Last night, Cassandra Clare released Part Two of AFTER THE BRIDGE, her short story chronicling what happens between THE INFERNAL DEVICES characters Tessa Gray and Jem Carstairs when they meet again shortly after the end of THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS timeline!
First, read Part One here!
AFTER THE BRIDGE, Part Two:
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 long Japanese screen painted with a design of poppies and bamboo. 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.”
Her 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, reminded him who he was, 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.
(to be continued)
Cassandra Clare is sporadically posting new parts of the story on her tumblr, so be on the lookout!