Thomas used to think of Alastair as a star, bright and shining like a beacon of all he’d ever wanted to be. That was, of course, when he was young and susceptible to hero worship. It was also when Alastair’s hair had been dyed a blinding sort of blond and it was that hair that appeared to Thomas in hazy daydreams.
Now, however, his hair was ebony (and much prettier, though he hated to admit it to himself). The light had filtered into dark, just as his visions of him had. The sparks in him had withered down to a swirling black mass of confusion. He had always known that twinge of envy and adrenaline and something else that pinched his heart whenever Alastair came near; it was just a fact. After learning of the dreadful rumors that had passed his lips, though, that twinge was coupled with anger so immense that it threatened to overwhelm all those other feelings.
People always jokingly said he was a gentle giant, like Little John. Thomas had never minded. Sure, being tall had its disadvantages, and doorways were always a bit awkward, and hugging people felt a bit like squishing them, but that was it. Never had he considered using his strength against anything other than a demon.
Yet here he was, sitting on the steps of the ballroom, his face burning with rage, his throat sore with having uttered the words: “I will knock you into the Thames.”
Alastair had fled, Lucie hot on his heels, and that was all Thomas was really thinking of as Matthew snickered and quietly told him, flask raised high in mock salute, “Good one, mate. Here’s to teaching that fig a lesson!” He had then proceeded to seem extremely confused as Thomas, too, ran, albeit in the other direction. Matthew could be quite entertaining, and Thomas was not exactly in the mood to be entertained. Besides, Magnus Bane was here. Matthew had plenty to distract himself with.
He just wanted to be alone.
There was much too much going on. Barbara, firstly; being hailed as a hero for Christopher’s antidote; Alastair. He wanted to bury his face in his hands and let the thoughts revolve around him like the chaos of Pandemonium. Though it seemed the universe had other plans.
Lucie hurtled toward the stairs, almost tripping over her dress, but after all, that was the Lucie way. Always running, always thinking, always excited and breathless and ready to throw herself into a situation whether she was wanted there or not. Thomas could not help the small smile that split his face.
“Thomas!” she panted, finally skidding to a stop at the bottom of the staircase. “Whatever are you doing up there?” she asked loudly, her voice echoing through the space. “Shall I come up?”
Without waiting for an answer, she hopped nimbly from step to step until she reached him and sat down. Noticing his forced joy, her expression crumbled and she placed a hand on his arm. “What’s wrong?”
Her hand, he realized, was on his tattoo, but unlike the drifting grace with which Alastair had touched it, Lucie’s grip was firm and unwavering, snapping his focus back to reality. Thomas shook his head and glanced up with another award-winning smile. It probably looked like a chipmunk, in retrospect. “Nothing! I’m fine, Luce. Go enjoy yourself.”
Lucie’s features twisted with sympathy, but her grip on him only tightened. “No, you are not. Block yourself off all you want, but I refuse to leave you until you decide to spill.” She reached up with her other hand, locking it with a strength no one would have guessed she had, had they not seen her throw one of her battle axes. “Is it Barbara?” Her voice was soft, careful. Shadowhunters knew loss.
Tears stung and sharpened his vision but he pushed them back hastily. Shaking his head again, he replied, “I suppose. That is only a part of it.”
The writer’s spark visibly ignited within her. Lucie’s eyebrows arched of their own accord. “Some special lady is causing you trouble?”
He chuckled lightly, but his heart wasn’t in it. “You’ve been spending too much time with Anna, I think.”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“It’s Alastair, actually,” he blurted, as if it had been wrenched from him. He clasped his free hand over his mouth. He hadn’t meant to say that. Lucie didn’t say anything, though, just pursed her lips and let her hands fall. Circulation began flowing again, which was nice, but a part of him had wanted more. A gasp, perhaps, or maybe some confusion. Definitely not the sad, final “oh” he received.
Wait. “Did you know?”
Lucie glanced away, fidgeting with her gloves. “Hmm?”
He rounded on her, and she turned her head, wincing. “Kind of?”
“Well, it explains a lot!”
The world was moving too fast. “It explains what, exactly?”
She was practically vibrating with the urge to tell. “Why he was crying!”
Thomas stopped short. His vocal cords felt strange and constricted. “He was crying.”
Her blue eyes darted hurriedly, finally resting on Grace in the corner with her green dress. She jerked her head venomously, and Lucie stood up, smoothing the fabric of her gown. “Well, I will leave you.” Her face held shadows of worry and sorrow. “Good luck, Thomas.” And with that, she was gone.
Thomas had never been so confused in his life.
It had been a full week since the engagement party and still Thomas could not sort himself out.
Alastair had, in effect, ruined Matthew’s life.
Alastair had also felt so badly about it he had cried, something Thomas had never seen him do nor did he wish him to do.
The twinge was not receding and yet the anger was.
Why was that, exactly? Why could Thomas never hold on to grudges? He had always been quick to forgive. But Alastair had hurt so many people by just repeating words that he did not even mean, people that meant so much more to Thomas than Alastair ever would.
One man was not worth the trouble. Not even if that man was so beautiful, so inescapably beautiful that if Thomas looked at him long enough he wanted to forgive him. Because when he did look at Alastair, only good memories flashed behind his eyes: Alastair in Paris, interested in what Thomas wanted to say. Alastair in the Academy, so cold to everyone but warm and gentle toward Thomas, never brushing him off or ignoring him like many people did just because he was so small. Alastair leaning against the counter while Thomas worked at the antidote, helping clean tables and passing him tools and carrying the conversation, laughing and smiling all the while until Thomas couldn’t help but smile too.
