The White Knight
A/N: Well, here it is the chapter we've all been waiting for! Sorry for the delay!
Tessa lay on her back, staring up at the ceiling of Jem's bedroom. She could just make out the sound of muffled voices in the corridor outside and she suspected that Jem and Will were fighting again because of her. The impulse to run to the door either to eavesdrop or break the pair up before it escalated was strong, but Tessa's body ached and she knew that she had already done more than enough meddling for one day. She winced, reflexively bringing her hand up to her head. The ring was gone, but the pain still resonated faintly there.
Suddenly, she became aware of the silence. The door opened and she had just enough time to roll over and relax her limbs before the door shut and someone approached the bed. She knew who it was even before she felt the light touch of his hand and the sound of his voice in her ear.
"It's alright, I sent him away," Jem said.
Tessa gave up on the pretense of sleeping and shifted to make room for him. He perched himself on the very edge of the bed as if he was afraid that even this act might destroy her reputation. Tessa thought this was silly, considering that they had already shared a bed before. Then again, perhaps he wasn't only concerned about her reputation. After all, it had been her idea to go to Jem's room, and she had been the one that had Changed into Jem despite Will's protests, and she had been the one that had locked herself in there, practically naked so that could Change into yet another man with nothing but Will to bar the door. God, what Jem must think of her now! She should have listened to Will when he tried to talk her out of it.
What had she done? Now, Jem wouldn't even look at her. Tessa covered her own face with her hand.
"Are you alright?" Jem asked anxiously.
Tessa shook her head, too ashamed and humiliated to voice what they both knew was wrong.
"Tessa, look at me." Jem closed his fingers around her wrist and took her hand away from her face so that she could look at him. She was surprised by the amount of concern she saw there, especially since he must hate her now after everything she'd done.
"I'm so sorry, Jem," Tessa apologized before she lost her nerve. "I don't know what Will said to you-"
"Never mind, Will," Jem said so sharply that Tessa knew that they had had another falling out over her.
"It wasn't his fault," she said, sitting up so quickly that the room spun. "It was my idea. I only wanted to help you-"
"I know," Jem interrupted her, taking her by the shoulders and gently easing her back down into the pillows.
"I'm sorry," she said again. "Please, don't be angry with him because of me."
"I'm not," Jem said soothingly. He smoothed her hair back from her forehead.
"You're not angry with him?" Tessa asked, wonderingly.
"Not because of you," Jem clarified. "And I'm not mad you either." He passed his hand over her forehead again and into her hair, continuing thoughtfully, "I don't think I could stay mad at you or Will for very long, though if Will continues to test my patience I might chuck him into the Thames before I can stop myself."
Tessa snorted. Jem smiled and let his hand drop from her hair.
"He does seem to have that effect on most people," Tessa agreed, sitting up slowly now that she felt better. "I don't know how you put up with him."
"Most of the time I don't," Jem confessed. "Usually I can just tune him out, but sometimes…" His hands fluttered and he sighed.
"Tessa, Will hasn't said anything to you about me, has he?"
Tessa was surprised by the sudden change of the subject and confused by what he meant exactly, but tried not to let on.
"The first time I talked to him was today, when I convinced him to help me find something of your father's or mother's so that I could – well, you saw what happened," she broke off, guitily looking down at her own hands. Jem cleared his throat.
"If you don't mind me asking, Tessa, but why did you do that?" There was no judgment in his voice, only a mild curiosity, and that was what made Jem so different from everyone else in the world and why Tessa was so willing to answer him with nothing but honesty.
"I thought I could help find a cure if I was able to see what had happened to you and your parents. I was desperate, Jem, and I needed to have all the facts and see the whole picture. It was something that I knew I could do for you using my gift. At the time it seemed like the only thing I could do, but now I realize that I should have asked you and that I probably didn't accomplish anything other than invading your privacy," Tessa finished, clasping her hands in her lap. She felt freer now that the truth was out and she wondered if Jem had known that she needed to tell him.
"You shouldn't have asked me," Jem whispered, shaking his head. Tessa looked over at him, alarmed.
"Why not?" she asked.
"Because I would've told you to do it," Jem said sadly. He opened one of his hands, and Tessa saw that he had gotten his father's ring back and was passing it from one hand to the other. "Tessa, you and I are both orphans. After all those years of missing both of them, you must understand to what lengths I would have gone just to talk to my father for one more second. Tessa, I can't –" he broke off, biting down on his lip and closing his fingers over the ring.
Tessa moved closer to him until their limbs brushed and her hands were able to reach out and take his carefully between her own. His head bent forward until it nearly touched hers and she breathed his name.
"Jem, I can do it again. I can bring him back and you can talk to him for as long as you want. It's the least I can do after I –"
Jem laughed and she stopped herself, pulling back in embarrassment. But Jem caught one of her wrists, holding her there as the laughter died away replaced by a gravity that pained her even more.
