Silk against silk. Flesh against flesh. Warmth against warmth. The woman leans closer to the man, her ears placed against the beating on his chest. The sun is yet to rise, she knows, so she reaches for sleep once more. The soft thumping next to her is a lullaby, one her ears will never tire of hearing. Those beats are her lifeline, as hers are to the owner of that heart.
The man is aware of the soft lips pressed on his chest. They send shivers down his spine. Always. His lean arm brings the smaller body closer to his, its warmth his comfort. Through tides and storms, it has been his guide to the light that he almost surrendered. Never for her. He buries his face against her hair, sweet smelling and calming. It is his antidote from the nightmares. They may forever haunt him, but for her, it is worth it.
She is aroused first, her body clock used to her early waking. Expertly, she maneuvers herself off the man's arm. Placing a kiss on his lips, she pads away from the bed.
The water from the shower is warm and relaxing, just perfect for the soreness she acquired from last night. Her body leans back to the tiles. Technology did a good job on improving bath works. Even with her eyes closed and her body slack, she will not sleep. Not only does staying at the tub for long will wrinkle her skin, but she never rests unless he is with her. She is not dependent; only paranoid for almost losing him, that single thread lifting him from death almost breaking right in front of her eyes. Never again.
She takes her time wiping the wetness caused by the morning bath. Opening the doors of their closet, she grabs a comfortable dress. She never liked the rough denim that enclosed her legs, almost suffocating the pores there. She prefers dresses for easy going days and slacks for business days.
She slips the robe off her, letting it glide down her marked skin. She watches herself at the mirror. Time continually leaves her untouched, and so is he. Her hair, accustomed to the chignon of her days, now drape to the middle of her back. He adores touching her hair, even fixing it with combs and clips once in a while. But at night, his hands are quick to remove those adornments, wounding itself to the sea of brown. Her eyes, the color of the sky at storm, are lit with internal fire. Her face, unmarred of lines, is of contentment.
His slender hands wrap on her flat stomach. He hugs her from behind, white against white. His hands search her, wandering to the arc of her sides to the swelling of her chest. She almost jumps in surprise, a scowl on her lips. He chuckles against her neck. He always surprises her and it never gets tiring.
"You're such a tease," she scoffs, guiding his hands away from her skin.
He gets the dress that lay discarded on the floor and brushes it, in attempt to straighten the creases formed when it fell on the ground. He guides her into wearing the dress, letting it slip from her slim legs to her torso. He lets his hand slither as he zips the dress up, amused by the goose bumps that form on her back.
"So beautiful," he murmurs. A slight pink graces her cheek, but she smiles. She turns, facing him, her hands cupping his jaw. She places a light kiss on his cheek.
"Good morning, Jem."
She cooks every morning.
Bacons, eggs, sausages. They are already accustomed to the new ways of the new world. The pan sizzles. The toaster dings. The coffee maker emits a rich aroma, which engulfs the kitchen. The fruit juice is poured on a pitcher, ice producing a clinking sound. The table is set for four. The flower is placed on the middle, fresh from the garden. The servants bow, retreating to their own dining area.
Small footsteps patter across the hall. She sees the newcomer first before she sees her. She worries about the length of the pajamas the newcomer wore, that it might cause her to slip. The newcomer, fragile little thing she was, would not fall, of course. She inherited the grace of his father.
"Good morning, momma," the little one speaks. Her heart swells in pride. She had felt this before, the first time hundreds of years ago, when she first said yes to him. Every single time she sees the little ones, her heart just grows bigger.
So this is love.
"Good morning, sweetie. What do you want to eat?" She dries her hand with a spare towel before sitting beside the small girl.
"Toast," the girl says. The woman gives it to the girl, her own cup of coffee by her right.
Another set of footsteps interrupts the two. Now, a boy, older than the little girl, yawns before settling himself across the little girl. He brushes his eyes with his hands, removing the goo formed by sleep. He yawns again before smiling apologetically to the woman.
He is so soft-spoken, the woman muses. So adorable. She wants to pinch her son's cheek, just to embarrass him, but she does not want to be at the receiving end of his glare. Silent and short-tempered, a balanced mix.
Finally, the last vacant chair on the dining table is filled. The man, in trousers and dress shirt of black with the latter folded to his elbow, settles himself beside his son. He notices the mug of coffee already placed beside his plate. He catches the woman looking at her.
"Good morning, Tessa."
Breakfast goes on. Liam quietly eats, occasionally sipping his cup of hot chocolate. The little girl, Kate, diligently finishes her toast. Jem is in charge of them, saving the day with his fast reflexes. Tessa watches her small family.
It can be mistaken that Liam is around ten, but he is older. Same goes with Kate, who looks like five but in reality is around twenty. The Shadowhunter blood is dominant, but it does not mean that the warlock genes are disregarded. They will age, quite slowly until they can age no more, Magnus once said.
