Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.
—John Keats, Bright Star
Jem Carstairs was neither naïve nor foolish; he knew what happened when a Shadowhunter was dying. Family and friends would trickle in all day, sharing stories and reminiscences, laughing and crying and hugging and kissing and remembering. Jem knew—he himself had been present at the deathbeds of Shadowhunters before—exactly how the Silent Brothers would come to send the person's soul peacefully into the next world.
He also knew (and had known for a while) that one day it would be him in the bed, gradually wasting away to nothingness, as if James Carstairs had never existed on the earth.
He just wished he didn't have to go so soon.
Pulvis et umbra sumus, Jem reminded himself. We are dust and shadows. Shadowhunters were not meant to live forever—Raziel had created them to fight for the good in the world, and to die as they lived, battle-ready till the final breath.
And yet here he was, confined to bed as his body waged war upon itself, fighting a deadly enemy that it stood no chance of defeating.
Jem almost laughed—what glory was there in dying of? One never read a biography of a famous war hero who died of disease; there was always some gory struggle going on, one in which the hero toiled through blood and sweat and was still handed the short end of the stick.
Most of his family had come in at some point throughout the day, making up trivial excuses to stay with him for a while—just as one might do with a dying person.
Did they think he was stupid? That the drug-induced fever had claimed his lucidity already, or that his mind had left him altogether? That he had not realized that—even though their faces outwardly wore brave expressions, projected radiant hope for his survival—they all knew he was going to die?
Better they realize it now. It would only make it easier to accept later.
Miserably, Jem settled back onto the pillows; he was alone now in the twilight, and the shadows seemed to lengthen and bend around him. He yearned for his violin, for something familiar to hold, but could not reach it; he wished for Will to sit beside him, to be a source of strength in these moments. Most of all he wished for Tessa, her rainy gray eyes and thick curls, her calm demeanor belied by fierce bravery, and the way she smoothed back his hair as if he was a child and told him everything was going to be all right. She was his rock, his constant—no matter what he had told Will, and no matter whether or not he would have proposed to Tessa to spare Will even a hint of pain. And Jem needed her now more than ever.
Jem, Will, and Tessa. Burning bright, burning up, burning out. The stars that go out with a bang.
Jem Carstairs would be lying if he said he was unafraid to die.