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Nightshade

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Clary glanced up and down the aisle, to make sure she was alone. It was just her, “Don’t Get Me Wrong” by the Pretenders playing over the PA, a cash register, and tables of neatly folded Ralph Lauren polo shirts and tshirts. No managers were coming, so she pulled her phone out to answer her text message. It was her mom, Jocelyn Fray, who’d texted,
“How’s work?”
Clary didn’t know if she should answer honestly. It was really nice of her neighbor, Mrs. Lewis, to get her a job at the department store where she had worked for years. However, Clary’s head was spinning. What the hell was a presale? Something was either on sale, or it wasn’t, right? How could it be on presale? She didn’t remember the secret codes that one typed into the stockroom doors. It was like something out of a spy movie. Opening and closing cash registers made her feel paranoid-what if money went missing, and they suspected it was an inside job? Plus, touching all that money was just gross. Most of the customers were very nice, sweet elderly ladies who made airy and pleasant chit-chat, but when they asked her questions about sales and discounts and rewards points, her head started to ache.
She thought she’d just be folding tshirts.
She’d ranted about it to Simon, but he just laughed it off in typical breezy, unbothered male fashion. Guys always acted like nothing bothered them, at all, ever.
“It can’t be that bad. My mom’s worked there since before I was born,” he said.
“Yeah, exactly. That would be the only way to keep all this ‘presale’ stuff straight,” she’d said. “You’re lucky, you work at Home Depot-what could be less complicated?”
“Uncomplicated. Sure. Its not a walk in the park, breaking pipes, measuring rope, cutting wood all day,” Simon said.
“Please, try to sound less like you’re describing porn,” Clary said.
“You hentai,” Simon said, and then he had to get back to his shift at Home Depot.
She could whinge to Simon, but it was different with her mother. Clary sometimes felt like she and her mom were doing this ‘single mom and only child’ thing all wrong. Shouldn’t they be best friends, shop and gossip together? Instead, Clary always got the feeling that she had to protect her mom from anything complicated, that Jocelyn had been through enough already. She couldn’t say why she felt that way, but she had for all her life. She had to seem perfectly happy, or she was sure it would make her mom even sadder than she already seemed sometimes, in a secret way in the corner of her eyes. So, in response, she just texted back a happy face emoji.

“Clarissa?! What are you doing?” Elaine Lewis, Simon’s mom said.
Clary could see her coming, but still nearly jumped out of her skin. Mrs. Lewis had one of those voices. Even after living in the Mid-Atlantic for decades, her voice had abrasive upper east coast inflections, that made her sound very tough and witty.
“It was my mom,” Clary said. “She wanted to know how my day’s going.”
“That’s really cute, but it doesn’t matter who you’re texting-no phones on the floor, honey!” she said, dismayed, and threw in another, “What are you doing?”
“No one’s around,” Clary said.
“Clary, I want you to be real with me: you hate this, don’t you?” Elaine said.
“What? Its awesome. They played the B-52s, and the Pretenders. Is that, like, a Spotify channel? Great playlist. The day just flies by. The work just does itself. I mean, tshirts don’t fold themselves. That would be cool, because I never know how to get those wrapping paper spacer things back in the Ralph tshirts after customers take them out,” Clary rambled.
Elaine put a compassionate hand on her shoulder.
“Honey, you’re short circuiting,” she said.
“Okay! Its….hard to remember all the little things. Its not just folding tshirts and ringing people up on the cash register. All those codes, and the credit card stuff, and the rewards points stuff…and what is a presale?” Clary said.
“Do you really wanna know?” Elaine said.
“I kind of want to leave for lunch and never come back,” Clary said. They both laughed, but part of her was serious.
“I’d never tell anyone to give up on something that could be good for them, if they stick with it. But, when the right thing comes along, you never think about giving up, in the first place. No matter how challenging something is, you just think, ‘Okay, how can I get through it?’” Elaine said.
Clary thought about that. She couldn’t say she had felt that way about many things in her life, except art, and her friendship with Simon. When Elaine’s husband, Ishmael, was diagnosed with cancer, Simon started missing a lot of school to be by his dad’s side when he was in treatment. He made up his assignments and his mom dropped them off at school, so he didn’t fail, but Clary saw him less, and his life was so serious and sad, compared to her’s and their classmates. She felt guilty, for having her mom and Luke, for having a normal life, and she felt awkward, she didn’t know how she would act around him in the midst of this great and terrible thing that was happening to his family, and to him. Simon was always so funny and easy to talk to, and their friendship had survived that stage in middle school when boys and girls either separated or hooked up, it wasn’t the norm to just be friends, anymore. She didn’t know if they could survive his dad’s cancer.
It was a relief when she and her mom visited, and the Lewis family seemed just as happy to see them as they were when they came over for dinner every Friday. Clary, Simon, and his dad watched Andrew Zimmern on Travel Channel, and when Clary and Simon gagged as the host ate a thousand-year-egg in Asia, Ishmael patiently explained that they weren’t really a thousand years old, and every culture was different. He was still himself, and Simon was still Simon: they read Bleach and drew pictures of the heroes of Dragonball in Clary’s sketch pad, even if being cooped up in a hospital room was otherwise uncomfortable and emotionally tense.
She’d made it work, because it felt right and she wanted to. Like when she was working on a sketch or a painting, even when realizing the concept in her head with the tools in her hand was difficult, that feeling that it would eventually come out the way she dreamed it carried her forward.

But, nothing in her life now made her feel that way. She felt discombobulated, or uninspired, most of the time. Clary left the department store for her lunch break. It was a relief to emerge back into the mall after feeling cloistered in the store. The food court was on the other side of the mall, so she had to hurry if she wasn’t actually quitting and planned to make it back on time. Some mallrat kids laughed at and imitated her hurried steps, and a tall, bulky middle aged man stepped in her path and seemed intent on getting hit by her-maybe in his day, that was an in to flirt with a woman. She skirted his bulky form, making sure not to run into him. She made it to the convenience store, bought a coffee and some chips. She wanted to go to the beach, which was how she and Simon had spent their afternoons after school for years. She didn’t want to give up so easily, but she realized that she didn’t feel like holding on, either. She would just never figure out what a presale is.
She looked at her phone. She didn’t text anyone regularly except her mom and Simon. She looked around at the mall-teenage couples walked on the aisles between the kiosks. Goth couples, punk couples, flashy hip hop couples, but no matter how they were dressed, they were invariably straight couples. Clary’s mind flashed back to the last time she had hung out with Gina, even though she didn’t really want to go there. Her hand had looked so soft and beautiful, creamy colored, smooth and plump against the dark wooden table at Starbucks, and Clary reached for it. Gina pulled her hand away, and gave her a warning look, that clearly said, ‘None of that, not here.’
She’d read blog posts and heard Tegan and Sara songs about this phenomenon, but now she knew just how shaming it felt when a girl had one foot in and one foot out of a relationship-affectionate and sexy with her in private, straight in public. She was hurt, but mostly just felt like she had been stupid, somehow.
She’d considered that maybe Gina just wasn’t a hand-holder. Some people just weren’t touchy feely.
“When you dated her, did you and GiGi hold hands?” Clary had asked Simon.
He laughed softly, incredulously, as if that was a dumb question. “Yeah, sure, why?” he said, in that breezy, unbothered tone that would drive her crazy if she hadn’t held him when he cried, sobbing so hard that his body shook and he seemed close to throwing up. She knew just how hard Simon had worked to sound happy, let alone be happy again, after his father’s death, so she could never really begrudge him for it.
She had just absorbed his words and swallowed the finality of what they meant. She couldn’t look at girls, right now, not in that way, not with appreciation and attraction. If she let herself like someone, they might like her back, and that could be a total disaster.
Well, of course she still looked…it just felt fraught. The girl standing outside American Eagle, for instance, with the Kardashian body and long black hair whose waves caught the light and turned it a compelling shade of indigo. Of course, Clary stared at the way light touched her, and the shifting of her flesh in her tight, black knit dress. She turned around, and looked at Clary with something like recognition-like they knew each other, she knew Clary didn’t remember, but she was waiting for her to do so.
“Could you come over here, really quick?” she said.
Clary pointed to her chest and mouthed, “Me?”
The girl laughed. Her lips were full and painted red-not a tawdry crimson, but a rich pomegranate. She looked Mediterranean or Latin, so the red lips made Clary want to draw Persephone feasting on the pomegranates of Hell after being kidnapped from the windswept, rocky shore of Sicily.
Clary headed over, and the girl said, “Feel this,” holding out a black men’s sweater.
“Its…soft?” Clary said.
“Merino, or Cashmere? What do you think, I can’t really tell,” said Persephone.
“Um….can I be totally honest? You’re asking the wrong person. I thought I knew something about clothes. I mean, everyone wears them, right? They’re clothes. I know nothing. I know less about sheets, though: I mean, why is thread count important?” Clary said.
She expected Persephone to frown and give her a “Wtf?” look. Instead she laughed. She had a free-spirited laugh. Clary felt like laughing too, she felt the other girl’s laughter in her stomach, filling that sad place, that there had been since Gina pulled her hand away, with light. Borrowed light, for a little while.
“Well, the higher the thread count, the softer the sheets: that’s why! And I know this because my brother has really sensitive skin and complains a lot!” she said cheerfully. This made Clary laugh, too.
“Oh, so the sweater is for him, I’m guessing?” Clary said.
Persephone nodded, but her face turned more serious. “Maybe I shouldn’t tell you, but…my brother is Autistic.”
Clary nodded, and tried to look as accepting and normal as possible. She could tell that Persephone was reluctant to discuss it, but was going out on a limb. Something in Clary’s face encouraged her to continue, and she said,
“He’s really sensitive to textures. Really soft things, he likes those, but things that seem soft to us feel coarse to him. Like, cashmere works but merino doesn’t, and he wears the same sweaters until they literally have holes. But, this doesn’t say on the tag if its cashmere or merino. I don’t know. Its for his birthday. Like he’ll care! He’s just going to wear the same things until they fall apart.”
Clary had read that Autistic people had a hard time letting go of beloved objects, but of course Persephone already knew this.
Clary reached out and stroked the dark fabric of the sweater. It felt soft enough, but how would it feel to her if the texture of a sweater was apart of an intimate scheme of what made life feel safe and manageable, rather than unbearably overwhelming? She was a little out of her depth, but she wanted to be helpful. She couldn’t disappoint those sweet, warm, friendly, dark and starry doe eyes regarding her and waiting for her verdict.
“Just pick something!” snapped a blonde boy, whom Persephone seemed to know because when he spoke, she forgot all about Clary. Tshirt: too tight, with a deep v. Black moto skinny jeans-Yeezy collection knock-offs, maybe? And hair like a Swedish DJ, one bang cascading just so, over his eye. Of course a girl like that, sultry and modern, with no shame about showing off her amazing body, was dating a guy like that.
“I’m trying to pick something for Alecky, but I can’t tell if this is merino or cashmere. Can you give me a minute?” Persephone wheedled. Some couples carried on that way, as if they annoyed each other so badly, were so sick of each other….in Clary’s experience, that ersatz antipathy erupted into hot public makeout sessions at the drop of a dime.
They had that option. They were lucky.
Clary drifted away. After all, she had to get back to work.
Clary went back to the department store. Remarkably, she wasn’t late. The rest of the night went by easily. She folded tshirts, she shut down the register, the store closed and she walked out into the parking lot. The small pieces of quartz embedded in the parking lot’s pavement glittered under the parking lot’s lights and the moon. She thought about Persephone-those wine dark lips, that full but toned figure, and the warmth in her eyes. She was on the verge of fantasizing, but that felt like veering into humiliating territory.
She texted Simon, “Wanna go out? Humphrey’s”
“Trying to get laid? Idk if I’m the ideal wing man for a lesbian,” Simon texted back.
Clary laughed out loud. Simon could always make her laugh, even when she was feeling the way she was right now-a livewire of heartache and libido, half-formed dreams and vivid regrets.
“Come on-I’ll pay for your drinks,” she texted. “Meet me there?” She knew that her mom wouldn’t mind what time she came home, and that Simon was already caving.
“Whatevs,” he texted back.
Humphrey’s was a discreet, nondescript gay bar in the heart of the artsy district near the university. It was a tiny place, an antebellum boutique space, the bar and dancefloor housed in one of those old southern double parlors. When Clary got there it was only 10, so the action was at the brightly lit restaurant bar. She went to the empty dancefloor. Simon was sitting on the small stage where drag queens performed every night at midnight. He held out his arms for a hug, and she rushed happily over to him. She loved his glasses, his dark somewhat curly hair, and the feeling of his sturdy warm body against her’s. He was safety, he was her brother.
“So, you’re over Gina?” he asked.
“I just wanted to go out,” she said.
“Yeah, but here, specifically, where your chances of hooking up are….well, I suck at statistics, but they’re a lot higher than mine,” he said.
“I don’t know about that. You’re looking fetching tonight, Mr. Lewis-is that a new Dinosaur Jr, t-shirt, and fresh scuff marks on those Chuck Taylors?” Clary teased.
Simon laughed. He was especially beautiful when he smiled, because when he did so, Clary thought he looked exactly the same as he did when they were little kids.
“I’m not the target demographic for this place, Fray,” Simon said.
“You’ve never thought about it?” Clary said.
“What, hooking up with a guy?” Simon said. He looked incredulous, and bemused, but not exactly offended. He didn’t answer right away, but looked thoughtful.
“Oh. My. God! Simon! You have! I was just joking,” Clary said.
“Shout it from the rooftops, why don’t you,” he quipped.
“We’re not on the roof,” Clary pointed out.
“Its not….I mean, maybe a stray thought here and there,” Simon said. “Its not like I would ever, actually…I mean, I’ve only dated girls, you know that. Gina was my girlfriend!”
“You broke up,” Clary said.
“And you were a very enthusiastic shoulder to cry on,” Simon said.
“It wasn’t like that,” Clary said. “We were already friends, and we didn’t really talk about you, or your breakup, or anything like that. We talked about….”
Everything. Feminism, politics, books, tv shows, their lives, their goals, random stuff, anything, everything. It was hard to describe now how right and perfect it had all felt.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have went there. I mean, it didn’t bother me when you two started dating, I promise,” Simon said.
“Simon, I know,” Clary said. “Its cool. Anyway, welcome to the team. From an L, to a Q, happy to have you here!”
“An L? A Q?” Simon said.
“LGBTQIAA. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, questioning or queer, asexual, and allies! You are officially Q, for Questioning,” Clary said.
“Wow-sounds like a spy code name. Thanks for being so cool about it,” Simon said. He seemed bashful.
“Was it a guy at work? Like, the sexy lumberjack type buying planks of wood….” Clary said.
Simon laughed nervously. “No. Its not just one person. Its more like…something that keeps happening. That’s happened so many times, I can’t just say that its nothing anymore. I like girls. I’ve only been with girls. But, sometimes…..”
“Sometimes,” Clary said, met his eyes, and nodded.
“Yeah,” Simon said, and exhaled. “You know, I’ve asked girls out and before they say yes they say, ‘oh, I thought you were gay’, and I got called gay all the time in school. I figured, whatever, it’s just something bullies say. And it pissed me off, then I got over it and let it go. They’d say that about anyone who listened to Death Cab For Cutie and didn’t know anything about sports, right? But, if I actually feel this way, what does that mean? Were they right?”
“Simon, how you actually feel about yourself and what you want is totally different than someone else using those words as slurs and smears. You were unfairly judged based on totally antiquated and toxic ideas about what masculinity is and isn’t, and how sexuality relates to that. Those ideas are old and totally irrelevant to your personal legend,” Clary said.
“Personal legend? Did you just hit me with some Coelho?” Simon said.
“My mom is a Coelho Stan. She made me read The Alchemist in senior year, like that would help me figure my life out. Maybe its totally new age cliché, like an Oprah thing, but I totally believe that everyone has a personal legend, you just have to figure out what it is and pursue it,” Clary said.
She didn’t know where all this was coming from-just a few hours earlier, she felt aimless and lost, out of her depth. Now, when it was Simon who was feeling confused, she felt strong, sure, and purposeful. Being there for others was always easier. She hugged Simon, breathing in the warm pot and sweat and Old Spice smell of his flannel shirt and the tshirt under it.
“I don’t think I want to hook up, or anything,” Simon said. “I’m just your designated driver. Go get one of those spiked coffees with cherries you like.”
“Kahluas. Do you want one?” she asked.
“Nah, they play havoc with my stomach,” Simon said.
Clary laughed. He sounded like an old person. She held her purse close to her as she walked through the small crowd of people under the arch between the bar and dancefloor, and headed to the bar. She ordered a Kahlua for herself, and a Stella Artois for Simon, even though he hadn’t asked. He could still designatedly drive her home after one Belgian hipster beer. She was served by a tall, thin, black, nonbinary bartender, who teasingly asked if she was sure she didn’t need her hand stamped. Clary was over 21, she was just short.
The girl sitting at the bar laughed, too, and tossed Clary a benign smirk. Clary’s laughter froze. The girl at the bar was so beautiful, Clary felt tonguetied and frozen in her gaze. Her eyes were whiskey brown and sparkled against her light brown skin. Her abundant curls rested on her shoulders in a soft halo. She was wearing a knit halter top and jeans, showing a lot of belly that was somehow flat and soft at the same time. Clary appraised the skin of her belly, and the curve of her hips and ass in her tight jeans…she was slightly thicker, less toned, than Persephone at the mall, and Clary batted away her curiosity about how all that softness would feel in her hands.
Too late. Saliva had pooled in her mouth, her face was hot, and the girl had noticed her appraising stare. Her whiskey eyes looked Clary up and down with heat, but her mouth was set in a bemused smirk that could mean, “Thanks,” or “Get real.”
“Please tell me you’re not going to mix those,” she said, referring to the Stella and the Kahlua.
Clary laughed, but breathier than usual. “One is for a friend,” she said.
“Awww, thank you!” said the girl, and took Clary’s Kahlua. Clary wasn’t sure why she handed it off, but before she could protest, the girl’s lips were around the straw and her cute, slightly upturned nose was skirting the nest of cream beneath the maraschino cherry on top.
“Mmmmm,” she added, closing her eyes in pleasure as she sipped it.
“Glad you like it,” Clary said. She wrapped the cap of the Stella in her tshirt and twisted it open. Simon hadn’t even known about the drink, anyway, it was a surprise, so he couldn’t get mad at her for drinking his drink.
“I’ve never had one before,” she said.
“Its coffee. I always get one, when I come here.” Clary said.
The girl smiled. “Its good to know what you like,” she said.
“What do you like?” Clary said.
“Cherries,” she said, “But, you can have this one.”
She held the maraschino cherry out to Clary. She laughed again-this was becoming an alarming trend. What was in this Stella, Joker toxin? She felt like an idiot. She opened her mouth, and the girl held the cherry over her lips, teasingly, tantalizingly out of reach by just a few centimeters, and watched with satisfaction when Clary finally wrapped her lips around it. Clary bit the firm, juicy flesh of the fruit, tasted its clinging syrup and cream, tasted a brief and bitter hint of coffee and liquer as she swallowed it down. She could feel the girl’s appreciative gaze along her arms, and the hair on her body was curling over to gooseflesh beneath her gaze. It felt nice not to be thinking regretfully of GiGi, or wishing she had gone after that girl from the mall. Clary smiled as she finished off the cherry, and the girl smiled back. Clary dared to reach out to the tip of the other girl’s nose, and wipe the dot of whipped cream off. This made her smile. Her smile gave Clary a warm and victorious feeling.
“I’m Clary,” she said.
“Maia,” she said. “Wanna go outside?” There was a small courtyard and some plastic chairs outside. They could talk there. Clary glanced over her shoulder at the dancefloor through the eaves. Simon was talking to someone, and seemed fine on his own.

