“You were very lucky,” said Tessa Herondale. “You lost a fair amount of blood, but the wound wasn’t as bad as we feared and it will heal nicely, with time.”
Alastair had muzzily surfaced in the Institute infirmary - head aching, mouth cotton. Not so unlike the aftermath of drinking save for the strange, cool numbness about his chest, beneath a thick layer of clean white bandages. He’d touched them, clumsily. Tried to remember what had happened. Tried to sit up, whereupon the numbness immediately became a flare of pain and he’d curled over on his side with a bitten-off curse, one hand braced awkwardly beneath him, the other pressed to his chest as though the pain were something physical he could shove back in. It had been Mrs. Herondale, sorting through medicines on the bedside table, who had caught him by the shoulder and helped him lean back against the pillows, who had absently pressed a hand to his forehead as if he were her own son.
Now she poured him a glass of water and pressed it into his hands, waiting until she was sure he had a good grip and wouldn’t drop it. “With time, and with rest,” she said sternly, in a way that reminded him of his mother, and then her voice gentled. “You gave us quite a scare.”
Her kind, smiling face only served to sweep a wave of guilt over him, guilt so powerful Alastair’s hands clenched on the bedclothes to stop himself from wincing in shame. The things people had said about her and her family, not just the gossip of schoolboys at the Academy but in polite society...he had repeated them. Words meant to hurt. Cruel things, and hadn’t he so hated cruelty, when they were directed at him? Would she still treat him with such kindness if she knew the things he’d said?
He thought of Thomas’s eyes, dark with fury, and silently bit his tongue.
“I apologize for all the trouble,” Alastair said politely, and chose to drink his water instead of look at her.
“The Carstairs,” Tessa said, with a certain exasperated fondness. “Jem never liked being fussed over either. Don’t be ridiculous, Alastair, it’s hardly your fault you were injured. Besides, Cordelia and Lucie are to be parabatai ...you’re almost family.” Now the guilt was crushing. Tessa took up a mortar and pestle, and the guilt was offset by the sound of grinding herbs. There was amusement in her voice when she said, “You also gave Will a reason to call the Silent Brothers, which he quite enjoys.”
That struck Alastair as odd, but he had more pressing matters. “What about my sister, my mother? Have they been told?”
“Cordelia and Lucie are due back within the hour,” said Tessa. “We thought to hold off on disturbing Sona until we were more sure of your condition - it’s rather late.”
“Yes, thank you for that,” he murmured, steeling himself - and then attempted to drag himself out of bed. “I’d hate to worry her, what with the baby - ”
“Careful, Alastair!” Tessa exclaimed, and intercepted him. Really, Alastair thought dryly, in the part of his mind unoccupied by swimming static and the background ache of his healing wounds , it wasn’t as if he had gotten far.
“I have to go home,” he told her, trying not to grimace through the words. “Even if my mother doesn’t know yet, she will in the morning when I don’t return.”
“I cannot, in good conscience, allow you to leave the infirmary so soon,” Tessa said firmly. Her eyes were dark with open concern. “Certainly not in this state. Will you at least stay put until Cordelia returns? I’d feel better with her looking after you on your way home.”
Ordinarily Alastair might’ve protested that he was the one looking after Layla, rather than the other way around, but he supposed that particular argument would not hold up very well tonight. “Alright,” he relented, then hesitated. “Would it be possible for me to clean up before she comes back?”
He held out his hands for her to see - the dried blood beneath his fingernails and the remaining smears on his hands.
Tessa smiled. “If you promise not to attempt an escape, I think that can be arranged.”
She left, then, and the quiet of the infirmary settled in like a blanket. Alastair closed his eyes and absently pressed the heel of his palm against his chest in an attempt to circumvent the faint prickling pains, hissing when - ouch - it turned out to be a terrible idea. The infirmary door creaked and he opened his eyes to see -
“I’m sorry.” It was Charles Fairchild, looking pale and strangely lost. He stepped into the infirmary proper. “They said you were alright, but I had to make sure - ”
Stunned, Alastair let his hand drop. “You’re still here.”
Charles crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back against the wall by the door. There was a consternated little crease between his eyebrows. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
There were a myriad of reasons, and Alastair could have named them all, but instead he said mildly, “I thought you would have gone home. With your brother.”
“Matthew keeps his own rooms now,” Charles said, with the grimness of an older brother profoundly fed up with younger sibling antics. “He does what he wants. Even if I were inclined to drag him home, for our parents’ sakes, I wouldn’t have chosen tonight.” He straightened, let his arms drop, took a step forward but did not cross the room. The lost expression was back. “You were very badly hurt. Do you remember? I was there.”
Charles, his face white, don’t move, sweetheart; what did I say? Thomas with his stele, Thomas with his warm hands, Thomas carrying him. Look at me. Stay with me. Look -
“I remember,” he heard himself say. “What, were you worried?”
Charles stared at him. Oh, Alastair thought, a little uncomfortably, a little bemused.
“Was I worried,” Charles repeated flatly. “You bled all over me, and Thomas, and the carriage upholstery - ” He took a deep breath, cutting off whatever else he had been about to say. “Never mind that. I only came to see that you were alright, and now that I know, I think I should - ”
“Go,” Alastair said, not unkindly. “Yes, you should.”
