Lucie was getting dressed for dinner. She sat on the mahogany stool at her dressing table, the gilt oval mirror reflecting her careful movements as she unplucked the many jewelled pins, slides and clasps that held the heavy folds of her hair high against her head. She drew out the last one, and her hair cascaded plumply over her shoulders and down her back, concealing the sworling rune on the back of her neck.
Cordelia, sitting on the edge of the four poster bed, watched the reflection of her face cringe slightly as Lucie gently massaged her away the ache from the tightness of the pins.
On the bed beside Cordelia was a tea service that had arrived before their argument, and had long since turned cold. Outside the high windows, London daylight was starting to wither, the low sun gathering bluish clouds. The sky turned to a palette of sweet apricots, plums and violets that shone brightly into the room. Her eyes felt heavy, and she considered putting an energy rune on her arm, though she couldn't seem to will herself to do it. These days, she perversely revelled in the sensation of heavy limbed, tight-eyed exhaustion.
The bedroom thrummed with the twang of angry words spoken, it seemed, only seconds before, though it must have been minutes. Their echo was like an orchestra in her ears, swelling to fill her mind, until she could think of nothing else. Rare though it was, she loathed fighting with her parabatai, and loathed the way it made her feel.
Lucie had accused her of being proud, and her posture remained stiff, as if from the effort of restraining herself. Presently, untwirling the coiled waves of her hair with her fingertips and brushing through sections of it, the wooden brush was suddenly flung on the table surface with a sharp bang. In the mirror, her hard gaze was upon Cordelia.
"You like my brother, don't you?"
"Lucie," Cordelia remonstrated. "Let's not do this, please."
"You admire him?"
Cordelia mustered a weak, gloomy smile. "Is there anyone that doesn't?"
The pitch of her voice dipped. "No. I meant you admire him more than the others."
Cordelia had no idea what to say. She had no idea what her parabatai wanted to hear. "Are you referring to that time, years ago, when I...Oh, no," She chuckled once, half-heartedly. "You can't believe that I still harbour a childish--infatuation--can you? I had forgotten about that. It was an awfully long time ago."
Lucie swivelled round in her chair. It was startling how much younger she looked with her hair loose, its brushed softness framing her face. With an incongruous seriousness, she intoned, "You know, you frighten me sometimes."
"Wha--what on earth do you mean?"
"You're a terribly good liar."
Emotions chased through Cordelia in a circular motion, fleeting settling, vanishing and reappearing, over and over. She swallowed, and took out her stele. Her fingers guided its sharp, quill-like tip into the crook of her elbow. She wondered how long a Shadowhunter could survive before starvation or exhaustion claimed them, with energy runes as their only subsistence. "Goodness, I didn't think you thought me so obvious,"
Lucie turned to the mirror again. "I just...wondered..." her voice faltered.
“Wondered what?” Cordelia put down her stele, feeling the burn of the rune on her arm. She dreaded her answer. She should leave, she thought.
“Why you never told him?”
“What, declared myself to him? Like all the other girls, you mean? What would possess me to do that?”
Lucie fiddled with a discarded clasp on the desk. The shape of her hands were slim and graceful, very lovely and ladylike, but Cordelia saw differently. The blunt, boyish nails, the joints of her fingers calloused and scarred, her hands perpetually stained from ink. The Angel knew, Cordelia thought, Shadowhunting was not something that lent itself easily to feminine softness. But Lucie had never really believed in all that. Cordelia was entranced by how she managed to wield her seraph blade, her pen and her beauty all in the same hand at once, defying anyone would have her otherwise. She said, “Grace Blackthorn.”
“What about her?”
Lucie kept her gaze trained on the desk. “You see what she’s done to him, Cordy. My parents are despairing. They see their son in the throes of agony and they have no idea why, or what’s causing it. And nor can I tell them. I’ve never seen him like this: so forlorn, so irascible. Everything is an annoyance, subject to mockery. He spends all his time training. He’s in ruins. And it’s all because of her. I simply can’t stand by anymore, watching his degradation. I don’t want to watch him live out his life in misery because of a cruel, beautiful girl he’ll never have—a girl who will never deserve him—“
Cordelia’s heart thundered in her chest, protesting against her tight stays. She said, “I don’t understand what this has to do with me.”
“Is it not plain? You do deserve him.”
