While I was away on holiday Cassandra Clare released a new short story.
This story is about what happened between Jem and Tessa AFTER the Clockwork Princess epilogue.
You know… THAT EPILOUGUE
Just to warn you, if you do not like reading about Tessa and Jem together then YOU REALLY SHOULD NOT READ THIS.
This is very Jessa heavy as you could probably guess.
Cassandra Clare has said that you do not need to read this to understand her future Shadowhunter books.
For those that do want to read it then hope you enjoy it!
AFTER THE BRIDGE
Now is the time of our comfort and plenty
These are the days we’ve been working for
Nothing can touch us and nothing can harm us
And nothing goes wrong anymore
As it turned out, Tessa had a flat she owned in London. It was the second floor of a pale white townhouse in Kensington, and as she let them both inside — her hand only shaking very slightly as she turned the keys — she explained to Jem that Magnus had taught her how warlocks could finagle their way into owning homes over many centuries by willing the properties to themselves.
“After a while I just started picking silly names for myself,” she said, shutting the door behind them. “I think I own this place under the pseudonym Bedelia Codfish.”
Jem laughed, though his mind was only partly on her words. He was gazing around the flat — the walls were painted in bright colors: a lilac living room, scattered with white couches, an avocado-green kitchen. When had Tessa bought the flat, he wondered, and why? She had traveled so much, why make a home base in London?
The question dried up in his throat when he turned and realized that through a partly open door, he could glimpse the blue walls of what was likely a bedroom.
He swallowed at that, his mouth gone suddenly dry. Tessa’s bed. That she slept in.
She narrowed her eyes at him. “Are you all right?” She took him by the wrist; he felt his pulse jump under her touch. Until he had become a Silent Brother, it always had. He’d wondered during his time in Idris, after the heavenly fire had cured him, if it would still be like that with them: if his human feelings would return to him. He had been able to touch her and be near her as a Silent Brother without wanting her as he had when he was a mortal. He had still loved her, but it had been a love of the spirit, not the body. He had wondered — feared, even, that the physical feelings and responses would not come back the way they had. He had told himself that even if Silent Brotherhood had killed the ability of his feelings to manifest themselves physically, he would not be disappointed. He had told himself to expect it.
He shouldn’t have worried.
The moment he had seen her on the bridge, coming toward him through the crowd in her modern jeans and Liberty scarf, her hair flying out behind her, he had felt his breath catch in his throat.
And when she had drawn the jade pendant he had given her out from around her neck and shyly proffered it to him, his blood had roared to life in his veins like a river undammed.
And when she had said, I love you. I always have, and I always will, it had taken everything he had not to kiss her in that moment. To do more than kiss her.
But if the Brotherhood had taught him anything, it was control. He looked at her now and fought his voice to steadiness. “A little tired,” he said. “And thirsty — I forget sometimes I need to eat and drink now.”
She dropped her keys on a small rosewood side table and turned to smile at him. “Tea,” she said, moving toward the avocado-green kitchen. “I haven’t got much food here, I don’t usually stay long, but I have got tea. And biscuits. Go into the drawing room; I’ll be right there.”
He had to smile at that; even he knew no one said drawing room any more. Perhaps she was as nervous as he was, then? He could only hope.
Tessa cursed silently for the fourth time as she bent to retrieve the box of sugar cubes from the floor. She had already put the kettle on without water in it, mixed up the tea bags, knocked over the milk, and now this. She dropped a cube of sugar into both teacups and told herself to count to ten, watching the cubes dissolve.
She knew her hands were shaking. Her heart raced. James Carstairs was in her flat. In her living room. Waiting for tea. Part of her mind screamed that it was just Jem, while the other part cried just as loudly that just Jem was someone she hadn’t seen in a hundred and thirty five years.
He had been Brother Zachariah for so long. And of course he had always been Jem at the heart of it all, with Jem’s wit and unfailing kindness. He had never failed in his love for her or his love for Will. But Silent Brothers — they did not feel things the way ordinary people did.
It was something she had thought of, sometimes, in later years, many decades after Will’s death. She had never wanted anyone else, never anyone but Will and Jem, and they were both gone from her, even though Jem still lived. She had wondered sometimes what they would have done if it had merely been forbidden for Silent Brothers to marry or love; but it was more than that: he could not desire her. He didn’t have those feelings. She’d felt like Pygmalion, yearning for the touch of a marble statue. Silent Brothers didn’t have physical desires for touch, any more than they had a need for food or water.
