Title: The Thread That Lines in Silver
Fandom: The Infernal Devices
Rating: R (M, etc. for sexual themes & dark dreams)
Word Count: 3,600 approx. Oy.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Summary: Five symptoms of Jem Carstair’s “illness,” and how Tessa soothes them all.
A/N: There is no excuse for this truckload of smexy fluff and chaotic angst. I just felt like it.
I. Erratic Heartbeat.
A long time ago, when Jem Carstairs was Carstairs Jian, he raced ahead of his mother on their way to the fish market. The smell of food along the Hangzhou enticed him, and as he ran, he thought nothing of his racing heart. Why should he? For once he reached the warlock vendors--hidden from the sun by their hats, and from the mundanes by their glamours--he needed only to slow to a walk and his heart would soon follow with his legs.
But then is not now.
Now, his impromptu battle with a shax demon in High Street has been over for an hour, and his heart still insists on beating frantically. Or rather, the yin fen insists.
He is calm, weary even, but it always does this. Beats like a war drum in his chest, inciting him to move, move, move long after the need to move is over. He knows it is a lie. This near-painful thrumming that wears out the organ in his chest is no friendly rush of adrenaline. It is a hammering that he dare not answer for fear of finding himself collapsed completely once he reaches the other side of the high.
It's best to turn to the violin when he is stuck like this. He can match the rhythm of the music to the rhythm of the blood pounding through his veins, and can even trick his body to a certain extent--make it believe he is answering the call without truly wearing himself to pieces.
But his violin needs repair. He damaged it, he realizes, during his tirade against Will's foolishness, his body's weakness, and his unrequited (it seemed) love for Tessa Gray.
So just as music drew her to his room a mere week ago, so now silence draws him to hers.
He finds her chatting with Sophie as the whale bone brush works through her hair. He doesn't mean to eavesdrop or interrupt, but he hears his own name mentioned alongside Gideon Lightwood's, and he feels it best to make his presence known.
They hush. They blush. And there is a strange and knowing sort of look that passes between the two women before Sophie simply ups and leaves.
No, 'up and dusted,' Jem reminds himself. That's the phrase Tessa uses.
When Tessa invites him in, the first thing he hears apart from her warm voice is the ticking. For her angel pendant makes itself subtly known wherever she goes.
He takes up the brush himself and continues Sophie's work. He's never done this before, but the task seems simple enough. And even something as simple as weaving through her hair and occasionally brushing her neck provides a fresh intimacy that he's never tasted before.
They talk of everything and of nothing. Of each other. Of Will. The Institute. Charlotte's baby. Of New York, books, and music. Of Henry's concoctions and their own far-off wedding plans.
The rhythm is long-since established before Jem even realizes that his heart has taken a new pace. It has synchronized with her angel.
The same clockwork angel that hangs an inch below his mother's necklace.
There is something horrible and vain in human nature that makes him even give a damn that every dark pigment of him has shifted to gray. Really, what does it matter? Perhaps it is simply annoying as bloody hell to be constantly treated like a dying man, and then to wear it on one's person on top of everything else. He tries not to think on it most days, but it is there.
Regardless, Jem does not care for the pale ghost of a reflection that greets him in the mirror every morning. There's the loss of muscle too, but that has the advantage of being hidden by clothing. There's no disguising the distinctly unnatural lightness of his eyes or his hair, no matter what sort of hat he dons.
There is a certain... standard... among shadowhunters. A standard of health, strength, capability. Known but unspoken. His appearance has given him away since he was thirteen. He does not meet it.
He's known since that first night of almost-was, that Tessa does not care about his protruding ribs, thin frame, or pale coloring. Regardless, he's never wanted her to hear some of the things less considerate members of the Clave had to say. Some not so... polite... as the Lightwoods.
On the carriage ride back from a less than ideal meeting with the Council, he lets silence reign before she finds words to break it.
"If you hear disparaging remarks about the way you look, you must not believe them, Jem. They... They are cads who have no taste."
He's rarely heard Tessa insult anyone, and it makes his lip twitch upward. Calling them cads is clearly Will's influence, but he does not call her on it. It would only make her flustered.
The certainty with which Tessa says it, and the way she grips the lapels of his jacket, with a sort of fierceness, and the far off nigh threatening tone of her voice... it mystifies him a bit, but makes him smile.