 

 

 

Simon sat on the otherwise empty stage, waiting for Clary and watching people slowly file onto the dancefloor. But, they weren't dancing- they were talking in small groups or preoccupied on their phones. Patrons of Humphreys came in a few varieties: tourists there to see the drag show, just looking for a campy good time, black and Latino guys who looked hard and gangster until they started twerking on each other, and white college guys in spotlessly clean Lacoste and Ralph Lauren. Top 40 techno that made Simon feel annoyed if he listened to it too closely played, and the only people dancing were a rail thin boy who was surely chemically enhanced for the night and a willowy trans woman who kept tossing vivacious laughter in the direction of her date, and older man with snow white dred locs.

"C'est la vie," Simon said under his breath. Just life, just people. He liked watching.

"You are the worst. Drag Queen. Ever!" Someone yelled out at Simon.

"I mean, come on- I see stubble," the heckler continued.

Simon looked in his direction. Blonde kid with one bang who looked like a Scandinavian dj. The kind of guy who'd scoff if someone said they liked the Chainsmokers. Not that Simon liked the Chainsmokers….

"I'm just the opening act," Simon said.

One- Bang smiled. "Shall we throw tomatoes your way?" He said.

Simon laughed. Despite the unfortunate Nightwing hair, he liked this guy. He was holding a Legend- nice! He drank local- another point in his favor.

"Uh, that would be the realization of all my worst fears, basically. Whats the Ancient Greek name for the phobia of being booed off stage?" Simon said.

"My ancient Greek's kind of rusty," One Bang said.

Simon smiled.

"Anyway, if you don't want to get booed, you should put in some effort. Shave. Wear a dress. Tuck your balls," One Bang said.

Simon laughed, really laughed, the way it didn't always seem possible to do with strangers.

"No, I'm really not a drag queen. I'm a musician," Simon said.

"Let me see it," One Bang said.

"What?" Simon asked.

"Your Soundcloud," he said, and took a brief but visually satisfying sip of his Legend.

"Come on! Do I look like that guy? The, 'Lemme show you my Soundcloud upon first meeting' guy? I was going to work my way up to it, and write the URL down on a napkin! Then, it would be totally at your discretion when and if you checked out my Soundcloud," Simon said.

"Classy," One Bang said. "Now, let's see."

Simon pulled out his phone, and went to his band, Bad Panda's, Soundcloud. One-Bang pulled some earbuds out of his very snug pockets, plugged them into Simon's phone, and listened to Bad Panda, Simon’s band. He was the bassist, but also sang sometimes. Simon felt anxious-he wanted One Bang to like his and his friends’ music, even though he didn’t always like their music. He exhaled when One Bang took the earbuds out of his ears, nodded, and said,

“Not bad.”

Simon smiled.

“Really?” he said. “I mean, that’s our early stuff.”

“Oh, since these songs were posted, you’ve discovered psychedelia and Transcendental Meditation?” OneBang said.

Simon laughed. “Do I look like I can afford a trip to Rishikesh?” he said. He was surprised that this guy was actually funny, and that it was so easy to talk to him.

“I’m Jace,” said the blonde.

“Simon,” Simon said.

“Like my cat!” the blonde said, with an enthusiastic, boyish smile that totally redeemed his trendy but regrettable haircut.

“Your cat’s named Simon?” Simon asked.

“No,” Jace said.

“Oh, you made it up to impress me,” Simon said.

“No!” Jace laughed. “I always wished I had a cat named Simon. So, my future cat is named Simon.”

Simon wasn’t sure what to say, but he thought this was charming, meaningful, funny, and sweet. He was really enjoying talking to Jace. It was heady, almost like they were flirting. He realized that they were in a gay bar, so Jace had every right to think they were flirting….he had no way of knowing that Simon wasn’t there to hook up or meet anyone.

When he told Clary that he thought about guys, he had felt relieved and natural, finally telling someone. But, talking to Jace was totally different. Now, it was more real than ever that he was attracted to men, as well as women. He liked Jace’s smile, the way he looked younger and sweeter when he smiled, as opposed to looking like one half of the German acapella team from “Pitch Perfect 2” with his severe techno kid hair when he wasn’t smiling. He liked his colorful sense of humor. He liked that he made a Beatles reference. A pretty deep core Beatles reference, at that. Simon had fond memories of his dad teaching him to play Beatles songs on the guitar, and the piano.

“Do you want a drink?” Jace said, and noticed Simon’s hesitation. He was never able to hide his emotions very well. “What’s wrong? Is someone already buying you a drink?”

“No, nothing like that. Its my friend. I’m here with her. I’m really just her designated driver. She’s here to find someone, I think, because she just had a bad break-up with my ex-girlfriend,” Simon explained.

Jace went from nodding along, listening, to a confused frown.

He said, “Your friend…had a bad break up with your ex-girlfriend? Who broke up with whose girlfriend, exactly?”

Simon sighed. It was a long story, but not a long story at all. The short version was that Gina worked at the movie theater where he and Clary went to see superhero movies, and after months of feeling like she was way out of his league Simon finally plucked up the courage to ask her out. They dated, but it ended up being one of those things that fizzled into infrequent texts and inexplicable silences. They broke up, but that had been a very predictable plot twist-Simon was sad, but not ‘write a power ballad about it’ sad. Not that he would write a power ballad, even under the bleakest circumstances.

Then came the day that Clary met him for overpriced coffee at Starboard, with a sheepish, hesitant look on her face that was most unlike her. He’d known Clary since they were five, since the first day of school when they walked to kindergarten together. When everyone else they knew aped cynicism, sarcasm, marijuana coughs and Xanax highs in the name of looking cool, Clary retained her inner child-a guileless zeal for life and inherent passion. It was weird to see her with an embarrassed look on her face and hunching her shoulders as if for self-protection. It made more sense when she told him that she was dating Gina.

It hadn’t been the first time that they dated the same girl, but after Micaela, in 10th grade, he had assumed that it would be the last. When Clary and Gina broke up, Simon was torn between wanting to be supportive and being miffed.

Explaining all that to Jace would be complicated.

“I guess we both kind of did? I mean, we weren’t all dating, or anything. It wasn’t like a “Sister Wives” situation, or, like a pod,” Simon said.

“Pod?” Jace asked.

“You know, like a poly pod? A Polyamorous Pod of people. Although, that sounds more like a band of porpoises. No offense. I mean, you know, to the pods. I don’t have anything against it. I just don’t think I could handle being in a relationship with two people at once. Two people to get angry when you forget to text back?” Simon said. He hoped at least some of these jokes were landing. He was pretty sure he was joking. Maybe he was just floundering.

Jace thoughtfully sipped his Legend. “Its hard to share a lover. Thanks for clearing that up, lest I think you were in a pod. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

“Its weird. I mean, Gina and I weren’t really going anywhere. I didn’t know she liked girls. I think that’s why she and Clary broke up, she wasn’t really sure how she felt. I shouldn’t be telling you all this-Fray would kill me,” Simon said.

“You don’t seem to be able to help yourself,” Jace said. “But, its kind of your story, too. It must have been…hurtful.”