But now …
I forget sometimes I need to eat and drink now.
She picked up the tea mugs with still-shaking hands and walked into the living room. She had furnished it herself over the years, from the sofa cushions to the unfolded Japanese screen painted with a design of branches. The curtains framing the portrait window at the far end of the room were half-drawn, just enough light spilling into the room to touch the bits of gold in Jem’s dark hair and she nearly dropped the teacups.
They had hardly touched on the taxi ride back to Queen’s Gate, only holding hands tightly in the back of the cab. He had run his fingers over the backs of her fingers over and over as he began to tell her the story of all that had happened since she had last visited Idris, when the Mortal War, which she had fought in, had ended. When Magnus had pointed out Jace Herondale to her, and she had looked at a boy who had Will’s beautiful face and eyes like her son James.
But his hair had been his father’s, that tangle of rich gold curls, and remembering what she had known of Stephen Herondale, she had turned away without speaking.
Herondales, someone had told her once. They were everything that Shadowhunters had to offer, all in one family: both the best, and the worst.
She set the teacups down on the coffee table — an old steamer trunk, covered in travel stamps from her many voyages — with an audible thump. Jem turned to face her and she saw what he held in his hands.
One of the bookcases held a display of weapons: things she had picked up around the world. A thin misericorde, a curved kris, a trench knife, a shortsword, and dozens of others. But the one Jem had picked up and was staring at wasa slim silver knife, its handle darkened by many years of burial in the dirt. She had never had it cleaned, for the stain on the blade was Will’s blood. Jem’s blade, Will’s blood, buried together at the roots of an oak tree, a sort of sympathetic magic Will had performed when he thought he had lost Jem forever. Tessa had retrieved it after Will’s death and offered it to Jem; he had refused to take it.
That had been in 1937.
“Keep it,” he said now, his voice ragged. “There may yet come a day.”
“That’s what you told me.” She moved toward him, her shoes tapping on the hardwood floor. “When I tried to give it to you.”
He swallowed, running his fingers up and down the blade. “He had only just died,” he said. She didn’t need to ask who he was. There was really only one He when it was the two of them speaking. “I was afraid. I saw what happened to the other Silent Brothers. I saw how they hardened over time, lost the people they had been. How as the people who loved them and who they loved died, they became less human. I was afraid that I would lose my ability to care. To know what this knife meant to Will and what Will meant to me.”
She placed her hand on his arm. “But you didn’t forget.”
“I didn’t lose everyone I loved.” He looked up at her, and she saw that his eyes had gold in them too, precious bright flakes among the brown. “I had you.”
She exhaled; her heart was beating so hard that her chest hurt. Then she saw that he was clutching the blade of the knife, not just the hilt. Quickly she plucked it out of his hands. “Please don’t,” she said. “I can’t draw an iratze.”
“And I haven’t got a stele,” he said, watching as she set the knife back on its shelf. “I am not a Shadowhunter now.” He looked down at his hands; there were thin red lines across his palms, but he had not cut the skin.
Impulsively, Tessa bent and kissed his palms, then folded his fingers closed, her own hands over his. When she looked up, his pupils had widened. She could hear his breathing.
“Tessa,” he said. “Don’t.”
“Don’t what?” She drew away from him, though, instinctively. Perhaps he did not want to be touched, though on the bridge, it had not seemed that way …
“The Brothers taught me control,” he said, his voice tight. “I have every kind of control, and I have learned them over decades and decades, and I am using them all not to push you up against the bookcase and kiss you until neither of us can breathe.”
She lifted her chin. “And what would be wrong with that?”
“When I was a Silent Brother, I did not feel as an ordinary man does,” he said. “Not the wind on my face or the sun on my skin or the touch of another’s hand. But now I feel it all. I feel — too much. The wind is like thunder, the sun scorches, and your touch makes me forget my own name.”
A pang of heat speared through her, a heat that started low in her stomach and spread through every part of her body. A sort of heat she hadn’t felt in so many decades. Almost a century. Her skin prickled all over. “The wind and the sun you will get used to,” she said. “But your touch makes me forget my name as well, and I have no excuses. Only that I love you, and I always have and always will. I will not touch you if you do not want it, Jem. But if we are waiting until the idea of being together does not frighten us, we may be waiting a long time.”
Breath escaped him in a hiss. “Say that again.”
