Chapter 1: After Livvy
“The Scholomance is under attack!”
The cry reverberated through the Institute and made Cristina jump out of her skin. Suddenly there were hurried footsteps rushing down the stairs and Ty and Kit burst into the library where they found Cristina on her own. The Blackthorns had returned to the Los Angeles Institute with Alec officially taking the helm after that fateful day at the Council Hall several weeks ago, however, it had become an eerily silent and lonely place since Livvy’s death with the siblings somehow dealing with their grief in isolation. Cristina had quietly assumed the role of cook and housekeeper to look after the family as it did not seem right to leave them on their own. Moreover, Julian and Emma were increasingly conspicuous by their absence from the house which seemed so out of character at first. However, Cristina had started to realise that for all she knew about Julian through Emma, she had never really gotten to know him. A few instances, which she had at first dismissed, now made her more and more apprehensive of Julian. Emma had once confessed that his ruthlessness in defending his family seemed almost frightening. However, the horrific events in Alicante seemed to have sent him over the edge. At first, he had locked himself away in his studio with apparently little thought for the wellbeing of his younger siblings. Then he had started to turn on Helen and Mark for their years of absence which seemed rather unjustified given the circumstances. Although evidently uncomfortable about the gradually more hostile arguments, it was clear that Emma would always take Julian’s side.
It was like Cristina had lost her only true friend and confidante in this city and she missed Emma badly. The younger girl would also have been one of the few non-Blackthorns in a house that was now crushed with grief. At least Ty had Kit who was the only person he allowed near him and the two of them had spent most days hidden away in Ty’s room. Helen and Aline had been there for the first few days, mainly looking after Tavvy and attempting to look after Dru who had become a bit of a rule to herself. Aline was obviously very concerned with what was happening at the Clave and spent more and more time back in Alicante. Her mother, the Inquisitor, was barely holding on to power but for once it was a blessing that change came slowly to the Clave. The Cohort had not managed to seize power quite yet not least because the Clave had deferred some assessment of the situation to the Scholomance with more of the younger scholars resisting the Cohort’s ideas than they appeared to have counted on.
Mark was the Angel knew where if not on the roof of the building. Every so often his angry screams would carry through the house and rattle everybody’s nerves. Cristina seemed unable to reach him and she could not shake the feeling that he desperately missed Kieran, the one person who had been there for him in the past. It made Cristina very uneasy about having sent Kieran away with Diego although she had at least had confirmation through Alec that the two of them had safely reached the Scholomance. Julian had seemed unduly annoyed when he found out and showed a sudden uncanny interest in Kieran, presumably due to the apparent link between the Unseelie King, Annabel and the Black Volume. So, eventually, everything had literally come to blows with Julian accusing Mark and Helen of abandoning the family. Mark had pushed Julian away from him during the aggressive confrontation only to be thrown across the room with a force unnatural even to a well-trained Shadowhunter like Julian. It left everybody shocked and speechless. This was five days ago and Julian and Emma had not been back since.
Cristina whipped around at the sudden noise and was out of her seat with her hand on a small dagger she had started to carry around with her. She wasn’t entirely sure why or what a little dagger would do if the Cohort should actually descend on the house. However, it made her feel marginally better. Now she found herself almost relieved by the break of the overwhelming silence although it was mixed with a cold sense of fear for Diego and Kieran. Suddenly, there was movement all over the house and within a minute the whole of the Blackthorn family bar Julian had assembled in the library. There were confused shouts and questions until Ty spoke again, calmly and clearly: “The Cohort are attacking the Scholomance.”
“How…” Cristina began but her words died on her lips before she finished constructing a question. The rest of the family just seemed to wait for Ty to explain which he duly did.
“I have been scanning messages for some time and it is clear that an attack is imminent. In fact, it might already be happening. I have alerted Alec and the Institutes that we know to be loyal to the Clave. Kit and I will be joining the Shadowhunters defending the Scholomance.”
Cristina only realised now that both boys were in full fighting gear. She had no idea what Ty had been talking about and how he knew what he professed to know but at this point she didn’t care. “Wait for me! I’m coming with you!” She shouted, already half way out of the room and up the stairs.
“So will I!” exclaimed Mark and followed her to get their gear and weapons. They could hear an ensuing argument between Helen and Dru about the younger girl not being allowed to leave with them but they were both so relieved to finally being able to do something as well as worried about Kieran more than anyone, that they paid no attention to it.
Somehow, Cristina was not surprised to find that at some point following the incidents with Malcolm, a secret portal had been installed in the Institute and that Ty knew about it.
Chapter 2: The Scholomance
Cristina, Mark, Ty and Kit arrived to utter chaos at the Scholomance. Jem and Alec were already there albeit without Tessa or Magnus who were presumably still too weak to be of any help in a fight. They were accompanied by Clary and Jace and Cristina recognised a few other Shadowhunters. However, what was shocking and confusing was what they encountered in the main hall after running up some stairs and narrow hallways, following the sound of screams and shouting mixed with clanging metal. The hall was full of Centurions and they were fighting each other. Cristina was momentarily confused and disoriented until it dawned on her that some Centurions were defending the Scholomance whilst others, some of whom she knew from Zara Dearborn’s entourage, were fighting to seize control of it. They were out for blood. It was hard to distinguish friend from foe, however, Ty seemed to follow some inherent intuition or knowledge which made the rest of them follow his lead. More Shadowhunters arrived to the apparent surprise of the Cohort Centurions. The group of Blackthorns were quickly drawn into vicious fighting and Cristina noticed Kieran side by side with Diego, however, they barely had time to acknowledge each other. The mayhem seemed to go on forever all the while an obviously senior Centurion shouted at the Cohort to lay down their weapons as they were contravening Shadowhunter law and killing their own brethren. When some of the fighters looked like they were finally willing to follow his orders and lay down their weapons, Manuel launched for the senior Centurion and stabbed him right through the heart. All hell broke lose with incredulous shouts of anger and surprise, some following Manuel’s example and throwing themselves more viciously into the fight whilst others threw down their weapons and raised their hands above their heads in surrender. Mark had disarmed Manuel and was ready to deliver a fatal blow when another fighter ripped an ornamental flagstaff from the wall and brought it down towards Mark’s head from behind. Cristina, who was only positioned a couple of feet away, screamed and threw herself against Mark to get him out of the way. However, whilst the metal pole did not crush his head, Cristina felt the impact on Mark’s body above her before they both fell to the ground. Mark, briefly knocked out by the blow, was unable to get back on his feet. Cristina scrambled to get up and tried to support him to get away from the fighting.
Somebody grabbed Cristina’s free arm and hissed urgently: “Come with me!” She whipped around and looked into the dark face of a hooded Centurion. She recognised the gear although it was older and more worn-looking than the pristine uniforms of the young Centurions they had met in Los Angeles. Although she could not see his face, Cristina could make out from the way he spoke and held himself that this was a much older man. He pulled at her arm. Cristina looked back into the room. The sound of shouting and weapons clanging was frightening. The momentum seemed to slowly turn in favour of the loyal Shadowhunters although it was hard to tell. Kieran was with the Centurion and now flung Mark’s arm around his shoulders. Cristina was relieved of not having to support his weight alone and eventually let go as it was clear that Kieran could manage by himself. Mark seemed barely conscious, a big bruise blooming at the right side of his face. She glanced at the two boys and, not for the first time, wondered how many times they had done this for each other. How familiar the strengths and weaknesses of their bodies must be to each other. How evenly matched they appeared, how dedicated to each other. Like parabatai. They followed the Centurion into a narrow corridor which seemed to disappear into the darkness. The older man had all but vanished and Cristina started to hurry after him. Mark groaned in protest as he was whisked along by Kieran. He was trying to stay upright and to use his legs which continued to buckle under him. Cristina was yet again surprised by Kieran’s apparent strength. The slight faerie pulled Mark along swiftly, following Cristina. Along many twists and turns, hidden doorways, secret stairwells and endless corridors, they seemed to make their way into the heart of the mountain, the fighting all but a faint noise growing more and more distant. The air grew cooler and the walls of the corridor became rougher and more and more sparsely lit by the occasional witchlight. After what seemed like an hour, the Centurion stopped in a particularly dark patch of corridor and appeared to be swallowed up by the wall. Cristina stopped involuntarily and had to force herself to walk up to the spot slowly. She began to raise her seraph blade when she noticed the man in a small cave-like opening, laying both hands against the far wall. Suddenly, the wall seemed to disappear and the Centurion stepped through the entrance into a dimly illuminated room beyond. The man reappeared next to her and gave her a start. As if he had suddenly remembered them, he swiftly moved towards Kieran and helped him carry Mark, who had sagged to his knees, into the room.
“You’ll be safe here,” he declared. “Bolt the door from the inside - although very few know of this shelter and even fewer know how to open the door. You’ll have what you need.” And with that, he ushered Cristina inside, turned and was gone.
Kieran lowered Mark not all that gently to the floor. He looked around and went to bolt the door as instructed. Cristina dropped to her knees next to Mark, who lay motionless on the cold stone. She was reminded of another strange rescue and Kieran unconscious on the floor. But there was no faerie healer here, no magical healing potion.
Kieran was observing her and said impatiently: “I suggest you use that stick of yours.” He knew perfectly well what it was called, she thought, too exhausted to argue.
Cristina pulled out her stele and began drawing healing runes on Mark’s pale skin which was glistening with sweat regardless of being too cold to the touch. Apart from the bruise and some blood on his face and down his neck, he did not have any obvious injuries but Cristina had heard and felt the impact of the lance on his head and shoulder and she was worried about the damage it had done. For the first time, she now also noticed a slash across the side of his thigh through the gear. The wound did not appear deep but it was still oozing blood.
“Help me get his gear off,” she instructed without looking at Kieran who only hesitated a moment before kneeling down by Mark’s side and lifting him up to allow Cristina to pull off his jacket and rip away the bloodied T-shirt. She carefully examined his bones and muscles and suspected that his collarbone was broken. It was possible that he had also suffered a concussion and Cristina carefully drew another rune on his shoulder. The bone appeared to slowly realign itself and Mark’s breathing became less erratic and shallow. She then sliced his trouser leg open further and applied another rune to his thigh. Satisfied with her work, Cristina straightened up and looked around for the first time. She went to the witchlight to get more light and the cavernous space turned out to be a lot bigger than she expected. They were in a roughly rectangular space with three plain bunkbeds either side. Beyond a wide, open doorway was a smaller room with a basic kitchen unit and what seemed to be something of a medical station with a hospital bed.
“Let’s put Mark on the bed,” she directed Kieran and went to grab Mark’s feet. Again, Kieran hesitated slightly, not used to be ordered around. Then he slid his hands under Mark’s naked torso and together they carried his limp body and laid it down on the bed.
“Can you look for some clean clothes for him whilst I get some cloths and check out the medical supplies?” It was a good excuse but the truth of the matter was that she was too embarrassed to undress Mark - even now, even though she had just tended to his injuries. Maybe it was because of Kieran. Maybe it was because her heart began to flutter when she looked at Mark’s wrist which still showed faint signs of the binding spell they had shared.
Kieran obliged silently. She could hear him rummaging around in a cupboard by the door whilst she explored the room she was in. It was smaller than the first but filled with cupboards all around as well as leading to a third room. The latter was a spacious shower room and bathroom with more cupboards containing mainly towels. She grabbed one and went back into the kitchen-like room, catching an involuntary glimpse of Mark’s naked body which shot a spark through her chest. She could feel herself blush and quickly turned around to busy herself with the rest of the cupboards which contained an array of dried and tinned food as well as bottled water. This clearly was an emergency shelter, stocked to allow for a substantial time of occupancy for maybe up to 10 people. She found some clean cloths and antiseptic and checked from the corner of her eyes whether Mark was decent again. Kieran had found some loose-fitting trousers which were probably part of a training outfit. Cristina was pretty sure that he hadn’t bothered with underwear and immediately scolded herself for the thought. She felt a hot flush creeping into her face and angrily set about cleaning the blood off Mark’s face and neck. She checked that he was responsive and then proceeded to give him some painkillers she had found and he seemed to slide into an exhausted sleep almost instantly.
All the while, Kieran had sat cross-legged on the bed by Mark’s feet like a cat. A cat sitting by its chosen human’s legs, apparently dozing but fully alert under the still exterior, ready to pounce. The boys’ legs were touching but that was the only sign of affection or care that Kieran was displaying. His head was bent, his long hair hiding his face. Cristina looked at him properly for the first time since they had left the fighting.
“You are bleeding,” she stated with some surprise. She went to brush the hair out of his face to get a better look but stopped self-consciously at the last moment. The faerie prince did not look up.
“You ought to treat your own wounds before concerning yourself with me,” he muttered tonelessly. Surprised, she lifted a hand to her face, realising that her nose had been bleeding and then noticing a nasty cut along her forearm. Her hands began to shake, now that the shock and violence of the fight finally began to catch up with her. She momentarily felt her legs grow weak and she quickly moved to the sink, supporting herself for a moment whilst steadying her breath and fighting back the panic. She could feel the fear creeping up and numbing her body; the fear for the friends they had left behind. The all-encompassing fear which had threatened to overwhelm her lately of a world in which the Cohort came to rule and the Unseelie King waged a war against them all.
Chapter 3: Faeries and Shadowhunters
Cristina focused on her breathing and she felt the veil of panic lift slowly. She loosened her grip on the sink and watched the trembling in her fingers subside. She was ok. They were winning the battle. They were safe – for now. She let out a deep breath and drew an iratze on her arm, watching the cut knit together. She wet a clean cloth and walked back to Kieran who had not moved an inch. His demeanour stopped her from touching him. She was unsure what to do and stood frozen when he began to speak in a soft but steady voice.
“How frail your bodies are,” he said in wonderment. It was an odd statement coming from this skinniest of boys. But Cristina knew better. Frail was the last thing Kieran was. It did not seem as if he would say any more, when he continued: “I wish for the world to be different; for Shadowhunters and faeries to be different. Your people are no better than mine in their mindless hatred. Mark is one of yours and one of mine but he does not belong anywhere. Nor do I.” A heavy silence emanated from him before he continued in much rawer, more humanlike speech. “I could have lost Mark today. Again. And I was unable to save him. If it had not been for you, he would be dead. You saved his life with no regard for your own body. You could have been killed yourself. I am glad you did not get more seriously hurt. Selfishly, I am glad Mark is still here with me and I wish we could just go away together and be like we were before. Yet, I wish I would not need him like I do. I wish I could forsake him for his own good. I cannot do what I must do, worrying about him. He is everything I have in this world.”
Cristina’s heart ached at the pain in his voice. Still she caught at the words that had formed in her mind. However, she could not stop looking at him and it made her feel how she knew she should not. He looked so utterly lost and hopeless. What must it be like to have nobody left, nowhere to go, everybody wanting you dead. She had not really thought about it before because he had always seemed so aloof. Maybe his demeanour was nothing but a survival strategy after all, imposed by circumstance. She could not help the words escaping:
“You have me.”
He slowly lifted his head and looked at her with blank eyes. She realised with a jolt that here was a man who had resigned himself to whatever fate was his but who would face it head on. He abruptly took hold of her wrist and pulled her towards him. She landed in his lap and felt his arms wrapping around her tightly as he buried his head against her chest. She could feel her heart quickening in surprise. Was it hard to breathe because he held her so tightly? Or was it his proximity? His smell was wild and alluring as she remembered it from the ballroom. She buried her hands in his impossibly silky hair and rested her cheek on his head. She was aware of his hair repeatedly changing colour, shimmering different shades of black, blue and dark green in the light. Her heart was beating hard as his hands pulled her ever closer to him, like a drowning man gripping hold of a life raft. She could feel his ragged breathing.
Eventually, he began to lift his head. If she had expected tears, she saw nothing but probing eyes, boring into hers. She thought her heart would stop. Her eyes slid to the beautiful curve of his mouth and before she fully comprehended what was happening, he had carefully slid a hand under her hair around the back of her neck and slowly pulled her down. She felt his lips lightly brushing hers, cool and soft and gentle. A little sound escaped her chest, too startled to pull back at first, then heat and a tingling, irresistible desire spreading through her body like wildfire and she tentatively kissed him back. They were barely touching and it was almost agonisingly beautiful before his lips moved more firmly against hers and she felt herself melt into him. Bit by bit, she felt reality slipping from her and naked desire taking over. Never had she felt so much passion in a kiss. He tasted of an impossible freedom, of the air and stars, of wild nature. No wonder Mark could not let him go if this was what kissing a faerie was like. Kieran shifted her in one smooth movement, so that she was straddling him, her body pressed firmly against his, feeling its heat and yearning. She wanted to protest and stop him, stop herself; but all she managed was a surprised gasp. His eyes were still examining her, although his gaze had lost focus. His hands roamed over her body and she felt like she had completely succumbed to a tantalising spell, wanting nothing more than to slide her hands under his shirt and feel his naked skin. Her mind was desperately fighting the urge but it was slowly losing out to her body. She fought for control and, finally, managed to press both hands against his chest, panting hard.
“This is not what I meant,” she gasped. He looked puzzled. She added under her breath: “That you have me. Not like this.”
Kieran drew back, all composed arrogance in an instant and it was like all warmth began to seep from her body.
“You can’t deny that you desire me. Like I desire you.”
“But…why? I don’t understand. I know you still love Mark and I… I cannot separate matters of the heart from physical want like you might. I… I can’t.” She wanted to get off him, to extract herself from the situation. From his body, lean and wanting against hers. But he wouldn’t let her.
“So your heart does not care about me?”
She struggled for words. He seemed to pinpoint every thought as it entered her mind. She felt trapped and finally succeeded in pushing herself away and virtually jumped off the bed. He still sat in the same position, seemingly unperturbed, completely in control. His eyes followed her with a cool expression.
She felt tears of confusion and frustration prick at the back of her eyes. She sank down on a chair next to the bed.
“I don’t understand,” she whispered and hid her face, ashamed of her warring feelings.
Kieran did not move but she could almost feel his eyes on her. When he spoke, he did not sound unkind.
“Why do you fight these feelings? There is nothing wrong with desire. And there is nothing wrong with love. I did not think my heart generous enough to embrace two people, and humans at that. But it does. Your heart is much bigger than mine and I know that somehow it has made a space for me, maybe not as big as the space it reserves for Mark but I am proud and honoured to share your heart with him.”
Cristina looked at Kieran in amazement, speechless. How could this prince of faerie she barely knew, know her own heart so much better than she did herself. And what if it was true?
“I just don’t want anybody to get hurt,” Cristina said feebly. “I don’t want to hurt Mark.” She searched his perplexing eyes. “And I don’t want to hurt you either.”
Kieran stood up with inhuman grace and moved towards her. However, as he did so, Mark stirred as if feeling the loss of the comforting contact. His eyes fluttered open and he looked groggily around. “Kier…,” he muttered, rising panic in his eyes until they found Kieran. Kieran turned and bent over Mark. “I’m here, my love. Would you like some water?”
Cristina felt like she was trespassing a most intimate moment. It was such a simple exchange of gestures and words, yet it revealed the depth of their care for each other – in spite of everything that had happened. It was plain for anyone to see that their love was still very much alive regardless of what they might have told each other and themselves. She wished she had that kind of relationship with someone. Kieran had straightened up but was now looking at her and she realised he was looking for water and unsure where to find it. As if torn from a dream, Cristina sprang up and went to grab one of the bottles of water she had found earlier. Kieran took it gratefully and helped Mark drink. They exchanged a few whispered words before Kieran sat down on the bed next to Mark and watched him until he had gone back to sleep.
Without looking at her, Kieran spoke. “How would love hurt if it is shared equally?”
It took her a moment to figure out what he was saying only to puzzle over what he was suggesting. Moreover, despite being a woman, Cristina was entirely unaccustomed to discussing her innermost emotions so openly.
“In my experience, love or desire sooner or later always hurt somebody if more than two people are involved.” It came out more bitterly than she had intended but it was the truth after all.
Kieran trained his eyes back on her in that unnerving way of his. “I am sorry that is your experience. I had not known love…only desire, before I met Mark and I cannot deny that I was hurt by his feelings for you.” He looked away and she thought he must be remembering how he almost lost Mark over his acts of jealousy. The Angel knew how he had tried to make up for it since. “But when I search my heart, I cannot find these feelings in me anymore. It is your kindness that both Mark and I are longing for, having so rarely experienced it before.”
Again, Cristina was lost for words. He spoke with a disarming certainty about such complex emotions and she felt like he was not only referring to the Hunt but to a life much further back. And maybe not only his own childhood but Mark’s as well. She wanted to touch him, comfort him but she was too confused and upset by how he made her feel.
It must have been late at night by now although it was hard to tell in their underground refuge. Cristina suddenly felt drained and wanted nothing more but to lie down and sleep although she was not sure that sleep would come because of the worry for everybody else. She hadn’t meant to but she sighed audibly. She felt she had to respond somehow, acknowledge Kieran baring his soul. She hesitatingly moved over to him and gently laid a hand on his arm.
“I need to rest,” she declared simply. Realising that she would have to move into the bigger entrance area on her own if she wanted a bed, she hesitated.
“I do not want to be alone right now,” she whispered. After a moment, Kieran reclaimed his position at the bottom of the bed and indicated for Cristina to lie down next to Mark. The bed was wide enough, so she took off her boots and climbed onto the bed. She found it a strangely comforting thought to sleep whilst being watched over by Kieran.
Chapter 4: Leaving
Cristina could hear water running in the showers. She was somehow drawn to the sound and quietly went to investigate. Her eyes found a slender but muscular male form standing under a steaming hot stream of water. His naked back was turned towards her, his hands leaning against the wall, head bent, long hair covering his face like a curtain. That hair. It was mesmerising, shimmering in various shades of blue to the most shocking black which seemed to absorb all light like a black hole. Cristina watched in stunned silence until her eyes wandered down his body, watching his muscles move ever so slightly. She felt a sudden rush of butterflies in her belly. She wanted to reach out and touch but felt unable to move.
Eventually, Kieran turned his head and looked at her. When she didn’t move, he turned his whole body towards her, causing a hot flush creeping into her cheeks. He slowly closed the distance between them, all dripping wet surrounded by a mist of hot steam. His beauty was breath-taking and there was only a dim thought at the back of her mind whether some sort of faerie glamour played tricks on her mind. His iridescent hair framed his face and shoulders. He stopped in front of her, so close she could feel the heat emanating from his body. He did not touch her but instead seemed to taunt her with his nakedness. He started to smirk as strong arms wrapped around her from behind and Mark folded her into an embrace.
Cristina woke with a start and it took her a while to assess her surroundings. She was still lying on the hospital bed, alone, curled up on her side, fully dressed, the way she had fallen asleep. She turned around, confused, and saw Mark and Kieran standing in the room.
Mark’s body language betrayed anger. “I told you before to stop doing that. Yes, I was grateful for a dream but don’t mess with my mind!” he scolded.
Realisation painfully stabbed through Cristina’s heart. She sat up. “Is that what you do?!” Embarrassment mingled with rage inside her. Mark shot her an alarmed look before he turned back to Kieran. “You made her dream, too?! Of you?”, he asked, incredulity mixed with dismay in his voice. Kieran looked at him defiantly. Mark swallowed and added more quietly, “…and me?!”
Kieran looked away with blazing eyes. “I don’t control your dreams!”
Mark swore in faerie and raked his hands through his hair, avoiding Cristina’s indignant glare. Meanwhile, Cristina had moved towards them and stood in front of Kieran. Before she could stop herself, she slapped him hard. He looked at her with a mixture of pain and surprise, wanting to protest but she cut him off. “You don’t manipulate people you allegedly love! By the Angel, you act like an impatient child for someone with hundreds of years to live!”
Anger twisted the faerie’s beautiful features into something rather more ugly and scary. It was as if a dark curtain had come down in the room. “I don’t expect to have the kind of lifespan you are referring to. Neither do you!” He almost spat out the last words. Cristina felt as if the force of his words pushed her physically backwards and she was momentarily reminded of the Unseelie King. Mark appeared more used to Kieran’s temper. He seemed ready for a fight when a sudden bang from the shower room made them all jump.
