Fandom: Infernal Devices
Story Title: "Crushed Veneer"
Summary: Hell is made of the spaces that Jem Carstairs left behind.
Character/Relationship(s): William Herondale/Jem Carstairs, Charlotte Branwell/Henry Branwell, Tessa Gray, Cecily Herondale, Magnus Bane
Rating: Hard T
Warnings: Major character death, substance abuse, racial slurs, mentions of antiquated views on homosexuality,
Story Word Count: 3300+
Disclaimer: I don't own anything recognizable.
Notes: For the marvelous Lucy, with whom this story probably would never have been written because we would never have had those WONDERFUL conversations about Will/Jem and how great it is and just. Thanks so much. Also this doesn't necessarily have to shippy but. Yeah. It is.
Despite evidence to the contrary, Will never really believed in hell. He believed that demons were bred in dark, vile places where there was no hint of light, but he had never believed that it was a place that humans could go.
But now he knows differently. He can see the landscape of hell now, shaped by the tall spires of the Institute, the slums of London and the shapes of the buildings along the Thames river.
Hell is made of the spaces that Jem Carstairs left behind.
Jem dies on a Tuesday, the most nondescript day of the week. He dies in his bed, Tessa is holding his hand.
Will is not even with him. Hours after, when Jem's body is cold, Will walks into the Institute and just knows.
Henry and Charlotte and Tessa and Sophie and Agatha and—it seemed—everyone else that had ever known Jem is there.
Tessa ends up being the one who came to greet him, covered in stinking demon blood though he was.
Will sees the tears in her eyes, and his heart suddenly turns to stone. "Oh Will," she says, her voice breaking on the sounds that make up his name. "I am so sorry."
When she hugs him he lets her, but he doesn't move to comfort her back.
In the deepest parts of himself, Will always knew that he was selfish. Now here is the final proof. Will does not want to make Tessa feel better, to help her with her grief. She was with Jem as he died, when Will was off fighting and trying to save England, trying to make the world a safer place for Mundanes.
Will would undo all of that—all of the lives that he saved all of the lives that he ended—for one more day in Jem's presence.
He tries to mourn with the others. He walks into their group and sits down and lets them grab his hand and offer their condolences. He listens to them describe Jem, lets them tell their stories and memories of him, nods as they describe the things that he did that touched their life.
They look at Will and try to have him contribute, but he cannot find it in him to speak so he does not.
Jem's death is not fair, not right. Jem should have gone out in a blaze of glory, covered in venom. Demons should have attacked and Jem should have taken one of them with him when he died. He should have died in battle, on his feet and alert.
Parabati are supposed to protect each other and Will could have died for Jem a hundred times over if Jem had died how he deserved. But Will could not fight a failing body and couldn't have saved Jem from the demon that infected him, and that is the worst part of all.
Will dresses in white for the funeral.
The last time that he had donned his mourning clothes, Jem had to help him fix his cravat. Without him Will can't seem to tie it properly. He tries, but he cannot get the damned thing to lie flat. He tears the cravat off his neck and throws it across the room where it lands with a pathetic sigh against the carpet.
Looking at the lonely white fabric is what finally breaks him. Heaving sobs come out of him then, sobs that held everything he had not allowed himself to feel for the longest time. The damn finally broke, and with it came everything.
He cries for so long that he knows that everyone had left without him. Will misses his own parabati's funeral, but maybe that is the best thing. He would not be able to look at Jem on that pyre, would not be able to watch Jem burn into little more than mortar.
After he finishes, after he scrapes the last of the tears off his cheek, he closes the door and walks down the hall into Jem's room.
The violin case is open and there are books scattered on the floor, as if waiting for Jem to come and open them again.
Nothing is moved from the last time that Will saw this place. Nothing has been touched at all, and if Will didn't feel like the better half of himself was ripped away. Leaving what was left behind to bleed to death, Will would think that Jem is just downstairs.
If he closes his eyes and lets Jem's scent take the place of everything else, he can see pieces of him. The sliver glint of Jem's hair in the sun, the white flash of his smile. The quiet timbre of his voice washes over Will and he can feel Jem's hand on his shoulder, his breath on his cheek…
But when Will opens his eyes the hand does not belong to Jem, nor does the breath on his cheek.
Instead it's Tessa, and she is staring up at him as though she expects something of him. He looks down at her and can no longer imagine himself in love with her, even though he had thought he was during the entire process of Jem and Tessa's engagement and marriage.
In that moment Will hates her. If he had been the one married to Jem—
But he stops the thought there, because the very idea is preposterous. He could never marry Jem, the fact that they are each other's parabati being the least of their problems. He could not be in love with Jem is the other thing.
He cannot do this.
"Will," Tessa says," and he can't stand the sound of her voice.
"Jem wouldn't have wanted you to be like this," she says finally, after a pause.
"You cannot know what Jem would have wanted. You barely knew him a year! Just because you were married to him does not give you the monopoly on James Carstairs and his feelings and the things that he would have wanted."