"Tessa, how could you think that I would ever make you go through that again?" His eyes searched hers, and his hand let go of her wrist to cup her face. "I'm not that cruel. Even if the fate of the world was in your hands, I would never force you to suffer through something like that. I know you Tessa and I've watched you Change before. I know it hurts you. And I know what my father went through, and if you even experienced a little bit of that – God, Tessa." He let go of her and ran his free hand through his hair.
"I'm fine, honestly," Tessa reassured him, laying a hand on his shoulder.
"Are you really?" Jem asked worriedly.
"I won't Change into your father or you again, I swear," Tessa said, squeezing his shoulder. Then watching Jem's eyes widen and realizing, what she just admitted, she dropped her hand back into her lap.
"I thought Will was lying," Jem admitted.
Tessa winced, wishing for once that Will had been.
"It was an accident," Tessa blurted out. "One second I was holding your violin and the next I was…" She gestured helplessly to him. "It was only for a minute, and then Will pulled me out of it or you kicked me out…"
Jem gripped her shoulder, forcing her to face her. His voice shook slightly when the questions poured out of him, so quickly that Tessa could hardly make sense of what he was saying.
"What did you see? Did you – did you read my thoughts like you did with – with Camille?"
"Jem, I didn't learn anything that I didn't already know about you," Tessa chose her words carefully. She could have lied, but it didn't seem fair to Jem after everything she'd done to him already. "It was so easy to Change into you because you let me in right away. You're so open and kind and warm to everyone that it was hard for me to resist the Change, so I just let it happen. I'm sorry, Jem. I should've stopped myself but I wanted to know more about you," Tessa admitted with a shy smile.
"You could've just asked," Jem said finally, but not without some amusement and shyness of his own.
"I know," Tessa said, glancing down at Jem's hands that were fiddling restlessly with his father's ring again. "Why don't you ever wear it?"
Jem looked up, startled as if he hadn't even been realizing he'd been holding onto it.
"The ring, why don't you wear it?" Tessa asked with her usual blunt curiosity. "Is it the same reason why you wouldn't accept your father's sword?"
"You saw that?" Jem asked uneasily.
"From your father's point of view," she answered the unspoken question, before adding, "And Jem, you must know by now that just like Cortana he would've wanted you to have his ring and to wear it. He loved you very much. Those were his last thoughts that he wanted you to keep living and that he loved you," Tessa informed him, remembering suddenly that was what Jem had wanted desperately to know all those weeks ago when he had suggested the idea half-heartedly while she was Camille.
"If I had been wearing it, you never would've been able to Change into him," he said softly. "This is the last thing I have left of him."
"And you're afraid you'll lose that last part of him if you start wearing it," Tessa realized. "I'm sorry, Jem. I shouldn't have asked or said anything."
"Don't be sorry. I like it when you ask questions," he told her, smiling. Tessa remembered the first night that they'd met when she'd barged into his room in the middle of the night and treated him to a barrage of questions. Weeks had passed but she still couldn't squelch the urge to ask him more because he almost always answered them.
"Do you know that the only person I think Will cares for in this world is you?" Tessa asked the question that for months now, she'd been holding onto.
"That's not true," Jem chuckled. "Will cares for a lot of people, but he won't show it for whatever reason he has for hating himself. And don't ask me why because I don't know."
"I think he makes an exception for you," Tessa mused aloud. "It's so hard not to love you."
Tessa had said it so absentmindedly and it had been so matter of fact, that she never thought of what kind of effect those words would have on Jem until he blushed. Only then, did she realize what he might have heard her say. Tessa felt her cheeks heat up as she wondered what kind of girl he must think she was. Here, she was sitting on his bed, brashly discussing her invasion of his privacy and her unrequited feelings, and all of this in nothing but his shirt. Oh!
"I need to dress," Tessa informed him. Jem's brows came together, but then he seemed to notice the way she was holding herself away from him. His eyes drifted downward and then hastily looked away.
"Of course," he said, nodding. He rose from the bed and started toward the door, but as he stepped over what was left of her dress, he paused.
"Should I get Sophie to help you dress?" He took one look at her horrified face and realized his mistake. "Right, I'll help you then," he offered politely, smiling to cover up all of the innuendos and nerves that any other man might have made or been dealing with when faced with an undressed woman in his bed. But Jem wasn't just another male. He was her friend and one of the kindest people she'd ever met. He'd defended her reputation to Will, and had forgiven her even when she'd done the most terrible thing to him. She decided to put aside her silly feelings and prove that she could be just as mature and proper as he was.
"Thank you," she said gratefully, and then she stood and retrieved her dress from the floor, laying it out on his bed. Now that Jem had lit a candle, it looked a lot worse than she recalled, probably because she'd basically ripped it off in her haste to Change into Jem's father. She wondered how on earth she was supposed to get it back on and then explain to Sophie how it had gotten into such a woefully damaged state.