Puzzled, she began: “If we are waiting until —“
“No,” he said. “The earlier part.”
She tipped her face up to him. “I love you,” she said. “I always have and I always will.”
She did not know who moved toward who first, but he caught her around the waist and was kissing her before she could take another breath. This was not like the kiss on the bridge. That had been a silent communication of lips on lips, the exchange of a promise and a reassurance. It had been sweet and shattering, a sort of gentle thunder.
This was a storm. Jem was kissing her, hard and bruising, and when she opened his lips with hers and tasted the inside of his mouth, he gasped and pulled her harder against him, his hands digging into her hips, pressing her closer to him as he explored her lips and tongue, caressing, biting, then kissing to soothe the sting. In the old days, when she had kissed him, he had tasted of bitter sugar: now he tasted like tea and —toothpaste?
But why not toothpaste. Even century-old Shadowhunters had to brush their teeth. A small nervous giggle escaped her and Jem pulled back, looking dazed and deliciously rumpled. His hair was every which way from her running her hands through it.
“Please don’t tell me you’re laughing because I kiss so badly it’s funny,” he said, with a lopsided smile. She could sense his actual worry. “I may be somewhat out of practice.”
“Silent Brothers don’t do a lot of kissing?” she teased, smoothing down the front of his sweater.
“Not unless there were secret orgies I wasn’t invited to,” Jem said. “I did always worry I might not have been popular.”
She clasped her hand around his wrist. “Come here,” she said. “Sit down — have some tea. There’s something I want to show you.”
He went, as she had asked, and sat down on her velvet sofa, leaning back against the cushions she had stitched herself out of fabric she’d bought in India and Thailand. She couldn’t hide a smile — he looked only a little older than he had when he’d become a Silent Brother, like an ordinary young man in jeans and a sweater, but he sat the way a Victorian man would have — back straight, feet flat on the floor. He caught her look and his own mouth tipped up at the corners. “All right,” he said. “What do you have to show me?”
In answer, she went to the Japanese screen that stretched across one corner of the room, and stepped behind it. “It’s a surprise.”
The dressmaker’s dummy was there, concealed from the rest of the room. She couldn’t see him through the screen, only a blurred outline of shapes. “Talk to me,” she said, pulling her sweater off over her head. “You said it was a story of Lightwoods and Fairchilds and Morgensterns. I know a little of what transpired — I received your messages while I was in the Labyrinth — but I do not know how the Dark War effected your cure.” She tossed the sweater over the top of the screen. “Can you tell me?”
“Now?” he said. She heard him set his teacup down.
Tessa kicked her shoes off and unzipped her jeans, the sound loud in the quiet room. “Do you want me to come out from behind this screen, James Carstairs?”
“Definitely.” His voice sounded strangled.
“Then start talking.”
* * *
Jem talked. He spoke of the dark days in Idris, of Sebastian Morgenstern’s army of Endarkened, of Jace Herondale and Clary Fairchild and the Lightwood children and their dangerous journey to Edom.
“I have heard of Edom,” she said, her voice muffled. “It is spoken of in the Spiral Labyrinth, where they track the histories of all worlds. A place where the Nephilim were destroyed. A wasteland.”
“Yes,” Jem said, a little absently. He couldn’t see her through the screen, but he could see the outline of her body, and that was somewhat worse. “Burning wasteland. Very … hot.”
He had been afraid that the Silent Brothers had taken desire from him: that he would look at Tessa and feel platonic love but not be able to want, but the opposite was true. He could not stop wanting. He wanted, he thought, more than he ever had before in his life.
She was clearly changing her clothes. He had looked down hastily when she’d begun to shimmy out of her jeans, but it wasn’t as if he could forget the image, the silhouette of her, long hair and long, lovely legs — he’d always loved her legs.
Surely he’d felt this before, when he’d been a boy? He remembered the night in his room when she had stopped him destroying his violin, and he’d wanted then, wanted so badly he hadn’t thought at all when they’d collapsed onto his bed: he would have taken her innocence then, and given up his own, without pausing, without a moment’s thought of the future. If they hadn’t knocked over his box of yin fen. If. That had brought him back, and when she’d gone, he’d torn his sheets to strips with his fingers out of sheer frustration.
Perhaps it was just that remembered desire paled in comparison to the feeling itself. Or perhaps he had been sicker then, weaker. He had been dying, after all, and surely his body could not have sustained this.