How can you be mad at someone who makes you feel like that?
Yet he had not seen much of Alastair, not really. Nobody had. According to Cordelia, he refused to leave the house. Once when Thomas had glanced up at the Carstairs residence in passing, he had seen the other boy at his desk, and he looked drawn and pale and not like Alastair at all.
When he was not near him, it became easy to be swallowed up in the anger, but one look and it dissipated and was replaced, instead, with pity and curiosity.
After one too many late nights spent in a fog of warring emotions, he decided to find out. It couldn’t hurt, right?
Thomas didn’t usually mind heat. Liked it, in fact. But this late summer day was a bit too hot. His face was flushed, which was surely due to the sun. He was breathing hard by the time he had arrived at the Carstairs house and knocked on the door. Again, the heat. It was a real bother.
A pretty woman in an apron answered the door. Thomas recognized her as Risa, the Carstairs’ servant. He’d never spent enough time around her to really garner an opinion, but she had always seemed kind. And she let him in, trying her best to keep a straight face as he smacked into the doorframe, so that was good too, he reminded himself as his face burned even more fiercely than before.
“Thomas Lightwood. I was looking for Alastair?” he said, viciously rubbing his forehead. She stared at him a moment before he realized his mistake. “Ahem. Mr. Carstairs. I’m here to see Mr. Carstairs.”
She stifled another laugh, but directed him wordlessly upstairs and down the hall to his door. As Risa left him to stand awkwardly on his own, she raised a doubtful eyebrow past her shoulder but said nothing.
“Alastair?” he called quietly, once Risa had disappeared to where she was (hopefully) out of earshot.
When there was no response, he knocked. Still nothing. Damn it.
“I’m just going to come in.”
No one moved behind the door, which Thomas took to mean that he was decent. Thoughts flew to his mind unbidden, and his cheeks darkened even further. He must look like a beet at this point, he thought, a tall, broad, humanoid sort of a beet, but a beet nonetheless.
What did he care what Alastair thought of him? His opinion no longer mattered.
Thomas decided to stop thinking and just opened the blasted door.
On second thought, he might have pushed a little too hard, because the door gave a bit too easily and he entered Alastair’s room tripping over himself and grabbing onto the nearest thing for support, which happened to be Alastair sitting at his desk.
By the Angel, was it hotter in here?
Alastair, to his credit, seemed perfectly unfazed. He simply glanced up, his eyes red-rimmed, from sleeplessness or tears, it was unclear. He looked completely exhausted, but upon seeing Thomas, clutching at his shirt, his face transformed, by pure habit, into an expression of disgust.
“What are you doing here, Lightwood?”
“I— I, um, sorry. I wanted to see you, I suppose,” Thomas stuttered out, standing up and trying very hard not to take note of the fact that Alastair was wearing neither jacket nor waistcoat, and his white button-down was quite thin, in terms of material.
“I thought you told me that if you saw me again, you would chuck me into a river.” He actually sounded angry. Not false, defensive anger like Thomas was used to — this was real annoyance, and Thomas hated how all his plans were stripped away just like that. All he wanted to do was have Alastair not be cross at him.
“I’m so sorry. I wasn’t thinking then. I do— I do miss you, Alastair.” His voice was inconveniently shaky. “I miss my friend.”
The embers behind the deep brown of his eyes softened and died away until it was just Alastair, vulnerable without the fire that usually burned so brightly, brightly enough that it was all that some people noticed.
Thomas had never seen such a sight.
“I thought you hated me.” His voice was quiet.
“I don’t hate you. I’m mad at you. There’s a difference.” Thomas swallowed. “I will never hate you.”
“And I never hated you. I’m not the only one who wasn’t thinking, Thomas. When I said those words— I never thought—” — he faltered, then forced himself to meet Thomas’s gaze— “I never thought that it would hurt you so greatly.”
“And Matthew,” he felt compelled to say. Alastair seemed ready to object, but after a moment decided it was better to agree.
“And Matthew.” He smiled crookedly, and Thomas was suddenly aware that he was towering over the other boy and took a seat opposite him.
There was still one thing he needed to ask, though.
“Excuse me?” The sneer was back, but Thomas could tell it didn’t mean anything.
“Why did you do it?” He spoke softly, but they both knew he wasn’t leaving without a response. The uneven thumping in his chest could stay as long as it wanted; it didn’t mean that he couldn’t be angry, or at least didn’t deserve answers. Even if he still wasn’t precisely sure what that thumping meant.
Alastair sighed and nested his head in his hands, fingers pulling at his hair. Thomas’s gaze was steely. When he spoke, his voice was muffled. “I have never told anyone this before. Cordelia only just knows.”
A part of him wanted to stop, wanted to not do anything to make him uncomfortable, but he had to quit being such a pushover. So he waited.
When Alastair did talk, he really talked. The story was extensive and difficult to hear — with his father and his “illness”, the trial, Charles. How he had carried the burden of Elias’s alcoholism on his own. How he had begun protecting himself before he was even hurt, how he used his attitude as a shield. How, when Clive Cartwright had been killed, he had begun to realize the serious consequences of his suit of armor but he had already gone in too deep. How he used Charles to escape, and how Charles had used him, and how love sometimes was just not enough to save two people.
It had started off as a form of protection and evolved into so much more. Into so much worse.
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
Thomas was pretty sure he’d heard that before.