His tone terrifies even him as it reaches his ears, but he cannot help the hate that seeps into his words. Every ounce of loathing that he feels for Tessa comes out of him during that speech.
Tears start making their way down Tessa's face again, and she doesn't even bother trying to wipe them away. She wants him to see them, to notice that he has made her cry. "He wanted you to be happy. Jem loved you."
Not as much as he loved you, Will thinks, but he would never tell her that, never admit the truth to her. He would never give Tessa the satisfaction or peace of knowing the truth. Not from him. Not ever.
"Just leave me alone. I never want to see you again."
That is the first time that Will goes out and gets truly, sincerely drunk.
The Institute cannot throw him out, no batter how badly they want to. He is a Shadowhunter in need of sanctuary and as such has no where else to go. They do not have to help him, and do not put up with his presence very long, but just the same he is there.
Months after, Cecily goes to Idris, leaving him essentially alone. The day she left she had not even spoken to him, only walked into his room once and shook her head before taking her leave. The brother that she had wanted so badly wasn't there, so it was better to just pretend that he never existed once again.
He had worn them all down. Even Charlotte, once she had given birth, had completely despaired of him. Sometimes, though, in the early morning hours she came into his room with a baby—a boy she and Henry had named Jonathan James—and sighed. For some reason she never completely gave up on him.
Will had no idea whether to love or hate her for that, so he just didn't feel anything at all.
That was the best part of drinking: it dulled the world, making the colors and sounds less vibrant, the people less themselves and most of all it drowned the feelings that were constantly trying to make it to the surface. Even if it is only for a short while.
He sticks to the Downworlder side of town. He doesn't have to explain himself there, and most of the patrons keep to themselves.
Every once in a while he will walk by one of the ifrit dens, and he can feel the drug in his veins, the oblivion that he craves just with within reach.
But he can't do it. The very act of putting the venom in his body would remind him of Jem, even when it wasn't supposed to remind him of anything. That poison was the very thing that had killed Jem, in the end, and he hated it for that alone.
Will still remembers the first—and only—time that Jem punched him. Anger hadn't been the only thing that had been in Jem's gaze as he glared down at him. Will had fundamentally disappointed him.
That had been the worst thing that Will had done in his life. Even what he was doing now could not compare, because at least now Jem could not see him and be disappointed.
The burn of the whiskey is the best part, every ship a punishment. That's what he's drinking when the vampire sits down next to him.
The Downworlder keeps glancing at him as though trying to remember who Will is, before he asks, "Are you William Herondale?"
At the sounds of his name the entire pub goes silent. He hears a hiss of the word, ""Nephilim," and his seraph blade suddenly starts burning in his pocket.
It has been months since had has practiced, let alone used his seprah blade, but his hand goes to it just the same. Instinct. Only now he has no one to watch his back, and no back to watch.
The thought makes him smile and grip the cool metal tightly. Let them come. Maybe then he'd die the way that Jem deserved.
"Where's your friend?" the vampire asks, as though oblivious. "The chink with the silver hair…?"
"That's Jem Carstairs," a warlock with hooves answers from the other side of the room. "He died. None of us even got him, oh no. He was addicted to the irith's den only he was too scared to show his face so he got this bloke to—"
"Shut up!" Will roars, pulling out his seraph blade. "Shut the bloody hell up. None of you are even worthy to say his name!"
The Downworlders all get up and are ready to fight, should he make the first move. That way they could not be blamed for the death of a Shadowhunter. Will provoked them, their memories would tell, and not the other way around.
But as Will looks around the room, sees all of their faces, he doesn't see angry or them wanting his blood or anything. Underneath their snarls all he sees is pity.
And neither am I, he thinks suddenly before sitting down and finishing his drink.
He gets it in his head to go visit Magnus Bane.
He can hardly walk, he's so drunk, but somehow he makes it to the street where Magnus's house was, and knocks on the door. The world is swaying and his dinner had made its way out of his throat, but Will is determined to do this. He can do this.
It's raining, just like the first time that Will had visited him unannounced, and in the back of his mind Will is thinking that this might just make everything come full circle.
Will cannot seem to stop asking things of Magnus Bane. It isn't right, but he doesn't care, not when Magnus is such a powerful warlock, not since he helped Will the last time.
The butler opens the door and takes him to a different sitting room as before. He tells Will to wait, so Will does. But he gets bored so he takes to rummaging around underneath the armchair that he's sitting in, and finds something shiny that won't come off his hand no matter how hard he tries to rub it on his jacket.
"What a compromising position," Magnus says from behind him and Will jumps up, hitting his head on the bottom of the chair before crawling out and standing up again.
"Hello Magnus," Will says, trying to gather what is left of his dignity. But then again he is a drunk and was caught on his hands and knees on the floor. Maybe there is none of that left. "How are you?"
The warlock sighs and sits on the sofa, where Will joins him. "What do you want, William? Not another demon summoning, I hope."