“Um….not really. Because me and GiGi were fun for a while, but we weren’t exactly setting the world on fire, and because I know its been hard for Clary to find someone who takes her seriously. I wanted to be a good friend, you know? To be happy for her when it was good, there for her, when things went bad. Like she was for me, when my dad died,” Simon said.

Jace’s face looked serious but soft. “How old were you?” Jace asked.

Simon hesitated. It was hard to talk about it, to take those memories that were always fresh but kind of distant from his present, that felt like another life lived in a parallel dimension, out for someone who hadn’t been there at the time.

“14,” Simon said.

“10. I was 10,” Jace said.

He wasn’t sure what to say, but he wanted to reach out and hug Jace, the way he got used to hugging others at grief camp.

“There….was a fire,” Jace added.

Simon couldn’t bring himself to say ‘cancer’. He was browsing in Barnes and Noble when he walked by a book called The Emperor of All Maladies. He picked it up out of curiosity because Emperor of All Maladies seemed like an interesting candidate for a band name-a little screamo, but it leapt out and was not easily forgotten. When he saw what the book was about, it was like being cornered by a nemesis who had pursued him across the globe, whom he had vainly thought he avoided. The title was apt-he had watched it conquer his dad’s body for five years, the way an empire encroaches on the known world and expands. He couldn’t say its name.

“For Pete’s sake, its not Voldemort!” his sister had griped at him. But, he just couldn’t.

Jace seemed to understand. He could tell by the look in Jace’s eyes, which even in the dark dancefloor Simon could tell were heterochromatic, like David Bowie’s. Simon usually didn’t like making eye contact, because he had poor vision and focusing on one thing for too long hurt and his eyes started to rebel, blinking and squinting. But, focusing on Jace was easy.

 

 

“I should find Simon,” Clary said.

“Your….boyfriend?” Maia asked.

Her name was Maia, and in the short time they had been talking, seated in plastic chairs while the night air cooled down and the cement beneath their feet breathed out the day’s heat, Clary had decided that she loved so many little things about her. She loved the faint stretch marks on her exposed belly, and the way her jeans wrinkled at her thigh from straining over her abundant body, and she loved her voice, and her eyes.

“Boyfriend? Simon isn’t my boyfriend, he’s my best friend,” Clary asked. “Why would I be here if I had a boyfriend?”

Of course, Simon had been her boyfriend, once, but that was back in high school, when she had been coming to terms with her feelings and trying to give him what he wanted. She had always known that Simon had a crush on her, and people always assumed they were dating. She had tried….But, that felt like ancient history, not worth explaining to someone new.

Maia shrugged her bare shoulder. “Plenty of straight people come here. To see the queens, to take a walk on the wild side, or whatever,” she said.

“It’s called being an ally. Its better than the alternative, right?” Clary said.

“I guess. It sort of reminds me of how the Victorians took slum tours, or tours of Bedlam-the mental hospital?” Maia said.

Clary was familiar with Bedlam-she had a steampunk phase in high school, during which she wore goggles every day, listened to Rasputina, and learned a lot about the Victorian era.

“Its tourism,” Maia elaborated.

“Queer culture is having a zenith of mainstream exposure. I think it’s a good thing, that people who may be curious about their sexuality have more of a visible template to figure that out. I don’t know about you, but I had Ginny/Hermione femmeslash on Fanfiction.net,” Clary said.

Maia laughed. “You look like Ginny Weasley,” she said.

“That’s my go-to Halloween costume! When I get too old for a Hogwarts uniform, not sure what I’m going to do,” Clary said.

“I’m so sorry I accused you of being some sort of…tourist. I mean, even if you were some straight Ru Paul Stan who’s just here to see real live drag queens…okay, whatever. It’s a good thing, like you said. Hell yes to straight people who want to learn about queer rights, queer history, queer culture right here and now. You just kind of worry that it will become an appropriation thing. Like voguing, in the 90s?” Maia said.

“Well, thanks for accepting my provisional lesbian credentials. I left my copy of The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall in the car,” Clary said.

Maia laughed, but said, “You seem more like the Secret Diaries of Anne Lister type.”

“From tourist to Gentleman Jack in, like, five minutes? You change your mind really quickly,” Clary said.

Maia shrugged again, and Clary watched her shoulder move, and her curls bounce.

 

The drag queens would be on in an hour. Simon caught glimpses of them getting ready whenever the purple satin curtains of their dressing rooms, which lined the wall, chanced to part. There were some dancers on the floor, which was odd compared to what Simon had seen on previous trips to Humphrey’s. People didn’t start to hit the floor until after the drag show, pulled out of their cocoons of social media and out of their groups of friends. It was odd to see anyone dancing before, but it had been a random kind of night. Simon hadn’t expected Clary to call, or to find himself at Humphrey’s at all. He definitely hadn’t expected to find himself dancing to “Latch” by Disclosure and Sam Smith with a man. Jace’s smell, of sweaty tshirt and sandalwood shampoo, was earthy and heady. Jace’s bang tickled Simon’s forehead, and his warmth radiated through Jace’s tshirt and Simon’s. Jace actually seemed unusually warm, Simon thought, or maybe he was just hyperaware of being this close to another guy. He tried to act natural, as if this was a totally normal occurrence for him, feeling another man grind on him to pop music.

Simon was willing to admit to himself that he was aroused. His face was hot, and he felt insistent but molten heat in his lower belly. He could feel Jace’s slightly panting breath on his neck, but he flinched in surprise when Jace pressed a small kiss there. Jace’s erection pressed against Simon’s thigh. Of course he had felt it, he hadn’t been trying to ignore it, but he didn’t know if it was exactly gay bar dancefloor etiquette to call attention to this kind of thing, either.

‘So this is what girls put up with at prom,’ he thought.

The kiss jolted him out of his ignore-or-go-with-it dilemma. He liked it. He liked it too much, so much so that his body mistook his screaming senses for protest.

So did Jace, when Simon flinched away from his lips.

“Sorry. I was kind of getting the feeling that you liked me. Did I misread the room?” Jace asked.

“No. I like you. You’re funny, and you know who the Beatles are,” Simon said.

“Those are the only reasons?” Jace said.

“Have you ever listened to classic rock radio in this state? The Beatles are woefully underplayed,” Simon said.

Jace smiled. “Does this make you uncomfortable?”

“This, like us, or this like the kiss, or this like your….situation?” Simon said.

“Do I fill in the bubble beside the best answer?” Jace said. His eyes spun what little light there was into an oceanic gray, like the Atlantic in winter. Funny, they had just looked heterochromatic blue and brown. Simon shrugged it off-some people’s eyes changed in the light, like cats.

Simon looked into Jace’s eyes. It felt like meeting a challenge that he couldn’t avoid anymore. His stomach, and his skin, the heat beneath his face, his lower body, the saliva pooling in his mouth and the breathlessness in his chest all meant one thing-he liked Jace. Not just his humor, not just talking to him. He wasn’t just flattered by the attention. He was physically responding to Jace, just as Jace was to him. Simon could count on one hand the number of girls he had kissed. He knew their faces, their laughter, their smile, even their angry faces, and he remembered distinctly the moment he had felt like he was falling in love and the moment he realized that it wasn’t going to work out and it was okay if it was over, even if that was painful. Every kiss had meant something, every time, with all of them.

Jace leaned in, pausing to look at Simon and, with his prismatic eyes, to ask permission. Simon nodded.

Jace was the sixth person he had kissed, but the first man. Jace’s hands roaming his back and Jace’s aroused state, seeking friction by subtly rubbing against Simon as they still, somewhat, danced, were new, but the feeling that he was beginning to really, really like someone was both familiar and fresh as its warm petals blossomed in his heart.

Then Jace’s phone rang.

He pulled away, and said, “It could be my…work. Wait for me outside, while I take this call in the men’s room?”

As he spoke, He slipped his hand under Simon’s tshirt and caressed his back.

Simon nodded quickly. He knew what went on in the alley between Humphrey’s and Florentino’s Pizza, but this was all new to him. But he wanted it, he embraced that he wanted it, and he felt like he could trust Jace.

Simon stepped out into the cool night. He breathed in deeply, searching for the fresh, revitalizing salt of the ocean. It was comforting that it was so close, open water, the edge of the world, where he and Clary had spent so many happy hours. He closed his eyes while he did so.

When Simon felt hands on him, at first he thought it was Jace, seizing him passionately. Then he realized that this was force, not passion, that he was being pulled away from the muffled din of music from the bar, the smell of pizza dough and the salt of the ocean in the air, from air itself, into the dark. He swallowed his scream behind the hand held over his mouth.

 

Clary heard someone, a male voice, shout Simon’s name. Gauging the direction, she peeled out of the courtyard and ran to the alley between Humphrey’s and Florentino’s Pizza. Maia was behind her. Instead of her best friend, she found a boy in all black with one blonde bang cascading over one eye on the filthy wet pavement, struggling against the living ropes that bound him. He was tied up with vines, green, leafy, with a magnolia-like sheen and tropical looking orange tuberous flowers.

“Untie me!” he barked.

Clary recognized that rude tone-he was the boy from the mall! Persephone’s douche bag boyfriend. She didn’t have time to hate him-where was Simon? It must have been him who called out for her best friend, who was nowhere to be seen.

 

“Where’s Simon?” Clary said. “Where is he?”

“They took him!” the boy said, and rather than demanding and arrogant, he sounded distraught, shocked.

“Who?” Maia said, as she crouched beside him and ripped at the vines that bound him.

“Faeries! That’s why I couldn’t stop them. We can’t fight each other, without a human witness, and they had already taken Simon back to their realm,” he said.

Clary couldn’t understand what he meant. Faeries, human witnesses, realm…it all sounded like a tabletop game Simon would have played in high school. She had never seen the appeal of all that stuff, but she knew the lingo, and it sounded like he was spouting the jargon of some LARP game.

Her heart was pounding hard, and beating in expectation. Any minute, she knew that her worry would give way to an abrupt drop of relief when she saw Simon coming around the corner, or out of the bar, or out of Florentino’s eating a gooey, dripping piece of pepperoni pizza.

But he didn’t come, and Clary thought her heart would burst.

Chapter Text

Maia freed the blonde Clary had met at the mall from the vines that bound him with her long nails. Clary hadn’t noticed them when they were talking in the courtyard of Humphrey’s. They were long, curved, unpainted, and had a translucent, milky, lunar sheen.

The boy sat up hurriedly, but with athletic grace. As soon as he was on his feet, Clary rushed over to him. All the emotions she had to hold back erupted in her blood, and her eyes felt strained, as if she was about to go blind. She grabbed the blonde by his tshirt and said,
“Where’s Simon?! What did you do to him?!”

“If he hadn’t been kidnapped by Faer, I would have sucked his dick. But, since he was kidnapped, nothing! I didn’t get a chance to do anything to him, obviously!” he said.

“What do you mean? Faer?” Clary said.

“I don’t have time to explain this to a stumpy little ginger Mundane with a bad attitude. I have to call this in,” he said.

“Fuck,” Maia muttered. Maia pulled Clary’s wrist and said, “We gotta get out of here.”

“Simon!” Clary protested.

“I can’t be anywhere near here when more Shadowhunters show up. Please?” Maia said.

Her tone got Clary’s attention. It was so much like her mother’s: plaintive for sympathy and empathy, needing Clary to see things her way, or she would break in some way that Clary didn’t want to see or have on her conscience.

“You two aren’t going anywhere. We’ll need your statements,” he said.

“Fuck you, hunter,” Maia said, although she had let go of Clary’s wrist and was standing in place. She seemed to accept that she had to stay, but for the sake of her own dignity decided to let loose a well-worn defiant slogan.

The blonde flinched, as if it still hurt to be disliked. After all, he was young.

“You’re both coming with me, to the Temple. I need your statements, and possibly your memories. And before you put your little hands on me again, cooperating with me is your best chance to find Simon,” he said, looking at Clary with a warning in her eyes.

She had disliked him instantly when he swooped into American Eagle and gruffly ordered his girlfriend around. Now, she really hated him. She hated his tone, his macho joyless facial expressions, and the fact that he was the last person to see Simon before he disappeared. It felt like he was the reason he was gone, the reason Clary was so afraid. But, she had to be calm. She couldn’t let Simon down. He had never let her down. No matter how much pain he was in, he always had room and time for her in his life. He had never shut her out or turned her away. When they hugged, she felt whole. When she realized that she was gay, she had been so confused: if she liked girls, how could she love Simon so much, too? She wasn’t proud of the extremes she had gone to, sorting it all out, but he forgave her for those things, too. She had to find him.

“Fine. I’m Clary, by the way. Clary Fray,” she said.

“Jace Morgenstern,” he said. “Let’s get out of here.”

He pulled something out of his pocket. It looked like a quartz crystal, the kind of New Age-y trendy trinket that Instagram influencers post about. Clary wondered if he was going to pull a smudging stick out too, cleanse the aura of the alley where Simon had vanished?

He drew in the air with it, and the places where the point of the crystal had touched began to smolder a glit orange, like the edges of burning paper.

“Go!” Jace ordered. Clary stepped into the space between the flaming circle. She looked back at Maia, who, despite her earlier defiant display, looked afraid, vulnerable, and beautiful, like Eurydice the moment Orpheus looked back at her and she realized there was no leaving the underworld.

She knew somehow that she wasn’t going to walk into the wall of Florentino’s Pizza. That the fire and air and whatever lived in the crystal that had drawn the circle would take her somewhere else. Clary closed her eyes.

When she opened them, she was falling. She hit a floor, a wet floor.