The three of them exchanged a quick glance and moved as a unit. Mark and Cristina threw on gear jackets and pulled out seraph blades whilst Kieran had found a spear which looked like it was made of ivory. They checked their surroundings where nothing had changed, and slowly moved to the room at the back where the noise had come from. They covered each other entering the room, quickly checking all corners. There was nobody there. The bang came again and suddenly, the three of them noticed a flicker on the far wall, half-hidden behind shelves. Cristina silently cursed herself for not having checked their surroundings more thoroughly when they arrived. There was, in fact, a screen at the side of the wall and they could see a hooded figure apparently waving at them from outside their hiding place. There was no sound but Cristina could now clearly see the voice-response system connected to the screen. She pressed a button and they could hear some frustrated muttering.
“Who are you?” Kieran demanded imperiously, making Cristina jump and let go of the button. The figure instantly stilled and dropped his hood. It was Jace Herondale.
Mark shoved the other two away and pressed the button again.
“Jace!” he said. “How did you find us?”
“Too complicated to explain,” Jace said impatiently. “You need to get out of there now and come with me!”
“We don’t know how to get out!”
“Apparently a Shadowhunter can open the door from the inside like any Institute door. Cristina, if you’re there, I suggest as the only full-blooded Shadowhunter in there, you try it. No offense, guys!”
“There is not even a door here!”
“Yes, there is. Just trust your instinct.”
Cristina stepped closer to the wall whilst the boys stood aside. She put her hands to the wall, closed her eyes and said the words in her mind. Almost instantly, part of the wall slid aside virtually soundlessly. Cristina was amazed and again scolded herself for being so careless with their environs last night. It was Mark who nearly ran out of their shelter and pulled a startled Jace into a bearhug whilst Kieran looked on blankly. Jace quickly urged them on and they followed him through more long, dark tunnels which reminded Mark uncomfortably of another meeting with Jace many years ago when he was left behind, utterly alone and distraught in just such a tunnel. He could not wait to get out of this place and was relieved when he first smelled the fresher air which had a whiff of sea. He was therefore not surprised when the path eventually widened and opened out onto a small pebbly beach, enclosed by sheer cliffs. Gwyn was there to meet them with three of the Hunt’s horses. Kieran was the last to emerge from the tunnel, taking in the scene and nodding to Gwyn silently. Whilst Mark spoke to Gwyn and Jace and Cristina stood by catching their breaths after the fast trek through the tunnels, Kieran quietly communicated with his steed, Windspear, suddenly swung himself onto his back and rode off into the sky without another word. The three Shadowhunters looked after him speechlessly, whereas Gwyn seemed to have expected nothing else.
Chapter 5: Unbalanced Pieces
Chapter title from Soulsavers album "Broken"
The Shadowhunters had managed to defend the Scholomance’s independence but the world of Nephilim soon started to be rocked by attacks on their institutions. The words of the Seelie Queen had become true and the Unseelie King had all but declared war on Shadowhunters. The Cohort and the Clave were forced to put their differences aside – at least for now – and reconsider their alliances. Wolves and Vampires did their best at sitting on the fence when they seemed to gain so little from joining the fight whilst most warlocks were affected by the Blight to varying degrees. After all, it was the Seelie Queen who held the balance of power.
Mark had disappeared shortly after the battle at the Scholomance and Cristina was sure that he had followed Kieran into Faerie. Meanwhile, Alec and Magnus moved into the Los Angeles Institute as it was simply easier to look after its affairs that way. More importantly, Alec did not want their little boys, Rafe and Max, or Magnus in Alicante with the Blight spreading in Idris and making the warlock worse. In the Institute at least, the boys had a playmate in Tavvy and a few adults to look after them. Simon and Isabelle came to stay for some time, if only to provide some moral support for Alec. He was worried sick about Magnus who looked like a ghost and was hardly able to get up most days. It was a frightening sight and Rafe and Max were kept away from their adoptive father as much as possible. Cristina liked to look after the boys, especially Rafe, who still loved that he could speak Spanish with her. With less connections to the rest of the Blackthorn family, Cristina found herself spending more time with Alec who was grateful that he could share some of the work with her as well as Aline who continued to split her time between Idris and L.A. Eventually, Alec even asked Cristina to take his place at a Clave meeting as he did not want to leave Los Angeles for fear that he might not be there if Magnus died.
The Clave was discussing the position of the Seelie Queen and whether she was to be trusted to ally with Nephilim against the Unseelie. It was clear to Cristina and a minority of Shadowhunters that, after years of the Cold Peace, the Queen would have to be courted and that the Clave was not really in a position to make demands. Aline did her best to argue the point but even after weeks of attacks and fighting, it was difficult to convince the Cohort of the benefits of negotiation.
When she returned from Alicante, Cristina found Mark standing in her room, staring out of the window. Her heart did a somersault and proceeded to beat in her throat when he turned around and looked at her. There was so much sadness and wariness in his eyes that she dreaded to hear anything he would have to say. She slowly moved towards him and they hugged. It was not the romantic gesture that she had liked to imagine only a little while ago. Too many things weighed on their minds. Mark looked utterly exhausted and he let himself be led to the bed, sinking down on it with a dejected expression. He didn’t talk for a long time but instead just curled up and put his head in Cristina’s lap. Mark had his eyes closed and Cristina thought he would just go to sleep, so it almost made her jump when he eventually did speak.
“Adaon is dead.”
Cristina hadn’t known Kieran’s brother well but she had sensed an integrity about him that any of the other Unseelie she had encountered had lacked. And she knew that Kieran had respected and probably cared about him like he had about none of his other brothers. Her heart grew heavy. Kieran would feel that it was his fault because of the fateful encounter with Erec. But Mark had more bad news.
“The Unseelie King has somehow managed to detain Annabel and it only seems a question of time until he will get a hold of the Black Volume.” Mark’s voice was devoid of inflection but the implication of the words was unthinkable. However, it seemed the final bit of news weighed most heavily on his heart.
“Kieran…is with the Seelie Queen.”
To her surprise, Cristina felt a pang of jealousy and her mind resisted the implication.
“What do you mean?” she asked hesitantly.
“He has become the Queen’s Consort.” Mark sighed heavily. “The Queen still wants him to act as her envoy and negotiate with the Clave, however, they are both pursuing their own goals. The Seelie Queen wants the Black Volume; Kieran wants his father dead more so than ever and he has found a couple of his brothers who share this goal. The Queen is only too happy to support them but those brothers just want the Unseelie throne for themselves.”
After a heavy pause, he added: “Kieran is playing a very dangerous game.”
Mark rolled onto his back and looked up at Cristina. He was beautiful like this, his features delicate, his pointed ears visible as his blond hair spread out underneath him across her blue jeans, his bi-coloured eyes focused on her. Cristina wanted to touch him so badly and share some peace and comfort even if only for a brief moment. He slowly lifted himself up and before she could think about it too much, they were kissing. It was like a spark lighting a fire deep inside of her, beneath the armour that had hardened around her heart. She was in Mark’s arms, kissing, digging her fingers into his wild hair, feeling his hands on her, wanting him to touch her, to be closer. She could feel his heart beating hard against hers and they started pulling at each other’s clothes, trying to get closer to each other, closer...
The door flew open and Rafe stormed in, followed by Helen who spoke breathlessly: “Cristina…Rafe said he saw…” They all stopped in their tracks and stared at each other for a split second before Mark was off the bed, standing in front of Helen, shielding the half-undressed Cristina from her view. Somehow, he had managed to throw his shirt back on but his embarrassment was nonetheless palpable. Helen pretended not to notice and drew her brother into a hug.
“We were so worried,” she murmured at his neck and held him tight, her eyes closed, before she let him go, grabbed Rafe’s hand and ushered the little boy outside.
“Come now. You can talk to Mark in a minute. Let’s just give these two some privacy.” Cristina caught a glimpse of an equally confused looking Max at the door, piping up “Where is the faerie with the funny hair?” whilst he was being turned away. Cristina had drawn the sheets up around her but had otherwise remained still and was truly thankful for Helen saving the situation. She looked at Mark who now stood with his back to her, raking a hand through his hair.
It was funny really, a little slapstick moment. However, any feeling of mirth evaporated as Cristina was reading Mark’s body language.
“Mark!” she said softly. He did not turn around and realisation hit her. His behaviour since Livvy’s death and his distance towards her suddenly made sense. She slipped her camisole on and walked over to Mark, wrapping her arms gently around him from behind.
“Stop punishing yourself,” she whispered. “Life has been hard enough on you. You have a right to a little love and happiness, too.”
“Do I? How?” He sounded exasperated and turned out of her embrace to look at her. “How can there be anything like happiness in this world? Nothing makes sense. Everything is chaos and pain…” He trailed off and Cristina was hurting for him. She cupped his head in her hands and tenderly pulled him back towards her. She was only a little shorter than him and Mark let his head sink onto her shoulder as he held on to her tightly.
“I just can’t”, he muttered tonelessly. “I’m sorry. All I see is Livvy. And Julian. And Kieran. He will die, Cristina. And he doesn’t care.”
There was nothing to say. All she could do was hold him. And hope that things would change.
Chapter 6: Change has come
Chapter title: Screaming Trees
“It’s like we are fighting an invisible enemy,” Alec was tired and weary. Mark and him had just returned from another mission into faerie to find and fight a small band of Unseelie who had attacked and destroyed the Brussels Institute. However, they had found nobody to fight.
“The only good thing is that the Cohort has had to realise that things are not black and white and we have allies in faerie without whom Shadowhunters would be all but destroyed by now.” He looked at Mark and Helen who had started to act as scouts and negotiators between Shadowhunters and the Seelie. It was a rare occasion when virtually all inhabitants of the Institute were gathered around the dinner table – Julian and Emma being the glaring exception. Alina was back from Alicante, Ty and Kit had come from the Scholomance to exchange news. The kids had finished their food and were playing a strange form of tag around the house. Only Magnus remained in his room, too weak to come downstairs.
“The Unseelie are distracted,” Mark added darkly. “There are some renegade groups who have seen an opportunity to make their move on the throne.” Cristina looked at him but he did not meet her eyes. She wondered whether this was Kieran’s making to weaken the Unseelie King and avert attention from the Shadowhunters.
“Any news of Annabel?” Dru asked Alec and Mark. She had grown up a lot and she had joined her first battle, successfully defending the Ottawa Institute. She was becoming her own person, making her own decisions and whether Helen liked it or not, there was little she had been able to do about it in this new world. However, Dru at least seemed to have realised that battles were not something to throw yourself into just for the sake of it.
Alec looked at Mark who looked uncomfortable. “We think she is still with the Unseelie King but we don’t really know whether she is bound there or not and what her powers are.”
“I thought she said that she knows the Unseelie King’s true name? Does that not give her power?”
“It does,” Mark conceded reluctantly. “But the King is a very old being and possesses great magic himself. It might be a bit of a stalemate.”
“The King needs the Black Volume to get rid of Annabel but even he does not seem to know how to get it off her. So, he’s either holding her by force or he has something she wants,” Ty observed dryly.
“Maybe it is just their mutual hatred of the Shadowhunters that makes them allies,” Kit muttered darkly.
“I don’t think they are allies,” said Ty.
If it wasn’t for the content of their conversation, this would be a lovely family get together, Cristina thought. Everybody was happy to see each other; happy that the people present were alive and well. She realised that she was tired and had tuned out of the conversation when she felt a strange surge of energy as if she had been intravenously injected with coffee. She quickly looked around the table but nobody else seemed to have sensed anything – apart from Max who suddenly stopped in the middle of his game and ran over to Alec, wanting a cuddle. He was probably too young to realise the source of what he’d felt but Cristina knew without knowing how that Kieran was in the house. She slowly got up and muttered an excuse. She wandered into the corridor aimlessly, not sure where to go. The connection to Kieran was very different to what the binding spell with Mark had been like but it was there nonetheless. However, she knew it wouldn’t lead her to him, so she moved around the house, trying to feel or hear something…anything. Eventually, she found herself in the living quarters, looking into her own room, then Mark’s, but encountered nothing. She stepped back into the corridor and suddenly noticed a movement which made her whip around just as the other person was doing the same. She hardly recognised Kieran. His hair was a wild mess of colour – blue, black, white and even a coppery glint which she had never seen before. Yet, most startling were the fine black lines all across his face and neck like cracked porcelain. She involuntarily took a stunned step backwards but even as she was staring at him, his skin and hair had smoothed itself out in a way that made her think she had been mistaken in the first place. Kieran looked at her with a dark challenge in his eyes, as if knowing that she could stop him but that she had better not dare try. Cristina remained frozen in place whilst Kieran pulled the hood of his black cape over his head, turned and walked away without a word.
Cristina realised with a start that she was standing near Magnus’ door where Kieran must have come from. Suddenly frightened, she rushed into Magnus room without knocking but came to a stunned halt once more when she noticed him by the window. It was a surprise to say the least, given that she had hardly seen him out of bed during the last weeks. In fact, he looked better than he had done in a long time.
“Was Kieran just here?” she burst out.
“Yes.” Magnus had turned around and looked at her distractedly if not unkindly.
“Did…did he hurt you?” she stuttered.
“No.” There was an air of impatience around Magnus. “No, he didn’t hurt me.” Confusion held Cristina in place, so he added: “But I’d rather not involve you in any of this.” He was verbally showing her the door.
“Ok,” Cristina muttered reluctantly. “It’s just…” Magnus expression stopped her. She sensed that he needed to be alone. “Ok,” she said again and left the room.
Chapter 7: Smokestack Magic
Chapter title by Mark Lanegan from the album "No Bells On Sunday"
An unearthly scream tore through the Institute walls. Cristina was on her feet before she was even fully awake and it took her a moment to root herself in the present. Mark had untangled himself from the sheets on the floor next to her bed and was already out of the door, seraph blade in hand. Cristina grabbed her balisongs and followed. They were soon joined by Helen and Dru in the corridor, Helen whispering: “I think it came from the Sanctuary.” Ty and Kit appeared behind them, both coming from Ty’s room and despite the hour, looking somewhat flushed, Cristina vaguely noted. Aline was away and Tavvy was obviously staying in Helen’s room as she had gestured for him to stay and lock the door.
When they reached the Sanctuary, they found Alec in front of its doors, a crying Max in his arms. However, to their surprise, he made no attempt to enter the room itself. He raised a calming hand towards them.
“Magnus asked me not to go in here under any circumstances,” he said quietly although his calm exterior could not hide the tension in his whole body. “Follow me,” he added and guided a reluctant group of Shadowhunters towards the library.
“What’s going on?” Helen demanded suspiciously.
Alec sat down with Max, trying to comfort the little boy who was whining for “Mags”, his name for “Magnus” which he found difficult to say. It definitely worked better than “mum” what he had initially called the warlock to differentiate from “daddy” for Alec. It had amused Magnus who had dryly commented one morning when Alec was making breakfast in an apron over his boxer shorts: “I certainly find it interesting that the boys consider me the more feminine part in this relationship.”
Alec was clearly weighing up how much to tell the others. He sighed whilst gently rocking the little boy who had curled up in his arms.
“Where is Rafe?” Dru asked.
“He could sleep through an earthquake,” Alec replied with a faint smile before continuing: “Magnus and Kieran thought up a plan to retrieve the Black Volume of the Dead from Annabel and keeping it away from the Unseelie King without actually having to go to Faerie.”
If her heart had not already hammered painfully in her chest, Cristina now felt like she might be sick.
Alec seemed to want to leave it at that but Helen was having none of it.
“What kind of plan?” she asked, her blue eyes blazing.
Alec sighed again. Cristina came to his rescue and related to the others her recent encounter with Kieran in the Institute. She avoided Mark’s gaze who was no doubt wondering why she hadn’t mentioned it before. They had become closer than they had ever been…as friends. Mark stayed in her room whenever he was at home, albeit not in her bed but curled up on the floor. It was his choice and, for all Cristina could tell, he was content with their platonic relationship. Although she was not, Cristina had little choice but to accept it. Sometimes she had even thought that she was happy like this, too, until an accidental touch, a locking of eyes or even just his presence, sent another wave of sparks through her body and reignited her craving for him.
To everyone’s surprise, Ty spoke up: “Interesting. Riders of the Wild Hunt normally drain the remaining lifeforce from the dying on the battlefields. There are a few references in text books, although mostly dismissed as rumours, to Hunters who can reverse the process and bring the dying back to life.”
Mark stared at Ty. This was obviously news to him, too. Cristina’s mind spun and she followed the information to its logical conclusion.
“So, Kieran has restored some of Magnus’ health and power. And Kieran will reach into Faerie to find Annabel and his father…” Her words died on her lips as she remembered their involuntary conjuring of the Unseelie King in her room. Although he was a projection, she had not felt safe from his wrath. She had also heard of Valentine, of course. However, a projection was not meant to have any physical power.
Alec confirmed her suspicions: “I don’t know how exactly but the plan was for Kieran to use the confusion of other Unseelie attacking the King and somehow momentarily appear at the scene to take the book with Magnus’ help.”
They had fallen silent before Cristina rose: “Something has obviously gone horribly wrong with that plan and I for one will not sit around and do nothing whilst they might need our help.”
Mark was at her side in an instant and as they were walking towards the Sanctuary, they could hear the others following. It was quickly agreed to enter from the outside, so as not to let any danger directly into the Institute. Cristina carefully pressed her hands against the magnificently carved door which formed the entrance to the Sanctuary from outside of the main building. Mark and Alec were at her side, weapons raised ready to attack. Cristina threw the door open and they rushed into the circular room, securing all angles in an instant.
The Sanctuary was empty.
Cristina turned to Alec: “Was it only Kieran and Magnus in here? When did you last speak to them?”
Alec now looked equally concerned. “I spoke to Magnus last night. I didn’t see Kieran at all. From what Magnus told me, I was just assuming that they would meet in here as it seemed a safe place.”
Mark was walking around like a caged animal. “I thought you couldn’t make a portal in here. How could they just have disappeared? Could the King have somehow dragged them through whatever wormhole they created?!”
Ty corrected matter-of-factly: “It’s not a wormhole.” He continued to look for clues and muttered things like ‘fascinating’ under his breath whilst Kit examined the few furnishings in the room. Suddenly he announced very seriously: “I think there’s some fresh blood here.”
They all rushed over, staring at the dark patch amongst some scattered cushions on the floor.
Mark knelt and touched the sticky liquid. “How is this possible?” he said weakly. Cristina felt the same panic rise in his voice that she felt mounting in her chest.
For a while they stood in the Sanctuary and debated what could be done until they heard a sound. Helen instantly turned towards the door: “We should go check on Dru and the kids.”
They could hear voices from the library. Tavvy had obviously come downstairs. The young boy chattered excitedly but there was no reply. Something was very wrong.
When they came into the library, weapons at the ready, the group of Shadowhunters came face to face with two of their own. After all this time, Cristina could not believe her eyes. In the middle of the room stood Julian and Emma.
Tavvy was clearly thrilled to see his brother and was desperate to talk to him and to hug him, to be comforted by him. Julian looked at his little brother as if he was trying to figure out who he was, why this little person was jumping up and down in front of him. There was some remnant of the old Julian who calmingly put his hands on Tavvy’s shoulders and gave a faint smile. However, there was something in his look that gave Cristina a chill. Dru must have felt the same as she was trying to pry Tavvy away from Julian. The boy’s chatter died down and he just stared at this older brother.
“Julian!” he pleaded. “Why don’t you talk to me?” His voice was thick with betrayal and disappointment as Julian just ignored him and dispassionately examined his siblings and friends who had just entered the room. Cristina’s heart shattered for the little boy whilst her own momentary excitement to see her friend turned into unease.
Although dressed sleekly in fighting gear, her blond her drawn back in a strict ponytail, Emma appeared listless and distracted. Her eyes darted around the room and its occupants as if she was expecting an attack any moment from any possible side, a sight only exacerbated by the fact that Cortana rested loosely in her hand.
“Emma…” Cristina breathed and made a step towards her which only resulted in Emma raising Cortana and looking blankly at her friend.
“Where is it?” Julian suddenly demanded sharply, his voice cutting through the uncomfortable silence in the room.
After a moment, Alec spoke up: “Where is what?”
Julian smirked contemptuously: “The Book!”
“Why do you suddenly appear out of nowhere and think we know anything about that?”
Julian suddenly looked pensive: “What are you doing here?”
“I run this Institute now.”
Julian barely acknowledged Alec’s response and looked around him with a strange expression. “This is my Institute. I used to live here.” It didn’t sound threatening but rather like a question. Abruptly, he fixed his eyes on Mark and his tone was cold: “Where is the Black Volume?”
Again, it was Alec who answered, changing tack: “Annabel has it.”
Emma took the bait: “She has not.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I killed her. Cortana killed her. She wanted me to,” she added, almost apologetically.
“So, why do you assume we know anything about the Book?”
“Because that scheming, cold-blooded weasel of a faerie prince came out of nowhere and somehow made it disappear.”
Cristina flinched at Julian’s insult and felt her numbness turn into anger.
“Where was this?” Alec asked.
“In the Unseelie Court. In the middle of an almighty fight… Anyway. The King is dead. So is that prince of yours.”
Cristina felt as if someone had punched her in the solar plexus and she gasped for air. The room erupted in a cacophony of voices. Mark flew at his brother and almost knocked him over. “What are you saying? What happened? Why were you there?!”
Julian pushed him away and grasped Emma’s hand who, Cristina noticed belatedly, had just drawn a mark she didn’t recognise on the inside of her palm. They disappeared instantly, leaving the same strange ringing sound which they had heard earlier.
. . .
Later that day, they were summoned to a meeting of the Clave in Idris. Cristina wondered whether news had travelled that fast or, if it hadn’t, what Alec was going to tell the Clave. However, her and Mark were still reeling from the news about Kieran, unsure whether to believe what Julian had said. In the morning, after the encounter with Julian and Emma, Mark had fled to the roof. This time, she had followed although they did not exchange a word for a long time. They were both just standing there, barely aware of the harsh wind tearing at their clothes, staring out over the bustling city below. Cristina was thinking about how she had slapped Kieran the last time they had actually spoken, weeks ago. The memory had been nagging her before but now it had been made deeply painful by a sense of finality and loss. To make matters worse, she could feel Mark’s utter despair. Cristina knew that him and Kieran had spoken in Faerie but from what little Mark had told her, she knew that there had been no resolution to their complex feelings for each other. There was so much unresolved anger and guilt but also love. The turmoil was reflected in his eyes although he had outwardly gone eerily quiet.
Cristina had missed home and her family a few times since arriving in California, however, never more so than now. She longed to talk to her mother like she used to; to be able to turn to somebody older and more experienced for comfort and advice. However, she knew full well why she had spoken to her mother less and less over the last few months. Although her affections for the Fair Folk had always been common knowledge and the source of some amusement in the family, it was probably clear to her mother by now that her obsession with Mark Blackthorn’s fate had turned into something else after her daughter had actually met the boy. Cristina didn’t think that would have been a surprise to her mother or that she would berate her for it. Yet, Kieran was another matter. How could she explain any of it? The thought of Mark and her feelings for him had become so entangled with Kieran that she wouldn’t have known where to start. What was more, any of it would somehow sound wrong. She suddenly missed Magnus and his sardonic wisdom. Maybe somebody who had lived for as long as he had and who had known all varieties of people and relationships, would understand her. It was strange that Julian had not mentioned Magnus at all. She hoped he was alright.
They needn’t have worried about what to tell the Clave as this was obviously an extraordinary meeting. When they arrived in the evening, they were greeted by the sight of an Unseelie army gathered on the hills outside of Alicante and a smaller delegation at the Garde.
The Council Hall was in disarray with the Cohort members refusing to sit down as Jia stood on the dais with what was clearly a representative of Unseelie royalty. It was a man of brutal beauty and arresting elegance. Although he was not particularly tall, he had a commanding presence underscored by a strong build, unusually so for a faerie. His skin was dark, his eyes even darker and a shock of black hair framed his incongruously fine facial features. It took some time to calm the Hall down with some of the Cohort leaving or asked to leave. Eventually, the visitor was able to address the assembled Shadowhunters. Without much of a greeting, he began:
“I am Prince Leor, Heir Apparent and Successor to the Broken Crown, brother of Kieran Kingslayer, whom some of you know as the Envoy of the Seelie Queen.”
There were some gasps in the crowd as not all seem to have known of the Unseelie King’s demise. Cristina’s heart contracted at the mention of Kieran. So, the King’s death was attributed to him even though the fact that Leor mentioned it would appear to indicate respect rather than condemnation for the act. The faerie seemed to confirm her thoughts.
“The Unseelie are united in hailing the end of my Father’s reign as are, no doubt, Lilith’s children who suffered greatly under what you referred to as the Blight. My Father’s plans did not stop there and Nephilim are blissfully unaware of what would have happened to them.”
