“What about ‘zounds’?”
“The punishment for ‘zounds’ is severe,” she told him. “You’ll have to run naked into the ocean in front of the Centurions.”
Mark looked puzzled. “And then?”
She sighed. “Sorry, I forgot. Most of us mind being naked in front of strangers. Take my word for it.”
“Really? You’ve never swum naked in the ocean?”
“That’s kind of a different question, but no, I never have.” She leaned back beside him.
“We should one day,” he said. “All of us.”
“I can’t imagine Perfect Diego ripping off all his clothes and leaping into the water in front of us. Maybe just in front of Cristina. Maybe.”
Mark clambered off the bed and onto the pile of blankets she’d put on the floor for him. “I doubt it. I bet he swims with all his clothes on. Otherwise he’d have to take off his Centurion pin.”
She laughed and he gave her an answering smile, though he looked tired. She sympathized. It wasn’t the normal activities of Shadowhunting that were tiring her out. It was the pretense. Perhaps it made sense that she and Mark could only unwind at night around each other, since there was no one, then, to pretend for.
They were the only times she had relaxed since the day Jem had told her about the parabatai curse, how parabatai who fell in love would go insane and destroy themselves and everyone they loved.
She’d known immediately: She couldn’t let that happen. Not to Julian. Not to his family, who she loved too. She couldn’t have stopped herself loving Julian. It was impossible. So she had to make Julian not love her.
Julian had given her the key himself, only days before. Words, whispered against her skin in a rare moment of vulnerability: He was jealous of Mark. Jealous that Mark could talk to her, flirt with her, easily, while Julian always had to hide what he felt.
Mark was leaning against the footboard beside her now, his eyes half-closed. Crescents of color under his lids, his eyelashes a shade darker than his hair. She remembered asking him to come to her room. I need you to pretend with me that we’re dating. That we’re falling in love.
He’d held out his hand to her, and she’d seen the storm in his eyes. The fierceness that reminded her that Faerie was more than green grass and revels. That it was callous wild cruelty, tears and blood, lightning that slashed the night sky like a knife.
Why lie? he’d asked.
She’d thought for a moment he’d been asking her, Why do you want to tell this lie? But he hadn’t been. He’d been asking, Why lie when we can make it the truth, this thing between us?
She’d stood before him, aching all the way down to the floor of her soul, in all the places where she’d ripped Julian away from her as if she’d torn off a limb.
They said that men joined the Wild Hunt sometimes when they had sustained a great loss, preferring to howl out their grief to the skies than to suffer in silence in their ordinary gray lives. She remembered soaring through the sky with Mark, his arms around her waist: She had let the wind take her screams of excitement, thrilling to the freedom of the sky where there was no pain, no worry, only forgetfulness.
And here was Mark, beautiful in that way that the night sky was beautiful, offering her that same freedom with an outstretched hand. What if I could love Mark? she thought. What if I could make this lie true?
Then it would be no lie. If she could love Mark, it would end all the danger. Julian would be safe.