“A Fairchild and a Herondale,” she said. “Now, I like that. The Fairchilds have always been practical and the Herondales — well, you know.” She sounded fond, amused. “Perhaps she’ll settle him down. And don’t tell me he doesn’t need settling.”
Jem thought of Jace Herondale. How he was like Will if someone had struck a match to Will and gilded him in living fire. “I’m not sure you can settle a Herondale, and certainly not this one.”
“Does he love her? The Fairchild girl?”
“I’ve never seen anyone so in love, except for …” His voice trailed off, for she had come out from behind the screen, and now he understood what had taken her so much time.
She was wearing a dress of orchid silk faille, the sort of dress she might have worn to dinner when they had been engaged. It was trimmed in white velvet cords, the skirt belling out over — was she wearing crinolines?
His mouth opened. He couldn’t help himself. He had found her beautiful through all the changing ages of the century: beautiful in the carefully cut clothes of the war years, when fabric was rationed. Beautiful in the elegant dresses of the fifties and sixties. Beautiful in short skirts and boots as the century drew to a close.
But this was what girls looked like when he had first noticed them, first found them fascinating and not annoying, first noticed the graceful line of a neck or the pale inside of a feminine wrist. This was the Tessa who had first cut him through and through with love and lust commingled: a carnal angel with a corset shaping her body to an hourglass, lifting her breasts, shaping the flare of her hips.
He forced his eyes away from her body. She had bound up her hair, small curls escaping over her ears, and his jade pendant glimmered around her throat.
“Do you like it?” she said. “I had to do my own hair, without Sophie, and lace my own laces …” Her expression was shy and more than a little nervous — it had always been a contradiction at the heart of her, that she was one of the bravest and yet the shyest people he knew. “I bought it from Sotheby’s — a real antique, now, it was far too much money but I remembered when I was a girl you had said orchids were your favorite flower and I had set myself to find a dress the color of an orchid but I never found one before you were — gone. But this one is. Anilyne dye, I expect, nothing natural, but I thought — I thought it would remind you.” She raised her chin. “Of us. Of what I wanted to be for you, when I thought we would be together.”
“Tess,” he said, hoarsely. He was on his feet, without knowing how he had gotten there. He took a step toward her, and then another.“Forty-nine thousand, two hundred and seventy-five.”
She knew immediately what he meant. He knew she would. She knew him as no one else living did. “Are you counting days?”
“Forty-nine thousand, two hundred and seventy-five days since I last kissed you,” he said. “And I thought of you every single one of them. You do not have to remind me of the Tessa I loved. You were my first love and you will be my last one. I have never forgotten you. I have never not thought of you.” He was close enough now to see the pulse pounding in her throat. To reach out and lift up a curl of her hair. “Never.”
Her eyes were half-shut. She reached out and took his hand, where it caressed her hair. His blood was thundering through his body, so hard that it hurt. She lowered his hand, lowered it to the bodice of her dress. “The advertisement for the dress said it did not have buttons,” she whispered. “Only hooks down the front. Easier for one person to do up.” She lowered her right hand, took his other wrist, raised it. Now both his hands were at her bodice. “Or to unfasten.” Her fingers curved about his as, very deliberately, she undid the first hook on her dress.
And then the next. She moved his hands down, her fingers intertwined with his, unfastening as she went until the dress hung open over her corset. She was breathing hard; he could not keep his eyes from where his pendant rose and fell with her gasps. He could not bring himself to move an inch more toward her: he wanted, wanted too much. He wanted to unplait her hair and wrap it around his wrists like silken ropes. He wanted her breasts under his hands and her legs around his waist. He wanted things he had no name for and no experience of. He only knew that that if he moved one inch closer to her the glass barrier of control he had built up around himself would shatter and he did not know what would happen next.
“Tessa,” he said. “Are you sure —?”
Her eyelashes fluttered. Her eyes were still half-closed, her teeth making small half-moons in her lower lip. “I was sure then,” she said, “and I am sure now.”
And she clasped his hands firmly to her sides, where her waist curved in, on either side of the flare of her hips.
His control broke, a silent explosion. He pulled her toward him, bent to kiss her savagely hard. He heard her cry out in surprise and then his lips silenced hers, and her mouth opened eagerly under his. Her hands were in his hair, gripping hard; she was reaching up on her toes to kiss him. She bit at his lower lip, nipped at his jaw, and he groaned, sliding his hands inside her dress, his fingers tracing the back of her corset, her skin burning through the bits of her chemise he could feel between the laces. He was kicking off his shoes, toeing off his socks, the floor cold against his bare feet.