You could have heard a pin drop as the Hall had hushed and Shadowhunters from around the world now hung on the faerie prince’s every word.
“Your infighting is no less shameful than the power struggle between Seelie and Unseelie. So, here is my proposal. I will take the Broken Crown from two of my undeserving brothers who have nothing but war on their minds. You do not support the Seelie Queen in her quest to take the Unseelie throne.”
After a short, somewhat dumbfounded silence, the Hall exploded with shouts and questions.
Jia Penhallow tried to take the word: “The Seelie Queen is our ally. She…”
But Horace Dearborn shouted her down: “You don’t seem to offer anything in return!”
The remaining members of the Cohort immediately reinforced his anger with an array of insults directed at the fey in general.
Prince Leor looked on with what could only be described as disdain but when he raised his arms, the Hall fell silent once more. “I offer you peace! A real peace, not your contemptuous idea of it which you flatteringly call the Cold Peace. The Unseelie are disorganised but powerful and what do you think the Seelie Queen’s next move would be if she succeeded in uniting faeries? It would be the end of Nephilim. I, for one, have seen enough war and death to last me a lifetime. I will make peace with the Seelie if you make peace with the Fair Folk.”
The focus will be firmly back on our main characters after this! I should probably warn you that Julian/Emma fans won't like where this story is going. Bear with me as I take a little Christmas break. A peaceful Christmas to you all!
Chapter 9: Ghost Stories
Chapter title from "With Animals" by Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood
Cristina and Mark threw themselves into helping to persuade the Clave as well as the Seelie Queen that it was time to end the Cold Peace and renegotiate a proper Accord which gave Downworlders more freedom but also more of an incentive to honor the agreement and maintain peace. However, it slowly transpired that the Seelie Queen felt equally betrayed by Kieran’s disappearance with the Black Volume as by the Shadowhunters unwillingness to support her against the Unseelie. The odds seemed to be stacked against them with the Cohort having to do little but to spread untruths and stoke fears and suspicion of anyone who was not a full-blooded Shadowhunter. As was so often the case, it seemed easier to sabotage a possible path to greater understanding and peace.
Those supporting reason and negotiation seemed to have the much harder task of gathering and presenting facts as well as reaching out to all the different groups involved, including not only the fae but also vampires and werewolves. Whilst Cristina was flitting back and forwards between meetings, she became aware of Magnus being back and the Warlocks starting to initiate talks. She was glad that he appeared to have fully recovered but she was avoiding him. Deep down she knew that she could not yet face confirmation of Kieran’s death. Instead she kept a glimmer of hope alive by praying that one way or another he had survived, promising that she would do whatever it took for the hope to become fact. If it meant forsaking Kieran and Mark both, then she would. Achieving an end to the Cold Peace became her sole reason for existing.
Meanwhile, Mark spent a lot of time in Faerie talking to his aunt Nene as well as riding with Prince Leor’s troops. Leor had heard about Mark and he was keen to include him in his army as a sign of goodwill to Shadowhunters and Seelie alike. All the while, Mark had avoided conversations about ‘Kieran, the Kingslayer’. He did not want to know what exactly had happened, however, he could not escape the rumours. A couple of weeks or so after Prince Leor’s speech at the Clave, Unseelie as well as Seelie started talking about a fearless warrior at Leor’s side, a brilliant strategist with a terrible scar marring the left side of his bald head who was going to lead Leor’s final push to defeat the rival armies and seize the Unseelie throne. Nobody seemed to know who that man was or where he had come from but that he might be another of the late King’s sons. Everything about the individual made him sound almost like an alien, to be respected and feared in equal measure. He must have been quite a sight but Mark was used to faerie embellishments of stories and descriptions, so apart from a natural curiosity, he had not paid much attention to the talk until, one day, a description of this strange warrior took an unexpected turn.
A group of Unseelie had just returned to their troop and everyone was gathered around a fire. One particularly talkative soldier whose larger-than-life stories Mark had frowned at before, had seen the infamous warrior on his white horse and was dying to share the information.
“He’s taller than anyone I’ve ever seen and he’s appearing out of nowhere on his great white steed as if he can fly. He is faster than any of us and his steed sparkles like a million stars in the night sky. He is like a ghost and somewhat like the King: one side of his face shining with youthful beauty, the other blackened and missing an ear. But the most frightening of all is his stare. When he looks at you, it is like he is looking straight through you with his unalike eyes: one black as the night, one silver as water in the moonlight.”
Mark’s heart momentarily stopped as he whipped around and glared at the soldier. “What did you say?”
The faeries were slightly taken aback by Mark’s reaction before the storyteller rediscovered his voice. “Yes, in fact, I think he probably was a hunter like you bearing Gwyn’s mark. I’ve heard some say he’s the Kingslayer and Leor’s brother.”
An awed murmur went through the crowd whilst Mark sprang to his feet. He stared at them but words eluded him. He turned and walked into the woods, steps quickly turning into a flat-out run.
. . .
Cristina had needed fresh air after researching past Accords in the Institute’s library into the early hours. She was standing by the water’s edge, listening to the waves gently licking at the sand. As always, the sea made her think of Kieran and she liked to imagine that his soul lived in the ocean. During the past weeks, she had at times thought that it might have been better to have known, to have seen and buried a body, rather than live in this state of uncertainty.
As she turned and made her way back towards the house, she noticed a figure in the undergrowth surrounding the building.
The other girl looked up but it was as if she could not quite focus. To say Cristina was shocked, would have been an understatement. The girl she had considered her closest friend only a few months ago was unrecognisable. Even compared to the person who had appeared in the library with Julian, Emma was gaunt, the normally beautiful blonde hair a dull and dirty mess, somewhat held in a ponytail with a few lanky strands plastered against her cheeks. She was still wearing Shadowhunter gear but it was ripped in a few places and filthy. But it was the eyes that were the most shocking. They had lost all sparkle and temerity and were blank and hard as stone, occasionally darting around nervously. Cristina was reminded of drug addicts sleeping rough in the cities, too young to be that downtrodden by life. However, Emma’s life seemed to finally have taken its due.
“Emma,” Cristina said hesitantly. “Are you ok?”
Suddenly, Emma grabbed her by the elbow and pulled her deeper into the undergrowth. “I need to talk to you,” she muttered distractedly as if she was unsure what she was needing to talk to her about in the first place. Startled, Cristina followed but began to resist at the strangeness of Emma’s behaviour.
Emma stopped but did not meet her friend’s eyes. Cristina reached out tentatively and, unexpectedly, the younger girl fell into her, taking ragged, sobbing breaths. It was so unlike the strong, daring Shadowhunter Cristina had come to know but she held the other girl until she finally composed herself and looked Cristina in the eye more steadily.
“Julian…,” her voice broke. Emma’s demeanour began to frighten Cristina. She clutched Emma’s elbows, trying to reconnect with her, to give her strength. It hurt to see her friend in such a bad state physically and mentally but she did not know what to do.
“Julian… The curse… It has done something to us. He is so…” Emma swallowed as if each word caused her great pain and she tried to focus and concentrate on what she wanted to say but it was somehow too difficult. “He has lost his mind.” She took an agonising breath that sounded like a hiccup and forced out the next words. “I’m scared. Cristina, I’m scared of him! I’m scared of what’s happening to me…” Silent tears were streaming down her face.
As Cristina was looking at her, Emma’s eyes changed and her gaze hardened again.
“He will come for him.”
The change of direction was puzzling and it took Cristina a moment to follow the train of thought. “Who… Julian will come for who?”
Chapter 10: Back from the edge
Chapter title from Lord Huron's album "Vide Noir"
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
When his head had cleared a little, Mark went to find Prince Leor, following the river back to the camp. He kept thinking about Julian’s words and why he would have lied about Kieran so maliciously. His younger brother had always been so reliable, unselfish and upright, it was hard to believe he was a liar. Nevertheless, doubt had niggled away at Mark ever since, as well as the despairing thought of so much lost time and so many lost chances to talk to the man he loved. For that was the truth. That much he knew by now. Regardless of his feelings for Cristina and the way Kieran and him had hurt each other as well as the guilt and anger that came with it, he had not stopped caring deeply for the man he had shared such a difficult time of his life with. Lost in these thoughts, his heart suddenly skipped a beat as he made out the silhouette of a rider near a copse of trees in the distance. He tentatively continued toward the figure who did not move. Mark’s heart began to beat faster in anticipation and anxiety. Was it really him? He walked faster as he grew certain that it was indeed Kieran on Windspear.
The horse seemed to whinny in recognition. It started to trample nervously and, to Mark’s surprise, got onto its hind legs as if frightened of Mark. He slowed his pace and approached warily. Windspear snorted with eyes wide but otherwise stood still and eventually trod the last few paces to meet Mark and nuzzle his shoulder. Mark stroked the horse before slowly looking up and meeting Kieran’s eyes. The prince sat very still, unsmiling. In the Hunt, Mark had never seen Kieran in anything but worn if previously fine faerie clothes. Now he looked…regal. And frightening. He wore a fine military-looking cape and high, dark riding boots as well as white gauntlets. The sight of him was a shock and Mark fought the urge to recoil. His hair was gone! Kieran was bald, his bi-coloured eyes standing out starkly from his pale face, glaring at Mark. There was a challenge in his look and Mark only slowly began to take in the rest of him. The Kingslayer had been described as a daunting presence but he had put that kind of talk down to others not knowing Kieran like he did. Now he had to reluctantly admit that the prince struck an imposing figure. However, it was not only the way he held himself. He had always had an air of superiority about him but something had changed. It was more than the hair and the clothes. There were new scars – visible and invisible. Although Kieran kept his left side slightly turned away from his view, Mark could make out the mutilation of his head with part of the left ear missing and a somewhat unhealed blackened wound in its place – evidence of the dark magic he had clearly been exposed to.
“Well met, Mark.” Kieran said gruffly, still not smiling.
After all that had happened, the formal greeting stabbed Mark straight through the heart and he had to gather himself to keep his voice from shaking.
“Kieran…” He reached out towards the other but Kieran pulled hard on the reins which made Windspear baulk and stand on its hind legs.
. . .
Cristina stared at Emma. The shock of relief that Kieran seemed to be alive was mixed with cold dread about what Emma knew. She jumped at Emma’s harsh laugh that followed: “We had been following Annabel for ages, planned it all. And then that accursed prince shows up right in the middle of it all…” She shook her head and there was no stopping the unhinged person Cristina was now faced with. “How did he not die?! I saw it. He was bleeding out on the staircase. And nobody even seems to know.”
The blonde girl started pacing. “I can’t figure it out. He seemed to be a projection but then he was there. He suddenly had the damned book but it virtually exploded in his face. Mind you, you have to give it to him. He took his ugly son-of-a-bitch father down with him.”
. . .
“Don’t touch me!” Kieran growled. Mark stumbled backwards to avoid the flying hooves. He stared at the prince in surprise.
The horse had calmed down but Kieran’s expression did not change. Mark did not know how to break through the invisible barrier between them. This was not how he would have imagined their reunion if he had had time to think about it. A cold hand was gripping his heart and threatening to crush it. The prince looked away as if annoyed before training a slightly softer gaze back onto the Shadowhunter.
“I hope Cristina is well.”
Mark was startled. “Yes,” he stuttered. “She is well.”
The faerie looked at his gloved hands resting on Windspear’s mane. The horse was dancing restlessly as if reflecting its rider’s innermost turmoil. Something was off in the way that the prince held himself but Mark could not put his finger on it. The horse finally stood still and Kieran continued softly. “I have often thought of the two of you. It was always more comforting for me to think of the two of you together. Looking out for each other. I would have you to tell me that this was no mere hope on my part.”
Mark swallowed down the emotion that threatened to overwhelm him and found himself answering in a more formal faerie way, not least because there was so much to say he did not know how to. “Cristina has been my comfort. However, these weeks have not been happy and...” How was he going to explain the complicated relationship he had developed with Cristina? He did not even know how to explain it to himself. What he felt for her. How much he wanted her. Yet, how wrong it felt to give in to that with Livvy dead and Julian slipping away from them and Kieran... So, he settled on: “We both missed you and feared to have to grieve for you like we grieve for my sister.”
Kieran made no attempt at dismounting or furthering the conversation.
“Please…” Mark whispered helplessly and was unable to keep the pleading out of his voice. Was there a flicker of torment going across Kieran’s face? If it had, it was gone in an instant.
“I’m sorry,” Kieran muttered. “I’ve got a throne to conquer.” Before Mark could hold him back, the prince turned Windspear around and disappeared in a flash. Since his first night in the Hunt, Mark had not felt so alone.
. . .
“How did he do it?!” Emma fixated on Cristina. “I don’t understand how he is even alive. He was as good as dead after the King delivered his final strike and cut his legs off.”
Emma’s face was nothing but a fierce grimace as she laughed that manic laugh again that tore through Cristina. “Yes, believe it or not! How does anyone even survive that?!” she asked again.
There was no compassion, only grudging respect for another warrior’s strength. “I don’t think the stupid fae even know that their famous ‘Kingslayer’ is a bloody cripple. By the Angel…” Emma abruptly turned quiet again. “Why couldn’t he just let Julian have the book. Things would be different.” She looked at the other girl imploringly but Cristina was entirely dumbstruck. She had the distinct impression that Emma was holding something back but she was too shaken by the news to press her former friend further.
“Julian will come after Kieran,” Emma now stated more like a warning than a threat. Eventually, she turned and stalked off, leaving Cristina in the scrub where she limply dropped to the ground.
. . .
When the sun started to heat up, Cristina finally rose and walked back to the house in search of Magnus. She found him and Alec in the library. Their conversation stopped and Alec made his excuses to leave them alone as if the two of them had expected this moment to come.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Cristina asked, sounding surly to her own ears.
Magnus was ready for a sarcastic retort but changed his mind. “You didn’t want to know.”
“I want to know now.”
Magnus studied her curiously. “Ok, I will tell you. However, first I would like to know why now. What has changed?”
“Emma found me and told me…some of what happened.” Cristina found it hard to repeat what she had heard.
“Emma? Interesting!” The warlock pondered the information for a moment. He indicated for Cristina to sit down and filled her in: “I was helping Kieran to reach into Faerie with his mind, as he describes it, to find the Black Volume. We knew that two of his brothers were attacking the Unseelie court to overthrow the King and that he kept Annabel near. The idea was for me to give Kieran the physical power to grab the book in all the commotion and bring it to the Sanctuary for me to take to a safe place.”
Magnus shook his head in dismay at the memory. “However, what that cunning little Unseelie prince foolishly didn’t share with me was that the Seelie Queen had told him how to use the Black Book to kill his father. I don’t think Kieran realised or maybe he didn’t care that the Queen had not meant for him to survive the magic. She must have used some enchantment to get hold of the book through him once he cast the spell.”
The warlock sighed unhappily. “Nobody should use black magic recklessly. I think Kieran only survived because I was still holding on to his physical body at that point. Unfortunately, neither of us had anticipated the King being able to somehow pull Kieran’s physical form through to him and, uhm, hurting him.”
He looked at her and added quietly. “I managed to save his life. As best I could.”
Cristina’s mind raced and the words slipped out almost accusingly: “It sounds like a mundane doctor would have done a better job! Lost limbs can be restored.”
Magnus face darkened and he responded a little irked: “Are you suggesting I should have taken a faerie to a mundane hospital?” He smirked. “Think of the medical bills alone!”
The warlock obviously regretted his callous remark when he saw Cristina’s face and he took her hand. “I’m sorry. Everything happened so fast and I did what I could.”
Cristina felt a lump in her throat and swallowed hard. “Where is he now?”
“I believe he’s with his brother, Prince Leor.”
“And the book?”
Magnus gave her a long, searching look. “I don’t know.”
Happy New Year to you all!
Chapter 11: Nocturne
Chapter title from Mark Lanegan album "Gargoyle"
After Leor became the new Unseelie King and Kieran his right-hand man, Mark returned to the Institute. Now that Leor was in power, it had become more urgent to rethink the Cold Peace. The Institute with its eclectic mix of residents became the centre of a push towards agreeing a new Accord.
Mark entered his room late one night to find a familiar shape sitting on his window sill.
“Kieran,” he greeted the prince tentatively. “How is your brother?” It was ironic that the faerie was growing closer to one of his brothers when Mark had all but lost one of his own.
Kieran looked at him thoughtfully. “I think Leor will bring peace to the lands.”
“The Seelie Queen will have to be convinced of that. As will the Clave, unfortunately. The current peace, if that’s what it is, seems a fragile one.”
“Peace is nothing but fragile.” Kieran looked at him curiously. “You have become quite the politician.”
“I know what happened to you”, Mark suddenly blurted out.
Kieran held Mark’s gaze, storm clouds rushing over his face. “Mark,” he said eventually, as if speaking to an insolent child. “Time has passed and many things have happened. You will not find me the same person. Besides, there are more important matters to concern ourselves with. I came to talk to you about your brother…”
Mark interrupted him. “Do you still love me?” he demanded.
“Don’t be a child!” Kieran scolded. “I’m here to talk to you. Not to rekindle what cannot be.”
“By the Angel,” Mark muttered in frustration. “Why do we always end up fighting. Yet, it seems nothing in this world can wipe out my feelings for you.” He searched Kieran’s eyes. “Have we ever cared about each other’s scars?! It was part of our life. Just…say that you don’t care for me anymore in that way and I will leave you alone.”
Mark could tell that Kieran's temper was rising but the faerie did not say anything and finally looked at him with something resembling pity. Mark’s heart contracted and he wanted to scream but instead found himself numb and silenced. The prince seemed to deliberate whether to give in to a more private conversation. When he did, he sounded more compassionate.
“I have never forgotten you or ever will but surely you must see that our paths have separated.”
Disregarding the latter part of the statement, Mark grasped at the morsel of acknowledgment of feelings. Kieran again tried to conceal the left side of his face but Mark just felt an overwhelming ache to embrace him. Maybe to know that in spite of everything, in spite of all the terrible injuries the other man had obviously suffered, he was really here and still his Kieran. He cradled his left arm unconsciously and Mark suddenly realised what he had found strange about his posture the last time they met. Kieran was left-handed but had held Windspear’s reins with his right. It just made the need to hold Kieran more acute. However, the faerie seemed to sense his emotions and looked at him suspiciously.
“Mark…” he whispered in a low, warning tone. But there was no holding back now. Mark had closed the distance between them and grabbed Kieran’s shoulders, slowly sliding his hand up to his neck, careful to avoid the maimed left side for now. Still, the prince flinched and tried to pull away but Mark held him tight, bending down to place a careful kiss on his lips. A low, keening sound escaped Kieran’s throat and there was a moment when neither of them moved as if they were frozen in time. The moment swiftly passed and the faerie began to struggle against Mark who realised with a sharp pang that this strong, most agile of men could in fact not stand and fight him like he would have done in the past. Although he should have known, the realisation startled him for an instant only to be pushed violently to the floor, pinned down by a furious Kieran.
“Look at me then,” he snarled, “if you dare! Touch me! Feel what I have become and then tell me you will ever want to touch me again!” The prince had his elbow against Mark’s throat and was holding him down with all his force, glaring at him with a pain and rage that was new to Mark in its intensity. He struggled to breathe and forced out the words.
“I can’t…if… you strangle me!”
Kieran sat up after another excruciating moment and turned away. It occurred to Mark that his long dark hair would have hidden his face in the past on occasions like these, hiding the emotions which he was clearly fighting, trying to regain composure. Mark took a few painful breaths before pushing himself up, smarting from the unexpected throw to the floor.
“I’m sorry,” Mark murmured. After a while, as Kieran remained motionless, he cautiously reached out, touching Kieran’s bald head with the tip of his fingers. Even the skin on his head was impossibly smooth, the way Mark remembered it. He allowed his hand to caress Kieran’s face. He was used to wounds and scars and was rather more curious than repulsed by the feel of the burn marks on the left side of his head. The faerie closed his eyes as a lone tear rolled over his cheek. Mark gently pulled him into a tight embrace. “I didn’t know how much I would miss you,” he whispered, holding his former lover, who had curled up in his arms, letting out a single angry sob.
They sat like that for a long time before Mark felt Kieran straightening and shifting around, so that he could look at him. He let his hand glide into Mark’s hair and suddenly tightened his grip, pulling Mark into a fierce kiss. Mark was quick to return the kiss with equal hunger and soon the two of them were entangled in each other on the floor. Mark was aware of the different shape of Kieran’s body. Still, his kisses were the same. The way he touched Mark and the sounds he made were exquisitely familiar and roused a dormant passion that was finally allowed to flare up again.
Suddenly a surprised sound came from the door before steps were quickly retreating and the door closed silently. Kieran whirled around, covering his naked body with a sheet from the bed as he was doing so and sat against the footboard, staring at the door. Somehow neither of them had heard it open.
“You should go to her,” Kieran said expressionlessly.
Mark was still lying on the floor, panting. Realising that the moment of passion had passed, he sat up slowly and joined Kieran.
“Cristina would be happy for us.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I know her heart.” Mark looked at Kieran. He sighed. “You came to talk to me of Julian?”
Kieran stared at the wall opposite for some time before he answered. “I know you have great admiration for your brother and rightly so. He was so young but held your family together when you could not.”
Giving a compliment in faerie most often meant that a criticism would follow the praise and Mark braced himself, ready to defend his younger brother but he was not prepared for what Kieran had to say.
“He has the face of an angel. The ruthless face of an angel. I know I tempted fate but Julian thinks he is fate”, he mused.
Kieran looked at Mark. “I allied with Julian and Emma because I knew they would help me find the Black Volume. Maybe the Book should have been more important than killing my father but revenge blinded me to everybody else’s plans.” Kieran let out a laboured breath. “I guess even I had underestimated your brother’s determination in his quest for the Black Book.” He trailed off before finally continuing: “I believed I could project into Faerie with Magnus’ help, grab the book and kill my father. However, the Book has a life of its own and it was as if it did not like leaving Annabel. It pulled at my whole being and I struggled to keep my mind in one place whilst the Book was alight with black magic and burned me…”
The Unseelie prince seemed to struggle with the memory of the event.
“I somehow managed to use the Book against my father but as soon as the King was dead, Julian appeared. I was not as fast as I should have been and he struck me with my father’s sword…”
Mark put the pieces together and stared at Kieran. He did not want to believe what his mind had pieced together. “Julian did this to you…?”
Cristina had relayed Emma’s version of events to him which he now preferred. He did not want to believe that his kid brother would hurt to kill someone he loved. This was Julian who was gentle and good!
“I don’t remember the rest all that well.” Kieran looked at Mark, hurt and anger in his eyes. “Your brother would have killed me but…the Book was gone”, he frowned. “I do remember Julian cutting off my hair. He took my power.”
Mark looked at him in surprise. He was aware that Kieran possessed some faerie powers but they had never discussed these and he had never made the link to the mystical hair. All of a sudden, it was obvious.
“How did Julian…?” he stuttered.
The prince shook his head. “I believe the Seelie Queen has had a hand in all of this. However, she might have underestimated Julian as well. His mind is lost to this world and he is a danger to you! I fear that he would be unstoppable if he took hold of the Black Volume. We cannot let that happen.” The boys fell silent, lost in their own thoughts.
“Will your hair not grow back?” Mark asked eventually.
“I don’t know. It all vanished and has not grown since that day. I am not healing well. Not like I used to. If it hadn’t been for Magnus…” Kieran stared at the wall and softly shook his head. “Maybe it would have been better that way. I hate…being like this.”
Mark didn’t know what to say. It began to dawn on him; the demons that Kieran must have been fighting: not only recovering physically and learning to live with what mundanes would refer to as a disability; but at the same time keeping his vulnerable state a secret in order to survive. Mark was wondering whether even the new king knew exactly what the defeat of their father had cost his brother.
Kieran sounded exhausted when he repeated: “Go to her!”
“I won’t because I know you’ll leave.”
“I need to leave and I don’t want you to see me crawl to the window.”
“Then let me help you.”
Kieran’s cold glare met Mark’s eyes. “I do not need or want your help!”
Chapter 12: Some Misunderstanding
Chapter title from Soulsavers album "Broken"
Since Mark had returned to the Institute, he had stayed in his own room but he didn’t seem to mind when Cristina came to join him at night when she couldn’t sleep. She had been surprised when she found Kieran with him tonight and she felt embarrassed for interrupting them. She had quickly gone back to her own room where she now sat on her bed, door ajar listening to the sounds in the house. It was not long after she had left, when she heard what she thought must be Mark’s door closing. Wanting to apologise, she quickly got up and peered into the corridor. It was indeed Mark, however, he was intercepted by Helen who had just come up the stairs.