"Never mind that, I'll take care of it once we get it on you," Jem said, resting one of his cool hands on her shoulder. She jumped at the unexpected contact, realizing for the first time how thin the material of Jem's shirt was. She knew he was only trying to reassure her, but now that she was standing in the middle of his bedroom and they could see each other fully in the candlelight, it was very unsettling every time he looked at her.
"Okay," Tessa squeaked and nodded her head until Jem let go of her.
She started to remove his shirt and Jem cleared his throat. Twisting around, she caught him staring at her with dark eyes. He recovered himself so quickly, and turned his back on her so fast that she wondered if she had imagined the brief flash of what looked like lust in his eyes as she'd lifted the hem of his shirt up. As she lifted the shirt over her head and tossed it aside, she wondered if he was peeking and watching her now like she could imagine someone like Will doing. But Jem wasn't Will, Jem was a gentleman. Scolding herself, she hastily stepped back into her discarded clothes and tried to do her best with her sorry excuse for a dress.
"Here, let me," a low voice said in her ear. Tessa was so startled, that she let her hands fall to her side and the dress started to slide down off of her figure. Hastily, she wrapped her arms around herself holding it in place so that his nimble fingers could work on the complicated ties in the back like the strings of his favorite instrument.
He pulled the ties of her corset too tight, and she winced and gasped out loud.
"Sorry," he apologized, obviously horrified that he had hurt her. Tessa bit down on her lip and braced herself as Jem carefully undid the ties, loosening them so that she could breathe easily again. "Sorry," he whispered again, placing a hand flat against her back, and Tessa noticed that his hands and voice weren't as steady as they usually were.
"Did I hurt you?" he asked her huskily.
Her back was to him, but she could feel the press of his chest against her back as he leaned toward her to catch her reply. His heart was beating hard and fast, or was it just her heart that was galloping in her chest and threatening to burst free like a wild stallion? They were so close to each other now that she could no longer differentiate his pulse from hers. Swallowing hard, she tried to form a reply. But she couldn't trust herself to speak coherently and instead settled for a wordless shake of her head.
Jem's clever hands returned to the fastenings on the back of her dress and Tessa wondered vaguely if she should be concerned that Jem seemed to know exactly what he was doing. But she suspected that Jem was a lot more intelligent than he liked to let on, and she knew from watching him play the violin and throw a knife that he had always been very good with his hands.
She felt the brush of those hands now at the back of her neck as he finished with the dress. They were deceptively smooth and so light that she often forgot how strong and quick they were when necessary.
"You can stop holding your breath," he teased her, but it didn't sound as light as his usual humor.
"As long as you're not going to suffocate me again," Tessa replied, exhaling loudly and making a show of letting her hands fall back to her side.
Jem laughed softly and his breath stirred her hair. He reached out to pull back her hair that had fallen into and around her face while he'd worked on her dress and she'd hunched forward a bit. She straightened up and felt the cold press of metal at the base of her neck as he gathered her hair between his hands.
"You're wearing your father's ring?" she gasped.
"You were right," Jem said. "He'd want me to have it and wear it instead of hiding it at the bottom of my wardrobe in hopes that if I couldn't see it than he wouldn't be really gone."
Tessa didn't know what to say in light of that raw confession. So, she stayed still and let Jem continue to play with her hair. She felt the weight of it suddenly shift from her neck to her head and something scrape over her scalp.
"There, that ought to do it," Jem said, stepping back from her suddenly. She immediately missed the warmth of his body against her back, but then his hands were on her shoulders and he was spinning her around so that he could look at her.
This time Tessa witnessed the transformation his face underwent at the full sight of her.
"What?" she asked anxiously, wondering if the dress was indeed ripped somewhere that she had missed. She sought out the small mirror Jem had tucked away in a corner of his room by the washstand. Tessa saw with surprise that he had piled all of her hair up onto her head and stabbed a long pin through it to hold it in place. By candlelight and with her hair messily but nicely done up like that, the dress didn't seem to look all that bad. She might actually be able to pass for dinner, as long as Henry still hadn't fixed the gaslights and no one looked at her too closely or asked too many questions.
"Do you like it?" Jem asked shyly, appearing in the mirror behind her.
"I do." She beamed back at his reflection.
"Good, because you're escorting me to dinner," he said, bowing and offering his arm gallantly. Tessa gladly took his arm and let him lead her from the room. They spent the whole trip down to dining room, making up all kinds of stories to explain the state of her dress and hair. Jem was laughing and Tessa was in stiches by the time they made it downstairs. It was only when they were almost there, that Jem stopped them both because he was worried that her hair was coming down again.