“Ow!” she said, landing on her knee funny. The sound of running water came into focus. She looked over her shoulder, and around. Medicine cabinet, toilet, pulled shower curtain.

The magical flaming circle had taken her to a bathroom?! Clary was almost as angry as she had been at Jace, but this time, she didn’t have a target, even a possibly misplaced one. After all, how likely was Jace to have been to hurt Simon somehow if he planned to give him head? That, and he seemed to be some kind of cop who investigated magical shit. She could admit that she had gone off for nothing, but at the moment she felt stupid. She didn’t know where she was, her knee hurt, and the steam of the shower was making her sweat beneath her zippered, hooded cardigan, tshirt, and ankle length slacks. She had borrowed all these clothes from her mom, as her own manga tshirts and paint splattered jeans were hardly appropriate for work.

“Izzy, you ok?” said a male voice. Clary swore. There was a guy in there!

“Um….its not Izzy,” she said.

She heard the rings of the shower, the curtain opened, and a head popped out-a young man with dark hair, which was currently wet, of course, hazel eyes, light brown skin, and features like a Roman emperor rendered in marble, with a pensive handsomeness whose defining trait was an aquiline nose.

“Who are you? Why are you in my shower?” he asked. She appreciated that he wasn’t freaking out-she would have freaked out, too.

“Well, technically, I’m not in your shower. Just on the floor,” Clary said.

“Good point,” he said.

“Um….Jace brought us here,” Clary said.

“Of course he did,” he said.

“Are you a Shadowhunter, too?” Clary asked.

He looked at her as if that was a strange question. “Yes,” he said.

“I need help! My best friend was kidnapped, outside Humphreys. That’s a gay bar,” Clary said.

“I know,” said the boy in the shower, nodding.

“Oh. Good. So, you know the alley between Florentino’s and Humphrey’s? I was in the courtyard talking to this girl when I heard someone yell his name. I just knew, somehow, that it was him. My Simon. And I ran to the alley, and he was gone but Jace was there. Jace was tied up in these vines, kind of like kudzu and creeper. He couldn’t move. Maia, my friend, untied him, and he said it was Faeries that took Simon,” Clary said.

“I heard a bulletin that there were Faeries in that area, but I’m off duty, right now. I was injured,” he said.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Clary said. With Jace, she was so shocked and angry that she could barely string two words together and time felt like it was running short. With this boy, somehow, she didn’t mind telling him everything, and she could even spare some empathy for his injury.

“Its fine, just my shoulder. Its always better after a shower. I’m just not allowed to patrol right now. So, Jace responded and brought you here?” he said.

“Yes,” Clary said. “Me and Maia, my friend.”

“Okay. Let’s get you sorted,” he said. He turned the shower off, and then said, “Uh, could you grab me a towel from the closet across the hall? I called my sister, but she’s probably doing her makeup.”

“Sure,” Clary said. “I’m Clary,” she added.

“Alec,” he said.

Alec reminded her of Simon. She felt this comradery with guys because sometimes she felt like she was supposed to have a brother, and she was looking for one. She had Simon, but she felt like she had tarnished the bond they had when they were kids. He wasn’t just her best friend, like her brother, he was now the only ex-boyfriend she’d ever have. It was weird. She’d kissed him, deeply, with tongue, trying to feel as turned on as she did when a girl laughed at her jokes or slept beside her at a sleepover party. She’d felt the viscous heat of his semen filling her inside and splattering on her thigh when they had sex, and he’d said, “I love you” to her in ways that she had realized at the time she could never return or lie to him by saying back. Until they were teenagers, he’d been her twin.

Alec felt like a big brother. The person she would call if she needed to leave work early, sick and a little dizzy. The kind of person she would tell if something hurt, or if someone had hurt her, the first person she would tell if something good was happening, the person whose arms she wanted around her if she needed to be held in the most chaste way, and feel small like a little girl again.

She grabbed one of a stack of fluffy white towels out of the closet, and took a minute to look around. The woods were a glossy dark wood, oak, maybe, the ceiling was high and painted with a Renaissance-esque fresco of beautiful, muscular prophets and angels in a heaven of celestial blue clouds. At the end of a hall was a stained glass window depicting an angel holding a sword.

It looked like a mansion from an old English novel. She hadn’t thought much about where Jace wanted to take them, but she realized now that she had imagined a police station. This was definitely not a police station.

“Hi, are you lost?”

Clary looked up. Her head was hurting from the onset of an adrenaline crash, and her knee was hurting from her rough landing. She registered the voice as familiar, but couldn’t place from where. When she turned around, there was Persephone. Her Persephone. The same doe eyes, curves, and long dark hair that Clary had imagined whipped by the winds of the Mediteranean Sea in a scene from antiquity, the young goddess with wildflowers in her hands, surrounded by lesser nymphs. She felt the same longing she had the first time she saw her. How could anyone so beautiful be real? Would anything so beautiful ever be her’s? She had washed off the pomegranate red lipstick, and her lips were so pink against her light brown skin.

“Yes,” Clary said. “I’m lost….”

Persephone smiled. She took a step toward Clary, looking intrigued.

“I can’t believe you found me! Are you a Hunter? Did you recognize me? Did you know who I was? Have we met before? Because you seemed soooooo familiar. Are you stationed here? I’ve been thinking about you, all night. I think something got lost in translation at the mall. Jace isn’t my boyfriend, he’s my…” Persephone rambled, but before she could tell Clary what Jace was to her, he came around the corner .

In the gentile, elegant surroundings he looked even more garishly trendy with those moto jeans and the DJ hair.

“Where did you go?” he demanded. “I need you in the questioning room on Level 1.”

“I landed here when you pushed me through some kind of magical, flaming Harold’s purple crayon situation!” Clary said.

“What are you saying? Did you take some kind of club drug at the bar?” Jace said.

“Ketamine, Ecstasy, Molly. Wait, are they the same thing, ecstasy and Molly?” Persephone said. “those are popular Mundane club drugs. If that helps. Should we test her?” She turned to her not- boyfriend and said, “So…she’s not a Hunter?”

“Her?” he said contemptuously. “She’s as Mundane as they come, but her friend was kidnapped by Faer.”

“Jace! Why didn’t you say something?” Persephone said. She turned to Clary and, with real concern said, “That’s horrible, and we’re going to do everything we can to find her.”

“Him. He’s a boy. Simon, he’s….he has brown hair, and glasses, and brown eyes, and he’s about a head taller than me, and he was wearing a tshirt with…..I know it had some kind of logo… it was….a band, or a comic book…” Clary knew that she was babbling. But it felt really important to remember what Simon was wearing when he disappeared. She remembered teasing him about his clothes.

“Dinosaur, Jr.!” she said. “He was wearing a Dinosaur Jr. tshirt, and….and this is what you do when people are missing, right? You describe them, and then the cops can find them…..”

Persephone put her arm around Clary. Her soft, full breasts pressed against Clary’s shoulder blades, but she was too distraught to feel turned on by her luscious body the way she had at the mall. Clary barely felt like she was in her own body.

“The cops aren’t coming. There are people placed within your Mundane police that know how to recognize these things, but they pass over any relevant information to us, and we take it from there. You live in the light, you Mundanes. But everything you’ve convinced yourselves doesn’t exist lives in the shadows, and we hunt them,” Jace said. “You care about Simon. I can tell. If you want to find him, get it together and go downstairs to be questioned. Time moves differently in the Faer Country. Its hard to say how much of it he has left.”

The words of Jace’s monologue hung like smoke in the air until Alec shouted, from behind the bathroom door,

“Towel?”

Chapter Text

“Oops!" Clary said aloud. She hadn't meant to leave Alec naked and dripping. She retrieved the towel from the hall closet and brought it to him.

He followed her out to the hall, the towel wrapped around his waist and his torso, smattered with dark hair and bedewed with drops of water from the shower and its steam, on display. Clary could aesthetically appreciate Alec's sculpted body, but it wasn't the same as the heady warmth that the sight of a woman she was attracted to inspired.

"Where were you, Isabel?" Alec said, to Persephone.

"Alecky, I just didn't hear you!" She wheedled.

"Were you making one of those You Tube videos, again?" He said sternly .

"Do you even get paid to teach Mundanes how to put on their makeup?" Jace asked sneeringly.

"I do makeup tutorials because it’s my passion, not because anyone pays me," Isabel said.

Jace's disdainful look said he clearly didn't get it, and had lost interest in the conversation.

Clary gleaned from the conversation that Alec was the brother that Isabel had alluded to when they met at the mall. And now, she knew her name. She had to say goodbye to the name she'd given her. Her features seemed to change minutely as Clary applied the new name to her. Persephone was soft and bountiful, a goddess of the fruitful earth and the seasons' mysteries. But Isabel was the august name of a queen who conquered not only Spain, from the inside, but the New World. It was a slightly dangerous name, with a certain formidable grandeur.

Persephone.

Isabel.

"Clary, come with me. We will need to ask you some questions about tonight, but it’s all to help us find Simon," Isabel said kindly.

Clary appreciated that she had remembered Simon's name.

"Your friend, Maia, is in questioning, now," Isabel added. "Jace, fill Alecky in on the finer points while I show Clary around."

Jace just barely nodded gruffly, and then Isabel and Clary boarded the elevator.

"I guess it’s true- opposites attract," Clary blurted. She couldn't help it- Jace had been nothing but rude, and Isabel had been warm and kind. What did she see in him? The girl could do better.

"Oh?" Isabel said bemusedly.

"Sorry. I shouldn't have said that. I'm sure you and Jace have...lots of great times, and he's a really lovely person when it’s just the two of you. Its none of my business. If it wasn't the worst night of my life, ever, I wouldn't let an asshole like that get under my skin. I just called your boyfriend an asshole...I must be in shock..." Clary ranted.

"I knew you thought Jace was my boyfriend! He's my brother," Isabel said.

"Brother? But, at the mall....?" Clary said.

"Is that how boyfriends talk to their girlfriends, where you're from?" Isabel said.

"Well...some girls like jerks. The drama of it all," Clary said.

"Jace just hates shopping. He orders everything online, except coffee. That would be weird," Isabel said. "He was adopted when he was 10 and I was 8. His parents died in a housefire."

Clary was taken aback, utterly humbled.

"That's awful," she said.

"It was," Isabel said with a grave nod. "I know how he can come off, and I'm not making excuses for him....but he gets moody and anxious out of nowhere, and I think it’s because of the things he remembers."

"He said that he couldn't fight the people who took Simon because he was half...Faer," Clary said, using the word Jace had, back at Humphrey's.

"Faer Folk, Faer, Fae. They're what Mundanes call faeries. They're depicted pretty benignly, now, but Celtic, British and French lore are closer to the truth. They dwell in realms mostly inaccessible to humans, observe human activity, and sometimes choose favourites or develop grudges towards humans, curse them, give them gifts, steal them away to their realms. Really, all cultures have such stories, but they don't always call them faeries- sometimes, they call them gods or demons," she said.

"And...are they? Gods and demons?" Clary said, feeling cold and alone at the idea of her gentle, earnest friend in such hands.

"They're a world apart," Isabel said. "Jace's mother was a water nymph. That's why he couldn't fight them- it’s too close an affinity. Lots of people have faerie blood, but if its relatively remote then they're just as human as you or me. Well...as you, anyway."

