"I cannot leave you to face death alone," Will whispered, but he knew he was beaten; the sands of his will had run out.
Jem touched the parabatai rune on his shoulder, through the thin material of his nightshirt. “I am not alone,” he said. “Wherever we are, we are as one.”
Will rose to his feet. He could not believe he was doing what he was doing, but it was clear that he was, as clear as the silver rim around the black of Jem’s eyes. "If there is a life after this one," he said, "let me meet you in it, James Carstairs."
"There will be other lives.” Jem held his hand out, and for a moment they clasped hands, as they had done during their parabatai ritual, reaching across twin rings of fire to interlace their fingers with each other. “The world is a wheel,” he said. “When we rise or fall, we do it together.”
Tessa’s fingers explored the dips and rivets of the hunk of object in her hands, a wrinkle of frustration forming between her eyebrows as she flipped the foreign contraption around in her hands rhythmically. She searched and searched, but it was impossible. It must be broken, it had to be broken. Defective. Tessa had continuously adapted to the world around her, but the twenty-first century was not being kind today. She set the malfunctioning block of plastic and buttons on the sheets in front of her and stared, as if staring might convince it to work. It most definitely did not; the lump laid peacefully atop the sheets and mocked her silently. Tessa, on the other hand, fell backwards into the sheets with a huff, exasperated and not just a little annoyed. Jem shook beside her with his quiet laughter, trailing his fingers up and down her arm with one hand and reaching for the discarded piece of technology with the other. Tessa squeezed her eyelids shut, not wanting to see her failure. Her voice was soft in the morning air, “It was a thoughtful gesture, Jem, but I’m afraid it - whatever it is - is broken. And if it’s not, I would rather you not correct me. Let me revel in my failure in silence.” She had a sinking suspicion the latter was, indeed, correct, and she had failed at the gift Jem had been so excited for her to see. Tessa felt embarrassed, but more than that, she felt guilty for not being able to truly appreciate Jem’s kindness. She longed to make him happy, no matter what, and it frustrated her that she was withholding his happiness with her own stupidity. Jem shifted beside her; the freshly starched sheets crinkled, and the mattress shifted beneath the both of them. His lips pressed against her forehead; Tessa could feel a smile. His breath was warm against her skin. “Your failure is my failure, my love.” He shifted again, this time away from her. “Besides, it is no real failure, simply a lapse in ability. I’ll show you.” Tessa could hear his fingers glide over the buttons effortlessly, and the whatever-it-was responded accordingly: slight dings and beeps followed each tap, and Tessa felt her face grow warm. As she’d suspected, the device was not broken at all; she was simply too incompetent to wield it. She felt Jem shift again on the bed, and after a second, a bright flash illuminated the backs of her eyelids. Tessa’s eyes flew open with a gasp, and she found Jem kneeling over her, the contraption held up to his face, almost covering it entirely. It had changed shape since she’d held it; a very large tube with glass at the end protruded from the face of it, and a bulb had emerged from the top. It occurred to her, then, that it slightly resembled the picture machine she and Will and the boys had sat for all those years ago; only this one was much smaller, small enough that it fit almost entirely in Jem’s two hands. The crinkle worried itself back between her eyebrows. Jem moved the contraption, and something in her expression must have delighted him; his eyes, cobalt with splashes of silver, lit up, and the smile followed. "It’s a camera, Tessa. For capturing the moments you love. See?" He flipped the camera around for her to see, and there, in a little window, she saw herself, but it was not herself; it was her past self, how she must have looked just moments before, lying on the bed with her eyes shut tight and her hair a tangle of curls. Tessa looked up, and her smile mirrored his. It was exactly like the picture machine she and Will had sat for, only this one was in color, and it did not explode in a cloud of smoke, and it was not grainy or blurry in the slightest. She pleaded for Jem to show her how to work it, and after slight instruction, Tessa flipped the camera in her hands and pressed down hard on the button. A brilliant light flashed, and a moment later, Jem appeared in the tiny window, looking startled, but looking like Jem, not a weathered excuse for his likeness, like the only picture she had of Will. No, now, Tessa would not have to rely solely on her memories to document those she loved. Now, she would have proof. Tessa giggled with delight. "Yes, capturing those I love, indeed." Without a moment to lose, Tessa’s neck craned upward, and her lips collided with Jem’s. He started, still slightly uneasy with the forwardness of her affections. He quickly forgot that, though, and Jem snaked his arm around her shoulders, pulling her towards him, and kissing her for all he or she or the both of them or neither of them were worth.
“Are you implying that shreds of my reputation remain intact?” Will demanded with mock horror. “Clearly I have been doing something wrong. Or not something wrong, as the case may be.” He banged on the side of the carriage. “Thomas! We must away at once to the nearest brothel. I seek scandal and low companionship.”
“Whatever you are physically…male or female, strong or weak, ill or healthy—all those things matter less than what your heart contains. If you have the soul of a warrior, you are a warrior. All those other things, they are the glass that contains the lamp, but you are the light inside.”
Will rose slowly to his feet. He could not believe he was doing what he was doing, but it was clear that he was, clear as the silver rim around the black of Jem’s eyes. “If there is a life after this one,” he said, “let me meet you in it, James Carstairs.”
“There will be other lives.” Jem held his hand out, and for a moment, they clasped hands, as they had done during their parabatai ritual, reaching across twin rings of fire to interlace their fingers with each other. “The world is a wheel,” he said. “When we rise or fall, we do it together.”
Will tightened his grip on Jem’s hand, which felt thin as twigs in his. “Well, then,” he said, through a tight throat, “since you say there will be another life for me, let us both pray I do not make as colossal a mess of it as I have this one.”