"And what would you do if... if such cads disparaged me, my darling?"
"I--" an uncertain blink, but with epiphany right on its heels, "I would write horrible--slandering--poetry about them. And then get it published in the London Times. Somehow."
It is just the light and joking tone he needs to feel better, but he senses an undercurrent of truth to it. For Tessa forgives to a point, and then... she fights. Valiantly.
"Wŏ yào hé nĭ jié hūn ."
"Not fair, James."
Perhaps not, but he does not want to give her answers too easily. The way she coaxes them out of him is too addicting. For they are alone in the carriage, and Tessa has long since ceased to wear the sort of hats that would give their activities away.
It is why there is only the subtle rustling of her skirts as she presses him back into the corner of their cramped seat, kissing him over and over--first with fire, and then with a maddening gentleness. It's the most pleasurable sort of torture, and in that moment, he'd tell her anything she wanted to know.
Her accent is harsh and adorable as she softly mutters against his jaw.
He whispers his confession against the sensitive curve of her ear, feels her tremble with it.
"Why I want to marry you."
The night before his wedding day. The one night he knew he would want rest the most, and the one least likely to provide him with any sleep. He tries to relax himself with a pleasant memory, and finds he needn't search far. For his fiancée and his parabatai have been in high form all week, especially yesterday.
Why did they decide on Hyde Park again? Aside from the fact that he always liked the place, with its birds and its bit of nature in the midst of city hubbub, and that Tessa felt the same... Will could never resist making a pest of himself in Hyde Park. But Jem loved it so.
Jem can't remember what words out of Tessa's mouth moved Will to pull back that tree branch, smacking it into her hair, but he is fairly certain that his parabatai didn't mean for her to fall off her perch and into the pond.
Fairly certain due to the way they both scrambled to pull her out, to make sure she was alright.
But upon realizing she was fine, Will saw fit to open his mouth again.
"You talk of me trying on the Thames for size, Tess, but what sense of adventure or frightening terror could possibly drive you from our company so immediately that you just had to go jump in a duck pond?"
Jem is fairly certain that Tessa intended to spit the water into Will's face as she spoke.
"Nĭ de bèn lián."
Her phrasing needed work, and her toning was terrible, but Jem collapsed into laughter anyway. A child's insult. Perfect from her smirking lips.
"What--? Oh, that's not cricket at all, James. Teaching her how to call me fool in your native tongue? She did call me a fool, didn't she? Or an ass? What?"
But Jem just laughed, and when they parted ways--he and Tess toward the institute and Will toward Whitechapel--he told his brother that he would see plenty of "his stupid face" upon the morrow.
Jem is still chuckling at the thought when he sees the glow of a single candle at his door, illuminating Tessa's tall form.
"We are both going to get some sleep tonight, Jem. I'm determined."
She waves a tiny bottle in her hand.
"It's a light sleep draught for tonight. For both of us. Henry's idea of an early wedding gift."
"Well, I suppose we knew it would be either mechanical or chemical."
He continues to stand by the window as she enters. She looks at him a moment, and he sees a desire that matches his own, and he does not overlook the way her fingers splay over his bed before she sits upon it.
When her eyes draw toward the silver box on his night stand, he blinks and surprises himself to realize that he no longer feels much embarrassment from the memory. For he now knows that when Tessa looks upon the chest, she does not simply think of the moment it fell, but of everything that came before, and with a fondness that causes her to sharply inhale as her eyelashes flutter.
"Tomorrow," he breathes. Surprising himself by saying it aloud.
She licks her lips.
"I don't suppose you knew the phrase has two connotations?"
Her smile lets him know that she's fully aware. He takes the tiny bottle from her and drinks his half, leaving the rest for her to take in her own room and bed.
He expects her to leave once he slips under the coverlet, but she does not. She lingers at his side, perched at the edge just a little longer.
"Sleep tonight..." she whispers, "... and sleep with me tomorrow."
A daring smile and an innocent blush dance before his eyes as he closes them. He feels her fingertips comb through his hair.
"Before you go, though, I need to congratulate you."
"What for?" He can hear that bright curiosity in her voice. It makes him grin.
"Most confuse the pronunciation on their first try."
