Burning Bright: Jem’s meeting with Tessa from his viewpoint
Jem’s father’s violin had been made for him by the luthier Guarnerni, who had made violins for musicians as famous as Paganini. In fact Jem sometimes thought his father might have been a sort of Paganini himself, famous all over the world for his playing, if he had not been a Shadowhunter. Shadowhunters might dabble in music or painting or poetry, especially after retirement from active duty, but they were always Shadowhunters first and foremost.
Jem knew his talent for the violin was not as great as his father’s — who had taught him how to play when he was still young enough to have trouble balancing the heavy instrument — but he played it for reasons that went far beyond art alone.
This evening he had felt too unwell to join the others at dinner — pain in his bones and a creeping lassitude in his limbs — until he had finally given in and taken just enough yin fen to quell the pain and spark a bit of energy. Then had come the annoyance at his own dependence, and when he had gone looking for Will, always his first line of defense against the addiction, his parabatai had —of course — not been there. Out again, Jem thought, walking the streets like Diogenes, though with a less noble purpose.
So Jem had retreated to his room and to his violin. He was playing Chopin now, a piece originally for piano that his father had adapted for violin. The music began with softness and built to a crescendo, one that would wring every ounce of energy, sweat and concentration out of him, leaving him too exhausted to feel the yearning for the drug that plucked at his nerve endings like fire.
It was in fact, one of the pieces his father had wooed his mother with, before they were married. Jem’s father was the romantic, his mother more practical, but the music had moved her nonetheless. His father had insisted Jem learn it — “I played it for my bride, and one day, you will play it for yours.”
But I will never have a bride. He did not think it in a self-pitying way. Jem was like his mother: practical about most things, even his own death. He was able to hold the fact of it at arm’s length and examine it. Every one of the children of the Institute was peculiar, he thought: Jessamine with her bitterness and her dollhouse, Will with his lies and secrets, and Jem — his dying was only another sort of peculiarity.
He paused for a moment, gasping for breath. He was playing by the window, where it was cooler: he had cracked it slightly open, and the bitter London air touched his cheeks and hair like fingertips as the bow in his hand stilled. He stood in a patch of moonlight, silver as yin fen powder . . .
He clamped his eyes shut and threw himself, again, into the music, the bow sawing against the strings like a cry. Sometimes the desire for the drug was almost overpowering, stronger than the desire for food, for water or air, for love . . .
I played it for my bride, and one day, you will play it for yours. Jem held to that thought resolutely. Sometimes he wondered what it would be like to look at girls as Will did, with his dark blue eyes raking them, offering insults and compliments loud enough to get him slapped at nearly every Christmas party. He wanted casual companionship, sometimes, when a pretty girl flirted with him, or when he was especially lonely.
But Jem did not, could not, think of girls that casually: he supposed an affair might be possible, but it was not what he wanted. He wanted what his father had had — the sort of love poets wrote about. The way his parents had looked at each other, the peace that had wrapped them when they were together. The facsimile of love would not bring him that, and were he to waste time on it, he might miss his opportunity for the real thing — and he would not have many.
A twinge went through him as his need for the drug increased, and he sped up his playing. He tried not to look at the box on his nightstand. It was times like this when he asked himself why he did not just take handfuls of the stuff at a time. Most who were addicted to yin fen took it unceasingly until they died for the euphoric feeling of being untiring and indomitable, of having the force and power of a star. It was that euphoria that killed them in the end, burning out their nerves, crushing their lungs and exhausting their hearts.
Sometimes Jem felt as if he wanted to burn. Sometimes he did not know why he struggled against it, why he valued a longer life of suffering over a shorter life without pain. But then he reminded himself that the lack of pain would only be another illusion: like Jessamine’s dollhouse, like Will’s stories of brothels and gin palaces.
And, if he were truly honest, he knew it would end his chances to find the kind of love his parents had once had. For that was what love was, wasn’t it — to burn bright in someone else’s eyes?
He continued to play. The music had risen to a crescendo. He was breathing hard, sweat standing out on his forehead and collarbones despite the chill of the evening air. He heard the click of his bedroom door as it opened behind him and relief spilled through him, though he did not stop playing. “Will,” he said, after a moment. “Will, is that you?”
There was only silence, uncharacteristic of Will. Perhaps Will was annoyed about something. Jem lowered his bow and turned, frowning. “Will —±” he began.
But it wasn’t Will at all. A girl stood hesitantly in the doorway of his room. A girl in a white nightgown with a dressing-gown thrown over it. Her gray eyes were pale in the moonlight, but calm, as if nothing about his appearance startled her. She was the warlock girl, he realized suddenly; the one Will had told him about earlier, but Will had not mentioned the quality of stillness about her that made Jem feel calm despite his longing for the drug, or the small smile on her lips that lit her face. She must have been there for quite a few moments, listening to him play: the evidence that she had enjoyed it was in her expression, in the dreamy tilt of her head.“You’re not Will,” he said, and immediately realized that this was a terrifically stupid thing to say. As she began to smile, he felt an answering smile beginning on his own lips — for such a long time Will had always been the person he wanted most to see when he was like this, and now, for the first time, he found himself glad not to see his parabatai, but someone else instead.