a/n: today i found this file and went, "ah, the fic i had originally made an ff account in the summer for but had completely disregarded. well, here it is, written after i had finished cp2. i changed a couple things, because man, how quickly my writing style and preferences have changed.
note: character study au/headcanon of present-day jem and tessa, after their reunion at blackfriars'. enjoy (and don't forget to tell me what you honestly think)!
His hands wander. Sometimes they grip the sheets, cold and sweaty, the muscles in his arms tensing; sometimes they find her.
Tessa wonders about the nightmares that must have racked every unconscious moment in his time in the Brotherhood; how helpless and lonely he must have felt, mourning in silence, the runes and the strings that kept his lips sewed together rendering him unable to yell or cry out in pain; he had always been the most human of the Brothers, his memories intact and just as clear as they had been when he was but a boy of 17. But she wonders, also, of how the runes that made him strange and inhuman must have made pain bearable, left him apathetic to the worldly things he was unreachably distanced from.
Will, he murmurs in his sleep, eyes working overtime under the pale skin of his eyelids. This was Jem, as he was, now: human and overwhelmed by new but familiar feeling, murmuring about the people he had not saved, could not save, as if he had kept their lives cupped in his hands and watched as they disintegrated and flew into the wind, to be as one with nature once again: full circle. An instant was an hour was a day was a week was years and years to mortals; he had turned his back and lost everyone in the blink of an eye, lost a life he could have lived a century ago.
Sometimes he sleeps peacefully through the night, and these are the nights Tessa feels most relieved; at times he doesn't sleep at all. But when he does the names of the long dead come to his lips, until finally the fitful nightmares wake him; he finds himself in her arms each time, her nimble fingers smoothing his hair back, whispers of comfort and love coming out of her mouth like wisps of smoke in the cold night. Time flies past us, she whispers, and the only thing we can do is accept it and move on. For what are we but helpless against time? He breaks and she breaks with him; they spiral downward together.
He is curious. He says there is too much to catch up on, that there is so much of her and Will's lives he had missed. He asks about the duration of their lives together, and Tessa turns to him with a smile so lovely it is sad, and talks for the first time in decades of things she could never relate to any other living person before Jem. It is with a wistfulness that she tells her stories, a hesitance that comes with wounds still open; but nevertheless the words flow from her, stories of a woman whose face did not change and a man with an abundance of selfless love. She tells him stories of children and grandchildren and jokes once told and parties long forgotten, and then he asks, quietly, almost in fear that she would break, if she has kept in touch with her descendants. The breath hitches in her throat; it stops her cold. She has already asked herself why a hundred times before and knows the pain of the answer too clearly in her chest: No Shadowhunter wants to know about their Downworlder ancestry. No one wants to know about their great-grandmother that shouldn't be. "I'm an abomination to that world. I'm impossible."
"You remember what I told you so long ago," he whispers, a hint of sadness in his voice. He brushes her hair back, fingers gliding across her cheeks, and she remembers, because these are words she has kept close to her heart. "You are human, always. In all the ways that will always matter."
"You are so different." She touches the left corner of his cheek where the dip of one dimple is, was, had been, familiar and unchanged in a century. This was Jem, her Jem. Safe and healthy and familiar but different.
Back when he was a Silent Brother she had longed to touch him as she freely does now, but restrained herself knowing her fingers would meet runes embossed on papery, parchment skin. She used to think that version of him could easily shatter – dissolve through her fingers like snow on a long winter night, and it terrified her that even when he was guaranteed immortality, he looked frail enough to break.
He envelops her in his arms the same way he had done years ago in an empty music room, his body emaciating with sickness and inevitable death; she holds him closer, noting that the warmth in his arms is the same, and she realizes it was never about illness; he had always been his own sun, and she a planet that revolved around him, longed to be near him, if only to catch a little warmth –
"The Brotherhood has changed me, the same way your years have worn you down," he murmurs into her hair.