Cordelia let out a laboured sigh. “Lucie...it’s hopeless. I know that; I have no illusions. I know that I will always be his little sister’s parabatai. Because, if I did – what would come of it, apart from my broken heart? It would ruin everything. We’d never be able to look at each other across the table again. There was a time, a long time ago—but really, what am I, in comparison to Grace? I don’t blame your brother a bit for falling in love with her. She is without compare. I, however, am not. I am unmemorable, I am not beautiful. I am not particularly intelligent, charming or witty, or a good Shadowhunter: I don’t excel at anything. There is absolutely nothing I could give your brother that would satisfy him. That would make him happy.”
“Cordelia.” Lucie’s voice was a whip. She turned round to face her, expression outraged. "How can you speak in that way about yourself? You don't truly believe all that nonsense, do you?"
Cordelia rose, and went to stand behind Lucie’s stool. Lucie turned to mirror again, and Cordelia peered down at their reflection. “Yes, I do. And please don’t attempt to convince me otherwise, because it won’t work.”
Lucie's mouth pressed into tight line. “Well, I know of one thing you can certainly give him that she can’t: not even you can deny it.”
Light-headed, Cordelia heard herself as if at a distance, the feebleness in her voice. "Are you going to say, love?"
“You don’t think it’s important?”
“Not when there are hundreds of other girls that are equally as well qualified to love him.”
“By the angel, Cordy,” Lucie slumped on the desk, putting her head in her hands. “You’re impossible.”
Cordelia began unknotting the plaits at the back of her head that Lucie had abandoned. She said affectionately, “I think you’re a hopeless romantic, Lucie.”
She muttered, “If I’m a romantic, then you’re a cynic,”
Cordelia’s fingers stopped moving. “Lucie—“
“Don’t you see?” Lucie spun around again. “She can’t. Grace can’t love him. I can’t picture her ever loving anyone. And even if she did, somehow, it wouldn’t be love. He’d be shackled to her caprice: a deformed love. The love of—a vampire and its subjugate, slowly turning them blind and inhuman and enslaved—“
Cordelia laughed. “By the angel, Lucie. If you don’t read far too many novels—“
Lucie’s eyebrows peaked, but she turned around again. She informed the mirror primly, “Don’t let my parents hear you say that. They’d turn you onto the streets for blasphemy.”
Cordelia said nothing, and nor did Lucie.
Cordelia hoped she would drop it now. But then—“The point is, Cordy, I believe you’re wrong. I’ve seen him looking at you.”
She laughed, slightly. “Well, is that unusual? We've known each other a long time.”
“But I know that look, and it isn’t...”
Cordelia unthreaded the last locks of her hair and stepped back. “Lucie, I'm begging you, please stop with this nonsense. Everyone knows your brother is a ridiculous flirt. Women twice his age get hot flushes around him.”
“But that's precisely it—he isn't a flirt anymore. He's not like he used to be. Not since Grace so completely consumed him. All that’s left of him is a shell--of torment and misery. But when he looks at you, I think I see some life enter his eyes again.”
Cordelia said firmly, “You’re imagining things.”
“I am not."
“Then I dare say he was drunk and wanted attention—“
Abruptly, Lucie stood, the beads on her evenings dress swinging as she whirled round.“He was not drunk! I can’t believe you refuse to understand that why I want to help him!”
Cordelia did not mean to shout, but somehow it came out as that. “Because you plan to use me to make him happy! You would rather I be unhappy than your brother!”
“What?! Of course n—“
“Yes! Because that’s the only thing that would come if it—don’t you understand? I decided a long time ago—No. Let me start at the beginning.” She took a deep breath, and looked towards the door. “When I realised that your brother would never return my feelings it was because I realised he would never see me the way I saw him. In my head, he would just endure my affection, but never return it. And I thought that was the way it would always be. I accepted it. Even if, by some miracle, he wanted to be with me: it would only be because he couldn’t be with someone like Grace. If he was ever with me, it would be because he’d resigned himself to me. And—I don’t know—perhaps you’ll tell me I’m conceited or my standards are too lofty where a boy like your brother is concerned, but – I don’t want to live the rest of my life knowing the person I love most in the world was with me because there was—no other agreeable alternative. That every time he linked his arm in mine and turned his face to me, all he felt a horrible kind of pity and resentment and sadness and regret. All my life—I’ve watched married people look at each other like that, and I’d always thought—with myself, it would be different, when my time came. And I couldn’t bear that. Knowing I was marrying myself to that. Neither for myself, nor for him. I’d much rather live a life in his periphery, than a life where he cringes to look at me at all. If I ever make a match, it will be one where we mutually care for one another, and I refuse to settle for anything less.”
