Cassandra Clare continued her Tessa/Jem short story AFTER THE BRIDGE with parts three and four yesterday! Find out what happens when THE INFERNAL DEVICES characters meet up again shortly after the end of THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS!
AFTER THE BRIDGE, Parts Three & Four
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 (he’d never torn a corset apart before), 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 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 grasping for the shreds of his control. “Tessa, oh God, Tessa, my Tessa.” Coherency had left him completely. He babbled 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 as he moved, struggling desperately to hold onto himself, not wanting it to be over, not yet. His eyes were closed; light blazing behind his lids. So much light. 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 eyes were squeezed shut, her cheeks 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 remnant 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 endearments.
He drew away from her reluctantly, rolling to arrange the two of 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 wild 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.
She turned back to him, holding something in her hands.
“Jem?” she said.
(TO BE CONTINUED WITH ONE FINAL PART TOMORROW)