didn’t know I was there.”

Diego looked puzzled. “I don’t . . .”

 

“I heard him talking to you about how the wrong branch of the Rosales family was in power. It should have been you. He was talking about the plan he had. Surely you remember. The one where you would marry me, and he would become my parabatai, and together you would use your influence over me and my mother to eject her from her position as head of the D.F. Institute, and then you would take over. He said you had the easy job, marrying me, because you could leave me someday. Becoming parabatai means you’re stuck with them forever. I remember him saying that.”

 

“Cristina . . .” Diego had gone pale. “That’s why you left that night. It wasn’t because your mother was sick and needed you at the Institute in the city.”

 

“I was the one who was sick,” Cristina spat. “You broke my heart, Diego, you and your brother. I don’t know what’s worse, losing your best friend or losing the boy you’re in love with, but I can tell you that it was like you both died for me that day. That’s why I don’t pick up your calls or messages. You don’t take calls from a dead boy.”

“And what about Jaime?” Something flared in his eyes. “What about his calls?”

 

“He never has called,” said Cristina, and almost took pleasure in the look of shock on his face. “Maybe he has better sense than you.”

 

“Jaime? Jaime?” Diego was on his feet now. A vein in his temple throbbed. “I remember that day, Cristina. Jaime was drunk and he was babbling. Did you hear me say anything or did you only hear him?”

 

Cristina forced herself to think back. In memory it seemed like a cacophony of voices. But . . . “I only

 

heard Jaime,” she said. “I didn’t hear you say a word. Not to defend me. Not to say anything.” “There was no point talking to Jaime when he was like that,” Diego said bitterly. “I let him talk. I

shouldn’t have. I had no interest in his plan. I loved you. I wanted to go far away with you. He is my brother, but he is— He was born with something missing, I think, some piece of his heart where compassion lives.”

 

“He was going to be my parabatai,” said Cristina. “I was going to be tied to him forever. And you weren’t going to say anything to me? Do anything to stop it?”

 

“I was,” Diego protested. “Jaime had planned to go to Idris. I was waiting for him to leave. I needed to speak to you when he wasn’t there.”

She shook her head. “You shouldn’t have waited.”

“Cristina.” He came toward her, his hands outstretched. “Please, if you don’t believe anything else, believe me that I have always loved you. Do you really think I have lied to you since we were children? Since the first time I ever kissed you and you ran away laughing? I was ten years old—do you really think that was some kind of plan?”

 

She didn’t reach for his hands. “But Jaime,” she said. “I’ve known him just as long. He was always my friend. But he wasn’t, was he? He said things no friend would say, and you knew he was using me, and you said not a word.”

“I was going to tell you—”

 

“Intentions are nothing,” Cristina said. She had thought she would feel some relief, finally telling Diego why she hated him, finally unburdening the knowledge of what she had heard. Finally severing the thread. But it didn’t feel severed. She could feel the bond connecting them, as she had when she’d blacked out in the crashing car outside the Institute and woken up with Diego holding her. He’d been whispering in her ear that she would be all right, that she was his Cristina, she was strong. And it had felt for a moment as if the past months had been a dream, and she was home.

 

“I must stay here,” Diego said. “These killings, the Followers, they are too important. I am a Centurion; I cannot abandon a mission. But I do not need to remain at the Institute. If you want me to go away, I will.”

Cristina opened her mouth. But before she could speak, her phone buzzed. It was a message from

Emma. STOP MAKING OUT WITH PERFECT DIEGO AND GET TO THE COMPUTER ROOM, WE NEED YOU.

Cristina rolled her eyes and shoved the phone back in her pocket. “We’d better go.”

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