“Oh, good, you’re still up”, Cristina heard Helen say but then brother and sister turned around to walk back down and the rest of the conversation was lost on her.
Cristina remained in the corridor, unsure what to do. Although she had earlier attended a big meeting, this conversation was clearly not intended for her. After a moment’s hesitation, she went to Mark’s room and knocked softly on the door. There was no response. Curiosity got the better of her and she opened the door. She was used to seeing sheets and blankets on the floor but the space appeared otherwise empty. She was about to turn and leave when she spotted the man she had been looking for, sitting in the shadows underneath the window. She had not seen Kieran in what felt like months and believed him dead. Her heart began to beat faster as the prince just watched her silently.
As the clouds moved, moonlight passed through the window and lit up his face. In spite of his injuries and bald head, he was still eerily beautiful, she thought. She had obviously caught him off guard and it was the vulnerability in his expression which made Cristina’s heart ache for him. There was so much she wanted to tell him. She had spent too many hours thinking about him and it still felt like a miracle that she had been given the opportunity to talk to him again. She sat down silently on the floor next to him.
“I’m so glad to see you,” she said softly.
The Unseelie’s eyes were trained on the floor. It appeared to cost him a great effort to speak to her but Cristina was in no rush. She understood why he was turning to Mark. The young men had so much shared history and Cristina would give up Mark and whatever had grown between them for Kieran’s sake. If Kieran had decided that whatever affections they had had for each other, counted for nothing and it was Mark he wanted and needed, she had resolved to accept it - as long as Mark was happy and as long as Kieran would be able to accept help and heal his soul.
“It’s good to see you, too,” Kieran whispered eventually, just as Cristina began to explain: “Mark has gone downstairs…”
Without warning, a strong shock went through her body and made her gasp sharply. Kieran looked at her in alarm. Her wrist was pulsing and she knew instinctively that Mark was mortally afraid. Somehow the binding spell from the faerie revel had left a connection that made her feel Mark’s strongest emotions. Mark was afraid for her and for Kieran which could only mean one thing. She stood up and said with urgency: “We have to go!”
Kieran immediately drew himself up onto the window sill, whistling softly. Windspear appeared outside the window and Kieran swung himself onto the horse’s back and indicated for her to get on behind him. She did not hesitate and a moment later they took to the sky just as she could make out loud voices approaching on the stairs.
Cristina remembered the first time she had ridden a faerie horse and the same sense of untethered freedom and joy filled her lungs and she let her head fall back. She began to lose her grip on recent events. She was just riding a magical horse and she couldn’t help but smile and holler. The faerie prince in front of her half turned his face in disapproval and scolded: “Hang on to me!”
Cristina slid her arms around the rider’s waist and leaned her cheek against his back. She felt safe and far away from all worries and fears. Eventually, Kieran guided the horse to a clearing on a far-away mountain. He seemed to know the area; it was probably one of his secret hiding places. The horse came to stand in front of a cave, the entrance of which was lit by bright moonlight. Back on firm ground, Cristina suddenly felt the chill as Kieran straightened stiffly and reached back to help her down. She drew her arms around herself and looked around. Kieran sat like a statue on Windspear and Cristina could feel the awkward embarrassment in his posture. Whilst entirely confident and at home riding a horse, he obviously did not want her to witness how he was adapting to his new situation on his own. Her heart expanded with empathy and she wished she could find the right words to put him at ease.
“There are some blankets in the cave,” was all Kieran said with a bored detachment. Cristina took the hint and turned toward the cave. She noticed out of the corner of her eye that the horse was kneeling to allow Kieran to dismount. It was amazing how the rider and his horse had merged into an inseparable unit. Cristina was in awe of their quiet understanding and felt oddly grateful towards the creature. She examined the cave which stretched a few metres into a sheltered rock face. Some useful things were stacked away in various nooks and crannies and there was something of a sleeping place made out of tree branches and dried leaves and moss at the back of the grotto, partly hidden by rocks. When she turned back around, a little fire had begun to crackle on top of some very smooth-looking stones which Kieran had arranged carefully within a bunch of twigs and firewood. Cristina sighed and sat down next to the prince by the fire. The unusual stones had begun to glow and absorbed the flames, radiating heat with minimal flicker and light, so as not to betray their position. Cristina took some of the food Kieran offered her which appeared to be dried fruit and plants of some sort.
“I’ve wanted to talk to you,” Cristina began, chewing on a piece of nondescript food. “This is delicious,” she said, unable to keep the surprise out of her voice.
Kieran smiled silently. Although the smile did not reach his eyes, Cristina felt encouraged to present her idea. “I have an uncle who is a doctor. The Clave doesn’t like it but he works at a mundane hospital because he believes that we can learn a lot from their technology.” She hesitated but then continued: “He works with protheses. They can restore most movement…”
Kieran looked at her sharply. “And why would he want to help me?”
“You may not know it but you have become a legendary hero not only in downworld but also among Shadowhunters…”
Kieran waved the idea away. “A hero!” he exclaimed. “Such a human concept. And even if there were some truth in what you are saying: take a good look at this hero who would be killed by his own kind if only they realised… If anybody realised… my limitations!” Her words had agitated him more than Cristina had expected but once the floodgates had opened, there seemed no shutting them. “Faeries and even some Shadowhunters may be grateful that I disposed of the Unseelie King for them but that does not mean I have gained any allies. My brother, the new king, has made me his maréchal, his military leader, but I have no doubt that he wants to keep me close until he has figured out what to do with me. And even as he does so, there are more of our brothers scheming against him. I am only of interest to downworlders as the last person alive who saw the Black Book. Shadowhunters are wary of me following the battles with the Unseelie. Even the Blackthorn house, as before, is a place of difficult alliances, overshadowed by a member of the family with an unstable mind who is certainly no fan of mine.”
Cristina knew he was referring to Julian and it gave her another angle. “You managed to hide your…injuries from most people but you can’t go on like this forever. My uncle can help you. I would like to take you to him.”
Kieran had gone very still and looked at her distrustfully. “Am I still attractive to you?”
The question threw Cristina. She did not know what to say and stuttered: “What does that have to do with anything?”
“Maybe it has everything to do with it. Maybe you feel the need to restore me to what I once was to you. I think you are motivated by some strange feeling of guilt. Explain it to me.”
Not for the first time, Cristina felt caught out by the faerie prince as if he could see straight through her, although she wasn’t even sure what exactly it was that he was seeing.
“This is not about me! I understand that physical beauty is valued very highly in faerie. Maybe humans are better at looking beyond appearances to a person’s inner beauty.”
“And what is the beauty you find inside me? A disgraced Unseelie prince! A rider of the Wild Hunt. A murderer!”
“That’s not who you are! I see the loneliness in you but also the bravery, loyalty and strength.”
“Come and lie with me then and show me you are not asking me this because you pity me.”
Cristina threw her hands up in exasperation. This conversation had taken a strange and entirely unexpected turn.
“Are you asking me to… to have sex with you before you accept my help?!”
“And what if I was?” Kieran’s eyes were blazing challengingly and he was all regal haughtiness, the way she remembered him from the early days.
“You are infuriating!” she exclaimed angrily. “I won’t sleep with you just to prove a point!”
“Maybe you are not that good at valuing inner beauty after all,” Kieran stated plainly.
Cristina felt she had been played. There were no words that would not sound like a lame defence and her blood was boiling.
Knowing he had won the argument, Kieran exuded calm superiority although his heart was no longer in it. “We should rest,” he said simply after Cristina’s stunned silence seemed to have extinguished the flame of his anger.
Chapter 13: Revival
Chapter title from Soulsavers album "It's not how far you fall, it's the way you land"
Enjoy - I hope!
Cristina looked out over the wooded valley. She could make out the smooth surface of a lake shimmering in the moonlight below. It must be a beautiful view in daylight. She was still angry but now mainly exhausted and very cold. She looked back towards the cave which looked almost cosy. Kieran was lying motionless on the makeshift bedstead. She wanted nothing more but to lie down and close her eyes but she was not going to give the Unseelie prince the satisfaction of settling down in silence. She took her boots off and crawled under the surprisingly cosy blanket next to him. She was facing him and it was no surprise to her that he was looking at her probingly, taking her measure.
His gaze was as bewitching as it had always been. Her anger slowly evaporated and she found herself saying something entirely different from what she had intended. “For so long, I was afraid you were dead and that the last thing you would remember me for was slapping you.” She swallowed. “And that I would never be able to tell you…how much we missed you.”
He searched her face as if he could not be sure of her intentions. Eventually, he chose to answer: “You remembered the bad. I remembered the good.”
She felt tears filling up her eyes, which, thankfully, he was not likely to be able to see in the darkness. The faint shimmer from the gleaming stones and the bright moonlight put his otherworldly features into relief. The high cheekbones and slim, long bridge of his nose, his beautifully curved lips. As she always had been, she felt mysteriously drawn towards him. It scared her and it lit an inexplicable fire inside her. What was he to her? She hardly knew him. She was quite certain that she was falling in love with Mark, so why did she feel this way about another man? The nagging voice at the back of her mind was drowned out by her heartbeat, the pull of her blood towards him. He was so close, she could feel his warmth. His eyes shone in the dim light and, almost in spite of herself, she stretched towards him until their lips were touching. A spark ran through her body like a shooting star. He did not pull away but he seemed surprised and tensed almost imperceptibly. His lips were soft and cool and only hesitantly opened up to her. She could feel her heart pound throughout her body and she had to stop to draw breath. She felt completely overwhelmed with desire to get closer, to feel him against her. He remained outwardly quiet and controlled but she could see his pulse beating hard and fast at the side of his throat. She kissed him once more and entangled their legs until her hips where flush against his. He gave a little moan and slid a hand into her hair, closing his eyes and returning her kiss more insistently although without the fierceness he seemed to reserve for Mark. Nonetheless, he roused a yearning for passion and wildness in her that was frightening. She cautiously slid a hand under his loose shirt and felt his skin shudder under her touch. She explored his smooth chest and splayed her hand over his heart, which was beating hard against his ribs. It made her smile involuntarily and it emboldened her. His breathing quickened as she let her hand slide down over his stomach to the top of his waistband. However, his response was restrained, almost shy. He inclined his head, so that their foreheads were pressed against each other and broke the kiss, although his hand remained on her neck holding her firmly in place.
“Stop,” he murmured hoarsely and Cristina froze, suddenly anxious that he didn’t want her like this anymore at all. She had always been wary of him and the untameable passion he awakened in her. She had thought of him as somewhat predatory but maybe he had only ever played games with her, reading her as well as he did. Yet, his hand was still holding her in place, unable or unwilling to let her go as he struggled to master his emotions. His breathing was ragged and it suddenly occurred to her that he might not have been with anybody at all since the fight that left him so scarred. She had walked in on him and Mark tonight and assumed they had made love. However, Mark had left not long after and, thinking about it, he had not seemed like somebody happily reunited with his lover. In the past, Kieran had always been aware of his attractiveness and used his faerie charms as a weapon when it suited him. It was an armour. Physical beauty was a currency in the human world as well, of course, but Cristina could only guess at the importance of it amongst the fae. Maybe it was not so implausible to think that this proud prince of the Unseelie had become unsure of himself. It gradually became clear to Cristina that she would have to take the initiative if this was to go any further. Her mind was scrambling for control but, this time, lost out to her body.
“I want you,” she whispered before she knew what she was saying. She rolled herself on top of him, pushing him onto his back. Their eyes locked and she felt him letting out a shuddering breath before relaxing slowly, as if surrendering to her. He allowed her to study and even touch his face. When her fingers brushed over the burn mark on the left side of his head, he became entirely still. It was rough to the touch and she wasn’t sure whether she imagined the heat radiating off it. He looked at her with his familiar penetrating stare but behind it, she saw a new insecurity which broke her heart. Cristina caressed his face gently before letting her fingers explore his collarbone and the little hollow at the base of his throat where she could feel his blood thrumming. What was it that made him fae, she suddenly wondered. Did he not feel and bleed like any man? He was completely open to her now, trusting that she wouldn’t hurt him. The thought filled her with love as well as a great sense of responsibility and the need to protect him against the rest of the world.
Kieran’s eyes were dark with desire and his ceding of control made her feel absurdly powerful. She pulled his shirt up and over his head, which caused him to flinch and momentarily hiss in pain when she tugged at his left arm. “I’m sorry! I didn’t…” Her heart contracted and she quickly tried to shift her weight away from him but he held her in place, carefully placing her hand back onto his body whilst looking her straight in the eyes. She settled back down on top of him and let her hands explore his naked torso. She was rewarded with that involuntary keening sound she had heard him make when he was with Mark, his expression of want and longing. His eyes lost their sharp focus as her hands wandered over his body. Eventually, he pulled her towards him and a fierce passion was now creeping into his kiss whilst his hand slid up under her top and unclasped her bra with one swift movement of his nimble fingers. Her breath hitched as he was in turn exploring her. She slipped out of her top and lowered herself onto his naked chest, skin touching skin, deepening their kiss. Her heart thumped to a dizzying beat as she felt his hand glide down her back and into her jeans. She desperately wanted rid of all remaining fabric that separated them and tugged at his trousers which had no buttons or zips. His stomach muscles rippled as her fingers worked on the string fastenings, exposing his sharp hip bones. She loved the feel of the flat area of his lower abdomen and how her hand there made him gasp. They made short shrift of their remaining clothes. He sat up and looked at her with a need that went far beyond the physical. She marvelled at a prince of faerie looking to her to fulfil that kind of need. She placed her hands on his sinewy shoulders and let them slide down over his arms which bore the scars of past wounds. Then she half swung a leg over his body and was half lifted back onto his lap, suddenly uniting them in one smooth movement that made her inhale sharply, letting out an involuntary whimper. He held her tight and looked at her questioningly. She responded by rolling her hips which drew a low growl from him, rumbling through her body. It all became a searing blur of sensation, tangled limbs, sounds and touch before she felt him lose control amidst an almost feral cry and she became undone.
A wonderful warmth spread through Cristina’s body as she felt herself relax, breath evening out. Kieran’s arms were wrapped around her but it did not take long for thoughts of Mark to drift into her mind and for the first time they began to make her uncomfortable. So, she was jolted when Kieran murmured: “Do you not mind?”
When Cristina didn’t answer right away, Kieran continued: “The way I am. That there is no magic in our lovemaking. I could have made you believe…I was…whole.”
An array of thoughts started chasing around Cristina’s mind. The suspicion had entered her mind in the past that there was some magic at play when she was with Kieran, that it was why she was so enthralled with him. She had heard of humans going into Faerie just to experience the pleasures of fae magic even at the risk of losing their sanity. Now she found that her passion for the Unseelie prince was much more human than that. The realisation made her smile.
“Mark never wanted the magic,” Kieran mumbled. “As if it was something I could switch off at will and not an integral part of my being.” He was staring at the stars. “I think I understand him now. He wanted to be sure of his own feelings.”
Cristina caressed Kieran’s face. “You said earlier that you remembered the good things. You need to think about the good things now.”
She could feel Kieran withdraw from her as he asked coldly: “And what would that be?”
“You are alive!” She lifted herself up onto one elbow and kissed him gently, willing him to understand: “Besides, I think I just answered your earlier question! I do still find you very attractive indeed.”
Kieran examined her with his striking eyes. “Why?” he whispered doubtfully.
It was heartbreaking to see him so vulnerable. “I don’t know, Kieran! Why do people fall in love? I fell in love with the way you love Mark so uncompromisingly. Then I fell in love with you. You told me in the Sanctuary how your world had opened up and how you wanted to know more. You have opened up a new world to me, too. You… and Mark.” Her voice quivered with emotion all of a sudden and a creeping sense of guilt was strengthening its grip on Cristina’s insides. Kieran seemed to understand and gently pulled her more firmly towards him. Not wanting to spoil the moment, she teasingly let her hand slide down to the flat of his stomach below his navel which duly made him gasp.
“And I love that sound!” she smiled.
Chapter 14: Sunrise
Chapter title from Soulsavers album "Broken"
Kieran was dressed and on his horse before Cristina had even woken up the next morning. The sun was only just beginning to bathe the landscape in a beautiful light and the view was indeed truly spectacular. Windspear was dancing impatiently and Cristina quickly got up and got ready. She was trying to catch Kieran’s eye who was either deep in thought or avoiding to look at her. The sudden memory of the night before sent a warm tingle down her spine but then she remembered why they were here in the first place and an iron fist grabbed her heart. As if Kieran knew that her thoughts had finally caught up with his, he now trained his familiarly sharp look on her and the horse stilled. She held his gaze.
“What is it that Julian wants from you?” she asked abruptly.
The prince stiffened at the mention of the name.
“What do you mean?” he demanded tersely.
“Emma…,” she swallowed at the memory of her friend’s drawn look when she last saw her. “Emma said that he would come after you and that is obviously what he did. I could feel it. I could feel Mark’s fear for you.” She could feel the horror of it now.
“You still speak with Emma?” Kieran shifted uncomfortably on the horse’s back and there was a look akin to betrayal in his eyes.
“She came to find me a few days ago to – I don’t know – warn me, I guess.”
The horse suddenly balked whilst Kieran remained tense and silent. Unnerved, Cristina searched her mind. Had she said something she should have kept to herself? She assumed the prince like herself had wondered when and why exactly Julian and Emma had arrived at the scene of the fight with the Unseelie King and whether they could have helped the prince but chose not to. Unaware of Julian’s intentional attack on Kieran, she nevertheless felt she had to defend her former friend.
“Emma has become afraid of Julian,” she said quietly. “They were so close. I think she would try to get away from him if she could.”
The faerie gazed at her thoughtfully. “The Book,” he said eventually. “He wants the Book.”
“But you don’t have it!” The words had slipped out before Cristina realised that it implied a question she didn’t really want to hear the answer to.
“No,” he said. His eyes were tearing through her, “but I guess he now thinks I know who does.”
The horse was moving impatiently and Kieran held a hand out to her to help her onto Windspear’s back. “I am ready to talk to your uncle,” he said simply.
. . .
St Mary’s Hospital north of San Francisco had a view of the ocean and lay adjacent to a Redwood forest which covered their arrival. Cristina collected a wheelchair from the hospital’s entrance and grabbed a beanie hat somebody had left behind. Kieran was still astride Windspear and scowled disapprovingly but said nothing. There was nothing he could say as this was their only option. He let himself into the wheelchair and Cristina pulled the beanie hat over his head to hide not only the terrible scar but, more importantly, the remaining pointed right ear. They could only hope that nobody had seen the magic equine creature arrive amongst the trees at the back of the building. Cristina pulled out the sunglasses she had nicked from the hospital shop – with the intention to pay for them later - but Kieran grabbed her wrist.
“What are you doing?”
Cristina was nervous enough as it was, she didn’t need Kieran to be difficult. “This is a mundane hospital. My uncle works here and it is the safest place to meet. However, your eyes and ear rather make you stand out.”
Reluctantly, Kieran let go of her wrist, took the glasses and put them on. He looked like a petty criminal and Cristina couldn’t stifle a laugh.
“Do I amuse you?” Kieran growled.
“Always!” Cristina purred and kissed him on the lips. He had slid a hand around her neck before she could pull away and turned the quick peck on the lips into something altogether different. Then he looked at her almost threateningly: “I trust you!” Flustered, Cristina straightened up and mumbled: “I know. Let’s go.”
Cristina had been to the hospital a couple of times before to visit her uncle, Juan Rosales Madures, a Shadowhunter who had decided to study medicine at a mundane university as the path of Silent Brother was not open to him. As such, he preferred to work with ordinary humans rather than within his own community and had been all but ousted by the Clave until the Dark War happened and Nephilim needed all the help they could get. Silent Brothers saw mundane technology as something rather beneath them but Juan, naturally curious like his niece, was a strong believer in the value and strength of any combined knowledge.
Cristina had not dared contact her uncle beforehand and prayed to God that he was running consultations at the hospital today. She had not seen him in a few months and she was nervous about bringing a downworlder to him. To make matters worse, Kieran was obviously very distrustful of the wheelchair and could not sit still, which made pushing the piece of equipment rather difficult. She had to tell him repeatedly to let her get on with it. They were in an equally bad mood when they finally got to the right ward and consultation area. Cristina left Kieran to stew in the chair whilst she had a look around for her uncle. Thankfully, this area was not too busy unlike some other wards they had passed – presumably because the doctors here were dealing with non-urgent, long-term treatments. They still had to wait more than half an hour before Cristina even caught a glimpse of her uncle whose face immediately lit up in delighted surprise. Cristina’s heart made a leap and reminded her how much she had been missing her family. Juan gestured for a colleague to wait and hurried towards his niece.
“Cristina, my dear,” he said in Spanish, “what are you doing here?”
Cristina hugged him tightly and spoke more quietly into his ear. “I am sorry I am showing up like this but I have brought a friend who needs your help urgently. The situation is rather difficult and there is no one else I could go to.”
Juan studied her earnestly and then spoke firmly: “Give me half an hour and I’ll be with you.”
A seemingly endless half an hour later which did nothing for Kieran’s mood, the doctor walked up to them as promised, all friendly professionality. “So,” he said, “you must be Cristina’s friend. Why don’t you two follow me and we can have a chat.” Cristina noticed that Juan had initially meant to stretch out a hand to greet Kieran as was customary in this world but then changed his mind, obviously noticing that this was no ordinary patient. If his appearance and strange disguise had startled Juan, he did not show it. Cristina couldn’t tell what he made of the young man but she was quite sure that he had realised he was neither mundane nor Nephilim.
When they were safely in the consultation room, Juan simply stood and eyed them quizzically. “So…what have we here?” he asked. “May I?” he asked and upon Kieran’s continued silence, he moved to take his sunglasses and hat off. “Ah…”, he said matter-of-factly, as if everything had become clear in an instant. “A Hunter!” He looked up at Cristina more curious than shocked or even surprised.
“Uncle…” Cristina began but how to explain the whole complicated mess concisely? She spoke measuredly. “This is Kieran, prince of the Unseelie Court, formerly a rider with the Wild Hunt and now maréchal to the new Unseelie King. He…needs help as his life is in danger.”
Kieran did not react to this emotionless introduction but had gone into full faerie gentry mode. Juan weighed up his niece’s words whilst eyeballing the prince. Cristina felt the cold creep up her bones. Had she somehow misread or misremembered Juan’s beliefs and allegiances? She sighed an inward breath of relief when her uncle slowly began to nod.
“May I?” he asked again and bent down to examine the left side of Kieran’s head. Juan prodded and touched gently and slowly the impassive curiosity of a doctor took over.
“Have you got any hearing left in that ear?” he asked.
Kieran shook his head whilst trying to maintain an air of detached superiority. Cristina found her heart aching for him once more. Despite the severe injury, she had not even considered his loss of hearing.
“Well, I guess, with a faerie’s hearing, you can quite easily compensate,” Juan murmured more to himself than anybody else before straightening up. “I assume even your healing powers are unlikely to restore what damage black magic has done here though. Is the injury to your arm related to that?”
Juan’s sense of Kieran’s injuries was so much more acute than hers had been that Cristina felt utterly ashamed. Juan helped Kieran shrug out of his jacket and shirt and the young Shadowhunter really noticed for the first time that the veins in the Unseelie prince’s left hand and lower arm were somewhat blackened. It was obviously painful for him to move the hand and he could barely stretch his fingers. Kieran tried to hide a flinch when Juan attempted to pry open his stiff digits but the doctor caught the movement and stopped.
“Hm,” he sounded like a detective, figuring out a puzzle. “I don’t think there is much we can do for you here. You have obviously still got some movement and strength in your arm and maybe your healing faculties will improve this over time.” He straightened up again and looked at Cristina. “But I guess that’s not what you came for anyway as my field of expertise lies elsewhere and, as yet, neither Nephilim nor faerie have gained the ability to regrow limbs.” He smiled faintly and stepped back.
“Ok, let’s get the trousers off, so that I can have a look at those legs,” instructed Juan, all in a matter-of-fact doctorly kind of way. He helped the faerie onto the bed and went to the sink to scrub his hands. Kieran hesitated a moment and then stripped with the quiet grace of somebody who has adapted to having to do most things with one hand. He settled against the backrest in now full nudity. Cristina could virtually feel the blood rush into her cheeks and she cursed faeries for their lack of shame – and apparent lack of underwear. Although the prince might have been ashamed of his changed body, nudity did not faze him any more now than it ever had.