It was a lie, but Tessa didn't care. She enjoyed the feel of his cool fingers on her face, as they brushed back a few wayward curls and tucked them behind her ears. She found out that she liked the brief touch of his lips to her temple even better. As he drew back from her, Tessa wondered if he knew that she was still trying to catch her breath. Did he understand what kind of effect even the slightest brush of his hand could have on her? The grin that broke out on his face as the oblivious Henry once again interrupted them, much to her disappointment, led her to believe that he knew exactly what he was doing to her.
Dinner was a trial, but when Tessa explained that she'd fallen asleep in the library and then accidentally stepped on the cat when she woke so that he attacked her, no one questioned her. It might have been because Jem was her co-conspirator, and Will was absent, and Jessamine was so tired that she fell asleep at the dinner table, or perhaps it was because Henry was so excited that Charlotte spent most of the dinner trying to prevent him from trying out his latest experiment on the mashed potatoes.
Only Sophie seemed to suspect that anything was amiss, but when Henry did finally succeed in blowing up their dinner and splattered it all over the room, waking an outraged Jessamine, she had her hands more than full and Tessa and Jem excused themselves with no one the wiser. In high spirits, the pair triumphantly returned to their rooms, feeling as if they'd pulled off something far more dramatic than the salvage of Tessa's dainty reputation.
Tessa couldn't get rid of the stupid smile on her face and Jem seemed just as giddy as they said goodnight and closed their doors. It wasn't until Tessa sat down at her vanity and finally pulled the pin from her hair, that her mood sobered as her hair came tumbling down.
She recognized the long pin instantly from the memory of Jem's parent's first meeting. It belonged to Jem's mother, and he'd stuck it in her hair and basically given it to her without breathing a word of its significance to him.
Rising from her seat, she threw open her door and raced across the hall. She didn't even bother to knock before she let herself into his room and shut the door behind her.
Tessa had interrupted him while he was undressing. His shirt was off and she was treated to a brief vision of white marble plains of smooth skin, only broken by the occasional inked mark or faded scar. By the Angel, he was the loveliest thing she had ever laid eyes on. And she was very much in danger of doing something terribly embarrassing like telling him that or God forbid, swooning.
"What's wrong, Tessa? You look like you've had a fright," Jem observed, concerned.
He was right, of course, but she wasn't about to tell him that her heart had literally come to a standstill when she saw his bare chest. Straightening up, she tried to remember why she had come back to Jem's room. Nervously, she brushed back her hair from her eyes, nearly stabbing herself in the eye with the pin.
"Oh!" she gasped, recognizing it and holding it out to him. "I just wanted to say thank you for helping me save my reputation today and for lending me this."
"I thought you liked it," Jem said, accepting it with some reluctance.
"I do," Tessa gushed. "It's beautiful, Jem. But – but I know it belonged to your mother. It must be very important to you."
"It is," Jem agreed, looking at her steadily. "That's why I wanted you to have it."
"I don't understand," Tessa said, shaking her head in confusion. "Why would you give me something that meant so much to you?"
"You really don't know, do you?" Jem asked her, his eyes widening just a fraction when Tessa confirmed it with a frown. Shaking his own head, he muttered something under his breath and set the pin down on the washstand. He braced himself against the washstand for a moment and then with a resolved sigh he turned to face her.
"Tessa, you Changed into me. Didn't you see inside my head?"
"Of course," Tessa recalled. "But I didn't see anything that I didn't already know about you."
Jem's face fell and his shoulders slumped just slightly enough that Tessa knew that she had somehow said something wrong. Desperately, she stepped toward him, catching at his wrist before he could slip away from her.
"Jem, I'm sorry I invaded your privacy. Honestly, I am. But I was only in there for maybe a minute and I didn't really see anything other than you," Tessa confessed, blushing because now Jem was looking at her in a way she'd never seen anyone look at her before.
"You didn't see any of my memories or yourself?" Jem sounded like he was stumbling over his words in his haste to get them out.
"No," Tessa began, but caught herself. "Well, I did see myself for a moment, but then Will pulled me out of the Change."
"So, you don't know…" Jem breathed, gazing at her in awe.
"Don't know what?" Tessa asked, smiling because Jem was smiling now too.
"Tessa," he laughed softly and reached out to toy with a strand of her hair. "You're all I ever think about."
Tessa felt as if the breath had been knocked out of her. She couldn't breathe. Was he saying what she thought he was saying?
"I can't get you out of my thoughts," he sighed, focusing on that same curl as he twisted it up and around one of those long slender fingers. "I think about you reading in the Library and how intelligent you are, and I think about you laughing and your sense of humor, and I think about you and your hundreds of questions and your burning curiosity, and I think about your compassion, and sometimes I think about this-"
Then, before Tessa could ask what "this" was, Jem leaned in and kissed her.
A/N: Hope it wasn't too cliché! Please, let me know what you think and I'll update soon.