Tessa turned to Jem, still holding her clockwork angel tight in her hands. Color rose in his cheeks and lingered there for a fraction of a second, only disappearing when his eyes drifted down to her hands. It was odd, the tinge of color against his pallor; it was like a dash of red paint on a blank canvas.
He righted himself.
She fastened her angel around her neck. "Is something the matter?" Tessa's mind raced. Was he feeling okay? Was he going to be alright?
"No." He lightly cleared his throat. "Nothing's the matter."
"Are you sure, Jem?" It was odd calling him by his first name, but it was what the Shadowhunters preferred, Tessa knew.
"I am." His lifeless eyes, like clear crystals bore into his skull, watched her intently. Tessa wondered what he was thinking, and she would have asked if it weren't such a forward question. "I should head off. It's getting rather late."
She turned her gaze to the skies outside the window. They were dark. "So it seems." Tessa stepped away from the window into the music room only to have her foot catch on something. She tried to regain her balance and in the process stepped on the hem of her heavy skirts, bringing her down like a tree felled in the woods.
She half-expected to hit the ground, but rather found herself in the arms of Jem. He must have caught her. Tessa mentally chastised herself. Not only had she made a complete fool of herself, but she'd fallen into Jem. She was so afraid that the slightest touch would shatter him like glass. He resembled a porcelain doll entirely.
But he hadn't shattered like the frail thing he was. Instead, he brought her to her feet with strength Tessa wouldn't have thought his body capable of. She could feel his muscles move under his shirt, his arms firm. It slightly shocked Tessa to notice his strength, but then again, he was a Shadowhunter, was he not? He had to be strong to hold that title. It was in his blood. Besides, Tessa had seen him fight off the automatons on the bridge, so why was she so surprised to learn he wasn't the fragile creature she always imagined him to be?
Jem's hands rested on Tessa's elbows even after she stood steady. His head was slightly declined toward her, his colorless hair falling in his face, his lifeless eyes intent on watching her. It was only then Tessa realized how close they were.
She could feel his breath on her face as light as a feather brushing her nose.
"J-Jem. I'm sorry—"
"For what?" His voice seemed a bit dazed, but Tessa could have been imagining that.
Church meowed in the background and Tessa only vaguely noted he must have been what she tripped over. It was Church who had put her in this situation with Jem. Her cheeks reddened. This was not a 'situation with Jem', she had just fallen and he had helped steady her, and that was that and nothing more.
"You should head off," she murmured, her voice weak to her own ears.
"I should." But he didn't. He moved his head down a bit further, inches from Tessa's face. His eyes surveyed her, waiting for some sign that would tell him to stop his advance, but she gave no indication this wasn't what she wanted. And so he moved forward until his lips barely brushed hers.
Regretfully, Tessa was reminded of Will in that instant. She could see his face in the attic and on the roof, hear his harsh words echo in her mind. She pushed them aside and eased forward into Jem's mouth.
His lips were softer than she would have guessed and they moved gently and tentatively against hers. She put her hand on his neck, letting the fine strands of his white hair tickle her fingertips. After a few seconds, Tessa realized something. Although she had tried to force Will from her mind, she couldn't. This kiss was so much different than the one she had shared with him. It lacked all the passion she had felt in the attic and on the roof. But there was another feeling in its place. Tessa couldn't identify it by name, but she knew from the second she experienced it she didn't want it to end. It felt good—right—to be with Jem, as if the universe made complete sense now.
Suddenly Jem's lips became unmoving against hers and he backed away. His eyes were wide. "I can't do this."
Anger and realization washed over Tessa as if she had had a bucket of icy water thrown over her. This was like Will all over again. "So I'm not good enough for you, just like I'm not for Will?" Words spewed from her mouth before she could stop them. "Am I just a filthy Downworlder to you too, only worthy of becoming your prostitute?" Such vulgar words.
Jem stared. "Will said that?"
"He said as much, and so have you." She turned from him and bounded for the door, but he was quicker and made it before her. "Please move out of the way, Mr. Carstairs."
"Tessa, that wasn't what I meant. I swear it to you."
"Then what did you mean by your words?"
"I saw the way you looked out at Will and I when we left after the Dark Sisters. I wish you weren't a part of this world; it's full of so much pain and loss. But regardless of my efforts, you are a part of all this." He swallowed hard and averted his gaze momentarily. When he looked back, his eyes were full of confidence. "If we're together Tessa, that look of yours will be one I see every day I leave the Institute. You will only worry when I'm not with you. I don't want that life for you. Besides," he stepped closer, "even if I'm not killed in battle, eventually I will die of my 'disability'. I cannot bear the thought of leaving you behind. I…"
Tessa was frozen at his words. She had never expected that for an explanation. "Do you…mean that Jem?"
He took her hands in his and held them tight. "Every word."
She gathered the front of his shirt in her fingers as he pulled her close. His heart beat slowly but surely, never ceasing its regular rhythm. But one day that heart will stop, Tessa thought morosely and shook those feelings from her mind. They had now and they had tomorrow and every moment after.
In the silence of the music room under the cover of night, the two stood and embraced in the faint witchlight. Neither questioned the present or the future, only accepted it as the truth.
A pair of luminous eyes watched them from across the room. Whether Church knew the Fate he had brought upon the two, it was uncertain.
Whatever will be, will be.