When he turned back around, Juan merely raised an eyebrow and handed Kieran a blue hospital sheet to cover himself with, muttering good-naturedly: “I trust the equipment is in good working order and I don’t have to give it the once over.” Cristina had turned crimson and before Kieran could say anything in reply, Cristina had grabbed the sheet and spread it across the faerie’s middle. Juan started undoing the bandages around Kieran’s legs. Although she knew, the shock of seeing his stumps properly in the harsh hospital light made Cristina’s heart pound harder in her chest. Both his lower legs had been cut off a few inches below the knees. She stood frozen and suddenly felt Kieran’s hand in hers; whether it was to reassure her or to seek reassurance, she could not tell. Juan was all absorbed in the task of assessing the wounds and only gave a satisfied grunt here or there whilst Cristina’s heart expanded in empathy for Kieran, the Unseelie prince, who was now her lover. A shower of sparks ran through her nerve endings whenever she thought of the night before. Involuntarily, her eyes had started wandering over Kieran’s naked body again. Their hands were still intertwined. Noticing how close her fingers were to Kieran’s nipple, she could not resist the impulse to stretch a finger and make contact. Kieran winced in surprise, his arm twitching up to swat away what had tickled him. However, he stopped himself and smiled without looking at her. Instead, he carefully placed her hand on his bare chest and laid his own hand over hers. A warm wave of emotion washed through her. It was such a little gesture that said so much. I am yours; you are mine and I entrust myself to you. Cristina thought of Mark with a pang and hoped he was alright. The now familiar icy grip of guilt began to take a hold of her insides. What would Mark think if he could see them now? His lover and his…whatever she was to him. She tried to tell herself that everything would be easier for it; all the tension between them resolved. She didn’t quite succeed in convincing herself.
The doctor finally finished his prodding and examining and looked at the two people in his consultation room. They could have been an ordinary young couple, their love being tested by a terrible accident. Juan knew things were a lot more complicated than that. “Have you heard of osseointegration?”
Chapter 15: Where did you sleep last night
Chapter title by Lead Belly (check out Nirvana's unplugged version)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Cristina finally fell asleep to the sound of Kieran’s strong and steady heartbeat amplified by a monitor. They were in a forgotten part of the hospital, which was nothing but a broom cupboard to most eyes. The glamour was hiding a fully equipped operating theatre as well as a couple of rooms for patients and one for the doctor himself. Her uncle Juan had operated on the Unseelie prince in the late afternoon after their arrival. He had enlisted the help of two colleagues who he had taken into his confidence over the years. Nevertheless, it was a dangerous business to operate on a faerie and Juan had admitted as much. He was fully aware that their knowledge of the fair folk and their physiognomy was limited and that he should have run more detailed pre-op tests. However, this would not only have been time-consuming but it also carried the risk of exposing the mundanes, himself as well as the prince. In the end, a fervent professional curiosity and the desire to help prevailed. Things had not started well with the prince initially showing little effects from the anaesthetics and now he wasn’t coming back around again as they would have expected. However, the procedure had gone well and they had succeeded in surgically implanting carbon fibre protheses into Kieran’s leg bones.
It was almost early evening the next day and Cristina was sleeping curled up on an armchair when a noise woke her. The sight that greeted her in her half-asleep state, made her jump out of her skin. There was a strange creature standing in the middle of the room and she was up and ready to fight in the blink of an eye before she realised it was the Unseelie prince. He had shed his hospital gown and put his trousers back on which he had tied up around his legs where the protheses emerged from the flesh. His bareness apart from the improvised breeches and the matt grey metallic artificial legs shaped like running blades somehow gave him the appearance of a faun. He was standing a little uncertainly, shifting around, looking like a mystical creature from another world. However, when he half turned his wiry, scarred body to face her, he looked nothing but intimidating. Cristina’s hand had flown up to cover her mouth in shock. She had not expected this transformation. Moreover, she had not expected him to be up and walking a mere 24 hours after the invasive surgery. Startlingly, he seemed fine. Like a phoenix from the ashes, reborn from identical molecules, different yet the same. Tears welled up in her eyes and she turned away, busying herself with her blanket that had dropped to the floor. Kieran stalked over with his new, unfamiliar gait.
“Do I look that terrifying?” he asked uncertainly.
“No,” she muttered and looked up at him, “it’s not that.” She swallowed hard. “I was so scared that I might have done the wrong thing. That I might kill you after all. But here you are. You look amazing! I can’t believe you’re up. How are you feeling?”
He just pulled her into a hug and leaned on her a little, still uncertain of how to distribute his weight onto his new limbs.
“We must leave,” he said after a while. “I received a fire message from Magnus.”
. . .
Kieran explained that Magnus had taken the Blackthorns to a safe place far away. Based on the sparse information he was giving her, Cristina suspected that it was the same place where Magnus had taken the prince after their calamitous venture into Faerie. Although Kieran tried to reassure her, she was worried about what they would find. So, she clung silently to the rider for most of their long journey along the red skies of the world. She thought she must have fallen asleep at some point and they were exhausted when they finally arrived in a beautiful woodland in what looked like late afternoon. There was a little stream as well as a dark lake on the other side of which she could make out a red wooden house with white window frames and a veranda running all around it. The lights inside made it look very warm and inviting.
Nerves got the better of Cristina as they were walking up to the house. It was no surprise although a somewhat incongruous sight when Magnus stepped onto the veranda with a grim expression on his face to greet them. He seemed a little startled when he saw Kieran but approached quickly and wrapped his right hand around the prince’s right lower arm and put the other hand on his shoulder in as warm a greeting as these two would probably ever share. Nevertheless, Cristina sensed Magnus’ joy and relief at seeing this new Kieran as the warlock was apparently lost for words and just smiled at the younger man. After greeting her, Magnus motioned for them to come inside where they were faced with Mark who had come to check out the new arrivals, seraph blade in hand. Helen entered the hallway behind him from what seemed a kitchen/diner. Cristina was taken aback and instinctively moved closer to Kieran. It was as if time stopped whilst they were all taking each other in. Cristina’s heart was beating painfully as she watched a storm of emotions cross Mark’s rigid face. She could feel his profound relief mixed with an equal amount of anger. He had looked Kieran over and then proceeded to examine them both, making Cristina feel increasingly uncomfortable. A hot flush crept up her neck and she felt open like a book. Without warning, Mark lunged at Kieran, throwing him against the door frame, holding the gleaming blade to his throat.
“Where were you?” Mark demanded. “Three days!” he was shouting now as all the anger and emotion unravelled. “Where in the name of all that’s sacred in this world have you been? I thought I’d never see you again! Doesn’t seem like you cared half as much. You obviously have nothing better to do than to f…”
“Mark!!” Cristina exclaimed and drowned out the rest of the sentence. Mark didn’t look at her. All his anger was directed at Kieran and the hostility in his voice made her heart stop. She should have known.
Eventually, Mark threw the short sword to the floor and ran out of the door.
“Wow…You people never fail to surprise!” Magnus’ voice was dripping with sarcasm but then his expression turned grim again. “You see, we had a rather combustible encounter with Julian and Emma the other night.”
“Julian would have killed Ty if it wasn’t for Emma,” Helen added curtly.
“Ty?!” Cristina was confused.
“He dared challenge Julian. But Julian actually wanted you,” Helen looked at Kieran. “So, it was just as well that you weren’t there.” All the sadness in the world was reflected in Helen’s eyes who had just been reunited with her siblings only to lose them one by one or so it seemed.
Kieran straightened up with a grunt. “I need some air,” he muttered and staggered outside. Magnus went after him, leaving Cristina with Helen who studied her suspiciously.
“What are you playing at?” she asked the younger girl with a hard edge to her voice.
“What do you mean?” Cristina asked half-heartedly. Helen just looked at her coldly.
“I don’t know what it is with the three of you but I thought you and Mark… Never mind. Do not hurt my brother! We are all hurting enough already.” The beautiful half-faerie glared at her with her brother’s eyes and Cristina felt utterly miserable. She had ruined everything.
. . .
Kieran and Magnus had disappeared but there was only one person Cristina wanted to talk to right now. She needed to explain to Mark what had happened. It didn’t take too long to find him as she knew he would be drawn to a remote, wild place somewhere but she also knew he wouldn’t stray too far from the house where his family was. However, he was not alone.
Cristina had walked through the woods down to the river and slowed down when she heard angry voices. As she let the sound guide her, she trod more carefully until she could make out Kieran’s striking figure with his blades gleaming in the low sunlight. She had not seen Mark initially but then noticed the movement that was slightly obscured from her view by the faerie. The young men stood facing each other by the pebbly river bank. If they needed to have it out with each other, she did not want to interrupt and therefore remained hidden amongst the trees, half turning back to leave the boys alone. She could make out from Mark’s body language that he was agitated and angry and doing much of the shouting whilst Kieran observed him, the outward picture of absolute calm. Just as Cristina thought this, Kieran slapped Mark, only to receive an instant punch to the face in return, which sent him reeling back. Cristina stopped in her tracks, shocked. Everything had gone quiet, even the birds seemed to have stopped chirping momentarily, wondering what had brought on this sudden violence. Kieran slowly raised a hand to his mouth. It came away bloody and Mark took a tentative step towards him, raising his hands apologetically but Kieran launched himself at him. The force of it took Mark by surprise and he crashed violently to the ground, Kieran on top of him, pinning him down with his bad arm at Mark’s throat. They had gone quiet, hurtful words apparently expended. Eventually, Kieran pushed back and made to stand up, however, Mark grabbed him and a fierce wrestling match ensued.
Following her initial shock, Cristina now wanted to intervene as she was getting concerned about Mark and Kieran’s willingness to express their pain by physically hurting each other. Once again, she stopped when the wrestling turned into something else. Mark’s shirt had ripped and Kieran proceeded to pull it off him, running his fingernails down the half-faerie’s back and pulling him in for a furious kiss. Mark retaliated by pushing Kieran to the ground, immobilising him by pinning down his hands over his head which must have been hurting Kieran’s left arm. The prince struggled to free his hands but suddenly stilled as Mark started pulling at Kieran’s trousers, exposing naked skin. Mark flipped Kieran over, holding him down whilst he undid his own jeans.
Cristina watched the scene unfolding in front of her in transfixed horror, her heart hammering in her chest. One half of her felt she should turn away and not witness what should be something private between two people. The other half felt she ought to stop what was happening. Then it was all over before Cristina could force her frozen limbs into action.
Mark rolled onto his back and remained motionless on the ground whilst Kieran scrambled to his feet and staggered away towards the treeline. He fell into a quick stride whilst doing up his clothes one-handed and Cristina realised that he was coming straight towards where she still stood hidden by the trees. Kieran entered the wood moments later and seemed to instantly become aware of her although she stood a few steps away to his right in the thicket. Their eyes locked and for a moment there was an angry challenge in his eyes before he turned and strode on.
Cristina let out the breath she had been holding, feeling her legs wobble. She looked towards Mark who hadn't moved at all. She wouldn’t have known what to say to him or that her presence would have been welcomed, so instead she hesitatingly turned and followed Kieran further into the woods. However, he had all but disappeared and she soon lost her bearings when she realised to her surprise that she was approaching the lake in front of the house they were staying at. The lake’s water was impenetrably dark and its shoreline mostly obscured by reeds apart from a few surprisingly fine-grained strips of sandy beach. She was startled to find that Kieran had stopped by the water, allowing her to catch up with him. He stood with his back to her, all tense and taut like a bow.
She stopped at a distance behind him, sure that he knew she was there. Yet, he didn’t move or say anything. After all, what was there to say. He knew what she had witnessed but she didn’t feel like discussing it any more than he did. It was not for her to apologise for, yet she felt the weight of her responsibility for what had become of these two young men’s relationship.
“Don’t leave!” she ventured after a while. He didn’t react.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he suddenly asked.
Cristina was stumped. “Tell you what?”
Kieran turned around part way, looking towards but not really at her. “That you and Mark had not made any promises.”
It took Cristina a moment to process this although it had occurred to her before that Kieran had assumed her and Mark to be together. Nevertheless, she hadn’t expected this reaction at all. And she didn’t know how to interpret it. “How would that make any difference now?” she asked, puzzled.
Kieran now fully faced her and looked at her, equally confused by her lack of understanding. “I thought he was sure of you. That he wouldn’t feel threatened by me or jealous.”
Cristina struggled to follow his train of thought. “So…if you had known that we were not together…in that way, you wouldn’t have slept with me? That doesn’t make any sense.”
Kieran looked somewhat offended. “I would have understood that nothing had changed and your feelings for each other were still unspoken, unacknowledged and fragile. I would have stayed away - rather than try to gain strength from what should have been stronger without me.”
Conversations with Kieran always made Cristina feel like she was on the backfoot, trying to catch up. Her mind was reeling.
“Did you?” she asked eventually.
He hesitated before quietly acknowledging: “Yes.”
A wave of relief washed over her. “Doesn’t that prove you are part of the equation?”
She had managed to surprise him and Kieran was now the one searching for words.
“How can I be? Why should I not leave? Whatever I do, wherever I go, I will bring pain to the ones I love – not because it is my choice but because of the role that fate has assigned me.” All of a sudden, the prince looked positively distressed. “Besides…Mark and I have broken our promises many times over. He is right. Our love is corrupted. We can never go back.”
“Yet you love him. And he loves you.”
“That is the tragedy.” He looked at her then, his feelings stripped bare, heartbreakingly vulnerable and forlorn. “I had almost hoped that he had made a life with you. Without me. But I find I cannot leave him be any more than he seems to be able to let me go.”
Uncertainly, Cristina approached, unsure whether Kieran would allow her to touch him. When she reached out, he took her hand but kept her at a distance.
“Don’t go,” she whispered but the tension would not leave Kieran’s body. They stood in silence for a long time before he kissed her hand and walked away.
I realised that I probably needed to add another tag to this chapter and I hope that I don't offend anyone who has experienced an actual abusive relationship. That is not how I see Mark - or Kieran for that matter. Please feel free to comment.
Chapter 16: Nocturne II
The universe aligns itself.
The moon was full and basking the large kitchen in a beautiful bright light. Cristina was sitting on the window seat, watching the lawn and flowers outside as they gleamed in the silvery darkness. It was still warm and through the open French doors she listened to the noises of the night, which was probably why the running of the tap gave her a fright because she hadn’t heard the other person enter the room. However, Cristina was not surprised to see that it was Mark who had managed to move around the house so soundlessly and was now looking at her equally startled with a half-filled glass of water in his hand.
He muttered something that sounded like “can’t sleep” and made to turn and leave.
“Mark!” Cristina called out and he stopped. “Sit with me,” she added more softly and then almost regretted it when he hesitatingly moved towards her around the kitchen counter and she noticed that he hadn’t got any clothes on. Taking in his bare, muscled body gave Cristina’s insides a familiar pleasant jolt and she felt herself blush. Nevertheless, she didn’t avert her gaze even though her hungry eyes seemed to make him fold in on himself, uncharacteristically embarrassed in his nakedness. Cristina offered him the blanket she had wrapped around herself and Mark took it thankfully, sitting down somewhat stiffly next to her on the window seat.
“Why are you wandering around stark naked if you are then embarrassed to be seen?” she teased gently.
“I didn’t expect to be seen.”
“What if Dru had been here?”
“I’m her brother!”
“A very grown-up, stark naked brother!”
“How is that different?”
Mark raked a hand through his hair and swore softly in a faerie tongue. “Dru didn’t sleep with my ex-boyfriend.” He looked away and added more quietly: “She doesn’t make me wish it had been me.”
She felt the rise of tears - from exhaustion, she told herself - but Cristina felt no longer like teasing. She swallowed. “I’m sorry. I never meant to hurt you. The other night in the Institute, I could feel your fear and I thought you would have wanted us to leave. To be safe. After that, I was afraid to make contact because I didn’t know what had happened and I didn’t want to draw attention to our position.”
After a while, he said flatly: “I am thankful for what you did for Kieran.” He didn’t look at her and fell silent, caught up in his own thoughts it seemed.
“Talk to me,” Cristina whispered eventually, at the same time dreading what she might hear.
“I don’t know what to say to you,” came the toneless response whilst Mark continued staring into the void.
“That you are angry? That you want me to leave? Just tell me.”
Mark sighed, resigned. “It’s ok. I know why you have chosen Kieran.”
Cristina was taken aback. “I did not choose Kieran!” she said emphatically. “I never meant for any of this to happen. I…” It was as if somebody had suddenly removed her vocal chords since words completely eluded her. “It was not…”, she tried again and failed.
A flicker of anger rippled across Mark’s face. He shook his head, trying to brush the thought away. “I know,” he said impatiently, then again more gently. “I know. I’m not judging you. Let’s just say it was very bad timing.” He deflated and added morosely: “Who am I to judge?! After all, I was the one who could never quite let go of Kieran in spite of wanting you. I don’t know what I was thinking. Teaches me about jealousy!” He snorted scornfully. He swallowed and seemed to utter the next words against his better judgement. “Kieran is… He can make you happy. He’s not…like me.” His body language seemed to suggest the omission of a word like ‘clumsy’. He looked so very young and brittle in this very moment. It made her whole being yearn for him, however, Mark wasn’t done with his eulogy for his ex-boyfriend as he had called him. It was the first time he had even acknowledged the prince as such.
“In spite of everything, Kieran knows who and what he is. As do you. You are a Shadowhunter through and through. I envy you that. I don’t know what I am. I’m nothing. I don’t belong anywhere and I am no good at being either part of the fae or a Shadowhunter.” Anguish was now clearly written on his face.
Cristina sat up straight. “You are not nothing, Mark Blackthorn! You have the best of both worlds! By the Angel, how I wished as a child to have faerie blood, making up stories of how that might be true, imagining being able to slip from one world to the other.” She searched his face for signs that she was getting through to him. “You have something only very few people have: an understanding, no, even better: access to two entirely different worlds. You know and see so much more than most people ever will. It’s a gift! Look at the people in the Cohort: they are ignorant fools, afraid of anything that is different to their limited worldview. But being able to see past the end of your own nose is always going to be more challenging. Kieran knows it as much as I do.”
Mark snorted dismissively and took to staring out of the window. Eventually he stated evenly: “Kieran hates me. And why wouldn’t he. I lied to him. That kind of betrayal is unforgivable in faerie.” He gave a stuttering sigh and added quietly, more to himself: “It doesn’t matter anyway. If we weren’t over before, we certainly are now.”
It was clear that his mood was tainted by the events of the afternoon and Cristina desperately searched for something comforting to say. “Kieran doesn’t hate you. You were both angry…”
Mark gave her a sharp look and she realised that he didn’t know that she had inadvertently witnessed the whole sorry scene. She groaned under her breath.
“I was there. I’m sorry. I had wanted to talk to you and followed you.” She blushed in embarrassment and cleared her throat before continuing: “You didn’t…you know…”
“Rape him?” Mark offered bitterly.
She flinched at the word. “No! He wouldn’t have let you.”
“Well, somehow, the fact that he didn’t stop me, doesn’t make it any better.” Mark exhaled heavily. He looked dejected as his eyes shone in the moonlight. He swallowed hard, trying to wipe away the memory and added quietly: “It’s always been like that. We fight, we make out. I don’t want it to be like that anymore. It hurts. I want a love that doesn’t hurt so much.”
“Kieran left.” She could hear her voice shaking and tears were now actually running down her cheeks. She was so tired and wrecked and dismayed at Mark’s misery. It was time to explain or at least to try.
“I love you, Mark,” she whispered. There, she had said it. He stared at her, his eyes growing wider. His mouth opened without making a noise. “In my heart, I know that…that you and Kieran aren’t over. And I don’t want you to be! I didn’t know it could be like this. It sounds terrible if I try to put it into words but… I just… want to be a part of it.”
Cristina looked at him for a reaction but only saw confused disbelief. She hated herself for crying but she couldn’t stop herself. It was as if all the pent-up emotions from the last months had suddenly found a release. She realised that she had tried to be strong not only for Mark but also for all the younger Blackthorn siblings after Livvy died, Julian and Emma disappeared and then Kieran, too. Moreover, dealing with the Clave and the Cohort was nothing if not frustrating and, at times, depressing but both Mark and her had had to learn to act like politicians and control their emotions. There had been little time for herself and no reprieve. Like a punctured dam, the defences broke and the flood was unleashed. Mark looked at her with concern and lifted a hand to her cheek, carefully brushing the tears away. She leaned into the touch and closed her eyes. Finally, she gave up trying to suppress the sobs. It actually felt good to cry and she just wanted to be held and comforted. Unintentionally, she touched naked skin when she reached out for him, making him twitch in surprise. However, she could feel him smile as his lips were brushing her cheek, kissing the tears away. He pulled her towards him and tenderly stroked her hair and face. Naked or not, she didn’t care anymore and slid an arm around him, resting her head against his chest. He smelled of a slightly too flowery shower gel which made her chuckle inwardly. She nuzzled the crook of his neck, her uncontrolled sobs turning into something more of a hiccup. The strong beat of his pulse was strangely calming until his lips found hers. The kiss was wet and salty from her tears. It seemed a lifetime ago since they last kissed and it felt different – maybe because of her earlier admission of love, maybe because of what had happened between the three of them. Cristina just wanted to wrap herself up in him and stay like that forever.
A faint meow made them both snap around only to find a young cat eyeing them curiously from the open door. The inquisitive little feline face looked quite comical. But Mark was in no mood for cute wildlife and sat back, making the animal scarper.
“Come to the lake with me,” he said softly and took her hand. They walked swiftly through the garden into the wilder undergrowth towards the smooth surface of the lake glittering in the moonlight. The blanket, which Mark was still holding, was now fluttering loosely around his body, leaving little to the imagination. ‘I’m following a naked faerie into the woods,’ Cristina thought and giggled, feeling like a wood sprite herself in the flimsy nightdress Helen had lent her. Mark stopped at the lake's edge and faced her where the high grass turned into reeds to their left whilst there was a small strip of beach to their right. Around them, the trees rustled softly in the mild breeze. He was still holding her hand, whilst the left arm crossed his chest to hold onto the blanket flung over his shoulder. He let go of it now and just stood in front of her, almost inviting her to look at him. To her surprise, there was no shame or awkwardness, just a warm tingle creeping up her spine. In the clear moonlight, she could see all the marks on his body, some fresh and dark, some faded and scarred. She remembered what he had told them about the faeries torturing him when he first came to the Wild Hunt. All this hurt evidenced on his body would have made her cry again if it wasn’t for his unselfconscious beauty and the desire written across his face and mirrored by her own body. She reached out her free hand to run her fingertips over his muscled chest. She heard him draw breath and then he looked down at where she was touching him, somewhat surprised, as if he still couldn’t quite believe what was happening. She pressed both her hands against him to feel the rapid rise and fall of his rib cage. He lightly pulled her towards him and rested his head against hers as she leaned into him. She slid her arms around him and revelled in the warmth of his embrace. He would always be slender-boned but in contrast to the painfully skinny boy whom she had first met, the man holding her was solid and muscular. She kissed his neck as his hands slid under her dress and lifted it over her head before sliding his hands back down her body, brushing over her curves pressed against him.
He managed to spread out the blanket whilst laying her down on it and hovering over her, looking at her with a smile, when another thought crossed his mind and he pulled back, slightly worried.
“Have you… you know… or do we have to…?”
“Don’t worry,” she breathed. “It’s ok.” Trust him to think about birth control, she thought. Truth was, she was regularly applying the rune because she had found it regulated her cycle and made it less painful. She wanted to pull him down to her but he had taken to worshipping her body, her pleasure clearly at least as important to him as his own. He was playful and gentle and although she had seen something quite different from him only a few hours ago, she sensed that this was how he liked it. Not that she was all that experienced in these matters. Her only experience before had been with Diego who had been rather selfish by comparison which had made her regret a little that she lost her virginity to him. On the other hand, she had learnt a lot about her own needs and desires. Cristina was close to unravelling when Mark finally made love to her, slowly and attentively, until she thought she would be eternally happy if this was the last thing she ever felt.
. . .