She gave a little gasp and wriggled closer, into his arms. He slipped his hands out of her dress and took hold of her skirts. She made a noise of surprise and then he was drawing the dress up over her head. She exclaimed, giggling, as the dress came off most of the way but remained fastened at the wrists, where tiny buttons clasped the cuffs tightly. “Careful,” she teased, as his frantic fingers flicked the buttons open. He heaved the dress up and tossed it into the corner. “It’s an antique.”
“So am I, technically,” he said, and she giggled again, looking up at him, her face warm and open.
He had thought about making love to her before; of course he had. He had thought about sex when he was a teenaged boy because that was what teenaged boys thought about, and when he had fallen in love with Tessa, he had thought about it with her. Vague inchoate thoughts of doing things, though he wasn’t sure what — images of pale arms and legs, the imaginary feel of soft skin under his hands.
But he had not imagined this: that there might be laughter, that it might be affectionate and warm as well as passionate. The reality of it, of her, stunned him breathless.
She drew away from him and for a moment he panicked. What had he done wrong? Had he hurt her, displeased her? But no, her fingers had gone to the cage of crinoline at her waist, twisting and flicking. Then she raised her arms and twined them about his neck. “Lift me up,” she said. “Lift me up, Jem.”
Her voice was a warm purr. He took hold of her waist and lifted her up and out of her petticoats, as if he were lifting an expensive orchid free of its pot. When he put her back down, she was wearing only her corset, drawers and stockings. Her legs were just as long and lovely as he had remembered and dreamed about.
He reached for her, but she caught at his hands. She was still smiling, but now there was an impish quality to it. “Oh, no,” she said, gesturing to him, his jeans and sweater. “Your turn.”
* * *
He froze, and for a moment, panicked, Tessa wondered if she had asked him for too much. He had been so long disconnected from his body — a mind in a shell of flesh that went largely ignored unless it needed to be runed for some new power. Maybe this was too much for him.
But he took a deep breath, and his hands went to the hem of his sweater. He pulled it off over his head and emerged with his hair adorably ruffled. He wore no shirt under the jumper. He looked at her and bit his lip.
She moved toward him, wondering eyes and fingers. She glanced at him before she put her hands on him and saw him nod, Yes.
She swallowed hard. She had been carried this far forward like a leaf on the tide of her memories. Memories of James Carstairs, the boy she’d been engaged to, had planned to marry. Had nearly made love to on the floor of the music room in the London Institute. She had seen his body then, stripped to the waist, his skin pale as paper and stretched thin over prominent ribs. The body of a dying boy, though he had always been beautiful to her.
Now his skin was laid over his ribs and chest in a layer of smooth muscle; his chest was broad, tapering down to a slim waist. She put her hands on him tentatively; he was warm and hard under her touch. She could feel the faint scars of ancient runes, pale against his golden skin.
His breath hissed out between his teeth as she ran her hands up his chest and down his arms, the curve of his biceps shaping themselves under her fingers. She remembered him fighting with the other Brothers at Cader Idris — and of course he’d fought at the Citadel Battle, the Silent Brothers kept themselves ready to do battle, though they rarely did. Somehow she had never quite thought about what that might mean for Jem once he was no longer dying.
Her teeth chattered a little; she bit her lip to keep them silent. Desire was washing through her, and a little fear as well: How could this be happening? Actually happening?
“Jem,” she whispered. “You’re so …”
“Scarred?” He put his hand to his cheek, where the black mark of the Brotherhood still remained at the arch of his cheekbone. “Hideous?”
She shook her head. “How many times do I have to tell you that you’re beautiful?” She ran her hand up the bare curve of his shoulder to his neck; he trembled. You are beautiful, James Carstairs. “Didn’t you see everyone staring at you on the bridge? You’re so much more beautiful than me,” she murmured, sliding her hands around him to touch the muscles of his back; they tightened under the glancing pressure of her fingers. “But if you’re foolish enough to want me then I will not question my good fortune.”
He turned his head to the side and she saw him swallow. “For all my life,” he said, “when someone has said the word ‘beautiful’, it is your face I have seen. You are my own very definition of beautiful, Tessa Gray.”