"You're not human?" Clary said.
“Its complicated,” Isabel said, with a bemused smirk. “I’ve probably told you too much, already. I mean, you are a Mundane.”
“Okay, that’s the second time I’ve heard that! What does it mean, and why do you and your brother keep calling me that?” Clary said.
“Calm down-its not an insult. Its just shorthand, I guess, for civilians. Humans. The people we protect from the Shadow World,” Isabel said. “I know that this is a lot to take in, especially under these circumstances. Try to stay calm. Freaking out will only make you feel worse. And, it won’t help Simon. Tell me about him. What is he like?”
‘Kind. Sweet. Quirky. Funny. He deserves better than I ever had to give,’ Clary thought, but out loud she said, “He’s my best friend.”
Isabel graced her with a soft, sweet, sympathetic smile, and then the elevator doors opened.
“Clary!” Maia said.
She was the first thing that Clary saw, then she looked around Level 1. It looked like the police station of the future, all steel and plexiglass with fluorescent lighting that was so bright and constant it rendered the hour of the night irrelevant. She blinked to adjust her vision.
“Maia! Are you okay?” Clary said.
“Yeah. They just asked some questions. I’m surprised. No one confiscated my ID, threw me in a cell, hosed me and beat me with a riot stick, or anything,” Maia said.
“Well, maybe you shouldn’t believe all the outlandish stories you hear about Shadowhunters,” Isabel said.
“I’m not saying things like that don’t happen, just that I’m glad it didn’t happen to me,” Maia said defiantly.
Isabel looked displeased and steely. “Well, since, as you pointed out, you’re not being unlawfully detained or molested in any way, you’re free to go.”
“I’m not leaving Clary! I’m going to wait here until you’re done questioning, then we’re going to leave together,” Maia said.
Clary was more than a little uncomfortable. She had picked up by her reaction to Jace in the alley that she didn’t like Shadowhunters. But, Isabel clearly didn’t like her attitude about it, and the two women were looking at each other with open disgust. Plus, they had only just met and Maia was saying that Clary was going home with her. She wasn’t sure what to say.
“Is that the Mundane?” asked a tall, blonde man with a bland, dour face, who looked like he was in his early 30s, at most. He and Alec were walking towards Clary, Maia, and Isabel.
“Her name is Clary,” Alec said. “Clary, this is Hunter Underhill. He’ll be taking your statement. Go with him.”
“Okay,” she said nervously.
“Hunter Rodriguez-Lightwood, you’re dismissed,” Alec said, looking at his sister.
She nodded. Their tones sounded stiff and militaristic, as if they weren’t even related. Clary now knew Persephone’s real name, and her whole name. Isabel Rodriguez-Lightwood.
“You’re going to do great. Just remember, Simon needs you,” Isabel said.
“Thanks,” Clary said, and watched Isabel board the elevator, until the doors closed and she was out of sight.
“Just tell them what you remember, even if it sounds weird. And don’t let them intimidate you,” Maia said.
“No one’s trying to intimidate Clary. Her statement is a valuable key to assisting an imperiled Mundane,” Alec said.
“Wow, imperiled? You people really speak like that?” Maia said. “Whatever. Is there coffee anywhere around here?”
“This way,” Alec said, unphased by Maia’s attitude. Clary had to admit, it grounded her. If Maia could crack wise and act like all this was no big deal, Clary could somehow believe that it would all be over soon.
Maia squeezed Clary’s hand and said, “I’ll be right here. I’m not going to leave you.”
Clary’s heart flooded with appreciation. She had been so taken with Isabel, caught up in her voice and her eyes and her presence, but Maia was standing by her side and protecting her from people she clearly saw as potentially hostile. She even wanted to take Clary home.
Clary kissed Maia’s cheek. It was smooth and soft. Her curly hair tickled Clary’s face.
“Thank you,” Clary said.
Maia nodded.
Clary followed Underhill. He had the same dry, direct manner that Alec adopted when he was in ‘Hunter mode’, and Clary found it easy to give him straightforward answers. As Maia had said, she just told him what she remembered even though it didn’t make any sense. They finished so quickly, Clary was surprised.
“Are you going to erase my memory, like in “Men in Black”?” Clary asked.
“What men in black? You said the assailants were gone by the time you arrived in the alley.” Underhill said.
“No, the movie,” Clary said. He looked blank, and she continued, “You know, Will Smith? The Fresh Prince? Getting Jiggy with it?”
“Excuse me?” Underhill said. “Ma’am, I think you’re exhibiting a residual reaction to the presence of faeries. They’re powerfully magical beings. People often have wild thoughts and speak nonsense in their presence. A lot of poets that Mundanes hold in renown have trucked with faeries, like Shakespeare.”
“Shakespeare?” Clary said.
“Don’t worry-lets go to the infirmary,” Underhill said.
Clary didn’t think reciting any more of the career highlights of Will Smith would help matters, nor would explaining any further, so she followed Underhill to the infirmary.
“She just needs to sleep it off,” said a nurse with gray hair, reading Clary’s vitals on a tablet. “House her on this level in case anything changes in the night.”
“I can’t stay here! I have to go home,” Clary said.
“We have to monitor you,” Underhill said.
“What? Why? I’m fine,” Clary said.
“Physically, yes. But Downworlder magic attacks the causal body. The energy around you. If you’re enchanted, cursed, being tracked or otherwise monitored, we won’t be able to detect it physically. We still have to figure out why your friend was chosen to be a witness,” Underhill said.
“You said faeries are drawn to artists. Simon’s a musician, and a singer, and he writes his own lyrics. Maybe they just…..like him?” she said.
Underhill seriously considered this. “I’m going to include that in the file. But, there could be more to this. In any case, we need to monitor you.”
“But, my mom,” Clary said.
“Give me her contact information, arrangements will be made,” Underhill said.
She expected him to pull out the slender, silver memory erasing pen from “Men in Black” at any moment, and imagined him doing the same to her mother at either the small house where she and her mom had lived since Clary was a baby, or her mom’s even smaller Yoga studio. Her mother was a Yogi, a bohemian, a peaceful person with a quiet life. Clary couldn’t imagine what she would make of all this.
The nurse, despite her entirely gray hair, wasn’t as old as the hair made her look. She was, maybe, in her fifties, she just looked harassed and tired, like someone who kept forgetting to take a day off. She walked Clary to a bedroom that looked like the chamber where a Gothic heroine would be imprisoned in a Bronte novel.
Clary collapsed on the bed, with its many decorative pillows and heavy bedspread. Her head hurt, her knee hurt, and she felt covered in dried sweat. The sweat of fear.
“I’m so sorry, Simon,” she said.
If she hadn’t called him on a whim to go out, he would probably be safe in his mom’s house fiddling around on his guitar or ukulele. He also played the piano, but sporadically. Out of all the instruments he played, he most associated that one with his father, and it was hard to touch.
Or, maybe he’d be watching one of the low-budget films that he and Clary had dubbed, “So bad they’re good,” online, like “Samurai Cop”, “The Room”, or “Ben and Arthur”. They kept meaning to do a vlog series about bad movie clips. They also meant to write and illustrate a graphic novel together, and take a long road trip and blog about it. All their plans, big and small, felt lopsided, broken on one end, unable to stand with just her half.
“Knock, knock,” Maia said, knocking lightly on the open door.
“Hi,” she said. “I have to stay here. The Shadowhunters need to monitor my causal body.”
“That sounds invasive as fuck,” Maia said. She sat beside Clary on the bed.
“How do you know so much about Shadowhunters?” Clary said.
“Let’s just say that their people and mine have a long, symbiotic and problematic history of mutual resentment,” Maia said.
“Sounds complicated…as fuck,” Clary said.
Maia laughed, and hugged her around her shoulder.
Clary let her head rest on Maia’s collarbone. “You know,” she said, “under any other circumstances, Simon would love finding out all this stuff is real. He loves epic fantasy. Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, all that stuff. I love his optimism that good is always going to defeat evil.”
“You don’t think it is?” Maia said.
“I’ve trusted a lot of the wrong people. People who didn’t love me, who just couldn’t. And…after a while, you feel like most people are cowards, who are never going to stand up for anyone else if it means stepping out of their comfort zone. But, you did that tonight. You stood up for me, and you stood by me. You waited for me,” Clary said.
Maia smiled. “I’m trash for Mundane girls. Everyone has a kryptonite,” she said.
Clary needed to be close to someone. She kissed Maia. If she wasn’t so scared already, if the night hadn’t been so disastrous, maybe she wouldn’t have been brave enough. But, after losing Simon and falling into the Shadow World, Maia was like a lighthouse’s bright beacon shining on the horizon after a shipwreck. Clary swam to her light.
Maia kissed her back. She had a fiery personality, but she was gentle. She kissed Clary back with warmth and encouraging affection, and her lips were so soft. She could feel Maia smiling against her skin as she kissed her neck, and arousal bloomed just beneath Clary’s skin, the feverish swoon that made her senses go hot and wavy, the tickly and insistent pulse between her legs, and the feeling that her body was opening and growing soft and wet, within. She needed this feeling, to carry her away and make her feel so good the world was beautiful again.
But, when Maia began sliding Clary’s t-shirt up her belly, Clary gently stopped her.
“I smell awful,” she said. “like, stressed out panic attack sweat.”
“Not here,” Maia said, and with the tip of her long, talon like, moonstone colored nail she ran her hand along the seam of Clary’s pants, between her legs. Clary’s cunt pulsed each time Maia’s touch teased her, and she felt her lower back becoming warm and loose, her legs opening more for Maia’s hand.
“No?” Clary asked, her voice shaking.
“Mm-hmm…I can smell you, Clary,” Maia said, and the words were so shocking, so shameless, they crawled up Clary’s spine. She wanted to take her clothes off, but felt under Maia’s command. She would wait for her cue. Maia’s whiskey brown eyes were now giving off heat and light and looked like pieces of amber.
“You want this?” Maia asked.
“I shouldn’t….Simon’s gone…I’m a bad friend….” Clary said.
“Everyone needs something for themselves, Clary,” Maia said kindly, and together they peeled Clary’s clothes off together.

Clary’s cunt wept in anticipation, her walls contracting around the emptiness. She was wound up by her own craving. Maia’s lips left Clary’s, and instead graced her right nipple. Flames raced beneath her skin. This was exactly what she needed. She hastily pinched her other nipple, grasping at the pillowy flesh of her own humbly proportioned breast, trying to match the sensations Maia was conjuring in its twin. Her hand was headed towards her clit, but Maia moved Clary’s hand out of the way and touched her.

Clary looked up, at the fresco on the ceiling of an androgynous angel, and cried out. She lay back on the covers as Maia’s tongue filled her open, weeping, tender cunt. Her heart was full, too, of gratitude and something almost like joy. Gina hadn’t done this for her. This pleasure was familiar, but it had been awhile, and Maia’s hands on her thighs, steadying her, as her tongue pleased her felt more like love than anything Clary had felt in a long time.
“Simon….” She thought, feeling guilty for being happy when he was gone.

Chapter Text

“Fuck,” Maia swore. Clary woke up to the sight of Maia sliding her knit crop top over her braless breasts. Her nipples were wine dark, and her breasts were smaller than Isabel’s.
Maia continued to get dressed hurriedly, and although she was comfortable in the fluffy pillows and covers, and the spot of body heat Maia had left, Clary willed herself to sit up. Her knee was no longer quite as painful, but it felt stiff and slightly immobile. She felt a surge of dislike for Jace, for pushing her through the flaming portal before she had time to collect herself.
“What’s the rush?” Clary said.
“Remember, I told you. Shadowhunters aren’t so keen on people like me. I meant to leave, but….I fell asleep,” Maia said.
“What do you mean by that? Look, all this is new to me. One minute, I was folding clothes for a living, the next I’m crawling through a flaming circle in the middle of the air,” Clary said. “My best friend is gone….”
Maia sat down again, and put an arm around Clary.
“I can’t tell you everything, right now. But, bad things happen to people that Shadowhunters think are less than them,” Maia said.
“Are they dangerous?” Clary asked.
Despite their crisp and stiff protocol, and the strange surroundings of the Institute, which was a cross between a medieval church and a space station, she had gotten the idea that they protected people from the malevolent side of all the tales that they had been told as children. Stories in which magic fixed things, curses were cured by kisses, and everyone lived happily ever after. Only later, Clary reflected, did one learn that those tales were sanitized by the Victorians and began as rustic winter’s tales, told to warm the blood with fear on long, cold nights. They didn’t always have happy endings…and sometimes, these tales had teeth. Where did the Shadowhunters fit into this new shape of the world?
“They can be, and the law is on their side,” Maia said, looking at Clary with that plaintive expression, again. Gentle morning sunshine poured down on them from the stained glass windows on either side of the bed. A female saint Clary did not know regarded them, young, beautiful, with a solemn youthful face, wearing armor, the hilt of a sword between her prayer clasped hands. Joan of Arc, maybe? Clary decided she was the most likely candidate.
“Maia, I don’t want you to feel like you’re in danger,” Clary said.
“You’re amazing,” Maia said. “You’re the one whose life has been interrupted, and you’re so concerned for me. Am I being a total drama queen? When you hear enough stories about people dying in chains or confined in cells, it gets under your skin.”
Clary felt cold, too, at those words.
“But…that means I’m not safe with them either, doesn’t it? I’m not like them, either,” Clary said.
“Yeah, but you’re human. They protect humans. I’m…..” Maia stopped explaining.
Clary was used to this. Her mother often stopped short of explaining the full truth about certain things, or made abrupt and clipped allusions. She, Jocelyn Fray, had a wide and affectionate network of friends, people who, like her, taught Yoga, practiced meditation, were involved in community projects around their neighborhood like the community garden…but they were all people she had met in the last 20 years, just in Clary’s lifetime, and through their stories and conversations Clary gathered that Jocelyn had moved to the city when Clary was a baby.
Where was her mother before that? Where was she from? Sometimes she spoke or spelled words with English inflections, but Clary had met German and Canadian people who spoke similarly as her mother sometimes did. She had entertained different theories…Switzerland? South Africa? She’d tried to ask her mother sly questions, but Jocelyn picked up on her hints every time, sometimes shutting down her attempts with a wryly bemused, slightly proud, ‘Nice try’ sort of look in her eye, sometimes more fraught. In the latter times, Jocelyn seemed to be begging her not to ask anymore.
The way Maia was, now.
When Clary hugged her mother, she tried to communicate to her that whatever the darkness was that she feared, Clary would protect her from it. She hugged Simon that way, too. Now, she hugged Maia that way. Maia hugged her back, and with regret in her whiskey brown eyes said,
“I have to go now…but I’m going to call you. I promise I’m not just saying that.”
Clary fished around the floor in her discarded ankle pants, borrowed from her mom for work, and pulled out her phone. She and Maia traded numbers, and then smiled nervously because they weren’t sure what there was to say next.
Clary kissed Maia, and Maia placed a gentle hand behind Clary’s head. Once again, Clary wanted to disappear into the comfort of Maia’s soft body, fall into the task of pleasing her and the honor of being touched by her. Maia…she was soft like the earth in spring, when the ground is luscious with rain. She even smelled like earth and rain, a fragrance with a poetic name, petrichor, that sounded like a sigh. Clary caressed Maia’s curvy body, and slid her hands under the crochet crop top. In the distance, Clary heard mechanical blips, like the sound of someone typing their pin number into an ATM, but her focus was Maia.
Then, the door opened, and Jace walked in, postured as if he was waiting for someone who was wasting his time.
“What the fuck?” Maia spat at him.
“I assumed that you were alone, and decent,” Jace said glacially, to Clary.
“I guess you don’t see people like me. Forget I was here?” Maia said.
“You’re free to go,” Jace said.
“I’m gone,” Maia said. She kissed Clary, then smoothed her top down once again, and strode out of the room.
“I can’t believe you,” Clary said. “Can I get dressed? Take a shower? You have no right to burst into my room.”
“Your room? You’re in our custody,” Jace said.
“Custody? Am I in jail?” Clary said.
This seemed to deflate Jace’s bluster. “No. Of course not,” he said. “But, we’re monitoring you, for residual effects of exposure to magic. The Faer are magic. Its in their blood, its in their aura, its who and what they are. Its almost like radiation-energy so concentrated that exposure can have adverse effects. Hunter Underhill said you were exhibiting signs.”
Clary groaned. “Ugh…no, I just made a pop culture reference to the wrong guy. But, who hasn’t heard of Will Smith?”
Jace smirked, and he looked younger and softer. Clary remembered, now, that he had been at Humphrey’s on his downtime, and that Simon had almost hooked up with him. Made sense, she thought-Simon always had a crush on Draco Malfoy. Arrogant, rude, pale blonde and wearing all black-Jace checked all those boxes. But, Simon also didn’t trust just anyone. He could be effusively awkward, ramble, and stumble into oversharing, but he didn’t let many people in. His closest friend besides Clary was Eric, whom he had played with in various incarnations of the band now known as Bad Panda since they were all in 10th grade. If Simon was about to go into an alley for quick sex with this guy, he must have seen something special in him, because that was a giant leap for him.
“Andrew has never seen a movie in his life. You’re going to have to introduce these things to him, slowly,” Jace said.
“So, where do we start? Episode one of ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’?” Clary said.
Jace actually smiled. It was like when Tom Cruise smiled in one of his early films, and the very air around him began to trust him more, let alone the person on the other end of that smile. She saw what Simon saw. She hadn’t been with him in those last few moments, and despite the comfort she had taken from Maia’s affection, she still felt guilty that she didn’t know what had happened. They shared so much of their life, good, bad, and banal. They never had to tell, ‘You remember that time?’ stories, because they had witnessed everything that mattered. Except the minutes before he disappeared .Now, Clary knew-Simon had fallen in love. She knew her friend. His feelings ran deep. He wouldn’t have gone anywhere with someone he didn’t think he could really fall in love with.
“So, you confused him and he assumed you were enchanted?” Jace said. “As priceless as that would be, we need to make sure.”
“Anything. Do anything you need to do to me, to find him,” Clary said.
“You two are very close,” Jace said, with more sensitivity than Clary would have thought he was capable of.
“We just…always wanted to be together, in this way that people don’t always understand. We tried dating, for a little while…but it felt like putting a dollhouse together with a missing piece. Like, we were pretending. It feels so much more natural to be how we are, which is just…together. Simon’s mom calls us Jo and Laurie,” Clary said. “He’s the only person I can laugh with, and really talk to, and….sometimes I don’t have to say anything, at all. He knows. And I know him.”
Jace looked at her, with eyes that seemed to change as the light did. They were heterochromatic blue and brown, and then a solid, slate gray like the ocean reflecting a thunder laden cloud.
“I know how that feels,” Jace said. Clary could tell that he really meant it.
“Thank you,” she said.
“We want to examine your memory, to see if anything has been tampered with,” Jace said. “Its possible that you could be missing time, and not even know it. Its been known to happen, where Faer are concerned.”
“But you’re half Faer, aren’t you?” Clary said. “You told me so, in the alley.”
Jace stiffened, and his face changed subtly and became wintry once more.
“Yes,” he said, and his tone implied, ‘What of it?’
Clary was never one to stop while she was ahead. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, was her motto.
“You must know a lot about them, then,” she said.
“Not in the way I can tell that you’re assuming. My mother was an exile,” he said. “How does your friend plan to leave the Institute and get back to the city?”
“Maia? She’s….resourceful,” Clary said. When Jace called Maia her ‘friend’, it dawned on her that they had just met the night before. She slept with a woman she didn’t know! And in those moments, Maia had felt like the earth’s very axis, the only sure thing. It had been a Hell of a night.
Jace seemed to be reading her like a book. Neither she nor Simon were very good at hiding their emotions. Maybe their sensitivity was the foundation of their bond. At any rate, it was how their moms knew when they were both lying about something naughty, trying in vain to cover for each other. Now, she didn’t have Simon beside her, and the decisions she had made were just her own, and it was weird to see this stranger reading her emotions while freezing her out of his.
“I doubt she made it very far. I’m going to convey her back to the city. You freshen up, and someone else will be up to take you to the lab,” Jace said.
“Thank you,” Clary said.

