“At twenty?” said Cristina. “He’d have to have been having triplets every year for four years!”
“Or two sets of sextuplets,” said Mark. “It could happen.”
They were both laughing now, softly, in the way of people who were just glad to be with each other. I missed you, he had said, and for a moment Cristina let herself forget the past days and be happy to be with Mark in the beautiful night. She had always loved the stark lines of deserts: the gleaming tangles of sagebrush and thornbushes, the massive shadows of mountains in the distance, the smell of sugar pines and incense cedar, the golden sand turned silver by moonlight. As they reached the flat top of a steep-sided hill, the ground fell away below them and she could see the ocean in the distance, its wind-touched shimmer reaching to the horizon in a dream of silver and black.
“This is one of my favorite places.” Mark sank down onto the sand, leaning back on his hands. “The Institute and the highway are hidden and the whole world goes away. It’s just you and the desert.”
She sat down beside him. The sand was still warm from the sunlight it had absorbed during the day. She dug her toes in, glad she’d worn sandals. “Is this where you used to do your thinking?”
He didn’t answer. He seemed to have become absorbed in looking at his own hands; they were scarred lightly all over, calloused like any Shadowhunter’s, his Voyance rune stark on his right hand.
“It’s all right,” she said. “It’s all right for you not to be able to stand the iron, or inside spaces, or closed rooms or the sight of the ocean or anything at all. Your sister just died. There is nothing you could feel that would be wrong.”
His chest hitched with an uneven breath. “What if I told you—if I told you that I am grieving for my sister, but since I five years ago decided she was dead, that all my family was dead, that I have already grieved her in a way? That my grief is different than the grief of the rest of my family, and therefore I cannot talk to them about it? I lost her and then I gained her and lost her again. It is more as if the having of her was a brief dream.”
“It might be that it is easier to think of it that way,” she said. “When I lost Jaime—though it is not the same—but when he disappeared, and our friendship ended, I grieved for him despite my anger, and then I began to wonder sometimes if perhaps I had dreamed him. No one else spoke of him, and I thought perhaps he had never existed.” She drew up her knees, locking her arms around them. “And then I came here, and no one knew him at all, and it was even more as if he had never been.”
Mark was looking at her now. He was silver and white in the moonlight and so beautiful to her that her heart broke a little. “He was your best friend.”
“He was going to be my parabatai.”
“So you did not just lose him,” Mark said. “You lost that Cristina. The one with a parabatai.”
“And you have lost that Mark,” she said. “The one who was Livia’s brother.”
His smile was wry. “You are wise, Cristina.”
She tensed against the feelings that rose in her at the sight of his smile. “No. I’m very foolish.”
His gaze sharpened. “And Diego. You lost him, too.”
“Yes,” she said. “And I had loved him—he was my first love.”
“But you don’t love him now?” His eyes had darkened; blue and gold to a deeper black.
“You shouldn’t have to ask,” she whispered.
He reached for her; her hair was down and loose, and he took a lock of it and wound it around his finger, his touch impossibly gentle. “I needed to know,” he said. “I needed to know if I could kiss you and it would be all right.”
She couldn’t speak; she nodded, and he wound his hands into her hair, lifted a handful of strands to his face, and kissed them. “Lady of Roses,” he whispered. “Your hair, like black roses. I have been wanting you.”
Want me, then. Kiss me. Everything. Everything, Mark. Her thoughts dissolved as he leaned into her; when she murmured against his mouth, it was in Spanish. “Bésame, Mark.”
They sank backward into the sand, entwined, his hands running through her hair. His mouth was warm on hers and then hot, and the gentleness was gone, replaced by a fierce intensity. It was gorgeously like falling; he drew her under him, the sand cradling her body, and her hands ran over him, touching all the places she’d ached to touch: his hair, the arch of his back, the wings of his shoulder blades.