Her heart turned over. She raised herself up on her toes — she had always been a tall girl but Jem was yet taller — and put her mouth to the side of his throat, kissing gently. His arms came up around her, pressing her against him, is body hard and hot, and she felt another pang of desire. This time she nipped at him, biting at the skin where his shoulder curved into his neck.
Everything went topsy-turvy. Jem made a sound low in his throat and suddenly they were on the floor and she was on top of him, his body cushioning her fall. She stared down at him in astonishment. “What happened?”
He looked bewildered as well. “I couldn’t stand up any more.”
Her chest filled with warmth. It had been so long that she had nearly forgotten the feeling of kissing someone so hard that your knees went weak herself. He pushed himself up on his elbows. “Tessa —“
“Nothing’s wrong,” she said firmly, cupping his face in her hands. “Nothing. Understand?”
He narrowed his eyes at her. “Did you trip me?”
She laughed; her heart was still pounding away, giddy with joy and relief and terror all at the same time. But she had looked at him before, had seen the way he glanced at her hair when it was down, had felt his fingers in it, tentatively stroking, when he had kissed her on the bridge. She reached up and pulled the pins out of it, throwing them across the room.
Her hair fountained down, spilling over her shoulders, down to her waist. She leaned forward so that it brushed across his face, his bare chest.
“Do you care?” she whispered.
“As it develops,” he said, against her mouth, “I don’t care. I find I prefer to be reclining.”
She laughed and ran her hand down and down his body. He twisted, arching up into her touch. “For an antique,” she murmured, “you would fetch quite a price at Sotheby’s. All your parts are quite in working order.”
His pupils dilated and then he laughed, his warm breath gusting across her cheek. “I have forgotten what it is like to be teased, I think,” he said. “No one teases Silent Brothers.”
She had taken advantage of his distraction to rid him of his jeans. There was distractingly little clothing between them now. “You’re not in the Brotherhood any longer,” she said, stroking her fingers across his stomach, the fine hair there just below his navel, his smooth bare chest. “And I would be very disappointed if you remained silent.”
He reached for her blindly and drew her down. His hands buried themselves in her hair. And they were kissing again, her knees on either side of his hips, her palms braced against his chest. His hands ran through her hair again and again, and each time she could feel his body strain up toward hers, his lips pressing against her own harder. They weren’t savage kisses, not now: they were decadent, growing in intensity and fervor each time they drew apart and came together again.
He put his hands to the laces of her corset and tugged at them. She moved to show him that it also fastened down her chest, but he had already reached around to grip the material. “My apologies,” he said, “to antiquity,” and then, in a most un-Jem-like fashion, ripped the corset open down the front and cast it aside. Underneath was her chemise, which she pulled up and over her head and dropped to the side.
Then she took a deep breath. She was naked in front of him now, as she never had been before.
* * *
Jem had the feeling that later his hands would sting, but at the moment, he could feel nothing but Tessa. She was sitting astride his hips, her eyes wide, her hair pouring down over her bare shoulders and breasts. She looked like Venus rising out of the waves, with only the jade pendant to cover her, shining against her skin.
“I think,” she said, her voice gone high and breathy, “that I need you to kiss me now.”
He reached up to draw her down, catching hold of her slender shoulders. He rolled them over so that he was on top of her, balanced on his elbows, careful of his weight. But she didn’t seem to mind. She adjusted herself under him, curving her body to fit his own. The softness of her breasts pressed against his chest and the hollow of her hips was a cup to hold him and her bare toes ran down his jean-clad calves.
He made a dark, needy sound low in his throat, a sound he barely recognized as coming from himself. A sound that made Tessa’s pupils expand, her breath come quickly. “Jem,” she said, “please, Jem,” and she turned her head to the side, pillowing her cheek on her unbound hair.
He bent over her. This much they had done together, before. This much he remembered. That she liked to be kissed in a line down her throat, and that if he followed the shape of her collarbone with his mouth she would cry out and dig her hands into his back. And if he had been terrified of what came next — not knowing what to do, or how to please her — it was washed away in the rush of her responsiveness: her soft cries as he ran his hands down her legs and kissed her chest and stomach.
“My Jem,” she whispered as he kissed her. “James Carstairs. Ke Jian Ming.”
No one had called him by his birth name in over half a century. It was as intimate as a touch.