Tessa's eyes rest first on Kate. Katherine, for purity, she remembers. Before her birth, Jem asked her why she will name their daughter Katherine. The name reminds me of you, of the purity and goodness of your soul. Just like her. She is a remembrance of you. Jem shed tears that day.
Instinctively, her eyes follow Liam. Liam, for strong protection. It was Jem who named Liam. He wanted a remembrance of Will and a remembrance of her. He told it to her when they thought all hope was lost. Just wishful thinking. If we have a son, I will name him Liam. Not William, because he is different. Liam, for strong protection and will, which you embody. Every time I will look at him, I will remember you and the lengths you go through because of our love. She made love with him that night. They made Liam that night.
And lastly, she gazes at Jem. Her Jem. Her James. He fought. He healed. He lived. She shed buckets of tears when he is finally free. She misses the ivory halo formed by his once silver hair and the light irises that never faltered. Not during the haze. Not during the almost dive to death. His hair is darker now, ebony against the paleness of his skin. His eyes, once light are now shadowed with coal. She feels fluttering in her stomach. Jem will always be beautiful.
He looks at her. She looks at him. They both smile.
Yes, this is forever.
Before lunch, Tessa and Kate will usually have a stroll at the gardens, be out of the house for some shopping, or try something new. Jem takes Liam with him to training.
Jem observes as Liam throws the knife and hits the target at bulls-eye. Just like Will. Liam will throw for a while, finishing every target around the room. Jem is quick to notice changes with his sharp eye, and for every single day they trained, he can say that Liam gets better.
Following the throwing is the fencing. Liam likes it best, telling his father that holding a sword makes him feel like a man, even with his small ten-year-old body. Liam never wins against Jem, and he will usually make a face before letting his father hug him. So like and unlike Will. After the fencing, they will take a break.
Jem never gets tired of teaching his son. For one, he is receptive. He does not mind being in lessons from morning to evening, unlike little Katherine who would start throwing a fit after a few hours. Also, his son is quick to think and respond. Jem sometimes forgets that this is his son that he is talking too, and not his parabatai.
Some things just never change.
At this time of the day, Jem misses Will the most. It is difficult, living without him. He once questioned if immortality is what he wants. In exchange of the passing of time, he will lose the ones he once knew. Of all the losses, it hurt the most when Will finally bid goodbye.
But there is Tessa. There is the light at the end of the tunnel. He fought for her. He stayed alive for her. If he could repeat the last hundred years, he would, if only to have Tessa again and again.
How are you, Will?
Liam calls for him, and they train again.
The girls are back at exactly twelve noon.
Jem is in charge of lunch. Some time ago, he bought a recipe book of Chinese food. He would let Liam pick what he wants to try to eat. Jem is good at the kitchen, quick to flip the ones being fried and good on counting the right number of stirs. His presence in the kitchen is comical, Tessa will say. Covered with sweat and in deep concentration, he looked like he was on a fight with demons.
"Daddy, I'm hungry!" The daddy's girl whines, clutching Jem on the legs. His clean hand would ruffle her impeccably combed hair.
"James! Don't ruin her hair," Tessa will chide. Kate will chide. Jem will smile sheepishly.
Liam is finished setting the table. They all take their places. Tessa's stomach growl as her nose catches the aroma. Sweet and sour fish. Her feet nudges Jem's from across the table.
The family eats in silence.
Halfway through lunch, the door bell rings. One of the maids checks who the visitor is.
"Uncle M!" Kate squeals, a ball of energy flying to Magnus's arms.
The warlock chuckles. The others stop from eating. Tessa is the first to stand.
"Magnus, it's a pleasure to have you visit us," she greets, pressing their cheeks together.
"It's a pleasure to be here. It's been what? Five days? A high warlock doesn't have much of free time, you know," Magnus lifts Kate to the air. "When I saw you before, you're still a small bundle. Now that I visit you again, you're still small! What have your parents been feeding you, huh? Or they're too busy canoodling—"
"Magnus!" Tessa almost shouts, reddening.
"There are children—"
"Mom, I'm not a kid anymore," Liam interjects.
"You still look like a kid to me, so don't even try," Tessa answers.
Jem, amused by his wife's flushed state, stands by her side. His voice drops, his mouth close to her ears. "Maybe we can do as he tells us, now that he can watch the kids."
Magnus's face is smug. "I heard that, Shadowhunter! Now shoo! Let Uncle M watch over the kids while you fool around like teenagers do these days!"
Tessa was too embarrassed to even remark.
James Carstairs never wastes time.
As soon as they were out of the dining area, he lifts Tessa to his arms. Tessa almost shrieks in surprise. She buries her face by his neck, her arms on a tight grip. Jem will not let her fall, but she is too caught up in the moment to even think. Jem runs, past the maids who were shocked at the sudden playfulness of their master and the butlers who wished to cheer for the man.