"Oh? What do they usually say?"
"Something along the lines of 'chicken dumpling'."
Her laughter is the perfect lullaby.
He knew it would be.
London is cold. Rainy and cold. But though he lights no fire in his room, the fever always attacks him at night, making the sweat drip down between his shoulder blades, and form at his brow and upper lip. And then all over.
Yet, despite the fact that the discomfort makes it so he can't stay still, he's too exhausted to get up, and Jem has lost count of the nights he has spent simply lying there, twisting. Feeling sticky and miserable. And hot.
It's one of those first nights they are together as husband and wife that he wonders if he should warn her. About the tossing and the turning. Perhaps he should have just warned her off before even proposing...
But as she sits on her side of the bed, Tessa fiddles with something on the nightstand, and he hears the slight splashing of water.
It's as if she brought the rain to him. She places the cool damp cloth on his brow and he groans at the simplicity of the relief.
"I thought it might help. I cracked the window a bit earlier when it first begun to rain. Set the basin outside. Seemed simpler than troubling Sophie..."
"You are a ministering angel. I knew it. Prettier and smarter than Will. I should have guessed. No wonder he criticizes your skill. He’s clearly jealous."
She snorts, and it's a poor disguise for her laughter.
He wakes, surprised that he even fell asleep at all, with dawn barely breaking through the window, the majority of the world still shrouded in darkness.
He feels a rustling beside him and realizes it is Tessa who is shifting, with drops of perspiration at her temple. Wrapped up in the covers with his own heat, it's no surprise, and Jem tries to untangle her from the sheets, to give her air.
In his attempt to free her, she wakes.
Jem smiles sadly, feeling his own cheeks flush. He runs his fingers over her brow, over the wet skin, as a sort of explanation.
She offers a smile back, touching his neck, and pulling back with sticky fingertips.
Just when he worries that the whole situation is hopeless, she reaches for him.
As her tongue laps at the moisture of his collarbone, Jem feels his body shiver suddenly.
His hands scramble instinctively for her hips, and through the fabric of her nightgown, he can feel the dampness there too.
She pulls back to meet his gaze, Jem recognizes that blush he's come to adore so fully, spreading over her cheeks, beneath her lovely gray eyes.
Such softness, and just a hint of uncertainty. They are still learning one another.
He reciprocates with his mouth to her own neck, driving that uncertainty away.
He can hear her whispering his name as she relaxes under him. By the Angel, he will always be grateful for her trust in him. So few people blessed with Tessa's trust, and--considering her brother--even fewer who have kept it, who have not broken her heart with it.
His fingers race to untie the front of her gown, and he can hear her gasp as the cool air finally touches her chest. He retraces the path her own tongue delved onto him, and then goes lower.
The sweat drips down his back again, but with the path interrupted by her nails scratching at his spine. It's the first time the heat has ever felt right.
It's her soft voice in his ears, her salt and skin on his tongue, and their legs tangling and sliding together.
The dawn's light makes it's way through the curtain cracks.
It makes her skin glisten, and shines over them both as his lips close over her breast.
It climbs higher as he drives his body against hers, making her arch over the damp coverlets, for they both forsook the sheets ages ago.
He continues in the midst of the heat until he finally--blessedly--recognizes the way her eyes shut tight, and her body locks him to her so completely.
The open-mouthed gasp that works its way into a sigh and ends in a smile on her still-parted lips.
It's bliss. Bliss and relief that he sees, like sweet cool water in a desert.
Jem knows the feeling well.
He grew... cocky. And stopped taking it. Terrible mistake. Always a terrible mistake. He's done it so many times and yet, thus far, has been lucky enough to live to regret it.
It's different from the tiny night fevers that disturb his sleep. It is a storm of fire centered at his brain, that blazes through every vein and sets him screaming.
All at once, he is a helpless child under Yanluo's claws, his father's cautionary words against opiates and addicts ringing in his ears, even as the blood drips like poisoned sugar down his throat. The blood turns to silver dust in his mouth and he chokes on it, spitting it out. It leaves the taste of ashes.
He is a weak and insufficient guardian, collapsed at the gate of the institute. He can see his bloody hand print over the lock. Vulnerable, his mind notes. Vulnerable and Prey, and it's as though his blood forms runes to mean the very words over the metal. He hears the creak of automatons and Tessa's screams. He cannot move, not an inch. Yet he knows she stands over him with a twig in her hand, attempting to save him.