The first glow of sunrise had changed the light over the lake when she became aware of the sound of water and, incredibly, laughter. It gave her a warm, peaceful feeling inside which she tried to hang on to for as long as she could, knowing that it would not last. When she opened her eyes, she could see two people in the lake who could only be described as frolicking in the water. There was an early morning chill in the air but the boys did not seem to feel it. Cristina, however, was shivering although someone had attempted to cover her with the blanket as much as possible. She sat up, put her nightdress on, pulled the blanket around her and went to sit on top of a nearby rock which was gradually going to catch the sun. For the first time in a long time, she felt at peace as she was watching Kieran and Mark. She realised that she had never seen Kieran in the water but it was clearly his element. He was swimming and diving like a wild sea creature and the blades appeared to have become an almost natural extension of his body. His movements were as graceful as ever and she couldn’t help but admire his resilience and adaptability.
Suddenly, Kieran rose out of the water right in front of Mark and tried to pull him under. Mark dived sideways to escape his grasp and then leaped towards the shoreline, laughing and splashing Kieran who tried to launch himself after Mark but was pulled back by invisible hands. Cristina’s heart stopped as Kieran was trying to get onto his feet again and was pulled under once more. Mark turned to see what was going on and swiftly made his way back to the other boy, now fighting an invisible force. Mark dived and ended up lifting Kieran out of the water. Long, dark green seaweed had completely entangled the faerie's artificial limbs and immobilised his legs which he obviously had not felt happening.
Mark carried Kieran to the shore and sat him down on a flat surface of the rock beneath Cristina. The Unseelie prince was naked and dripping wet. Cristina could not believe that Kieran had let himself be carried like that, then again, he had probably had little choice. He sat straight and still on the edge of the stone, beautiful like a statue. Cristina took the blanket from her shoulders and wrapped it around the faerie who did not look at her but, instead, wordlessly inclined his head towards her in an affectionate, familiar gesture. She leaned her forehead against his and simply enjoyed the stillness of a small moment of shared comfort.
All the while, Mark was untangling the seaweed from Kieran’s protheses. Mark was kneeling in front of him, ripping the tough grass away and freeing Kieran’s limbs. Regardless of their doubts about their relationship, Cristina had witnessed a lot of care and kindness between the two young men and it made her heart burst with love for them both. She gently rubbed Kieran’s back and shoulders and put her arms around him from behind, splaying her hands across his naked chest. She could feel his strong and steady heartbeat whilst she was resting her head on his shoulder.
“You came back,” she murmured.
“No,” Kieran responded softly. “You came to me! I was in pain and my body needed to rest. I was right here by the lake.” He turned to look at her but his normally sharp gaze was warm and loving. “I watched you,” he whispered. “It was beautiful.”
It occurred to her that she probably ought to feel embarrassed but instead a sense of relief washed over Cristina. By some miraculous design, the universe had finally aligned with them. She snuggled up against the prince.
After a little while, she felt Kieran’s heartbeat change pace and his breathing quicken which made her look up. Mark had finished his job and his head was resting on the faerie’s thigh, his hands slowly moving up towards his hips. He must have noticed her looking up and suddenly his eyes locked with Cristina’s across Kieran’s body. He grinned almost imperceptibly. It was like a silent agreement. She let her own hands wander, caressing Kieran’s smooth chest and hard stomach waiting for the little gasp to cover his mouth with hers and find his tongue to engage in a passionate kiss. The Unseelie prince moaned under their touch, his chest rising and falling faster. He gave in to them completely, letting his head fall back against Cristina, his body tensing until he made a low strangled sound. His untamed, not quite human noises were becoming familiar to her, sending a spark of pleasure through her own body. In the end, she held him tightly as he relaxed.
The sun had begun to warm their bodies and, eventually, Mark got to his feet and collected Kieran’s clothes. Together, they dressed their lover in silence until he was ready, composed and imperial in front of them. Cristina had not known love could feel this tender, selfless and beautiful. Judging by their silence and almost shy looks, unsure of what to do or say, she knew the two boys felt the same. Kieran had gained an inch or two on Mark due to the blades but rather than draw himself up to his full height like he usually would do, he now seemed to hunch over slightly as if wanting to disguise the fact that he was taller, not wanting to tower over the other. A lot was left unspoken - so much hurt in the past, so much pain still to come. However, as Kieran hesitatingly reached out and the three of them wrapped each other into a gentle embrace, none of it mattered.
Chapter 17: Kingdoms of Rain
Chapter title from "Whiskey for the Holy Ghost" by Mark Lanegan
It was still early in the morning and Mark and Cristina had hoped to sneak back into the house unnoticed after Kieran had left to re-join the Unseelie court. However, Magnus was leaning casually in the doorway with a cup of coffee, eyeing them curiously.
“I’m glad to see you have finally relieved some of that sexual tension,” he smirked as they came closer and Cristina could feel herself blush furiously but Magnus was already turning away saying over his shoulder: “Come on, get dressed! We have a meeting to attend.”
There was so much Cristina wanted to talk about with Mark but they never really got the chance. When they arrived at the Gard’s portal in Alicante with Magnus, Alec and Aline, trouble was waiting. A group of young Cohort supporters led by Manuel Villalobos who had no business guarding the portal had obviously taken it upon themselves to do just that. They were submitted to full body searches which Magnus protested against but it only got worse from there. Under the pretence of searching for weapons, Manuel was feeling Cristina up and hissed: “Faerie whore!” – just loud enough for Mark to hear. Then, one of the girls spat at her and Cristina could think of no worse insult to the dignity of another person. She would have lashed out herself but Aline had already backhanded the girl in the face and Mark had Manuel pinned to the floor only to be kicked and punched by some of the others. The situation quickly escalated into a full-blown fight with seraph blades wielded by Shadowhunters against some of their own.
Blood would have been spilled in earnest if the Council guards hadn’t arrived. Horace Dearborn, now Inquisitor, appeared on the scene and demanded to know what was going on. He allowed Manuel to spin an unlikely yarn of unprovoked aggression by Mark. Magnus, who had remained ominously passive, finally spoke up:
“I am sure you will agree, Inquisitor, that this group of youngsters have not been given the powers by the Council, of which I am a member, to stop and search representatives of the Clave and Council. We have been subjected to malicious treatment without due cause, no doubt to intimidate and threaten and interfere with Council business. As long as the current Council rules, we have free passage and will proceed freely to the Council Hall right now.”
Dearborn and the members of the guard were perplexed enough to let Magnus pass who resolutely strode ahead, the rest of them following swiftly although Cristina thought she saw a knowing smirk flicker across the Inquisitor’s face as if he knew his moment would come. Alec had picked up Mark who was groaning with pain and trying to catch his breath. It had not escaped Cristina how Magnus had stressed the word ‘Council’, reminding the Inquisitor of the Warlock’s equal status as well as the current rule of law. It also dawned on her why Magnus had refrained from using any of his powers, which would only have played into Dearborn’s hands and been construed as Downworlder aggression.
“I hate this place,” Alec hissed furiously.
“It was only a question of time,” Magnus muttered in response without slowing down until they entered the Council Hall. The Hall was in some disarray with the Werewolf delegation exchanging heated words with Jia Penhallow. Magnus and Aline joined them as Cristina went to Mark’s side to draw a healing rune on his back whilst Alec was steadying him. Mark mumbled a thank you but was clearly shaken up by what had happened as was Cristina.
“What’s going on?” Cristina uttered more to herself than anybody in particular.
“The Cohort have obviously decided to try to seize power.” Alec looked around the Hall where groups of Shadowhunters were milling around, some engaged in angry discussions, others shaking their heads in disbelief and staring openly at the young members of the Cohort, dressed smartly in Centurion uniforms, who had spread out around the Hall, guarding the entrances and the dais. Eventually, Alec found who he had been looking for and rushed towards his sister Isabelle and his parabatai. Jace and Alec hugged and some of the tension visibly went from Alec’s body. Clary and Simon were with them as well and came over to greet the Los Angeles delegation.
“Look at the little self-important knobheads!” spat Jace derisively. “Most of them are still wet behind the ears and have never even set a foot outside of Idris or the Scholomance and they want to tell us who or what to be afraid of.” Although Jace certainly did not lack in self-confidence and a certain amount of swagger, he was not one to talk about how he, and what was basically a bunch of teenagers at the time, had saved the world. That was at least how Cristina and many others saw it and she almost wished that he would put the Cohort in their place by reminding them of some of his feats.
Magnus came back over and briefly glanced at Mark to check that he had recovered. His expression had gone from grim to forbidding.
“The Cohort seem to have succeeded in driving the Vampire delegation away and they framed one of them for arson. At least, it is obvious to me that it’s a set-up. The vampire is in prison now but I’m sure the clan are going to be back for him. Dearborn is swiftly establishing himself as dictator and not enough Shadowhunters have made it here to stop him. People are either staying away because of the intimidation or they are not getting in.”
Jia Penhallow was now standing on the dais with Horace Dearborn and the Hall slowly fell quiet, delegates and audience shuffling to take their places. In an extraordinary stunt, the Inquisitor took the word before the Consul got the chance.
“Fellow Shadowhunters!” he boomed. “We have had to take steps against terrorist threats from downworld circles which is why you see so many guards deployed today. However, we have succeeded in stopping an imminent attack on this very Hall and we have arrested the culprit.” His voice was rising as murmurs and shouts were spreading across the room. He waited for the noise to die down whilst Jia was trying to be heard but Cristina just caught a subtle movement as one of the guards behind her seemed to shove a weapon in her back and the Consul went rigid.
“As is my right as Inquisitor in case of immediate threat to the world of Nephilim, I herewith suspend the current Council until further notice and all access routes in and out of Idris will be strictly controlled! We cannot risk another attack on our institutions!”
Magnus rose from his seat and glared at Horace Dearborn who could barely stop himself from having the warlock arrested. However, he was clever enough to stay his hand. He knew just how far he could go.
The Hall went quiet very slowly as everybody started to stare at the two men, waiting to see what would happen. Magnus spoke calmly and controlled:
“Nephilim. Friends. Not so long ago, you allied yourselves with Downworlders to defeat a great threat to your world. All our worlds are safer if we cooperate and not succumb to fear and hatred. That is your Inquisitor’s aim and you will be less safe and the world even more unstable as a result.” The younger Cohort members tried to shout Magnus down but the warlock could make his voice cut through: “Your biggest threat comes from not engaging with Downworld, and the fey in particular, at this time of change and uncertainty. Do not give up the fight against those who wish to isolate you from the world around you!”
The guards moved towards Magnus who turned to leave the hall with his head held high before they could reach him. Aline, then Alec and Mark with Cristina quickly followed suit to a noisy mix of applause and uproar in the Hall.
. . .
Later that night, after a lot of gloomy discussions back at their current refuge, Cristina had finally fallen asleep next to Mark in her room. It was an exhausted, dreamless sleep until something woke her. It was one of those strange moments when Cristina was startled, apparently before she heard the actual sound that frightened her, making her wonder whether she had a sixth sense when asleep or whether it had been an earlier noise which had, in fact, woken her up. Before she was fully awake, she was already crouching next to the bed, seraph blade in hand. She glanced at Mark who was in the same position on the other side of the bed, both of them taking in the figure in front of them, standing by the window, partially lit by moonlight, tall and inhuman, dripping wet from the heavy summer rain, long sword in his right hand, touching the floor. Mark rose slowly before Cristina had processed the information her eyes were taking in.
“Kieran,” he said, surprised, with an edge of alarm. Cristina realised that Kieran was steadying himself with the sword on the floor, using it as a stick more than a weapon. Kieran barely raised his head, just taking laboured breaths, as if scarcely able to hold himself up. His voice was quiet and low but steady:
“Julian killed the Seelie Queen.”
The words sent a cold shiver down Cristina’s spine and her mind started racing. How was that even possible? A creature so powerful and old, how could anyone kill her, let alone an 18-year-old Shadowhunter?! But then, Julian was no mere Shadowhunter anymore. And where was Emma?
Mark had approached the Unseelie prince and slowly taken his sword, replacing it with his arm as support for the clearly shattered Kieran, leading him to the bathroom. In the bright light of the small wet-room, Cristina could see the state he was in: hollow-faced, staggering, dirty and bloodied, clothes torn and drenched from the rain. He let himself be led under the showerhead and hardly moved as Mark took off the ragged clothes and turned the shower on. Mark proceeded to wash Kieran’s black hair which, as Cristina realised with a start, had grown by a few inches within 24 hours. Mark carefully cleaned away blood and dirt, examining a few fresh cuts and bruises as he did so. Not for the first time, Cristina began to feel awkward faced with the familiarity and easy trust between the two young men. She was just about to turn away and leave, when Kieran’s legs buckled under him and he slid to the floor with a hair-raising screeching sound as his blades scraped along the tiled floor. Mark just about caught hold of him before he hit his head on the hard surface. Cristina rushed forward, turned the shower off and draped a towel across Kieran who had started shivering uncontrollably with exhaustion. Together, they managed to get him back into the bedroom and lay him down on the bed. They had hardly covered him up, when Kieran succumbed to sleep. Mark slumped to the floor, his back leaning against the bed. Cristina sat down next to him and waited for him to speak as she felt unable to organise her thoughts into coherent sentences.
“His hair is growing back,” she observed after a while.
“Yes. It seems to have given him back some of his healing powers. None of the new injuries looked serious at all and were already mending.”
Cristina sighed and decided to broach the subject. “How is it even possible for Julian to kill the Seelie Queen? What does that mean? How does succession work in the Seelie court?”
“I don’t think there is a succession. I think it means war.”
Chapter 18: The Demons You Wake
"The demons you wake must be fought" - from the song "Take", Soulsavers/Dave Gahan album "The Light the Dead See"
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Cristina and Mark had eventually decided to wake up Magnus and Alec to tell them about the latest development. Magnus listened with a grim expression and contributed little to their speculation about what the Seelie Queen’s death would bring. After a moment’s silence, he simply asked: “Where is Kieran now?”
“Asleep in my room,” Cristina responded, hoping to imply that they should let him rest although she already knew that it was not going to happen.
“Let’s go talk,” said Magnus and went upstairs, the rest of them following. To Cristina’s surprise, they found Kieran up and almost dressed. In the bedroom light, Cristina got a better look at him. His hair was shimmering in an array of ocean colours as it had before. It was nearly black now and long enough to cover part of his mutilated ear. The stark bald head was gone which made him look less severe and more like the boy she had first met. The blackened veins spreading out from the scar across the left side of his face, although still clearly visible, had receded a little as had the same marks on his left hand and arm. He was holding his sword in his left, so he seemed to have regained some of his strength in the arm as well. The carbon-fibre running blades still gave him the appearance of a faun in spite of their sharp lines and silvery gleam. He looked spectacular, Cristina thought, and regardless of whatever had happened at the Seelie Court, he had made a remarkable recovery over the last 24 hours - the only logical reason surely being their encounter by the lake. The memory sent a pleasant spark through her body which then made her blush and look away.
Although Kieran did not seem surprised to see them, his posture somewhat sagged as if caught before he was able to make his escape. He inclined his head towards Magnus who returned the greeting.
“Prince Kieran,” Magnus began respectfully, “please would you tell us what happened at the Seelie Court.”
The courteous request obviously put Kieran in the desired difficult position. It was clear that he was weighing up the preservation of politeness with how much to tell them.
“Upon my return to Faerie at your last sunrise, I received information that the Seelie Court was under attack.” He turned away a little and if he didn’t exude so much self-control, Cristina would have said he was squirming because he could not decide how to phrase what had happened next without lying. She understood why when he continued: “I decided to investigate and found the Court half destroyed and burning, with many Seelie dead. I encountered Julian and Emma who were clearly responsible for the destruction and I fought them at the side of the Queen’s soldiers…” He paused until Magnus prompted:
“…because you knew that the Black Volume was at the Seelie Court.”
Kieran looked like a trapped animal but he confirmed simply: “Yes.”
“So, where is it now?” Magnus asked before quickly correcting himself: “No, don’t answer that! Does Julian have the book?”
“No,” Kieran seemed relieved to be left off the hook of revealing the book’s whereabouts. “Julian and Emma eventually retreated but I then learned that Julian had tricked his way into the Queen’s quarters and killed her in cold blood before apparently attempting to destroy the entire Court. Julian has gained some unhuman powers...” He looked at them regretfully. “The Seelie have been dealt a terrible strike but they will seek revenge on the Nephilim.”
Magnus searched Kieran’s face. “What can we do?”
Again, Kieran was obviously torn between revealing too much and wanting to be helpful. Eventually he spoke: “I will take the news to my brother, King Leor. He is likely to succeed in uniting the faerie courts but I believe he still prefers to maintain peace, not least because both faerie armies are not in their best state. However -” He broke off, all the while avoiding Mark’s gaze. “It would be advantageous to bring the Nephilim to the negotiating table.” He addressed the last words to Alec and Cristina, apparently knowing that Magnus and Mark would not be heard.
Cristina sensed that a lot remained unsaid and Mark’s start towards Kieran showed her that his thoughts had gone in the same direction. The fey would demand something in return and it would certainly involve their Queen’s murderer. Mark seemed to want to reach out, his expression almost pleading as he sank to one knee in front of the prince. Kieran took a step back and raised a hand, preventing Mark from speaking. His voice was not without emotion but calm and firm when he said: “Please don’t ask me what I cannot promise.”
Suddenly, a fire message fluttered towards Alec. His eyebrows rose: “I’m being summoned to the Clave.”
“They know,” Magnus said darkly.
“But how -,” Cristina began.
“Julian must have told them.” Magnus and Kieran exchanged a look and Kieran’s silence all but confirmed Magnus’ statement.
“Why would he do that? He is no friend of the Clave and he hates the Cohort.”
“I don’t think he cares about anything other than power and destruction at this stage. He wants fey and Nephilim to go to war.”
. . .
Magnus notified the vampires and werewolves who he knew were sympathetic to their cause of trying to broker a lasting peace. Him and Mark decided to await the fey in Brocelind Forest at the gateway between Idris and Faerie whilst Alec and Cristina went to Alicante. They knew that Aline would be there already with her mother who, for her part, had been trying to gather support against the Cohort and their new anti-downworlder measures under the guise of a national emergency.
The Gard and Council Hall were guarded by the Cohort like it had been the last time they came, however, at least they got in without trouble this time. No downworlders were present. The atmosphere in the Hall was tense and Horace Dearborn wasted no time to address the assembled Shadowhunters. He cut straight to the chase:
“Shadowhunters! We have been handed an unprecedented opportunity which we shall seize with both hands.” He paused for effect. “The Seelie Queen is dead!” Gasps as well as cries of joy and dismay echoed through the Hall. The Inquisitor waited for the noise to die down with a triumphant smirk on his face.
“The fey are shaken and weak and we shall conquer the Lands once and for all! We shall subjugate all faeries and make them bow to our rule! Now is our time! We must hurry and use our advantage before the Courts unite against us!”
Loud cheers drowned out the voices of dissent.
Alec rose to his feet to be heard and the room slowly went sufficiently silent. “Not all of us are willing to go to war with the Fair Folk and what makes you think they have not united already? I say we seek the dialogue with King Leor!”
Some delegates nodded and uttered “aye, aye” in agreement. However, the Inquisitor seemed to have waited for that kind of comment and his smirk only widened. “I say: let there be war for we will win! We have a weapon which the fey fear even more than us. And anybody not following us will be considered a traitor and treated no better than the worst of our enemies!”
Angry voices were interrupted by a shout of: “What is that weapon you speak of?”
Dearborn was now positively gloating: “We have the Shadowhunter on our side who killed the Queen and he is in possession of the Black Volume of the Dead.”
The words had the desired effect of awe and disbelief as well as hope mixed with near certainty of invincibility. Cristina threw Alec an incredulous look but he only gave a slight shake of his head and sat back down next to her.
“How do you propose to rule Faerie after we have conquered it?” somebody shouted.
“We will install Chief Magistrates and a sufficient group of soldiers in both the Seelie and Unseelie Courts to enforce our rule.” Dearborn seemed to have an answer for everything. “My own daughter, Zara, will take over the Seelie Court.”
Alec snorted in disbelief and he was not the only one although most appeared to think it a perfectly achievable course of action.
“Shadowhunters,” Dearborn shouted, “arm yourselves and follow me!” The Cohort erupted into a deafening cheer and began to usher everybody outside alongside them.
Cristina turned to Alec, panic rising in her voice: “What are we going to do?”
“Let’s find the others and stay well behind the lunatics.”
. . .
When the Cohort and the more reluctant non-affiliated Shadowhunters arrived at Brocelind Forest, some on horseback but most on foot, the Unseelie King and an impressive army of Unseelie and Seelie soldiers awaited them in the open fields in front of the treeline marking the gateway to Faerie. There was no telling how many more soldiers were hiding in the woods. Cristina could make out Kieran at his brother’s side in what accounted for fey military regalia. Kieran wore a dark red cape which was richly embroidered and similar to the dark blue version which Leor was wearing. Cristina vaguely noticed a stunningly beautiful woman at Leor’s other side and she was wondering whether he had taken a wife. They were on horseback but Leor and Kieran dismounted as a sign of their willingness to negotiate when the Nephilim approached. Cristina’s view of them was now obscured by the members of the Cohort in front of her but she could hear some whispered exchanges and she realised they were mainly about Kieran’s appearance. Some Shadowhunters remembered him as the Seelie Queen’s envoy but none of them had seen him since he had sustained his injuries. They seemed to be unnerved by the sight of him - a thought which filled Cristina with satisfaction.
A group of warlocks, vampires and werewolves led by Magnus had joined the delegation from Faerie in a show of solidarity. They were standing a little apart and the Consul motioned for her followers to slowly but unthreateningly detach from the Cohort to stand alongside the downworld representatives. It was a risky move and Cristina was tense in anticipation of a battle – not with the fey but with their fellow Nephilim. However, the Inquisitor and the members of the Cohort, who had joined him to meet the two faeries, seemed distracted by something Leor and Kieran were doing or saying. As they moved around, the prince and his brother came back into view and Cristina could see that Kieran was holding something awkwardly in his gloved hands. With a start, she realised what it was: the Black Volume of the Dead. There was no mistaking the book.
So, Julian had lied to the Cohort to bring them here in this reckless attempt to defeat the fey. Yet, he probably had not counted on Kieran bringing the Black Volume - or, had he? Before Cristina could follow that train of thought any further, Zara had suddenly sprung forward and held the tip of her sword to Kieran’s throat. She almost seemed surprised herself how easy it had been to change the dynamic of the group in the middle of the field between the opposing armies - no matter that it broke all rules of formal negotiations. But Kieran did not put up any resistance when she reached for the book and Cristina suddenly thought that he wanted Zara to have it. Cristina held her breath but nothing appeared to happen as Zara grabbed the book triumphantly. She held it up to cheers from the Cohort whilst the fey remained utterly still. Then suddenly, there was an ear-splitting screech before the world went momentarily silent. No restless hooves, no chatter or cheers, no birds, not even the gentle breeze that had been there before, could be heard anymore. Only Zara seemed to hear anything. She had sunk to her knees, covering her ears, the book having dropped to the ground in front of her. Her mouth was open and her face contorted into a soundless scream. People started to look at each other in shock before the sounds came back, including Zara’s agonised shriek. The arm, with which she had held the book, seemed to burn inwardly as it turned black. Watching Zara turning into a human torch, Cristina understood how Kieran’s injuries had happened. It appeared as if he had not dropped the book at the time but rather tried to cover his ears with it before somehow managing to use it against his father. The Inquisitor started shouting and threw his robe over his daughter in an attempt to quell the fire. The fey remained unmoved.
Suddenly, Kieran’s head whipped around and he searched the sky before he snatched up the Black Volume, swung himself onto Windspear and rode off at great speed. Cristina had followed his line of sight and she could now make out two small dots in the sky which quickly drew closer, followed by another few dots. Then she heard the hooves and everybody on the plain stopped and looked up. Julian and Emma rode two faerie horses which Cristina could only imagine they must have stolen from the Hunt, which were, in fact, in hot pursuit, led by Gwyn ap Nudd himself. Julian led his horse down towards Zara’s crumpled figure on the ground where her father was kneeling next to her. His horse was wild-eyed. It balked and kicked and tried to shake off its rider who was holding on firmly. Julian looked nothing like the boy Cristina remembered. He was equally wild-eyed and unshaven although half of his head was bald revealing an angry fresh scar. He was armed to the teeth and both fey and Nephilim shied away from him.