The double doors leading to the library opens. Carefully, Jem places Tessa down on the couch.
The sun streams from the wide window, enveloping husband and wife with its glow. Supine on the couch, Tessa latches her hands behind Jem's neck. Jem lowers himself, tasting temptation and rawness and sweet and sour.
He unleashes what restraint he has from within. It is always easy to forget control with Tessa. It must be her eyes, pulling him from the depths and letting him come just for her. He relishes the feel of her, browns and grays and whites, all muted and withdrawn but shining. There is no pain in her, just utter pleasure and delight.
He kisses her, like soft caresses and fluttering of wings. He trails from her forehead, down to her cheek, to her nose, to her jaw, to her neck. He marks her, biting and sucking and enjoying the moans that escape her pretty mouth. He smirks against his neck, so un-Jem like.
"You're really here, aren't you, baby?" Tessa whispers.
"I am here," Jem replies, reaching for the tangled mess crowning Tessa.
Jem doesn't have to be told twice.
Husband and wife bask in post-coital glow, silly grins on their faces. From Tessa's bosom, Jem looks up. Few of the ebony strands of his hair fall forward. Tessa brushes them, letting herself be drowned on his stare.
"So beautiful," she says, her voice husky after screaming. Her breath washes Jem's face. He sighs in delight.
"Just as you are for me."
Jem perches himself with his elbow, giving Tessa some breathing space. He covers their naked bodies with the spare blanket. "Why do you call me beautiful? Not that I'm complaining, but we're on a different time and place."
"Well," Tessa places her hand on Jem's chest. "There is something in that word that never fades. When you use the word handsome, it doesn't have that strong impact. You can be handsome now, but you can't be handsome forever. Having beauty is ancient, like roots deeply planted on the soil, bound to linger forever on the lands of the earth. Beauty is always there, waning and blooming and becoming real. It's the perfect word for you."
"Ancient, eh? Are you implying that I'm old?" Jem growls.
"And what if I am?" Tessa challenges.
"Then you'll have to pay for that."
The rays turn from yellow to deep orange, but there is only one color for Jem and Tessa.
"Momma! Uncle M taught me magic today!" Kate happily shares to her mother as Tessa arrives at the dining area.
Tessa gazes lovingly at her daughter, albeit tired. "That's wonderful, Kate. I hope you didn't give him a hard time."
"I think Jem gave you a hard time," Magnus snickers from beside Tessa.
"It's your fault, Uncle M," Tessa jokingly sneers his name.
"And you, Mrs. Carstairs, adore me for that," Magnus remarks knowingly.
Wistfulness passes Tessa's features, as if she is not aware of the people around her. "Things are different now, aren't they?" She says softly. Her eyes roam around the room. The household, though similar in structure to the Institute, is way different from it. There is still the touch of their era, which she and Jem strived to restore and recreate from the images in their memories. But there is no Sophie to lay the plates on the dining table; no Gideon who insists on helping her serve; no Bridget singing her songs of death and gore; no Henry who brings his scratch of formulas on the dining table; no Charlotte being the best hostess; no Cecily who adds flavor to conversations; no Will who is silent and withdrawn.
I'm sorry, Will.
"It has to be, Tessie dear," Magnus places a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "If things were no different from the yesteryears, you won't have this life now. Will didn't give up for nothing, you know."
It will never be the same again, Tessa knows. Life moves on. Like the surging and ebbing of tides, they rise and fall and live again. Maybe the scars of the past will never fade. Tessa will not lock them away. Rather, she will wear them proudly. Those scars are significant, each one having a story of its own. They will heal, just like Jem was healed.
Then she saw him, standing by the threshold of the dining area.
Yes, we will heal.
Magnus bids them all goodbye, leaving a trail of glow before disappearing to the night. Tessa can only shake her head. Their friend has been fond of theatrics.
The family has this unspoken agreement on going to the entertainment room after eating. For a while, they will relive stories for the day, plan for the next great adventure, or simply relax as one entity.
Jem will usually play the violin. Liam will take the piano. They spoil the girls with melodies they've inspired. Kate will clap as the music ends. Father and son will bow. Liam will usher Kate out of the room to prepare for sleep. Jem will place his violin back to the case. He never parted with his old one, even with a hundred years. He had a knack for preserving.
Tessa stands from the couch. Jem takes her to his arms, humming the song he composed just for her. It speaks of their trials and fears, their hopes and dreams, their losses and their triumphs. The song is a declaration of love, pure and raw and unchanged by time, if not made to be stronger. They sway, shades of night and earth mingling in one embrace. Passion, love, lust, all intertwined. Ends meet ends, the means a blur.
Every night, they come in full circle.
"Is this how forever goes?" She questions.
"Yes. This is forever."
And she believes.
They hold each other at sleep.
The night goes on, deep, dark and unrestrained. Morning will come later.
Where is forever?
Here in your arms.