He wasn’t entirely sure how the rest of their clothes were discarded, only that somehow they were lying on the wrecked remnants of her silk dress and petticoats. Tessa was not soft and pliant under him as he had long ago imagined but responsive and demanding, lifting her face to be kissed over and over, running her hands over him, each brush of her fingers igniting sparks in nerve endings he had feared long dead.
It was so much better than he had imagined. He was surrounded by her, her smell of rosewater soap and her soft skin and her implicit trust. It was not only that she trusted him not to hurt her; it was more than that. She trusted that his inexperience would not matter, that nothing mattered except that it was the two of them and they had always sought to make the other one happy. When he faltered and said, “Tessa, I don’t know how to —“ she whispered against his mouth and placed his hands where they should go.
A sort of lessoning, but the gentlest he had ever received, and the best. He had not quite ever imagined this, that their responses would be mirrored, that her pleasure would magnify his own. That when he slid his hands up her legs she would wrap them around his waist of her own accord. That every thought would flee from his head except for the feel of her under him and then around him as she guided him to where he needed to be.
He heard himself cry out as if from a distance as he buried himself in her. “Tessa.” He clutched at her shoulders as if he could grasp the last shreds of his control. “Tessa, oh God, Tessa, Tessa.” Coherency had left him completely. He said something else as well, not in English any more, he didn’t know what, and he felt her tighten her arms around him.
He was breathing in gasps. His eyes were closed; light blazing behind his lids. So much light. He struggled for the shreds of his control, not wanting it to be over, not yet. He heard Tessa’s voice, whispering his name; they were so close, closer than he had ever believed possible. Her hands slid down his body to grasp at his waist. There was a thin line of concentration between her eyebrows; her cheeks were bright scarlet, and when she tried to say his name again, a ragged gasp swallowed it up. One of her hands flew to her mouth and she bit down hard on her fingers as her body tightened around him.
It was like a match to tinder. The last shred of his control evaporated. He buried his face against her neck as the light behind his eyes fractured into kaleidoscopic colors. He had carried the darkness of the Silent City with him even when he had left the Brotherhood. And now she had opened his soul and let in the light, and it was brilliant.
He had never imagined this. He had never even imagined imagining this.
When he came back to himself, he found he was still gripping her tightly, his head bowed down on her shoulder. She was breathing softly and regularly, her hand in his hair, stroking, murmuring his name.
He drew away from her reluctantly, rolling to arrange them so that they were lying face to face. Most of the daylight was gone; they looked at each other in a dim twilight that softened all harsh edges. His heart was beating hard as he reached out to swipe his thumb across her lower lip.
“Are you all right?” he said, hoarsely. “Was that —“ He broke off, realizing to his horror that the brilliance in her eyes was tears. One rolled down her cheek, unchecked.
“Tessa?” He could hear the panic in his own voice. She gave him a quick, trembling smile, but then that was Tessa. She would never show disappointment. What if it had been awful for her? He had thought it was amazing, perfect; he had thought his body would break in pieces from feeling so much bliss at once. And he had thought she had responded, but what did he know? He cursed his own inexperience, his hubris, and his pride. What had made him think he could —
She sat up, leaning over the coffee table, her hands doing something he couldn’t see. Her unclothed body was outlined in the twilight, unbearably beautiful. He watched her with his heart stuttering. Any moment now she would stand up and pull on her clothes, would tell him that she loved him, loved him always but not that way. That theirs was not a passion, but a friendship.
And he had told himself that he could bear that, before he had come to the bridge to confess himself. He had told himself that he could take her friendship and nothing else, that it was better than not being near her at all.
But now that he knew, now that they had shared their breath and bodies and souls, he could no longer step back. To be only her friend, never to touch her again, would tear him into a million pieces. It would be more agony than the heavenly fire had ever been.
“Jem?” she said. “Jem, you are a thousand miles away!” She had wrapped a folded gray throw from the couch around herself; she sat down beside him; the tears were gone and she was warm and smiling. “Honestly, if what we just did didn’t get your attention, I don’t know what would.”
He stared at her. “But you were crying,” he said, finally.
She looked at him quizzically. “Because I am happy. Because that was wonderful.”
He expelled his breath in a rush of relief. “So it was — that was all right? I could get better, we could practice —“
He realized what he’d just said, and clamped his mouth shut.
A wicked grin spread over her face. “Oh, we will practice,” she said. “As soon as you’re ready.”
“I have no other appointments this evening,” he said gravely.
She blushed. “Your body may need time to — to recover.”