“Where is he?” he shouted madly until somebody pointed in the direction that Kieran had taken off in. In the meantime, Mark had run up to his brother and swiftly grabbed the reins of the horse like someone who knew how to handle the steeds of the Hunt. Without hesitation, Julian struck his brother down with an almighty blow from the hilt of his sword but then caught his sagging body, lifted him onto the horse in front of him and galloped away. Emma was suddenly beside Cristina and held out a hand towards her.
“Help me stop him,” she said calmly. Emma’s eyes were clear and determined. She looked more like the girl she had first met than the ragged figure who had sought her out some weeks ago. Cristina took her friend’s hand and swung herself onto the horse’s back behind her. Whilst they pursued Julian, Gwyn and his men had come to a halt between the armies of fey and Nephilim. He took in the scene and seemed to consider it more important to stay for the time being than continuing with his pursuit. Nevertheless, when Cristina turned around, she noticed two Hunters following them at a distance. She was desperate to talk to Emma but it was impossible galloping through the air as they were.
They eventually spotted the boys over Lake Lyn. It looked like they were riding on the lake’s surface, their steeds’ hooves audibly whipping the mirror-like surface into a spray. Emma slowed the horse down and they landed at the lake’s shore. Shadowhunters feared the lake for the poisonous quality of its water and Emma was obviously reluctant to follow the two riders. Kieran had noticed Julian with the motionless Mark in front of him. He had turned Windspear around and was now charging at Julian who did not slow down either. It looked like they were jousting albeit without lances. Suddenly, Julian freed himself of Mark who sank like a dead weight into the water. Cristina screamed and ran towards the pier which jutted some distance into the lake. Kieran had reached Julian and launched himself at him, dragging him down into the lake’s depths with him whilst the horses ran ashore. Now Emma was screaming, too, and she started running into the water but stopped when it reached her thighs. Lake Lyn was big, unfathomable and very deep and she would have had to swim a considerable distance to reach the spot where Julian and Kieran had disappeared. Apart from a ripple near the middle of the enigmatic lake, everything had stilled. Cristina panicked as she reached the end of the pier. She was faced with the same conundrum as Emma, unsure of whether she was going to be able to reach or even find the spot where Mark had vanished and then having to dive into the dark waters without equipment and likely to be poisoned in the process.
Suddenly, a mermaid broke the surface near the pier and swam towards it, towing a limp body behind her. Cristina reached out and pulled Mark onto the wooden planks whilst the mermaid lifted him up only to disappear again beneath the lake’s surface as quickly as she had come. Cristina was barely aware of loud splashes near the shore to her left where Kieran was just rising from the water like a magnificent sea creature, hauling a staggering Julian along with him.
Mark wasn’t breathing and Cristina applied healing runes with a shaking hand before attempting the human mouth-to-mouth resuscitation technique she had learnt from her uncle. Somehow, at the back of her mind, she knew that Kieran and Julian were fighting in the shallow water and she was afraid that Emma would weigh in and kill the Unseelie prince. Nevertheless, she forced herself to keep focusing on saving the life of at least one of the men she loved. It seemed to take a lifetime until Mark began to splutter and cough up some of the water he had swallowed. Cristina had no idea how Lake Lyn would affect him as it obviously had little effect on faeries but at least he was breathing again.
However, there was no end to the shocks of this wretched day as an inhuman scream tore through the air. Cristina could not help but spring to her feet towards the sound and draw her weapon although she already knew what had happened and that she would not be able to change the latest cruel blow of fate. As she listened to Emma scream, she knew it was the sound of a parabatai bond being severed.
Cristina was frozen in place as she saw Emma bent over Julian’s lifeless body lying in the lake’s shallows and Kieran standing next to them with his sword in his hand. He slowly turned towards her, looking at Cristina with blank eyes.
“What have you done?” she whispered with numb lips.
This is the major character death of the story. I'm sorry. There won't be any more though.
Chapter 19: No Easy Action
Chapter title from "Field Songs" by Mark Lanegan
Winters in New York were miserable. It was cold and windy to the extent that you almost got blown off your feet when you turned around a corner where the skyscrapers acted like wind tunnels. Cristina had decided that she hated the city. She missed the desert outside Los Angeles, the climate in Mexico, her family and so many other things – yet, she was still here. Cristina was sitting on the bed in one of the many virtually identical rooms in the New York Institute which had been her home for the last three months or so.
Julian could not be given the traditional Shadowhunter funeral in Idris due to his betrayal, so they had burned his body secretly in the desert behind the Los Angeles Institute with only the remaining Blackthorn siblings and a few friends present. Emma had been there. And Mark. Emma had broken down afterwards and Cristina had accompanied her friend to New York which seemed to be the best place for her with Clary there. Moreover, Emma’s uncle-of-sorts, Jem, had joined them and he seemed to have been able to provide a certain amount of comfort. Emma was in a bad way but she was surrounded by people other than the Blackthorns who she trusted and who had been through situations at least as bad as hers. They gave her the time and space she needed.
Cristina herself had been glad to escape the Blackthorn world and enter what seemed like an alternate universe in New York. She needed to get away after what had happened as much as she wanted to be there for Emma. It turned out that Emma had appeared to have shaken off the effects of the parabatai curse. Even Jem wasn’t quite sure why but Emma herself was certain that it was because she had gradually become more and more afraid of Julian and her soul had started to rebel against his actions. She had fallen out of love with him. Unfortunately, it only made her feel worse about having abandoned Julian to his fate without being able to help him. She described him as having become like a junkie addicted to power at the expense of everything else and it had become impossible for Emma to reach him.
For her part, Cristina felt like a coward but she could not face Mark’s fathomless grief for his brother any more than he could himself, which probably made her partially responsible for him returning to the Wild Hunt only days after the funeral. And Kieran – well, that was another matter altogether. She was staring at the beautiful, scented card in her hands. Her world was dragging her back and could no longer be ignored. An invitation, from ‘the Faerie Courts’ no less, was not one to be refused. Especially not a personal one. An invitation to celebrate the union of the Seelie and Unseelie kingdoms for the first time in living memory and peace between the fey, Nephilim and downworld following the Cohort’s defeat on that fateful day by Brocelind Forest. She rubbed the luxurious, handmade paper between her fingers and she knew she had no choice.
. . .
Cristina travelled to Faerie with Clary and Jace. For obvious reasons, Emma had not been invited and it was the first time that the two were separated since Julian’s death. Cristina didn’t like it but Emma assured her that she would be ok. Tessa and Jem were going to stay with her. In spite of it all, Cristina was looking forward to seeing Alec, Magnus, Helen and Alina. Apart from Helen, no other Blackthorns would be there and Cristina wasn’t even sure about Mark. She wasn’t sure whether she wanted him to be there or not.
When they arrived at the Seelie Court, knights led them to their accommodation. Cristina was greeted personally as the ‘Lady of Roses’ and led away separately to what seemed the depth of the court. Her room was astonishing. Not only was it big but it had a massive bed underneath a root tree with delicate, enchanted flowers. It was obscured by a pretty water feature which made the flowers look at once alive and like glittering jewels. The scene was breath-taking and Cristina turned to the knight who had led her here to say that surely there was a mistake but he had already vanished.
She wondered what the protocol would be. There was not exactly a published schedule of events, so she decided to freshen up and get changed, which turned out to be a wise decision as there was a knock on the door soon after and she was led to what looked like the royal private quarters. She was asked to wait in what could best be described as an anteroom. The room itself was not half as luxurious as the corridors and the door itself had suggested. It was sparsely furnished but decked with lavish carpets and tapestries. Cristina looked around and tried to peak into what she expected to be the private bedroom beyond a curtain of delicate leaves but she appeared to be alone. She was a little disconcerted by having been led here. Suddenly, the door through which she had entered was opened again by the same faerie and Kieran stepped into the room. Her heart skipped a beat.
Kieran. The King of Seelie. Her lover.
Cristina shook her head. It all seemed so unreal. Yet, looking at the man in front of her, she finally had to accept that it was true and that it all made sense. After the Seelie Queen’s murder, Leor, the Unseelie King, had seized the opportunity to rule over all of Faerie. However, he had been true to his word, not only with regard to wanting to make peace with the Nephilim. More importantly, he wanted lasting peace in Faerie and resisted subjugating the Seelie who would only be ruled by the Unseelie under duress.
It turned out that the Seelie Queen had indeed had children. However, none were raised as royals or trained to once take the crown. With the exception of one girl – the young woman Cristina had seen with Leor on the battlefield and had wondered whether she was his wife. In fact, she was Leor’s daughter who had raised her and prepared her for a potential future role as Queen, much as he had prepared to become King. However, she was still young and it seemed Leor did not quite trust her enough to rule the Seelie single-handedly, not least because nobody else had known of her existence. However, there was somebody else who had become famous and revered amongst Seelie and Unseelie alike. Somebody who had been instrumental in bringing about change; who had killed one monarch and avenged the death of the other. So, it was a calculated if not ingenious move to unite both kingdoms through marriage and have an ally in the court whom the Seelie would accept and follow. Moreover, Kieran Kingson also provided Leor with useful links to the Shadowhunter world which he did not have himself.
Cristina was uncertain what to do. Kieran looked at her, any emotion strictly under control. It occurred to her that she should probably curtsy although she was not sure how to. She made to bow but Kieran was quick to close the gap between them and held her up by the elbow which brought them awkwardly close as she straightened up. She could smell his familiar scent, feeling the warmth of his body. She felt the heat rise into her face, no doubt turning a deep crimson before she managed to take a step back, avert her eyes and murmur a greeting. Only now did she become aware of the other person who had followed Kieran into the room. Mark seemed as surprised as she was.
“Cristina,” Kieran began. “I am glad you followed my invitation…”
To her surprise, Mark snorted at that. He looked somewhat flushed and dishevelled and she wondered whether the two of them had been together intimately just now. The thought made her angrier than she realised she already was. Kieran threw Mark an annoyed sideways glance.
“Gwyn has released Mark to me as my bodyguard. He understood Mark had only needed some time away…”
“…and the two of you just picked up where you left off.”
“With a punch-up, you mean?” Mark said sarcastically. “We already did that when Kieran came to see me in the Hunt and I quite feel like another.” Cristina began to understand that his flushed look had less to do with any romantic actions but with anger.
This reunion was clearly not going the way Kieran had intended. He had lost control of the situation and it annoyed him.
“I can’t help feeling Mark is a little ungrateful for my intervention. My intention was to reunite the two of you after the rift that I caused,” he said almost defiantly.
“The King has spoken,” Mark muttered angrily.
Cristina was speechless and she felt the bile rise in her throat.
“Please tell me he’s not really this cold and arrogant,” Cristina implored Mark cynically.
Kieran raised his chin and there was now barely concealed anger mirrored in the set of his features although he kept his emotions firmly under wraps. “I understand that you both feel wrath towards me and I cannot blame you. You won’t ever have to see me again after tonight but, please,” and his voice actually took on a note of desperation, “do not ignore each other. You deserve to be happy!”
“That is your solution to this mess?!” Cristina exclaimed and exhaled noisily.
Mark was leaning with his back against the closed door and suggested in bitter amusement: “Maybe you should try punching him as well.”
“I would actually like to punch the both of you! Hard!” Cristina cried out in frustration.
Kieran looked at a loss. “I’m sorry for your friend’s pain,” he tried.
“That’s what you think I’m angry about!?” Cristina demanded. “That was not your fault. It was not even really Julian’s fault but that of whoever invented parabatai, knowing that two people who would be so close to each other, would never be able to fall in love! Julian’s death makes me…,” she gestured wildly for words to express what she felt, “…deeply upset but then again…you didn’t even kill him, did you!?”
She could see that Mark knew but Kieran was startled.
“Emma told me. I almost wish you had killed him. Then she would have been able to hate you rather than herself.”
“It doesn’t really make a difference,” Kieran said quietly. “I would have killed him if she had not.”
“Yes, but now she has to live with the fact that she killed the one person she loved more than anything else in the world.”
Cristina paused to fight down the despair of the last few months. It was hard to face the reality of what Emma had done. What she felt she had to do. It had cost her everything. It was bad enough that Julian was dead and having thought that Kieran had killed him. It was so much worse to see Emma’s utter hopelessness. How could you ever get over killing the love of your life, your soulmate, even if he had become dangerous to you and others; even if he might have wanted you to do it if he was of sane mind. Emma had told her that Julian seemed to embrace her blade and almost lean into it at the last moment as if the pain had cut through the madness to the core of his being and he had wanted to end it. But Cristina could not be sure whether that was just wishful thinking on Emma’s part. In any case, it suited both Emma and Kieran to have the world continue to think that it was the Unseelie prince who had killed the mad Shadowhunter.
Cristina glared at the two men in front of her. She turned to Kieran and carried on with as much control as she could muster: “I am not angry with you for what happened to Emma. I’m not even angry with you for returning to Faerie. I am angry with you for deciding that we cannot love you. I am angry with both you and Mark for going where I cannot follow. After everything that happened between us, I am angry with you for getting married without even attempting to talk to me, for becoming King and making yourself forever unreachable to me!”
By now, a wretched sort of fury had taken hold of every inch of her body. Kieran had tensed and stared at her, stunned and lost for words. Cristina let out a frustrated growl, turned and ran out of the room, almost pushing an equally surprised Mark out of the way.
“By the Angel,” Mark murmured, “I wish she’d been around when we fought in the past. She can put things into words that I would never have found. I would have just punched you in the face.”
“And so you did,” Kieran remarked sullenly.
Chapter 20: Because of this
Chapter title from "Scraps at Midnight" by Mark Lanegan
Cristina rushed through the confusing tunnels without knowing where she was going. Somehow, she found her way outside and found some of the other Shadowhunters milling around. Everybody was chattering about their rooms and wondering what faerie delights the festivities would entail. Cristina was only half listening and grabbed a glass from a passing goblin’s tablet.
“Aren’t you worried that it might turn you into a rat?” inquired an amused voice at her side and made her jump. It was Magnus.
“Doesn’t seem like such a bad option right now,” Cristina muttered cheerlessly and gulped down the sparkling liquid. Magnus looked at her with a strange expression.
“You know,” he mused eventually, taking her arm and leading her away, “I don’t say this often to anybody but I feel I owe Kieran – and you…to some extent. Although it’s not necessarily what he set out to do, he saved my life and that of many other warlocks by killing his father. And it is you who gave him his life back when I couldn’t. Without him, we would still have the Cold Peace and we would still have the Cohort, which could have caused so much more pain to people like Alec and myself. Yet,” Magnus paused and looked at her, “he doesn’t seem to be any happier for it.”
“What is this: buy-a-spell, get-one-free day?” Cristina gave a crooked smile. “I don’t think there is a spell that could help here. Unless, maybe turning the three of us into rats…” Somehow it seemed pointless to try to deny their three-way attachment in front of Magnus.
“Well, turning people into animals is a last resort really,” he smiled.
She looked up and mustered the courage to ask the question she had pondered for months: “Have you ever seen three people…happy together, you know…in a relationship?”
“Yes, I have seen it – although, admittedly, more amongst the fey than anywhere else because they are more in tune with their desires and the transience of the world.” He was still smiling but it now looked regretful.
“Well, I don’t think Kieran got that memo.” She was just growing more miserable. “Mark has a position here if he wants it but I… There is no place for me here.”
She turned at the sound of familiar voices. Mark was walking towards the other Shadowhunters with Jace and Alec. Helen had followed them and called her brother’s name.
“Excuse me,” Cristina mumbled towards Magnus and trailed after the siblings but not without grabbing another glass of an oddly-coloured drink from another faerie. Mark and Helen disappeared amongst the trees and she followed them as quietly as she could.
“…nobody hates you!” Cristina heard Helen say. “It’s hard. Of course, it’s hard! But they don’t hate Kieran either. He was protecting you and defending himself. But – please - you can’t stay with him now anyway. Come home! I need you! We need you!”
Cristina’s heart stopped. Of course, Helen as everybody else thought Kieran had killed Julian and Cristina realised for the first time the full extent of this misconception for Mark as well as Emma. He would forever have to silently bear the looks and comments from his family and others without being able to defend Kieran. And if he decided to stay in the Seelie Court, they would not understand. Conversely, Emma would be pitied as the victim when she felt like the perpetrator. She could understand why Mark found it impossible to be with his family and why Emma would never return to the Blackthorns.
Cristina turned away. Initially, she had simply hoped that Mark would return to his family and that she could be with him. However, she had gradually realised that she could not imagine going back to the Los Angeles Institute, knowing what she did. The truth had always been the ultimate aim but she now felt crushed by it.
She suddenly became aware of a familiar person walking towards her. “Tío Juan!” she cried and threw herself into her uncle’s arms.
“Hello, my love,” he responded in Spanish. “How is that King of yours? Or haven’t you seen him yet?”
It felt like a cold shower but Juan had never been one for small talk.
“You’ve done an incredible job!” she tried to beam but she obviously didn’t manage to hide how upset she was by the recent encounter with Kieran and Juan frowned. She sighed. “It’s complicated. If you mean, how is your patient: he is marvellous! Anything else, I don’t know. I hadn’t seen him in months until today.”
Juan searched her face when Mark and Helen emerged. However, they walked off on their own and Cristina followed them with her eyes. Her uncle touched her cheek to refocus her attention. “It’s not every day that you are involved with the Seelie King. Do you want to talk about it?”
Cristina half-heartedly reassured Juan that everything was ok and then took her uncle’s arm as the guests had started to walk back into the heart of the court, following some unknown signal. She was almost surprised by how much comfort her uncle’s proximity gave her whilst she mulled over the fact that most people were lucky to find one great love in their lives. She had found two. How was she going to get over losing both?
. . .
It did not take long for Cristina to find Kieran in the centre of the room, flanked by the most stunning of faerie women she had ever seen. He was talking to Magnus, Alec and Diego. They were laughing in relaxed camaraderie which made Cristina envious and it did little to calm her newly unrattled nerves as she realised that the beautiful faerie woman next to Kieran was indeed the new Seelie Queen, Kieran’s wife. She was even more striking than her mother had been: dark, tall and slender with an unearthly grace and beauty that made Cristina feel like she possessed the attractiveness of a crude fishwife. She felt utterly inadequate as a woman and it took all her willpower for Cristina not to turn on her heels and return to the relative safety of her room.
She clung onto her uncle, who was keen to talk to his former patient. Luckily, the mood shifted in the room and the focus was drawn to the dais with its three thrones in front of which now stood the Unseelie King with the King and Queen of the Seelie. Cristina’s heart hammered painfully in her chest as the three took it in turns to address their guests. She understood little of what Leor was saying in the Unseelie tongue with which Cristina was not very familiar. She had always wanted and tried to speak faerie, however, there were so many different dialects and accents that it was almost impossible to learn a standard version although she had mastered the royal Seelie to some degree. Then spoke the Queen in a beautiful sing-song voice that could enchant and corrupt any living thing on this earth, Cristina was sure. Yet for the first time, Cristina noticed that the Seelie accent sounded somewhat false and dishonest compared to the harsher but straightforward tones of the Unseelie. Finally, Kieran spoke, first in his own faerie dialect which Cristina had hardly ever heard him speak. However, it fell to him to greet the non-faerie guests – the Shadowhunters and Warlocks and the select few vampires and werewolves – which he did in English. He spoke eloquently and engagingly. He made sure to thank a number of the guests personally, acknowledging the indebtedness of his life to Magnus, Juan and Diego in particular, as well as Mark and herself. Cristina held on to her uncle without realising it, thinking she might faint. Kieran seemed so at ease in his new role, born to be a king. Cristina was at pains to see the broken man underneath she had once known. It was astonishing and mesmerising. Juan gave her a curious look but said nothing.
Music had started and Kieran and his Queen opened the dance. They glided beautifully across the dancefloor and they seemed made for each other. It was only when Kieran turned to his wife smiling politely at something she said, that Cristina realised that the two dancers kept to an artificial distance from each other. Kieran’s expression carried no warmth which was only clear to her because he smiled so rarely and she had seen how a true smile could transform his features and make his face radiate happiness. This was not it.
Other couples joined the dancing and before long, the royal couple split up to entice other guests onto the dancefloor. Kieran came over to Cristina, holding his hand out for her to join him. It would have been rude to refuse. In spite of his artificial limbs, Kieran was still a very skilful dancer albeit slightly restricted in his movements which made him a little less exuberant than what Cristina remembered. Nevertheless, dancing with him was like moving on a cloud, all surroundings receding into the background, being completely absorbed in the music. Their bodies were flush against each other as they were moving effortlessly across the dancefloor. Cristina could not help the smile that was spreading across her face and she now saw the bliss she was feeling mirrored in Kieran’s expression. She suddenly became aware of the Seelie Queen’s stare and quickly comported herself, pulling away from Kieran. He slowed down and looked at her questioningly.
“I think your wife is wondering how you can look at an uncultivated Shadowhunter girl this way,” she muttered.
“Which way?” Kieran feigned innocence.
“Like you don’t look at her - the most beautiful woman in this room! Well, the most beautiful woman - full-stop.”
Kieran looked at the Queen wistfully. “You possess greater beauty than her. Plus, my wife finds me repulsive, so she is probably wondering what makes you look at me at all.”
The words were spoken without bitterness and Cristina looked up at Kieran to glean his true emotions. He was still smiling and she could not see any sign of upset.
“Why did she agree to marry you then?”
“The marriage suited her as much as it suited us. Although I’m not sure whether my brother is aware of his daughter’s fondness for a certain lowly maid in his court.”
Cristina almost fell over but recovered quickly. She tried to lose herself in the music and dance for a little longer but the spell was broken.
Kieran slowed down further. “Don’t what?” He looked at her curiously.
“Don’t resent her… She might try to hurt you.”
Kieran stopped altogether but held on to her. “I missed you! The voice of kindness and reason.”
Sadness descended back onto her heart like a rain cloud on a sunny day. “Why then…?”
Kieran pulled her closer and inclined his head to lean his forehead against hers in a tenderly intimate gesture which Cristina had come to associate with him. She loved that it seemed to be reserved only for her. “I didn’t think either you or Mark would ever want to see me again,” he said so quietly that she almost couldn’t hear him.
She swallowed hard and pulled back. “That’s the problem with you, isn’t it. You think and you assume and then you decide – without asking those concerned.” Anger tinged Cristina’s voice although she felt tired now, rather than the untempered fury that had raged through her veins earlier.
“There was little choice,” he replied uncertainly. “I wish for you and Mark to be together and happy. If I was your king, that would be my decree.”
“You can’t decide who I can or cannot love. That is not up to you! I can’t even change that myself. Believe me, I would if I could!”
She turned around and walked slowly off the dancefloor, giving Kieran the opportunity to make it look as if their dance had come to a natural end. As more drinks were passed around, she grabbed another glass indiscriminately and gulped it down, not caring what it was, but hoping that it would finally take the edge off her feelings.
When she looked up, Kieran’s mask had firmly slid back into place, betraying no emotion at all. He was suddenly cold as a statue, completely removed from her grasp. Looking at him, she suddenly wondered how much she had ever really known him. Could you ever truly know another person? Maybe it was true that faeries found human emotions curious and even amusing rather than ever truly understanding them.
Chapter 21: My Shadow Life
Chapter title from the album "With Animals" by Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The dancefloor was heaving with faeries, Shadowhunters and a colourful assortment of other downworlders dancing, drinking, laughing and generally succumbing to the magic of faerie revels. This one was set to last several days. It was only the first evening but Cristina was already longing to go back to New York. The thought of being in the same place as Kieran and Mark with so many unresolvable issues was more than she felt able to cope with for any length of time. Just when she thought things couldn’t get any worse, she spotted her mother with her uncle talking to Kieran. Cristina had hardly spoken to her mother, who had arrived after everybody had assembled. She dreaded the questions she knew were coming. For the time being, she observed Kieran who seemed to enjoy and excel at his new role and she could see her mother being quite taken with him. Just as she thought she shouldn’t be staring, her mother had turned towards her and waved. Cristina’s heart sank as the dreaded conversation was now about to unfold. Kieran nodded as Maria Rosales made her excuses and hurried towards her daughter.
“Were have you been, my love? I almost think you are avoiding me?!” Her mother was positively glowing and more relaxed than she had been in a long time. She conspiratorially linked arms with Cristina and pulled her to a slightly quieter area. She smiled, happy to see her daughter and eager to reconnect and learn what had been going on in Cristina’s life.
“You seem very familiar with the Seelie King?!” she asked with an innocent-looking expression, however, Cristina recognised the apprehension underneath. She knew her mother was fishing for information. “Your uncle seems to think that the two of you were a couple. I thought you were with Mark Blackthorn!?”