"No, nothing like that." Will rubs the palms of his hands against his legs before asking, feeling slightly nervous, "You wanted me once. Right?"
Magnus just looks at him, eyes wide. Will just looks into his warlock's mark—his cat eyes—and tries not to feel the way that seconds are sliding from his hands. He feels significantly less drunk now.
The question stretches between them, growing miles and miles apart, before Magnus finally answers. "I'm sorry," he says finally. "Even though I am sure that it would appease you very much and make the romance novelists three hundred years from now weep, I refuse to be anyone's replacement, especially not someone as exceptional as Jem Carstairs."
Will just hangs his head, unable to say anything in return. "I know you loved him," Magnus continues, "but you don't have to turn into the caricature that you tried to convince everyone that you were."
"It's not a caricature. It's who I am now."
Magnus blinks at him, his mouth in a disapproving line, before he stands up. "You can stay here for the night. I will get Carson to send you a blanket and you can sleep on the couch. Camille will love it."
Magnus leaves the room, but he spares Will one last glance.
Will goes missing for three days, sleeping in sewers, and Sophie ends up being the one that finds him.
"You smell," she tells him. He sees Gideon behind her, but Lightwood doesn't say anything. He's just watching, looking around the alley and making sure that no one is going to attack his wife. "And you are pathetic. Charlotte is worrying to death about you and I should have told her not to be."
Sophie's eyes are sharp, shining, and Will finds that he can't make any noise of protest. She's right. Always has been.
"You're no good to anyone now," Sophie continues, gathering up steam. "You're pathetic and disgusting and Jem would be ashamed of you."
The thing of it is, Will has never liked Sophie, never liked the way her gaze always cut to the heart of things, but he does like how she doesn't apologize for saying Jem's name in front of him. For acknowledging the fact that he existed.
No one talks about Jem in front of him. Every time his name is said they clam up and just look at him, shying away from the topic of his dead parabati. When Tessa left, all those months ago when Will told her that he never wanted to see her again, it was like Jem's memory went with her.
If only he could say the same for Jem's ghost.
"Get up or else Gideon will carry you to the Institute." Sophie puts her hands on her hips. "I assume that you can walk? You're only three blocks from it."
"I knew I was going in the right direction," Will tells her, smiling as he gets up even though his head feels like it's being split in half and he has bruises on his back that he doesn't remember being there days before.
Sophie rolls her eyes and makes a scathing noise in the back of her throat and doesn't speak to him the whole way back even though she turns around and checks on him from time to time.
Jonathan James is in Charlotte's arms when she rushes to Will, and she wraps him in a hug, baby and all. Jonathan gurgles and tries to get away from Will—who is sure he smells but he is so used to it now that he cannot tell—but Charlotte doesn't make any move to stop hugging him.
"Where have you been?"
"I don't know." Will tells her the truth. He drank a faerie drink, and that might not have been the best idea that he had ever had. "I'm going to go to bed now," and sleep.
He hopes that he never wakes up, but of course he does.
Tessa comes back to the Institute. There's something different about her, an air of something that Will can't quite name cloaked around her. "I'm only staying for a bit," she says, in the parlor with Charlotte and not even realizing that he's watching them. "I want to go back to New York to try to figure out if anyone there knows something about. About what I am."
Will should have known when Charlotte invited him for tea—something she hadn't done for years—that something was up, but he hadn't thought anything of it.
Will clears his throat, and when Tessa looks at him she gasps. "Charlotte, you didn't tell me—"
"Will didn't know either, Tessa dear. But I'm sure he'd love to talk to you." Charlotte rushes out of the room, a little too fast for Will who wants to grab her arm and ask her what in hell is going on.
"I have nothing to say to you," Will says as soon as she leaves. It is a bit early for him to go out and drink, but he wouldn't say no to a glass of brandy in that moment. His fingers twitch, but he shoves them in his pockets instead so that she can't see them shaking.
"And you do not want to hear anything that I have to say to you, so the feeling is mutual."
"Well, as long as we understand each other," Will nods and turns to leave as well.
"Wait," she says softly, like she doesn't want him to hear, but he does and he does wait. For her. He figures he owes her this much, even though he knows that he doesn't owe her anything at all. "I just want you to know that it's hard for me too, looking at you. Because I can't see you and not think of him. Never."
"Then we are the same, because I cannot look in the mirror and not think of Jem either, and wonder what he would think of me if he could see me today."
He does not stay and listen to how she replies, because he does not want to. Will knows the truth, knows what the answer will be and he does not care to know at all.
That is the last time that William Herondale ever sees Tessa Gray, and he is glad of it.
Will dies on a Tuesday, the most nondescript day of the week.
He doesn't call it suicide, even though most might. He calls it fighting a monster while drunk, which is possibly the stupidest thing that he's ever done.
In the end it's a barb from the mouth of the demon that kills him, poisoning him and leaving a putrid liquid in his veins instead.
The night he goes out he leaves a note in his bedroom, but he doesn't address it.
I'm sorry, it says and he really, really is.