It takes time but they slowly rediscover each other, in sideways smiles and glimpses and instant photographs and explaining the workings of the modern world to an always so confused Jem; in touches and laughs easily given and the promise of travel and seeing the world through each other's eyes. There are too many years between them, but there is enough love to go around, enough to help them overcome all losses and face the premise of the future together.
Sometimes, the night horrors come for her.
There are dreams of crossing the English Channel without fail on the same day every year, alone and with the wide expanse of sea ahead of her, their colour making her think of how they could never compare to the purest blue that Will's eyes had been. Even if he had been inhuman and strange, one hour of one day of each year, Jem had been nothing but hers. It would send a pang of hurt in her chest, down her veins and to the soles of her feet, because sometimes he was the Jem she knew, and sometimes he was not. But underlying it all, with a surety she could never deny, was the fact that she still loved him and him her.
In all the world, you are the thing I love the most.
Her meetings with Jem had been the one thing that kept her tethered to London, and the one thing that reminded her of her days as an ignorant young girl in Victorian London; she had been young and naive, in search of a brother whose choices had entangled her in a web of lies and stories and in a world she had never known to exist; surely she had not anticipated the cruel truths and heartbreaks that would come to her. These things come back to her, sometimes, and she remembers how decades ago she had lived the length of a mortal lifetime in a country she had over time considered to be home, had indeed been a guest at the Institute, had met gracious souls who had sworn to protect her against what the rest of the Shadowhunter world dictated, and had met a pair of parabatai whose souls were so closely intertwined and to whom she would eventually give all her heart to. Memory is a poor thing to have, and sometimes forgets, feeling instead like a reincarnation of herself with a completely different life in a completely different place, yet lost without a driving force telling her what her life was to add up to or where she was to go or and what she had to do. Brevity is romantic and immortality dull; life sometimes loses its luster and she her faith, sobbing and gasping as though she was drowning and unable to take the breath she needed to go on.
That's what happens, she believes, after you lost people so important to you: you had no choice but to let them take your heart to die with them.
They will carry it to their grave; but before they could the feeling of arms around her and whispers of sweet nothings rouse her into wakefulness, reminding her of happier times she would live over if she could, happier times that lived on in her memory, happier times she can never get back.
Jem, like the rest of her memories, is a blur of aged sights that had disintegrated over time; but sometimes when she thinks hard enough, she can see him, silvery hair blowing in the wind and dressed in the monochrome colours of a gentleman's suit, eyes a depth of pearly gray. His eyes are calm, as lovely as the ocean on a serene day, but there is a fire burning behind his eyes that could have been nothing else but genuine passion. His skin is a white pallor, his figure skinny but his stance strong; she can see him against the faded gray skies of London, against the grandeur of the Institute, with a black haired boy not far behind.
That boy in her dreams is no different from the Jem she sees now, whose eyes and hair are painfully dark, dressed in the bright colours that is the fashion of the current age; his youth a stark constrast from dark eyes that hold an age-old wisdom, as if they had already seen the world over in all its colours and faces. The light that shines through them is still as bright – a reminder of the unyielding lifelong passion of a boy, who, once long ago, had opted for martyrdom and gave up the death and peace he had so deserved. His face, lightly tanned, always with a warm blush in his cheeks; his face more open, without cloudy thoughts or the fear of possible dangers to come. This is the face that turns to her, as if in a personal reassurance that she is, indeed, there and his; his lips hold a grin, eyes bright, a look of pure happiness that could only be achieved with complete freedom. This is the Jem she sees, with a firm but relaxed stature, against the landscape of wherever their travels take them – the Taj Mahal or the colours of Rio or the trees of Sicily.
She finds herself transfixed by these thoughts, lost in time and confused about what is and what was past; the now and what was lost and gone, carried in a current of dreams and memories and unfulfilled fantasies so impossible; but they all fade away when she hears Jem laugh, come to take her into his arms, and she smiles too, because this is the Jem she had fallen in love with years and years and years ago, with the same exuberance lifting her up into be and end all. He is, was, and had always been the same boy after all;
And by his side once again, as fate had it, was the only place she could ever be.