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A Season in Hell

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'A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.'


— Oscar Wilde, The Portrait of Mr. W. H.


At night, the grey streets of Whitechapel are crueller than hell itself. Soaked to the bone and shivering, Jem staggers along High Street in search of some measure of relief from the agony inside his chest. It is so cold that his breath comes out a mist; the wintry rain stings his skin, chills his bones, chokes him as he tries to draw breath.


He remains impervious to the stares of strangers as they pass him by. It is always this way when he is un-glamoured and among Mundanes. They have never seen a man with skin, eyes, or hair quite as pale as his; with features so foreign. They know not what he is, only that he is not one of them, and his appearance always seems to frighten them some; particularly the children.


He is not welcome here; does not belong here. He feels it now more than ever. But without Tess, he no longer belongs anywhere at all.


Thinking of her produces such a savage onslaught of pain in him that Jem feels physically ill and must stop, leaning on one weak hand against a slimy brick wall, before he is able to carry on. A raw sound escapes his throat and he sags against it; almost falls to his knees.


He cannot erase the memory of the two of them together. It is burned to the backs of his eyelids, ready to play out once more, each time more vivid than the next, whenever he closes his eyes: Will's arm around Tessa's waist, crushing her against him; his hand in her loose hair; his mouth, furious and desperate and passionate, on hers. And she had held him just as desperately, Jem thinks with a fury like poison; had clawed at his shoulder as he kissed her, ran her fingers through his dark tangle of hair. She had declared to Jem in that moment, with every gesture of her body, each uneven little breath escaping her lungs, that Will was the man she wanted; that she had lied to Jem only to protect his heart; that what Jem had feared at the very beginning—that Tessa felt more for Will than just sheer irritation; that there was, had always been, something there between them—was true.


He closes his eyes now and draws in a deep lungful of silty, glacial London air. His limbs feel as weary as his flayed heart; over the past few weeks he has been taking less of the drug than he is accustomed to, certain that his love for Tessa alone would strengthen him. And until tonight, it had. But this—betrayal in its most basic form, committed by those two souls who were closest to him—has accomplished that which not even the demon who killed his parents had been capable: almost killed him.


He opens his eyes then and, taking firm grip of his jade-topped cane, pushes on, certain of his fate if nothing else. He is only vaguely aware of where his feet are taking him. His thoughts are sheer pandemonium. All he knows is that the misery which has hung over him like a dark cloud ever since Shanghai will soon come to an end.


Dimly, he opines that, considering the way his life had been before Tessa had entered it—lonely, shadowed with tragedy—this end should not be so shocking to him as it is. But still, he cannot decide which twist of the dagger is worse: that his wife, the woman to whom he had entrusted his heart and life and soul, the woman who he had committed to spend an eternity with, wanted another man. Or that that man was Will: Jem's parabatai; his brother in all but blood; his best friend and only real confidant.


The same man who had willingly put hands on his parabatai's wife.


Thinking of Will fills Jem with a fury the likes of which he has never known. From the incapacitating pain springs forth a burning hatred; a hatred so powerful it could only be borne of fierce love. He wants to kill Will with his own two hands; aches to see him suffer the way he is suffering. And he wants Tessa to watch, too; to bear witness to the carnage she has created; to the lives she has set ablaze by simply being Tessa.


But Jem knows that he will not harm a hair on either of their heads. He hasn't the right to tear them apart, for he does not belong in their world and never did. He realises now, with a painful and embarrassing clarity, that he has fooled himself into believing Tessa could ever love him, weak and feeble and pathetic as he is. All she'd ever felt for him was pity. Never passion. 


He recalls the way she'd screamed and cried as he'd stormed away from the Institute upon discovering them; the way she'd clung to him, sobbing and heaving, her hair a mess and her dress askew, begging him to let her explain, and knows it is true. It has always been Will.


Tessa has always loved Will.


When finally he finds the place he is looking for, he takes the stairs two at a time and pounds upon the red the door, breathless from the walk. When the scarlet woman with the midnight hair opens the door, her mouth becomes a hard line the instant she sees him. “No Nephilim—”


Jem sticks out an arm and catches the door, preventing her from closing it. His eyes burn into hers. “I am not Nephilim,” he declares darkly. And he is not. He has lost everything which made him what he was. “I am a paying customer, and I have need of your services. Are you going to invite me in?” He takes great care to ensure she understands the threat present in his tone. He has nothing left to lose, but any Downworlder who crosses him tonight shall lose everything.


Reading the look on his face, she knows he means business. With a sigh, she relents and steps away from the door, allowing him passage. He narrows his eyes at her as he steps past the threshold of the house—the cloying smell of the demon drug engulfs him whole; makes his skin itch for a fix.


“I remember you,” the warlock says to him as she leads them down the corridor, hips swaying. “You were here not too long ago, with a lady friend. You were different then. Something's happened to you.” She says all of this matter-of-factly, without so much as a hint of question.


Jem does not answer her. “I'm willing to pay above market for it,” he says instead when they reach the end of the corridor. It is dark, ethereal in here—the walls are painted a deep red, flanked with tall, delicately carved lamps. Nearly all of the bunk-beds lining the wall are full tonight.


“And how much did you want?” the warlock woman asks, raising an elegant brow. Her forked tail swishes behind her as she speaks.


“All of it,” Jem tells her without flinching. “I want all of it.”


The warlock stares at him for a moment, struggling to conceal her surprise, before she shrugs and leaves the room, presumably to take care of his exorbitant request.


Jem leans back against the wall then, pushing his sleeves up over his forearms. He means to prepare to lose himself completely tonight—to relinquish everything he knows—and so with this in mind, he takes a small silver dagger from his pocket and, holding his left arm out in front of him, slashes a clean line through the dark rune on the inside of his pale wrist—the rune which bound his soul in marriage to Tessa. Blood drips from the wound and onto his shoes, making a rhythmic sound like the ticking of a clock.


By the time the warlock woman returns with his purchase, he is finally ready. Ready to fall from grace. Ready to leave Will and Tessa to themselves alone. Ready to shake off his mortal coil.


Ready to die.