It turned out surprisingly more poignant than I had originally thought!
Takes place at the beginning of Chapter Nine of Clockwork Angel, “The Conclave”
Will kicked his heels impatiently against the legs of the library table. If Charlotte were there, she would have told him to stop damaging the furniture, though half the furniture in the library already bore the marks of years of abuse — chips in the pillars where he and Jem had been practicing swordplay outside the training room, scuffed shoe-prints on the windowseats where he’d sat for hours reading. Books with turned-down pages and broken spines, fingerprints on the walls.
Of course if Charlotte were there, they wouldn’t be doing what they were currently doing, either, which was watching Tessa Change form from herself to Camille and back again. Jem sat beside Will on the library table, occasionally calling out encouragement or advice. Will, leaning back on his hands with an apple he had stolen from the kitchen beside him, was pretending to be barely paying attention.
But paying attention he was. Tessa was pacing up and down the room, her hands clenched at her sides in concentration. It was fascinating to watch her Change: there was a ripple, as of the smooth water of a pond disturbed by a thrown pebble, and her dark hair would thread through with blond, her body curving and changing in such a way that Will found it impossible to pull his eyes away. It was not usually considered polite to stare at a lady in such a direct way, and yet he was glad of the chance …
He was, wasn’t he? He blinked his eyes as if meaning to clear his head. Camille was beautiful — one of the most beautiful women he’d ever seen. But her beauty left him cold. It was, as he had said to Jem, like a dead flower pressed under glass. If his heart was beating hard and his gaze was caught, it was by Tessa herself. He told himself it was the fascination of such unusual magic, not the rather adorable scowl that twisted her features when she had difficulty capturing Camille’s gliding walk — or the way her dress slipped away from her collarbones and down her shoulder when she turned back into herself, or the way her dark hair, coming unpinned, clung to her cheeks and neck as she shook her head in frustration —
He picked up the apple by his side and began ostentatiously polishing it on his shirtfront, hoping it would hide the sudden shaking in his hands. Feelings for Tessa Gray were not acceptable. Feelings for anyone were dangerous, but feelings for a girl who was actually living in the Institute — someone who had become an intricate part of their plans, who he could not avoid — were especially so.
He knew what he had to do in such a circumstance. Drive her away; hurt her; make her hate him. And yet everything in him rebelled against the idea. It was because she was alone, vulnerable, he told himself. It would be such a great cruelty to do it …
She stopped where she was, throwing her arms up, and making a noise of frustration. “I simply cannot walk in that manner!” she exclaimed. “The way Camille simply seems to glide …”
“You point your feet out too much when you walk,” Will said, though it wasn’t strictly true. It was as cruel as he felt he could be, and Tessa rewarded him with a sharp look of reproof.. “Camille walks delicately. Like a faun in the woods. Not like a duck.”
“I do not walk like a duck.”
“I like ducks,” Jem said. “Especially the ones in Hyde Park.” He grinned sideways at Will, and Will knew what he was remembering: he was remembering the same thing. “Remember when you tried to convince me to feed a poultry pie to the mallards in the park to see if you could breed a race of cannibal ducks?”
He felt Jem shake with laughter beside him. What Jem did not know was that Will’s feelings about ducks — and yes, he knew it was ridiculous to have complicated feelings about waterfowl, but he could not help it — were caught up with his memories of his childhood. In Wales, there had been a duck pond in front of the manor. As a child, Will had often gone out to throw bits of stale bread to the ducks. It amused him to watch them quacking and fighting over the remains of his breakfast toast. Or it did, until one of the ducks — a particularly large mallard – upon realizing that Will had no more bread in his pockets, raced at the boy and bit him sharply on the finger.
Will had only been six years old, and had retreated posthaste to the house, where Ella, already eight and immeasurably superior, had burst out laughing at his story and then bandaged up his finger. Will would have thought no more about it had it not been that on the next morning, upon leaving the house through the kitchen door, meaning to play the back garden, he had been arrested by the sight of the same black mallard, its beady eyes fixed on him. Before Will could move, it had darted at him and bitten him viciously on his other hand; by the time he had an opportunity to yell, the offending bird had vanished into the shrubbery.
This time, when Ella bandaged his finger, she said, “What did you do to the poor creature, Will? I’ve never heard of a duck planning revenge before.”
“Nothing!” Will protested indignantly. “I just didn’t have any more bread for it, so it bit me.”
Ella gave him a doubting look. But that night, before Will went to bed, he drew back the curtains of his bedroom to look out on the stars — and saw, motionless in the middle of the courtyard, the small black figure of a duck, eyes fixed on his bedroom window.
His yell brought Ella running. Together they stared out the window at the duck, which appeared ready to remain there all night. Finally, Ella shook her head. “I shall manage this,” she said, and with a toss of her black braids, she stalked downstairs.
Through the window, Will saw her come out of the house. She marched up to the duck and bent down over it. For a moment, they appeared to be in intense conversation. After a few minutes, she straightened up, and the duck spun round, and with a final shake of its tailfeathers, strode out of the courtyard. Ella turned and came back inside.
When she returned to Will’s room, he was sitting on the bed and looking up at her with enormous eyes. “What did you do?”
She smiled smugly. “We came to an agreement, the duck and I.”
“What kind of agreement?”
Ella bent down and, brushing aside his thick black curls, kissed his forehead. “Nothing you need to worry about, cariad. Go to sleep.”
Will did, and the duck never bothered him again. For years afterward he would ask Ella what she had done to get rid of the blasted thing, and she would only shake with silent laughter and say nothing. When he had fled from his house after her death, and was halfway to London, he had remembered her kissing him on the forehead — an unusual gesture for Ella, who was not as openly affectionate as Cecily, who he could never seen to detach from clinging on to his sleeves — and the memory had been like a hot knife going into him; he had curled up around the pain and cried.
Throwing poultry pies at the ducks in the park had been helpful, oddly; he had thought Ella, Ella, at first, but Jem’s laughter had blown away some of the pain of the memory, and he had only thought how glad his sister would have been to have seen him laughing there in that green space, and how he had once had people who loved him, and still did now, even if it was only one.
“They ate it too,” Will said, taking a bite of his apple. He was practiced enough now that he knew none of what he had been thinking showed on his face. “Bloodthirsty little beasts. Never trust a duck.”
Tessa looked at him sideways, and for a single moment, Will had the unnerving feeling that perhaps she saw through him better than he had imagined. She was Tessa then; her eyes were gray as the sea, and for a long pause all he could do was look at her, all else forgotten — apples, vampires, the inexplicable sorrow that assailed him when he saw waterfowl, and everything else in the world that was not Tessa Gray.
“Ducks,” Jem muttered beside him, too low for Tessa to hear. “You are mad, you know that?”
Will dropped his eyes from Tessa’s. “Oh, I know.”
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