Jace left her room. She made the bed, because it felt like it would be rude not to even if a place like this probably had a housekeeping staff, like a hotel. The smell of her and Maia’s nude bodies, the mingled perfume of their naked sweat from the night before, hit her nose, and sensual memories filled her mind in a hazy montage. Maia’s tongue, Maia’s hands, and the tenderness they had left in their wake. She wondered when would be too soon to text her. Clary found a small, simple, but gleaming white and spotlessly clean half bath, and a fresh toothbrush and toothpaste, as well as washcloths and towels, in the cabinets. It was like when she accompanied her mom to Yoga or alternative medicine conventions and conferences. Clary loved the gleaming cleanliness of hotel rooms, how they had none of the layers of dust and clutter that all homes inevitably had. The lack of clutter and the impersonal orderliness always made her feel that she had all that she needed, that all the things that crowded the shelves and corners at home simply didn’t matter.
She took a hot shower, and felt her muscles relax. Even her sore knee felt better, and once it did she forgave Jace completely. She kept thinking of his words and his expression when he said that his mother was ‘an exile’. He implied that because of this, he hadn’t grown up steeped in the Faerie side of his culture. Before the last 12 hours, ‘faerie’ to her had meant Tinkerbell, but still, his predicament felt so eerily similar to her’s. Because she didn’t know where her mother was from, or who her father had been, so much of her felt missing, like a cliff that crumbled into the ocean.
After getting clean, she didn’t want to put yesterday’s clothes on. On a whim, she opened a cherrywood wardrobe and was happy to find some fluffy looking sweatpants and a sweatshirt. Just as Jace had said, Underhill came to collect her and take her to the lab on Level 3.
“Feeling better? Less….jiggy?” Underhill asked, his brow knitted in concern.
Clary smiled. “Yeah. Thanks!” she said.

 

Maia was lost. She was pretty sure she had passed the painting of Judith and her maid holding Holofernes’ decapitated head, in its heavy gold frame, before. She’d definitely turned right at that Renaissance tapestry of Jacob wrestling the angel. The art alone in this place was priceless. She thought of how many homeless Downworlder children could be fed if someone had the guts to lift all this art, and a few computers, and sell them to someone in the Shadow Market with more connections in the Mundane world than scruples. Luke had let them know real quick he wanted no part of that ‘misguided Robin Hood’ stuff. Still, Maia sighed inside. If only, what if.
“Come with me,” said the blonde Shadowhunter who had been with Clary’s friend before he disappeared.
Of course, Maia had thought about what it would be like to be stopped by a Shadowhunter. Don’t struggle. Just don’t move. Any sudden movements, and that was all the case they needed to use force. It could happen at any time, to any Downworlder, even if they weren’t doing anything wrong. If they just happened to be within blocks of where another Downworlder of a similar description had committed a crime, the Shadowhunters didn’t care enough to make sure they were apprehending the right suspect, and they had so much resentment from years of fighting crime and losing friends in the struggle, on top of any culturally ingrained prejudices, that they were easily angered into using deadly force. Her first year of being a lycanthrope, she’d heard horror stories of the vampires, lycanthropes, shifters, warlocks, magicians, and Faer crowding the detention centers where they rotted away in lightless cells, in filth and misery, accused of crimes they didn’t commit and waiting for trials that, for some, never came, or to be deported back to where they had come from although had left their dimension or corner of the Faerie realms for a better life.
This was all the life there was to be had. Only in places very far away did they believe it could be better if they came there.
Maia was afraid, but mostly, she was sorry. She was going to one of those cells, and for what? Her body was finally adjusting to the Moonchange. Her back didn’t feel stiff and painful for weeks before and after, her hands swollen, numb and useless, her gums puffy, swollen, and painful, her mind foggy with pain. She was dealing. She was living. She enjoyed the little rituals of working at Luke’s coffeeshop and bookstore. She liked baking and brewing coffee, and she loved sneaking into the shelves and reading when there were no customers. She wouldn’t get to serve cookies at the NaNoWriMo write in this November. She would never see the sunlight again. And for what? Because she followed the wrong little redheaded girl right into the palm of her enemy’s hand?
He was handsome, but most sources agreed that the Devil was so. Jace was frosty blonde and pale. His eyes were gray, or North Sea blue. He looked cruel. He was one of Them, so he probably was.
“I didn’t do anything! I helped a Mundane. Shouldn’t you be thanking me for not leaving Clary by herself? I cooperated,” she said. The words were tumbling out. She could hear her mother in the back of her head, scolding her disappointedly to stop running her mouth.
Jace looked arrogant, smug, calm, untouched by her fear. He had nothing to fear-he would always be at the top of the food chain.
“Right. And you earned yourself a free ride home,” Jace said.
“What?” Maia said.
“Or, you could call an Uber,” he said.
Maia frowned. She thought that he would have grabbed her roughly by the wrist, twisted it behind her arm, and shoved her head against a table or the wall just to show her who was boss, by now. And no one from her pack even knew that she was here. She would just be one of the many missing young werewolf girls. People who knew her would think that she was stupid enough to talk to the wrong guy while standing alone on the wrong street. Maybe he kidnapped and trafficked her out, or maybe she decided to turn a trick for some extra walking-around-money and things went pear shaped when it was time for him to pay. Either was likely. Things like that happened all the time. But, Maia was smarter than that, and she didn’t want anyone to think differently.
But, Jace wasn’t touching her, let alone attacking her. He seemed to pick up that she felt uneasy in his presence, the way people can tell dogs and horses are spooked. He stopped trying to be laconic and witty.
“How did you expect to get back to the city all on your own? We’re miles out,” he said.
“I always find a way,” Maia said.
“Impressive. Admirable. But not necessary,” Jace said. “I can draw another Portal, but Clary injured herself and you looked carsick. Beautiful, but carsick.”
Did a Shadowhunter call her beautiful?
She felt even more uncomfortable, and recalled that he had seen her with her top pulled up, exposing her breasts, when she was making out with Clary. She wanted to disappear.
“So,” Jace continued, “How about I give you a ride?”
Maia didn’t know what to say. She thought about all the people she would be betraying if she even accepted a gentle expression on Jace’s face from him, let alone a ride home. All the people who would never get to come home, who had never found the home they were looking for, because they had crossed paths with the wrong Shadowhunter. Out of respect for them and for herself, she had to hate Jace. People like him had done too much to people like her.
“I’m fine. I’ll just….” She said, but for once, she couldn’t think of anything.
“Just, what? Wander the sand dunes?” Jace said. “Have we hurt you, in any way? Have I hurt you? Have you been mistreated here?”
Maia had to admit, nothing much had happened. They had taken her statement, which wasn’t much considering she didn’t know Simon and hadn’t seen him disappear. Then, she drank weak coffee and waited for Clary. Then….Maia shoved away the thoughts of what they had done after that. It wasn’t the place or time to think of that. It would make her feel warm and happy, and she couldn’t let the Shadowhunter see soft emotions like that on her face. But, Clary had made her very, very happy, and as weird as everything had gotten since they had drinks at Humphrey’s, she wanted to see her again and kiss her and touch her and talk to her.
She hadn’t been the victim of injustice…but, still….wasn’t it prudent to distrust Shadowhunters? They could flip at any time, and just when you thought they looked at you as an equal, turns out they had been judging you as a filthy Downworlder the whole time. She didn’t want any nasty shocks.
“I promise,” Jace said. “I’ll take you home. You only have to trust me once, only as long as it takes to get home.”
Only once. Only as long as it took to get home…..
‘Gotta die somehow, someday’, Maia thought. Maybe she’d be one of those werewolf girls who never made it home.
Maybe not. She glanced one last time at Judith and her servant, holding the head of the king who had tried to brutalize her. He hadn’t succeeded.