The infirmary door opened. Both their heads jerked around in surprise, Charles taking a step away from the newcomer.
Thomas Lightwood looked slightly alarmed to be the subject of abrupt scrutiny. Alastair could have laughed; Thomas Lightwood, of all people. What a night. “I apologize,” he said, eyes flicking from Charles to Alastair. He was holding a basin of water, a washcloth draped over the edge, and had what looked to be a spare shirt folded over his arm. “I think I may have interrupted.”
“No, no,” Charles said, waving him off. He no longer looked lost or tired; there was that overbright demeanor, something slightly too shiny even subdued by the late hour. Most people wouldn’t have noticed, perhaps, but Alastair did. He had been in Paris. “I only popped in for a second. I’ll be leaving now. Rest up, Alastair. Goodnight.”
When the infirmary door shut behind Charles, it left just him and Thomas, and a very pointed, awkward silence.
“Well,” Thomas said after a moment, to no one in particular. “Right, then.”
He made his way to Alastair’s bedside, moving carefully so as not to slosh water over the basin rim.
“I do hope I won’t be thrown into the Thames for this,” Alastair said wearily. He was more drained than he thought if simple, civil conversation could leave him this tired. “As you can see, you’re coming near me, instead of the other way around.”
Thomas stopped dead. His expression was neutral, but for an instant Alastair saw a flash of some emotion he couldn’t place, and for that instant he cursed himself for bringing the matter up at all. Then it passed, and Thomas was carefully setting the basin down on the bedside table, laying the folded white shirt at the foot of the bed. “It does seem harsh to punish someone for not being to run away, doesn’t it,” he said. His tone was mild, but the words teetered on the edge of a joke. Alastair did not want to hope - about anything .
“Not for lack of trying,” said Alastair. He watched Thomas soak and wring out a washcloth. “Mrs. Herondale had me promise I wouldn’t attempt escape in her absence.”
Thomas gave him a look of incredulous exasperation. Better exasperation than cold fury, Alastair supposed. “I’m beginning to wonder whether you’re actually aware of the furrows the Morax dug into your chest.”
“Painfully aware,” Alastair said dryly, and managed a little smile when he noticed the twitch at the corners of Thomas’ mouth.
Thomas turned fully toward him, washcloth in hand. “Absolutely hilarious,” he said, with no hint of a smile. “Hold out your arm.”
Alastair blinked at him, at first uncomprehending. “You don’t…” he began, mortified by the idea. “I can manage.”
“Stop being daft,” said Thomas, still in that flat, mild tone.
“You hate me,” Alastair said blankly. “Why - ”
Thomas closed his eyes briefly, opening his mouth as though he were about to say something, then clearly changed his mind. “If you accidentally reopen your wounds, Aunt Tessa may kill me, and Cordelia, when she arrives.” He didn’t ask again, merely took Alastair’s left arm by the wrist and passed the damp washcloth over him, from shoulder to fingertip - turned his arm for a second pass. He scrubbed the washcloth clean in the basin of water, wrung it out, took Alastair’s hand again and quietly cleaned the blood from it while Alastair sat stunned and still.
He had gone to clean the washcloth again when he said, so quietly Alastair almost did not hear him, “I don’t hate you.”
Thomas dropped the washcloth and wheeled to face him, eyes flashing. “I don’t hate you, Alastair,” he said, and his voice was no longer the flat, mild thing it had been, but more raw, a turmoil of its own. “I’ve thought about it and yes, believe me, I am still livid, and some days I do rather want to pitch you into a river, but - I don’t hate you. I can’t, and I don’t know why.”
Alastair stared at him, at his sudden anguish.
Thomas took a deep breath, and scrubbed both hands over his face. “When Charles shouted for Matthew, and I turned to see you on the ground, I realized - ” He broke off, and his voice was steadier now. Quieter. “I know what I said, about knocking you into the Thames if you ever spoke to me again, but I realized that if I never got to speak to you again, I would regret it.”
He wrung the washcloth out, took Alastair’s other wrist and passed it over his arm in the same brisk, deft way, cleaned the blood from his hand. For one wild, baffling moment, Alastair thought that might be it, that the conversation had abruptly ended there.
Thomas said, “I’m still angry with you.”
The words hung in the air. Alastair waited.
“But I think I’m willing to hear you out, now. Not tonight,” he added, not unkindly, as Alastair opened his mouth. “Some other time. When you’re not healing from grave injury, perhaps.”
Alastair studied him. “You mean it,” he said, at last, and his voice came out smaller and more wondering than he had intended.
“I do,” Thomas agreed, and smiled at last. There was a touch of bitterness to it, but it was genuine, and it was there. “More’s the fool me, perhaps.”
“I disagree,” said Alastair, carefully, and did not look at him. “Kindness does not make you a fool.”
There was a pause. Thomas’s hand closed just above his wrist so they were pulse point to pulse point, and squeezed. “Get some rest, Alastair,” he said gently, and carried the basin away, leaving him in a silence that seemed far friendlier than it had before.