“No,” he said, and this time he allowed himself a small tinge of smugness. “No, I don’t think so.”
She blushed even harder. He loved making her blush; he always had. “Well, I need five minutes, at least!” she said. “And I need you to see this. Please?”
She held out a piece of paper to him. Her expression was surprisingly grave; it wiped his smugness away, and his desire to tease her, too. Not daring to speak, he took the paper from her and unfolded it.
She cleared her throat. “I may have been joking, earlier,” she said, “when I said I owned this flat under the name of Bedelia Codfish.”
He stared down at the deed to the flat on Queen’s Gate. It was made out in Tessa’s name, or something like it. Not Tessa Gray, however, or even Tessa Herondale. It was made out in the name of Tessa Herondale Carstairs.
“When I spoke to Magnus in Idris, after the Mortal War,” she said, “he told me that he’d dreamed that you were cured. You know how Magnus is. Sometimes his dreams are true. So I allowed myself to hope for the first time in a long time. I knew it was unlikely, if not impossible. I knew it might be many years. But you asked me to marry you, once, a long time ago. And in a way, this is our wedding night. A long-delayed consummation.” She smiled at him, biting her lip, clearly nervous. He fingers worked at the blanket she held around herself. “I shouldn’t have borrowed your name, perhaps, but I have always felt in my blood that we were family.”
“Tessa Herondale Carstairs,” he whispered. “You should never worry about borrowing my name when you know that you can have it to keep.”
He let the paper slip out of his hand and reached for her. She tipped into his lap and he held her hard, against the choking sensation in his own throat.
She had never given up on him. He remembered saying to Will once that he had given him faith, when Will had none in himself. He had always hoped for better for Will, even when Will did not hope for himself. And Tessa had done that for him. He had long ago despaired of a cure, but she — she had always hoped.
“Mizpah, Tessa,” he whispered. “In truth, for surely God was looking out for us while we were parted from one another. And he has looked out for us while we both have been parted from Will and brought us back to each other.”
* * *
They slept, curled together, on the ruin of Tessa’s dress, and later moved to the couch. It was quite dark, and they drank cold tea and made love again, this time more gently and slowly until Tessa was clutching at Jem’s shoulders and begging him to go faster. “Dolcissimo, not appasionato,” he said with a smile of pure tormenting amusement.
“Oh?” She reached down and did something with her hand that he was clearly not prepared for. His whole body tensed. She giggled as his hands clawed suddenly at her waist, fingers digging in. His dark hair hung in his eyes; his skin shone with sweat. Earlier, she had closed her own eyes: this time she watched him, the change in his expression as his control broke, the shape of his mouth as he gasped her name.
And this time, she forgot to bite on her hand to muffle the sounds she made. Oh, well. Damn the neighbors. She had been quiet for nearly a century.
“Maybe that was more presto than I had intended,” he said with a laugh, when they were lying together afterward, wedged among the cushions. “But then, you cheated. You are more experienced than I am.”
“I like it.” Tessa kissed his fingers. “I am going to have a great deal of fun introducing you to everything. I can’t wait for you to hear rock and roll music, Jem Carstairs. And I want to see you use an iPhone. And a computer. And ride the Tube. Have you been in an airplane? I want to be in an airplane with you.”
Jem was still laughing. His hair was a terrific mess, and his eyes were dark and shining in the lamplight. He looked like the boy he had been, so many years ago, but different, too: this was a Jem Tessa had only just begun to know. A young, healthy Jem, not a dying boy or a Silent Brother. A Jem who could love her with all his strength as she would love him back.
“We’ll take an airplane,” he said. “Maybe to Los Angeles.”
She smiled. She knew why they had to be there.
“We have time to do everything,” he said, tracing one of his fingers down the side of her face. “We have forever.”
Not forever, Tessa thought. They had a long, long time. A lifetime. His lifetime. And she would lose him one day, as she had lost Will, and her heart would break, as it had broken before. And she would put herself back together and go on, because the memory of having had Jem would be better than never having had him at all.
She was wise enough to know that, now.
“What you said before,” she asked. “That Jace Herondale loves Clarissa Fairchild more than anyone you’ve ever known except someone — you never finished the sentence. Who was it?”
“I was going to say you and me and Will,” he said. “But — that’s rather a strange thing to say, isn’t it?”
“Not strange at all.” She cuddled in close against his side. “Exactly right. Ever and always, exactly right.”