Chapter Text

Alec came up to collect Clary for more examination. She was happy and relieved to see him. Something about him reminded him of her mother’s best friend, Luke, who owned an independent bookstore and had been writing his first novel for about twenty years. While suppressed worry pulsed beneath Jocelyn’s skin and in the air around her, Luke was calm and steady, always patient with Clary when she had questions. It was clear that he wouldn’t talk about anything her mother had deemed off-limits, but otherwise he made her feel safe.
“How’s your shoulder?” Clary asked.
Alec said, “You remembered. Thanks. It’s better. How are you feeling? Andrew seemed concerned.”
“Um….I think me and Hunter Underhill got our wires crossed,” Clary said.
“Misunderstandings happen,” Alec said comfortingly.
Clary smiled. “This all feels like a dream.”
“Take it slow. Don’t try to understand everything all at once,” Alec said.
“I don’t think I could if I tried. But, I do have a question: what kind of tests are they going to do on me? Hunter Underhill was saying something about the causal body?” Clary said.
“I’ll explain as we head to the lab, okay?” Alec said. Clary followed Alec out of her room.
“Um, Alec…..?” she said.
He looked back and stopped walking. They both looked down.
“I just realized that I don’t have any shoes,” Clary said.
“Socks are okay,” Alec said.
Clary was wearing hospital socks with the adhesives on the bottom. Alec felt so patient, and wherever Clary was going, she felt safe with him. They boarded the elevator, and Alec stood beside Clary with a militaristically straight posture combined with a monk’s serenity. He was so young, maybe a few years older than her, but felt so steady. He had intelligent, and kind eyes, that held a hint of warmth, just enough to make Clary feel safe.
Something about that safety made her feel like crying.
“We’re going to find your friend,” he said.
It was as if he had read her mind.
The elevator doors open, and Alec and Clary emerged on a busier floor. The people milling about, other Shadowhunters in black, noticed Alec and their posture changed, or they gave deferentially cheerful greetings.
“Are you….somebody, around here?” Clary asked.
Alec thought about this question for a moment, and said, “Sort of.”
“Sort of,” Clary repeated. She took it from the reaction of people around them that Alec was important, somehow.
“Commander,” Underhill greeted him, as if eager to share his information about Simon’s case.
“Commander? Of what?” Clary said.
“Um, this. Here. The Institute,” Alec said, in an almost bashful, ‘its not a big deal’ way.
Alec was the Shadowhunters’ Commander, and Clary had seen him in the shower! She was mortified, but also wanted to laugh. He wasn’t some gruff old man barking orders, rather a sweet, forthright, patient and kind young man who seemed a little shy, but he and Clary had fallen into an instant rapport that needed few words for her to feel grounded and safe.
Alec gave Underhill a greeting nod that also seemed to signify, ‘at ease’ even though Underhill hadn’t saluted. Something about the Shadowhunters’ posture stopped short of full gestures but implied their meaning.
“I’ve been going over Ms. Fray’s case with Nurse Winterbourne,” Hunter Underhill said. “She recommended that we retrieve all of her memories to do with the victim.”
“Simon isn’t a victim! What is this, ‘Law and Order: SVU’? Come on! Simon is still alive! He’s still out there,” Clary said, before she could stop herself. There was something so final about Underhill’s use of that word, and it invited back all the fear that Alec’s steady presence dispelled.
Underhill looked mildly perplexed, as if humans were expected to be so emotional and it would soon pass.
“Show us everything you can remember about Simon. The memory retrieval process can even recall memories that have been buried by magic, if you are missing any time. But, you have to relax and trust us for it to work,” Alec said.
Clary felt vulnerable, surrounded by the imposingly august faces of angels and saints in expensive old paintings on the walls, and by the purposeful and stern black-clothed presence of the Shadowhunters. She looked into Alec’s hazel eyes. She could trust him.
Nurse Winterbourne turned out to be the gray-haired lady who had unsentimentally tended to her the night before. Clary found herself back in her examination room.
“Cheaper than calling a warlock,” Nurse Winterbourne said as she pulled a bottle of pills out of a cabinet.
“Warlocks are real, too? Like, Salem?” Clary said, adjusting herself on the examination chair. The paper lining the chair kept sliding, reminding her that she wasn’t wearing underwear beneath the sweatpants that were a size too big. Her bottom was uncomfortable, but at least her legs were warm.
“Most of the accused in the Salem witch trials were as human as you. They were the victims of slander, superstition, and hysteria,” Alec said.
“Oh. Yeah, totally. But, I actually meant the cat from “Sabrina The Teenage Witch.” Not the Netflix version, the TGIF one,” Clary said.
“Quiet,” Nurse Winterbourne said, and handed her a cup with two pills, and another cup of lukewarm, filtered water.
Clary was disappointed. She was expecting something a bit more “Ghost in the Shell” or “Crying Freeman”, flashing laboratory lights and the whole cyberpunk treatment. The pills weren’t even blue or red gel capsules, a’la “The Matrix”, but white tablets that looked as nondescript as acetaminophen.
“You have to relax,” Nurse reminded her, as Alec had done.
Clary swallowed the pills, and chased them with water.
Soon, she began to relax. Feeling a little drowsy, but warm and safe, she began to talk. She couldn’t hear her exact words as they came out of her mouth, but she could see the thoughts in her head in cinematic detail, vivid and bold in color and texture.
She saw herself climbing the monkey bars with Simon, feeling as triumphant as if they had climbed a mountain; both of them benched from some P.E. team sport and spreading Pokemon cards out on the weathered bench; breathing on the bus windows to make patches of fog big enough to draw on with their fingers; running towards the gray Atlantic waves holding flimsy beach shop boogie boards, or being shooed off the rocks by bored lifeguards. She saw the more difficult times, too, like the way Simon had felt still and stiff with anger when he found notebook paper stuffed into his backpack haphazardly, scrawled with swastikas, and was powerless to confront the sniggering bullies in the corner of class, or the gleaming halls of the hospital where his dad had gone for chemotherapy. She relived kissing him in his room as “Pink Moon” by Nick Drake played, and breaking up with him when she couldn’t bear to lie, anymore. She knew him happy, sad, angry, bored, excited, inspired, heartbroken, smiling, laughing, weeping as boys that young should never weep, with desolate fury he was trying to swallow as soon as it poured forth, but she knew his serenity, too, the way it wafted from him in happy waves when he played music.
So much Simon. He lived in her-how could he be missing?
The memories faded again, like a voice fading next to the ocean’s roar, and once again her surroundings came into focus. Alec was tenderly wiping her mouth, like a father would an infant who’s just eaten.
“Very good, Clary,” he said.
“Was that everything?” she asked.
She wasn’t sure what she meant by that, but Alec nodded.
Underhill and Alec helped her into a wheelchair, and Nurse Winterbourne pushed her back to her room.
“Did Jace and Maia make it back to the city okay?” Clary asked. “Oh, and did anyone get into contact with my mom?”
“Just rest,” Nurse Winterbourne said.
They reached Clary’s room. Her heart did warm to the sight of her bed. Her mouth felt dry, and her throat was prickly. She wondered just how long she had been under the influence of the pills, and just how long she had talked to the Hunters and the Nurse about her life with her best friend. She guessed she had reached the night before, and they were satisfied that her memories were intact.
Alec helped her into bed.
“Thanks. You don’t have to take care of me like this,” she said.
“I’m used to it,” Alec said.
“Oh. So, a lot of humans end up here, at the Institute, needing care?” Clary said.
“Its not unheard of,” Alec said. “But, I meant….my wife. She’s in a coma. I cared for her….for a while. She’s with her parents, now.”
No wonder he seemed so sober for his age, kind and patient.
“That must be difficult,” Clary said.
“I know what its like to miss your best friend,” Alec said.
“Thank you,” Clary said. “Did my memories help?”
“It doesn’t seem that they were tampered with by Faer magic. So, we still don’t know why they wanted Simon, exactly. But, we’ve analyzed some forensic evidence left at the scene of his disappearance, and concluded that the Faer who took him were Summer,” Alec said.
Clary wasn’t sure what this signified. Alec caught her mystified look, and explained, “Faer Country is divided between the four kingdoms, which correspond to the four seasons: the kingdoms of Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring.”
“What is Summer like?” Clary said.
“Politically unstable. There are several small principalities, each with their own prince, but they’re not a unified kingdom. There are frequent conflicts over boundaries, shifting alliances-the map gets rewritten pretty quickly out there,” Alec said.
“Sounds like Renaissance Italy,” Clary said.
Alec smiled. “That’s how Hodge explained it. Our tutor,” he said.
“So, you learned about all the Faerie kingdoms in Geography?” Clary said.
Alec nodded. “The Faer are our allies, but they’re touchy about their boundaries, and they hold deep grudges that can turn into civil unrest amongst themselves. Its important to know who’s who and what belongs to whom in the Faer Country. Which brings me to a question that I need you to answer honestly: was Simon involved in drugs, to your knowledge?”
“No! I mean, not now. After his dad died….” Clary stopped.
She felt like she was betraying him. For a time, Simon had been trying to numb his pain and got into stupid stuff with their friends, like mixing ADHD pills with pot or huffing computer cleaner, but his mom sent him to a wilderness adventure program that seemed to have profoundly affected him, for the better. She had smelled pot on his flannel and tshirt when she arrived at Humphrey’s, but it was an unspoken understanding between them that it was an occasional, casual thing, and he was okay mentally and emotionally.
She continued, “I don’t know. He smokes, occasionally. I don’t know where he gets it, I was never into that. What does that have to do with being kidnapped by Summer Faer?”
“Faerie substances are powerfully addictive, especially to humans,” Alec said. “We’re looking into the possibility that your friend could have been involved with them. It happens to a lot of young people.”
“I don’t know. It wasn’t even Simon’s idea to go to Humphrey’s, it was mine. This is all my fault,” Clary said.
Clary saw something in Alec’s eyes. The way she felt awakened something in him, struck him as familiar and called up a memory in him as the pill had unleashed Clary’s.
“It’s not your fault,” he assured her.
“Thank you, but I feel like I led him into danger,” Clary said.
“I know, but you didn’t see this coming. You didn’t plan for this,” Alec said.
He was the Commander, and although that was a somewhat cartoonish and almost meaningless word in the scheme of Clary’s existence, she had felt the weight of it in the way people addressed Alec and acted around him. He must know what its like to question your judgement and wonder if you could have done more, or curse the unknown variable that had thrown everything off, to feel guilty that you had jeopardized the safety of others.
His presence comforted her. They understood each other. Clary tucked herself back into bed, and Alec added,
“I hope I didn’t alarm you. I don’t want to do that. This world is new to you, but in order for you to trust that we’re doing all that we can to find Simon, there’s a lot that you’ll have to learn. If you have questions, I want to answer them because that’s the only way what we tell you will make sense. There’s a lot to unpack, and its not going to make sense at first,” Alec said.
“Thank you. I guess my first question, is what exactly do Shadowhunters do?” Clary said.
Alec sighed, and sat in a chair by her bed.
“Once, in the Dark Ages, there were many orders of chivalry. Some were patronized by the Church, others formed independently and came under its protection later, although these relationships were often fractious, when the Orders rivalled the Church in wealth, territory, and influence. But, suffice it to say that the Shadowhunters began as a chivalric order, the Order of St Michael. We protect humans from demonic forces,” Alec said. “To some extent, we protect supernatural beings from them, too, but they each have their own customs and protocols. We try to respect them.”
“So, Faeries are real, and they’re called Faer, and they live in the Faer Country….” Clary recalled.
“It’s another dimension. There are lots of dimensions parallel to the one we live in, and there are places where the boundaries between worlds are thin. When one dimension is exhausted of its resources, lots of beings hop to the next one. Or, if there’s unrest they flee from it. The Faer Country has seen its fair share of refugees come to this world, recently,” Alec said. “I’m telling you this because it will help you understand all the possibilities. You told us what you remember about your friend. But, there could be things you don’t know about him.”
Alec was absolutely right. Simon was as constant and essential as her own bones, but as near as he always was, he had the ability to close up and become secretive even in a conversation with her, right by her side. It could happen at a moment’s notice, and he was quite stubborn, too. In school he was targeted by bullies for seeming weak: four-eyed, not good at sports, with hippie parents who sent homemade vegan lunches by him for lunchtime, and a girl for a best friend, on top of being the only Jewish kid in their school in the predominantly Protestant south. But, they didn’t really know him. There was something in Simon that no one could reach unless he revealed it, a core of self he guarded when he felt it was necessary. If he was involved with drugs, strange poisons from another world, she wouldn’t know if he didn’t want her to.
So, she had to understand this new world, if it was what he had been hiding from her.

“Was Jace’s mother a refugee from the Faer Country?” Clary asked.
“That’s Jace’s story to tell,” Alec said, the first sharp comment he had made to her. His tone wasn’t too harsh, but it was clearly a definitive warning.
“Sorry,” Clary said.
“Who told you about Jace’s mother?” Alec asked.
“He was immobilized in the alley, he said he couldn’t fight the kidnappers because he was half Faer. Isabel said that the more Faer blood someone has, the more Faer they are,” Clary said.
She thought of Jace’s strange eyes. Even though she didn’t like his rude, brusque personality and love affair with his own wit, there was something about him that stayed with her, lingering almost like fascination or familiarity. It was quite involuntary, as she felt neither for him, on her own. All she felt was annoyance, especially at the way he had scooped Maia up and left. Clary hadn’t gotten a chance to say goodbye to the girl who had made her feel normal and happy when she was sure of nothing. She wanted to see Maia again.
“Faer need a human witness to fight each other. No one’s sure why,” Alec said.
“That’s not true! Some sources attribute it to a truce between the Faer Kingdoms brokered by Merlin. Are you overwhelming Clary? She needs to rest. Clary, you need to rest! Don’t feel like you can’t tell Alec no. He’s just Alec,” Isabel said, coming to Clary’s room carrying a tray. Clary smelled soup. Her throat opened at the overpowering smell of a healthy amount of ginger. Maybe too healthy….Alec was looking skeptically at the steaming bowl, too.
“I’m your Commander, Hunter Rodriguez-Lightwood,” he reminded her.
“Okay, Alecky,” Isabel said, and Clary suppressed a giggle. She felt just as welcome and comfortable and safe with Isabel as she did with Alec, and felt like her co-conspirator in naughtily teasing her brother, as Isabel gave her a mischievous, playful look. Her eyes danced with stars.
“Did you make that soup?” Alec asked.
“It’s instant. I just added water. And some spices,” Isabel said. “Are you comfortable, Clary?”
“I don’t know. I feel so guilty every time I start to relax. Like, how can I let myself be okay when I don’t know what’s happening to Simon?” Clary said.
“You won’t make him feel better or find him by beating yourself up and neglecting yourself. Trust me, you’re his best friend-it would make him feel better to know that you were safe and well, even if he can’t be. That’s love,” Isabel said.
Clary smiled, and her heart warmed. Isabel sat the tray on the nightstand beside Clary.
“Try your soup?” she said.
Clary tried a spoonful, and her nose and eyes soon twinged at the onslaught of ginger. But, the soup warmed her, and Isabel looked pleased.
“So,” Clary said, “Alec was telling me about the Faer Country. What were you saying about why the Faer need a human witness to fight each other? Something about Merlin?”
Isabel opened her mouth to answer, but Alec said, “Sorting all this out will be hard enough for Clary without throwing in fanciful apocrypha.”
“I hate it when you try to sound like Hodge,” Isabel said.
“I’m not trying to sound like anyone,” Alec said. Again, Clary almost giggled. They sounded like Simon and his sister, Becky. She had always envied them, and listened to their squabbling wistfully, wishing that she had siblings.
“Actually, you should talk to him about all this. If you’re going to be staying at the Institute, you should take Shadow World 101 classes with Hodge,” Isabel said.
“How long do I have to stay here?” Clary said.
“You’re free to go, at any time, but you shouldn’t push it after the shock you experienced,” Alec said. “You did really great. I think that’s enough for today.”
Isabel looked disappointed, but followed her brother out of Clary’s room.
Clary finished her soup, and looked out at the gray-brown ocean and gray sky. She’d always marveled that the same water that bathed her toes when she and Simon stood at the edge of the shore and let the waves crash up to their ankles touched the shores of England, France, far-away places that she was curious about. Now, she couldn’t look at the ocean and imagine that Simon was on the other side of the water. She didn’t know where the Faer Country was, and what oceans touched it.