He hears a snap and knows it was not the twig, but rather, her back. And he completely hates himself for the relief he experiences when it is no longer Tessa he hears screaming, but Charlotte. Charlotte and Henry and Jessamine, and even the unborn baby's cries meld together, and are drowned out by the sound of shards ripping through flesh.
He feels the pressure, and he is in the infirmary again, gripping Will's hand tightly. And Will is shouting, crying, begging, but nothing will heal the wounds in his back... nothing but yin fen. And Jem wants to scream because he cannot pull Will out of the Ifrit den. His parabatai is bound by chains, and he has no stele to break them. And part of him thinks that maybe Will would rather stay and rot.
The rune over his heart is bleeding, and as he blood flows and pools, he sees his own reflection, or a rather, his corpse. His mother’s prayers for his life echo out over everything, and the screech of a broken violin provides the background melody.
Camile walks by in his vision--or is it Church?--his mind cannot decide. Both vampire and cat turn their nose up at his sickly blood, not deigning to taste it, but instead choosing to saunter off into darkness.
When he looks down again, the red forms a scrying pool, and he sees Tessa and Will standing over his grave. He sees Will take her hand, but he grips too tightly, crushing her wrist. Tessa seems not to feel it, and kisses his cheek, yet the kiss somehow slides to his mouth, and Jem wants to cry out. Not simply at the betrayal, but because a spell is at work, and it somehow slides the life right out of Will, and he collapses to the ground.
It is the part of him that sees an intensity and tension between his parabatai and his wife, and Jem does not know if it means they are a little in love or a little in hate, but the sense of destruction is the same, and it is more than he can bear.
The only advantage of dying is knowing there are some things he will not live to see.
It is in the midst of such thoughts that he is finally able to realize that he is dreaming, that he is able to usurp enough control to turn away from this vision he cannot withstand.
But as he turns, he sees the pond in Hyde park, and a little child feeding the ducks. At first, he thinks it is Will, or perhaps himself--or maybe Charlotte’s child? But the hair is not quite that dark, and though the boy’s eyes are like his own... that soft smile and that book in his hand and the ticking angel at his chest... he’s a child that will never live, and he rips at Jem’s very soul, leaving him broken and exhausted, lying in a pool of red.
He sees Tessa’s face in his minds eye as his world goes dark. The tears in her eyes as Will told her of warlocks and their barren state.
But he overtakes his own dream one last time, long enough to take his father’s cane in his hand as oblivion comes.
He half expects to hear more of his mother’s tearful screaming, or Yanluo’s taunts.
But he doesn’t.
He hears Tessa.
And as soon as he hears Tessa, he smells her. Old books. Polished bronze. Soap with a hint of lavender. A familiar damp cloth on his forehead, combined with her hands sifting through his hair, like a tiny slice of Heaven.
Oh Angel, please. Please, yes...
His eyes open. Truly open. A painful crack as light hits his pupils, now dilated from the drug forced down his throat. He can feel that off-kilter rapid rhythm overtake his heart. The artificial pace that drives him mad when fevered dreams aren’t doing so much worse.
But as it slams his heart against his chest, it drives the toxic fog from his mind. It shakes him from the turbulent sleep.
And she is there. Murmuring... no... reading. Reading aloud to him. Something about an orphan and porridge and wanting more.
He tries to speak, and somehow his raw throat manages to inform her that he is listening, and is comforted.
She brings him water and a relieved smile.
He’s getting to know that look. For she bestows it every night he returns from the demon hunt. It is the relief that he has returned from battling monsters.
It seems no matter the type of monster, her welcome is the same.
Warm, soft, and somehow shielding, wrapping around him tightly, warding off all ill feeling.
The nightmares dissolve like clouds in lieu of a strong summer wind.
She tilts her head, examining him, marking him strong enough, and as soon as she does, she kisses him. Slow, light, wistful brushes against his lips, his cheek, his brow.
“Jem. You’re back, you’re back..”
He smiles for her.
Through pounding heart, weak body, sleepless nights, sweat, and fever dreams, he will always smile for her.
From now unto his dying day.