Cristina felt herself blush and she muttered tiredly: “It’s complicated. But, don’t worry, Mamá, there is no future in either a relationship with Mark or Kieran.”
“Cristina, the King is married!” Her mother said carefully.
“His wife doesn’t love him!” Even whilst Cristina was saying the words, the statement sounded wrong on so many levels and completely unrepresentative of what had been going on. It made her sound like the deceitful, shameless mistress of an ordinary married man, something she had always despised. The look on her mother’s face said as much and more. Cristina was not even going to attempt to explain what she felt for both Kieran and Mark. It made her realise, maybe for the first time, that there was always more to any relationship than anybody other than those involved would ever be able to see.
“I know it’s hard to understand and it’s even harder to explain,” she settled on, “but Kieran, Mark and I love each other. That’s the fact of the matter even if we might never be able to be together.”
Her mother looked dismayed. Nevertheless, after clearly wanting to say something more but then thinking better of it, she squeezed Cristina’s hands and said: “For what it’s worth, I think the King is utterly charming.”
Cristina didn’t think that she had heard anybody describe Kieran in those terms before or that anybody would have dreamt of doing so even a few weeks ago. It made her smile despite herself.
. . .
As the evening wore on, Cristina was making an attempt to enjoy herself and to talk to friends she hadn’t seen for a long time. She danced with Diego and Jaime who at least managed to make her laugh and forget herself for a little while. They encouraged her to try more of the magical selection of drinks but at some point, Cristina had the sense to decide that she would have to stop if she didn’t want to be ill. Nevertheless, no matter how lovely it was to see everybody and feel the buzz from music and dance, the alcohol had only resulted in sharpening her focus on her inner turmoil. It was strange, how the deepest loneliness was sometimes experienced in a large crowd and she could not shake the feeling of quiet desperation.
The urge to be alone led her outside into the moonlit night, listening to the different sounds of Faerie. She started wandering aimlessly until she finally reached a beautiful little lake surrounded by trees that looked like they were covered in faerie lights. How ironic, Cristina thought absently, that they had been given that name in the mundane world. She watched the lights of magical little creatures dance across the smooth surface of the lake. Soft laughter made her look more closely at the surrounding wood and, eventually, she could make out two familiar figures leaning against a tree in a passionate embrace so reminiscent of the first time she had seen them together. Mesmerised, she moved closer as if drawn towards them by an invisible magnet. She felt the same spark of desire she had felt then and she wasn’t sure whether it was the drink or something else that made her stay and watch even as their passion unfolded.
Kieran was kneeling in front of Mark, his hands on the boy’s naked hips. The half-faerie had his eyes closed, his hands buried in the King’s hair when he suddenly lifted his head and locked eyes with Cristina. However, it seemed to take another split second for the sight to cut through the haze of desire and he cried out: “Shit! Cristina!” whilst turning around and pulling his jeans up. Kieran calmly stood up and turned to face her, unperturbed as ever. Although his pupils were dilated and both his eyes looked almost black, his gaze was no less clear or probing for it. Cristina felt strangely empty, fending off the anger and sadness that she knew was simmering beneath the surface. She just stared at Kieran whose beauty she seemed to register somewhat remotely. His dishevelled hair had almost shone in a clear blue colour but was now turning darker with a single white strand which had fallen over his silver eye. His delicately embroidered white shirt was open, revealing his smooth hard chest and muscled stomach. His breeches hung low on his angular hips. The sight made her body and her heart join to rebel against her mind, begging her to give in to her longing. Suddenly she understood – the pain and the anger, the love and desire that had always been the dynamic of Kieran and Mark’s relationship. When had she been drawn into that? How had she ever thought that she could change any of it when uncontrollable events led to bad choices, led to more heartbreak. Kieran sensed her warring feelings and he lowered his eyes.
“I am sorry, Lady of Roses,” he said softly. “I am sorry for not trusting the strength of your or Mark’s feelings for me. I did not think I deserved it.” His shoulders had dropped but he was now searching her face for some understanding and she knew he wanted and needed her approval as he continued: “Nonetheless, I was given the opportunity to change my world – for the better I believe - which happens very rarely in our lives. However, opportunities call for sacrifices. I was willing to make that sacrifice.” He paused and looked at her uneasily. “I would do it again.”
“You are cut from stronger cloth than us, my King,” she whispered. She was aching to touch him but he had never seemed further away from her than in this very moment.
“I may be King,” he said quietly, “but my feelings for you and for Mark have not changed.” In her own confusion, she could not see that he was as unsure as she was as to whether he was allowed to get closer. Eventually, it was Mark who hesitantly came up to them. He put his hand gently on Kieran’s back who flinched slightly at the unexpected touch and apologetically turned his head towards his lover. Part of Cristina wanted to run and rebuild the wall around her heart. If she couldn’t leave Faerie tonight, maybe she would at least succeed in drowning her sorrows in some unidentifiable magical liquid and forget these two men who would break her heart over and over again. But when Mark reached out to her, she let herself be drawn into a tentative embrace.
She rested her cheek on Kieran’s shoulder who buried his head in her hair against her neck whilst Mark wrapped his arms around them both. She could feel the love and warmth she had felt the last time they had hugged like this by another enchanting lake in a place far away.
The same sensation of peace returned to her. Why, she suddenly thought, why should this be wrong when it felt so right?! She never wanted to let go of this moment and was trying to imprint it on her memory forever: the sounds of the world around them, the scent of the men she loved, the way they felt, the noises they both made. Cristina became aware of Mark’s uneven breathing and she couldn’t help but notice his residual desire against her right side. She flexed her muscles and rolled her hip ever so slightly drawing a little moan from him.
“Cristina Mendoza Rosales,” he murmured mock scoldingly into her ear, “are you doing that deliberately?”
“I might be,” she whispered, unable to suppress a little giggle.
“If you don’t stop, I might have to ravish you,” he murmured in a husky voice.
“What would the King say if I took care of his unfinished business?” she whispered coquettishly. Kieran had started to kiss her neck and gently sucked at her earlobe which sent sparks straight to her core. Her left hand was pressed against his chest and she now let it wander to ghost over his nipple which made him wince but she could feel a grin spreading across his face.
“The King approves,” he mumbled in faerie, an expression she recognised although from time immemorial it used to be ‘the Queen approves’, of course. It was a much-used phrase in the Seelie Court for monarchs giving consent to proposals or granting requests. How could she resist. Both boys were half-naked and she was sandwiched between them with just enough manoeuvring space for her hands. Mark’s jeans were still undone and he was holding his breath as she let her hand glide over his chest, his stomach muscles and further down. She didn’t quite know where her boldness came from but she wrapped her hand around him and his whole body reacted to her in the most delightful way.
Kieran moved a little, so that he could put his hand around Mark’s neck. He pulled his hair just hard enough to make Mark raise his head and look at him. For a moment, they were just looking at each other until Mark’s eyes were glazing over with desire. He was breathing hard now and his mouth fell open with a groan. Kieran started teasing him with his tongue until the two of them were kissing with fierce desire whilst Cristina had found a rhythm touching Mark with her right hand. If she lowered her left, she found that she could reach Kieran’s crotch. He gave a surprised gasp as she touched the familiar spot on his lower abdomen but she didn’t stop there.
The King growled something into her ear in faerie about not yet wanting to shatter into a thousand glittering stars. The low tones of the sound rumbled through her body as if his voice alone could be her undoing. He gently removed her hand from between his legs by turning her, so that her back was flush against his front and she was facing Mark who was leaning heavily on them both. The faerie traced over Cristina’s curves and a moment later his hand had found its way under her skirt. It was her turn to inhale sharply in surprise.
“Kiss for me,” Kieran growled and Cristina caressed Mark’s face, never stopping the ministrations of her right hand. She slid a thumb over his lips and he drew it into his mouth whimpering before kissing her with the same wild passion with which he had kissed Kieran. Moments later, he groaned in almost painful spasms and let himself fall against them, shuddering. Kieran lowered the three of them to the ground. Cristina’s whole being was still humming from the sounds and touch and she was aching for more but the faerie just propped himself up on his elbow, grinning mischievously at them both.
Mark turned his head and murmured: “Give me a minute and we’ll wipe that cheeky grin off his majesty’s face!”
Cristina laughed at the way surely only Mark was allowed to talk to the Seelie King. She realised that she was happy. It was a rare sensation and one she managed to hold on to for the rest of the night, doing what she had never thought she might be doing and certainly not with two faerie boys. They had eventually fallen asleep, naked, in each others’ arms.
. . .
At the first glimmer of morning, Cristina woke up, shivering. The warm bodies wrapping her up all night had disappeared. She lifted her head and saw Mark and Kieran stand at the lake’s edge, a beautiful silhouette against the dark sky with its ribbons of lighter blue, green and red and the water glittering behind them. For a little moment, she thought they were fighting again but then realised that their body language was very different. Kieran was dressed and had wrapped his arms around himself. Mark had obviously only rushed to pull his jeans on as he was shirtless and barefoot, carefully reaching out for the other boy. Kieran let his head fall against Mark’s shoulder without untangling his arms from around his own body. He looked wretched and Mark was gently stroking the back of his head in a comforting gesture.
Cristina didn’t have the strength to wonder too much about what was going on as she felt quite hung-over. Moreover, as she started to remember the previous night, an uncomfortable sense of embarrassment crept up inside her. She closed her eyes to try and shut down the thoughts of what she had done and what she had permitted. She hadn’t known that she could be so daring. It made her crave a reassuring embrace now and she felt somewhat excluded from the boys’ bond yet again.
When she opened her eyes, Kieran had left and Mark came back towards her. There must have been something in her look because his gaze became concerned.
“Are you ok?” he asked gently and sat down next to her.
She leant against him and he was quick to draw her into a hug. “Do you regret last night?” he asked cautiously.
She hesitated and he turned to look at her.
“No,” her voice wavered more than she wanted it to, “but I’m not sure I’m quite ready for…this.” She trailed off. She was too embarrassed to discuss her inexperience and her confusion at what had happened between them the night before.
Mark squirmed awkwardly. “It’s new to me, too. As for Kieran…I think he couldn’t quite control his magic last night.” Mark chuckled a little. “It can be disorienting. I felt quite dizzy the first…”
A wave of nausea suddenly hit her. She just managed to scramble to her feet before throwing up behind the next tree. Her stomach was heaving in protest and she was barely aware of the hand on her back, drawing calming circles. It took some time before the sudden panic had subsided and the relief of an empty stomach washed through her. Cristina straightened up slowly and found Mark holding out a few deep purple berries to her.
“Here,” he said gently, “they will make you feel better.”
Cristina chewed on the berries thankfully and went to sit back down in the grass.
“I’m sorry,” she mumbled, “I think I rather had too much to drink as well.”
They sat in silence for a while before he spoke again: “Kieran asked me to apologise to you for leaving so early. He had to get ready for the tournament.” He smiled. “I have to go get my bow and arrow in a bit. Alec challenged me to a competition.”
“Is he planning on applying to the Wild Hunt?” Cristina grinned.
“He would never cut it,” Mark laughed good-naturedly.
They grew serious again. Too much had been left unspoken since they had been reunited for the first time since Julian’s death. Something suddenly occurred to her.
“Did Kieran tell you that it was not him but Emma who…” She left the sentence hanging. It was too hard to state the facts.
“No,” Mark replied slowly, not welcoming the memory. He sighed. “Kieran came to see me in the Hunt only recently. After he had become King. After he had married. After he had spoken to Gwyn.” It obviously still riled him that Kieran had not tried to make amends before all of these events although… How could they blame him? For Emma’s sake just as much as his own, Kieran had accepted responsibility for something he knew would severly hurt Mark and therefore Cristina.
“He would never have told me. I had not seen what happened – for obvious reasons…” Neither had Cristina for that matter as she had been busy resuscitating Mark after he had almost drowned in Lake Lyn. Mark’s mouth twitched upward a little as he looked at her in shared knowledge of their memory. He continued: “I needed him to say it. To explain to me what had happened. Just to understand that there was nothing else he could have done.” He sighed again. “Of course, Kieran was unable to say what I expected him to say. So…I got the truth out of him eventually.” Cristina wondered idly whether fists had flown before or after that confession. Mark was staring across the lake, lost in thought. She hooked her arm into his. After a while, he said:
“Kieran has had to make decisions that you and I will never face. I don’t envy him that and he struggles to come to terms with it.”
She turned around and searched Mark’s eyes – the blue one seemed to allow a look into the depths of his soul but it was really just like clear water. If you passed your hand through it, you would come up with nothing. The golden one was somehow the opposite. It seemed opaque and repel any attempt at reading Mark’s thoughts but if you managed to reach beyond the surface, you could see all of him.
“Those are very magnanimous words from somebody who wanted to beat him up earlier.”
Mark grinned sheepishly. “More often than not, I understand why he does things. Doesn’t mean that I like it or that it doesn’t hurt.”
“Maybe you should stay. Kieran basically hired you as his bodyguard, didn’t he? He needs a friend here. He is the King. He makes the rules. Surely, he could make you his Consort eventually. The Queen doesn’t want him in that way. She seems a bit hung up about his - physical flaws. Plus, apparently she’s more interested in a certain girl.”
Mark looked at her in surprise. Cristina grinned.
“He told me. Look… You would be alright here. You are a man and no threat to the Queen. You are half-Seelie anyway. You would be with your aunt and probably some other relatives. You would be able to talk to and probably even see your brothers and sisters if you wanted to.”
“Why are both of you intent on sacrificing yourselves for my sake?” Mark demanded angrily. “And both of you fail to see the point! Kieran thinks I can return to Los Angeles with you but…I can’t do that. Not with Julian gone. Not with my family thinking Kieran killed him. And you are with Emma in New York. I can’t… It’s too painful.” He looked stricken. “I can’t stay here either. To the Seelie, I am a Blackthorn, the brother of their Queen’s murderer. Plus, I’m not sure I would want to stay in Faerie. I’m not sure I belong here any more than I belong with Shadowhunters.”
Cristina was taken aback by the outpouring of grief. The Shadowhunter world as well as Faerie had brought Mark nothing but pain, Cristina thought. Cristina had begun to shiver although it was not cold. At least, she had her family. Mark and Kieran seemed to have nothing without each other.
“I will ask Emma to come to Mexico with me for a while.”
If Mark was surprised, he didn’t show it. He looked over the water, watching the rising sun.
“Is that what you want?” he asked shakily.
“I can’t have what I want,” she responded bitterly.
“And what is that?” His voice was quiet, uncertain of whether he wanted to hear the answer.
“I want to be with both of you,” she breathed, “but I can’t stay here…” Her voice broke and she looked at him then.
As if in silent acknowledgment, he put an arm around her shoulders and drew her towards him. Mark knew as well as Cristina that the Queen would be able to tolerate Mark – a man at Kieran’s side – but she was never going to tolerate another woman, and a Shadowhunter at that. It would be an unacceptable affront to her and her position. Even if the Queen did not and would never want Kieran in that way, he was the King and her husband. She could not be seen as being replaced by another woman. If he seemed to prefer men, it would be rather convenient in the light of the fact that the Queen was not interested in a relationship with Kieran. However, any sign of a female mistress would be seen as a rejection of his beautiful new wife and ally. To make matters worse, the fact that Cristina was a Shadowhunter, would make it a political rather than just a domestic embarrassment. The whole fragile peace they had fought so hard for, could be at stake. Cristina had lost too much to be willing to risk it – even more so as she finally knew that the two people she loved the most in this world were safe. It was like every possibility started and ended here. She closed her eyes and breathed him in, just wanting to hold on to the moment for a little longer before it would irretrievably end.
. . .
Eventually, Cristina had returned to her room to freshen up and get changed whilst Mark preferred a swim in the lake to clear his head. He had swum the length of the lake a couple of times when he turned around for the third time in order to get out and was startled by three figures standing at the shoreline where his clothes lay. Coming closer, he saw that it was the Unseelie King with two of his guards at either side of him.
“Get dressed!” Leor barked. “I will speak with you.”
Mark felt a spark of fear. He didn’t know Leor well and visions of his cruel father, his predecessor as Unseelie King, came to mind even though, surely, Leor would not hurt Mark during peace celebrations of all things. Was he threatening Leor’s carefully engineered alliance?
Whilst Leor turned and took a few steps away from the lake, Mark scrambled to put on his clothes. He straightened up and tried to look as calm and relaxed as possible. Leor took his measure for what felt like an excruciatingly long time. Finally, his eyes swept over the lake, focussing on the far distance.
“I have been a fool,” Leor said eventually. “It was never my intention to make Kieran or Seraphine suffer and to cause them pain. They are my blood and the only ones I care about. I therefore took as granted that they would come to care about each other. I was sure it was a strategic liaison that would grow to become true.”
He suddenly trained his intimidatingly hard gaze on Mark. “Seraphine is young and fickle and I thought my brother would be able to guide her. However, Kieran is a restless soul, not least because of what he has endured. But he knows his heart and you and that Shadowhunter girl are what gives him peace. I can see it now that Magnus mentioned it. I wish Kieran had confided in me more but trust does not come easily to him.”
Mark held his breath as Leor stared him down even though his words showed surprising empathy. He resumed: “It is better for the Kings – and Queens - of these Lands to be at peace for peace to last. So, I have a proposition to make.” He paused meaningfully, apparently weighing up whether Mark was actually worth the effort. “Would you agree to be Faerie’s envoy to the Nephilim?”
Mark was stunned and it took him a moment to find a way to react.
“You would be free to come and go between the realms,” Leor continued with an edge of uncertainty, as if trying to give him an incentive to accept the offer.
Mark sank to one knee and bowed his head. “It would be an honour.” His thoughts had gone to Cristina but he did not dare ask about her. Leor acknowledged Mark’s gesture with a touch of his hand and, as if he had read Mark’s mind, he added: “Where is the girl?” He looked around but before Mark could say anything, he continued: “I have spoken to the Nephilim Consul and she will appoint a counterpart, a Nephilim envoy to Faerie. I am afraid this is the best I can do.”
It seemed a lot more than Mark could have hoped for in his wildest dreams and the kindness of this virtual stranger almost made him want to cry. He fumbled for words of thanks and Leor gave him a satisfied smile.
. . .
Mark could not wait to get back to the Court and find either Kieran or Cristina to tell them the news. His distraction was probably the reason why he did not realise that he had been followed until it was too late. He was just at the mouth of one of the tunnels that led into the underground Court when somebody grabbed him from behind and threw him violently against the wall, a knife at his throat.
“Finally, I have you without anybody near for protection,” a harsh voice spoke into his ear in the faerie tongue of the Wild Hunt. He would have recognised the voice anywhere. Roa had fancied himself Gwyn’s right-hand man and had hated Mark’s impure blood from the moment he was taken to the Hunt. He had tormented Mark anyway he could and had resented Kieran for protecting Mark and for being closer to Gwyn due to his lineage.
Mark could feel the cold stone of the tunnel's wall against his face. He knew he could have pushed Roa away from him but not without having his throat cut in the process.
“I know your King’s little secret and that this whole alliance is based upon a lie,” Roa snarled.
“What do you want?” Mark ground out.
“Nothing,” Roa replied maliciously. “Before I kill you, I just want you to know that I will bring the King down.”
Mark’s last thought was of Kieran and Cristina and whether it would hurt to bleed to death. The cold knife’s blade was pressing against his pulse point and he expected to die when he could feel warm blood running down his neck, wetting his collar. He sank to his knees but so, he realised, did Roa, suddenly limp against him. He could not fathom what had just happened but Roa’s grip was gone and Mark pressed a hand to his throat, only to feel his own blood pulsing through his fingers.
In the distance, he could hear someone whistle and say: “What a shot!” as Roa’s weight was lifted of him. Mark became aware of Alec next to him, swearing softly.
“Not good enough! Jace! Help!”
After more colourful language, two sets of hands were turning him into a sitting position and applying pressure to his wound whilst he felt the sting of runes being drawn against his skin. Slowly, Mark could feel the healing runes taking effect. When his mind started to clear, he saw Alec kneeling on the floor next to him with a worried expression on his face. Jace stood a few feet away and was looking at him strangely.
“What…?” Mark asked. He sounded hoarse and weak even to his own ears and, for a split second, he was wondering whether he had actually died but hadn’t realised it yet.
“It’s just…”, Jace looked suddenly like the teenager he was when they first met and Mark knew that Jace was reminded of the same day a long time ago in another Seelie Court tunnel after Mark had been handed over to the Wild Hunt. “I never got the chance to say how awful it was to leave you behind that day and how much I thought about that in the years afterwards.” His grin slowly morphed back into his more familiar sarcastic smirk. “Even though we were literally going to hell that time. And even though I have saved your ass twice now. Anyway, I’m glad you’re alright!”
Mark wasn’t sure what to say but Alec came to his aid: “Don’t worry. You don’t need to say anything. This is the closest to an apology you’re ever going to get out of Jace.”
“You’ve nothing to apologise for,” Mark replied, his voice still strained.
“Maybe not. But it still felt like we were abandoning you just like the Clave had.” Alec placed a hand on Mark’s shoulder.
“I would be dead now if it wasn’t for you.” Mark tried a smile but it wouldn’t quite come yet. When he tried to get up, Alec pressed him firmly back down.
“Better to rest for a moment. You lost a lot of blood.” Alec then turned to Jace with a nod towards the crumpled body on the floor: “Talking of the dead… We’d better get Kieran and Gwyn.”
. . .
When Jace returned with the Seelie King, Cristina was already at Mark’s side drawn to him by the faint remains of the binding spell. She had been beside herself with fear which was not alleviated by the sight of him slumped on the floor, his neck and shirt covered in blood. He had quickly scrambled to his feet and tried to reassure her that he was fine in spite of the fact that Alec had to steady him.
Kieran started towards them when Gwyn arrived with another Hunter who seemed to have led Gwyn to the tunnel and now stopped with a shocked expression, his eyes darting from the dead Hunter to Mark and then the King and the Shadowhunters. They all watched in silence as Kieran joined Gwyn and his companion and the faeries quietly conferred over Roa’s body. Mark was the only one who picked up part of the conversation whilst Cristina whispered to him that two Hunters had followed them to Lake Lyn on that fateful day and Mark understood that at least Roa had seen that it had not been Kieran who killed Julian. Mark could see the effort it cost Kieran to stay calm. Every muscle in his body was tensed, his jaw was working and his look was murderous. At one point, Gwyn pulled him aside and whispered urgently into his ear. He then made his Hunter swear fealty to the Seelie King after which Kieran turned to the Shadowhunters.
“Alec. Jace. Would you offer your help to Gwyn? We do not want to disrupt the nature of these celebrations.” His voice was strained and overly formal and Cristina noticed a little muscle jump above his lip. The parabatai both nodded and went over to help pick up the dead Hunter whilst Kieran strode over to Mark and Cristina.
Cristina had been through a portal quite a few times and she had gotten used to it to some extent. The sudden sensation when Kieran put his arms around them was similar but strangely less jarring, maybe because they had not travelled that far. A moment later, the three of them stood in the King’s chambers which Cristina recognised from when she had waited there after her arrival at the Court. Mark was obviously familiar with the surroundings as he went straight to an adjoining cave-like room from which Cristina could hear the sound of water. It was Kieran who almost collapsed onto the bed and buried his face in his hands. Cristina was taken aback, unsure what to do. She placed a gentle hand on his shoulder which he grabbed and held on to like a drowning man to a piece of wood.
“I can’t even keep you safe in my own Court,” he muttered. “Last night I was as happy as I could ever dream of being and then I am faced with losing one of you again. I can’t do this anymore…”
Mark had cleaned up and was putting one of Kieran’s shirts on when he came walking back into the room. He stopped for a moment, startled by the sight of the two of them. Then he quickly strode over and knelt by Kieran’s side who looked pleadingly at both of them. “Don’t leave me,” he breathed barely audibly. Mark had enough of the moping.
“Look at me!” he said to Kieran sternly. Then, inexplicably, he started to grin. It struck Cristina how innocent and childlike his expression could be in spite of everything. He seemed to have an inherent belief in the good in people and the surge of love she felt took her breath away. She held on to Kieran. Whatever it was Mark was going to tell them, had filled him with hope.
That's it, folks! Thanks for sticking with this story! I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I had fun writing it. I am not entirely happy with the ending but I couldn't bear making it any 'edgier'. Our three heroes had suffered enough. ;-)
Any comments would be great.