Lucie's voice was scratchy, almost a whisper. “I find it baffling—incomprehensible-- that you’ve managed to convince yourself of something that has not, and you have no way of knowing ever would, happen, if you told my brother--I can’t believe that you think...And even if he did, have you never considered that he would learn to love you? Sometimes, it’s not always instantaneous.”
“Instantaneous? He's known me since I was child! And I don't want him to be obliged to learn to love me."
“So--so, you’re content with watching him destroy himself over a worthless girl—“
“No of course I’m not! I wish I could help but I don’t see how it is in my power to. If there was anything in the world he wanted, I would give it, without question. But I’m not so foolish as to lay myself at his feet, waiting to be trampled. Because he’ll do to me exactly what Grace did to him.”
Lucie's expression cleared and she leaned away from her. “You think my brother would treat you thus? You think him so heartless?”
“I know that he would never be as cruel as Grace, but I suppose that indifference does resemble heartlessness, sometimes, doesn’t it?”
Lucie’s head snapped towards the door. “Did you hear that?”
“Someone’s coming...Yes! Quick.”
Lucie dropped back onto her stool, trying to look occupied with her reflection. Cordelia grabbed a half-opened book on the bed, and seated herself in her previous position. Her back ramrod straight, she fixed her gaze on the pages before her. It was Far From the Madding Crowd. A sharp, desultory patter of beats sounded on the other side of the closed door. He'd already entered before Lucie could even speak.
Dressed all in black, he took position against the side of the towering bookcase and surveyed the room, his expression bleak, his tall figure somehow exuding a cool lugubriousness. Lucie said, "I don't believe I invited you in."
"No," He said.
"And what if I had been getting changed behind that screen--"
"I knew you weren't."
She enquired politely, "And how is that?"
"Because I heard all the shouting."
Cordelia's heart stilled for a moment, and then tripped over itself. Unable to resist, Cordelia's gaze crept over the book towards him, to find that his heavy gaze was already weighed on her. The heat of sheer panic instantly unfurled in her. She looked over at Lucie. What were they going to do?
He said, "It rather sounded as though it needed interrupting,"
Cordelia hoped Lucie
would answer, but there followed an agonising silence.
When it was clear neither of them were willing to elaborate, James said, "Don’t worry. I shan’t enquire. Though I must confess the scene before me is not nearly as entertaining as I’d imagined.”
Lucie turned and glared at him. “Is there a reason you’re here?”
“Yes. Actually. Dinner.”
“Alright.” Cordelia snapped her book shut, returned it to bed, and jumped up. She said to Lucie, "I'll see you on Wednesday, then,"
Lucie rose, scrambling, her forehead furrowed. “You’re leaving—but why, you can’t—you promised Mama you’d stay—“
Cordelia had begun walking away. “Then you’ll have to offer my sincerest apologies to Mrs Herondale—“
Lucie followed, and grabbed her hand, detaining her. Her voice low and repentant, she said, “Cordy, I’m sorry. I won’t mention it ever again—please say you’ll forgive me?”
"Of course, yes, I just need to go, there's something..." Cordelia trailed off as she felt her face and eyes start to smoulder. She cleared her throat. "Good evening. Lucie. James." She broke from Lucie's grasp and darted for the door, but James suddenly side-stepped, blocking her path.
"What's wrong, Daisy?"
The use of that name was painful to her. "Nothing at all. Could you please--" To her embarrassment, her voice broke.
"By all means," One of his hands behind his back, he opened the door for her, and stood out of the way.
"Thank you." As she moved past him, he put out a hand, his finger brushing quickly along her jaw. Stunned, Cordelia stopped, flinching backwards. His fingertip held in the air, she saw him examining it, a single tear trembling on its end for a moment before it dropped to the floor. Cordelia touched her face; when had she started crying?
He murmured, “You know, I can’t remember the
last time I cried. I feel as though I can’t remember how. I wish I could. I remember
thinking it helped.”
Cordelia tried to swallow. Was everything he was saying because he'd heard what she and Lucie had said? “It doesn’t," she replied.
He said nothing, and she flew past. As she pranced down the stairs, the tears came more freely, and she she heard James comment glibly, “What have you done, Luce?”
She sighed. “Made a very big mess of things.”