 

Simon didn’t know who he missed more, Clary or Jace. Clary was his best friend, but that sometimes seemed a paltry word for what they had been to each other. They met when they were five, because Simon’s parents were Yoga students of Clary’s mother. His first impression of Clary was that she had a seriousness and gravity that he didn’t-a better behaved and more disciplined kid. When they were alone, however, they fell into a shorthand that felt telekinetic, an understanding that was deep but spontaneous. They always knew each other’s feelings and thoughts, and always followed each other everywhere.

Jace, he had just met. It still felt like only minutes before. It still felt like he was waiting for Jace, Jace who would soon return, and wanted him, liked him, would come back to kiss him and touch him. His skin felt sensitive with yearning, it was waiting for Jace. Thoughts of both of them crept to the sides of his mind, like sidling insects on a summer evening, but he had to swat them away and focus.
“I think you’ve got the wrong guy,” he said, to one of the men holding his arms. If this had been one of the numerous action movies he and Clary had clandestinely consumed on cable TV, one of them would have hit him really hard over the head, or leaned menacingly into his face, their prison tattoos enough of a threat to shut him up.
But, they didn’t have prison tattoos. They weren’t even beefy and bald, and wearing undershirts. In the face of Simon’s protestations that they’d meant to kidnap someone else outside a gay bar, they continued to look bored and handsome. They wore kimono-like garments made out a silky white material, and had almost androgynously beautiful faces. They were also quite strong, and Simon had to walk at the pace they set, through the forest, beneath the rustling oak trees.
“If this is a ransom thing, you’ve really got the wrong guy. I still have loans from community college. I work at Home Depot!” Simon said.
One of the guards, whose skin was an appealing brown, smirked. “We don’t want money. We want your voice,” said the brown-skinned guard.
“So, this isn’t a ransom thing, it’s a Little Mermaid thing?” Simon said.
“Mermaid?” said the blonde guard, and looked around.
“We’re taking you to the Duke,” said the guard who had almost laughed.
“What Duke?” Simon said.
“You’re not just a witness. You’re to be his Bard,” said the guard.
Simon stood still. Even though it made the guards grip his arms harder, and eventually they just ended up dragging him a little ways, his feet kicking up dirt beneath him-but, he noticed, there were no dead leaves whispering hoarsely beneath his feet. In every forest where he had ever walked, there was a bed of dead leaves on the floor, but not here. He knew his protest was a small one, but it wasn’t futile. Even if someone is dragging you somewhere you don’t want to go, you have the ability to refuse, even if its just once for a little while. Their job was to march, to march him somewhere, and they lost time in their task trying to get him back on their course. That was a little sweet, and served his purpose. He needed just enough time to ask,
“What is this place? Who are you people? Why am I here, and what does all this mean? The Duke and witness and bard? It’s all fucking Greek to me,” Simon said.
“Then keep walking,” said the blonde.
Then, at last, one of the guards hit him.

Chapter Text

Bruise violet storm clouds loomed over the road, and the scent of the ground readying itself for the brewing rain rose from the earth and combined with the astringent tar of the road. The wind caressed Jace’s face, and Maia’s fingers graced his chest. Jace winced. It was tender there . He nudged her hand away as gently as he could.
The rain broke, splattering their faces and shoulders. They would have to stop soon, he realized, as it began to come down harder, hitting the road and coughing up into a pellucid, milky mist. When the mist came too fast and thick, like that, Jace wondered if it had eyes. When his mother would go exploring with him in the forests of Little Switzerland, they would walk beside the many springs and brooks hidden there and she would tell him about their ancestors: Melusina, the faerie who left Avalon with a handsome knight who found her bathing in an enchanted fountain, and her mother before her who’d loved a human, too, but been betrayed and retreated to the mists forever. Her sisters, the queens of Avalon’s mountains. They couldn’t return to the Middle Realm, the world of humans, but they could watch.
Jace never told his mother that he didn’t think that could do anyone much good. What was the point of being watched over, if no one ever intervened? No one had stopped his father’s brutal lessons, certainly not the Faeries beyond the mist.
He shook off his thoughts. He couldn’t let the mist freak him out. How long had humans lived in superstitious dread that the features of nature, mist and trees, bogs and lakes, or lonely trails, were haunted by Faeries? Their indifference was as real and possible as their vengeance and caprice, from Jace’s experience. Simon, the sweet boy with warm, kind brown eyes he had met at Humphrey’s, had been kidnapped by them for reasons no one could fathom-Jace had been ignored by them his whole life. That was the Faer-their laws had a shape no human could measure.
Maia’s breasts pressed against his back, and he could feel the way her thighs quaked minutely from fear as she hugged him. Jace turned towards the old motor inn, the kind that forlornly lined the old highway, remnants of better days, before the Interstate was built, when cars were a novelty and people took family daytrips for the love of driving.
“Hell no!” Maia said, as soon as the engine had purred to a stop, the motorcycle was parked in the shade of some dogwoods, and she and Jace were on their feet in the rain. “I’m not staying here! This looks like the god damn Bates Motel. Did you take me here to carve me up? You said you were going to take me to the city. I should’ve known I couldn’t trust you! I’m walking home. Fuck you!”
Some girls made a show of storming off, but Maia seemed to mean it. Jace grabbed her arm to stop her from walking who knew how many miles back to the city in the pouring rain, but she went for his nose with her open palm. He instinctually restrained her other wrist but regretted it. She struggled in such a way that was bound to hurt her wrists if he pressed the issue, but Jace could tell she didn’t care. He knew that feeling: broken, bleeding, bruised, lost everything, whatever: as long as you were free. That was still freedom, if you didn’t let anyone tell you different.
But, he didn’t want to hurt her.
“It’s raining. So, I stopped,” he said, over the rain.
“They’ve probably got bedbugs and crackpipes under the bed,” Maia said scornfully.
“God forbid they have bedbugs in the crackpipes,” Jace said.
She glared at him with all the venom she could muster.
“Why don’t you sleep in the bathtub,” he said, offering her a solution.
“You sleep in the bathtub. Sleep on the floor. Anyway, how long are we going to be here? We’re leaving as soon as the rain stops, and we’re getting two rooms. I don’t wanna be anywhere near you, and a bed,” she said.
With her arms folded, Maia stormily walked ahead of him into the motor inn. She seemed to have forgotten that he was paying for the rooms. Somehow he didn’t mind that she seemed to hate his guts. She was a milder case than she knew. If she really hated Shadowhunters, and not in the youthfully defiant way that she posed, she would have really tried something before now. It wasn’t in her. She just internalized the sentiments and repeated the rhetoric of the kids she hung around with in the streets. There were a lot of homeless Downworlder kids-vampires and werewolves recently Changed, refugee Faer from different realms, warlocks, and they generally banded together and formed makeshift families that looked out for each other. Hating him, or pretending to, was a show of loyalty to the people who had taken her in when she needed it.
It didn’t hurt. Jace had found that he had to love someone very much for them to be able to hurt him.

The room smelled like old tobacco and the décor made one imagine that at least one lonesome country song had been written in it, probably in the mid ‘50s. There was a TV, and a King James Bible.
Maia sat on the bed. She looked tired, and confused-winded, as if life itself had punched her in the gut and she was catching her breath, or was trying to. Behind the window, the rain roared.
“Weren’t you getting your own room?” she asked.
“That would be a waste-we won’t be here that long,” Jace said.
“I don’t believe you. What do you want, anyway? You come on like you’re doing me this huge favor, taking me back home, and its clear you want something. But then you got freaked out when I touched you,” Maia said.
“What?” Jace said.
“Back on the road,” She said. “You didn’t want my paws all over you? Look, fuck what you heard about girls like me. You probably think that I’m desperate, I’ll do anything for the right price. You can save yourself the internal conflict between your revulsion and forbidden attraction to me-I’m not like that.”
She was so wrong about him, in a way that made Jace want to tell her the truth, badly. He knew he didn’t owe her anything, and it was none of her business, but her accusations were hammering down on him, intruding on his truth. She was so fierce and lovely. Her curly hair was wet, and her eyelashes too. Raindrops dotted her face like tears. She was so beautiful in her anger, the way thunderstorms are beautiful.
He reached for her hand, and of course she flinched and gave him a warning glare.
Jace sighed. That wasn’t going to work. For her to understand, she would have to see.
He took off his jacket. And his shirt. Her eyes widened, then softened with surprise, as Jace revealed the new, tender breasts beneath his shirt. She didn’t look at him with hate, anymore, but with questions. He reached for her hand, again, and she let him take it. Maia touched Jace’s breast chastely.
“It’s just…a little sore. When you touched my chest. That’s why,” he said. “It wasn’t you. I’m not repulsed by you, and what you are.”
“Are you….taking hormones?” Maia said.
Jace nodded slowly.
“I just don’t want you to think that I hate you,” he said.
Maia continued to touch him, to touch the tender swelling flesh. Her fingertips caressed him with curiosity, and she respectfully avoided the nipple, knowing it would be the most sensitive part. She looked at him differently. The hate was gone, all gone as if it had evaporated, replaced with softness and feeling. Jace closed his eyes. He thought of Simon, as he closed his eyes, but bathed in the sensations conjured by Maia’s fingers.
“Does anyone know that you’re a woman?” she asked.
“I’m not, yet,” Jace said.
“If that’s how you identify, then you are,” she said. “You’re transitioning.”
Jace shook his head.
With the hand that wasn’t fondling his breast, she touched his face, and coaxed him to look up at her.
“Yes,” she said firmly, “You are. So, the jacket, the motorcycle….you’re one of those chicks that are mad into leather? That’s cool.”
Jace laughed.
“I thought you were going to rape me,” she said. “I thought you were the typical Shadowhunter.”
“Certainly not that,” Jace said, closing his eyes. Her hands felt so good.
“Does this hurt?” Maia asked.
“It does, in a good way,” Jace said.
“You saw me with Clary,” Maia said.
Jace nodded. Saliva was pooling in his mouth, and his senses. He dreaded getting an erection, the way he had on the dancefloor with Simon, but if he kept feeling like this it was going to happen. Maia looked at him with pure understanding, as if she knew what he was thinking. He had seen her with Clary, seen her topless, seen her kissing another girl. He’d felt a twinge of wistful envy at Clary, wishing he knew how it felt to love someone with a woman’s body. He’d felt that way with Alec, when they were younger, before they were separated. He’d wished that he could welcome him into the wet warmth of his body, and feel Alec’s hands on his breasts, dreaded the ridiculous sight, demanding feelings, and viscous messy excretions of his penis.
Maia kissed each of his breasts, nipping the sensitive nipples. As soft as her lips were, their touch felt like lightning, and saliva left behind was cool and tingled.
“I don’t think this is what we need. But, I’m so sorry that I thought you were someone you’re not,” she said.
Jace stifled a moan, fought a swoon. Something about Maia had called to him, even when she thought she hated him, and now that she had shown him such kindness, he wanted her so much, in a different way than he had Simon. If they had gone into the alley, if Simon had wanted more than the blowjob Jace planned to give him, he was scared that he wouldn’t want the rest of his body. But, Maia had seen, and accepted him.
The rain continued to fall, into the gray afternoon. Maia slept on the bed, and Jace in a chair, until Maia sleepily waved him over, saying, “Come ‘ere.”
Jace hesitantly lay in big spoon along her side, leaving a respectful pocket of space between his body and her round, full, curvy bottom. He settled in on his side of the bed, and Maia took his hand. She led his hand into her unbuttoned jeans. Jace’s eyes widened as his hand closed around what felt like a penis, thick and flaccid.
“Werewolf girls all have one. Its not a penis, but it looks like one. Apparently, some species of canines in the wild have them. The females-because they’re actually the dominant ones,” she said.
“So, they keep the guys in line with it?” Jace asked.
“That’s what it’s for, I guess. In the wild. Out here, its just something guys pay a little extra for. If they pay at all, and don’t beat a girl half to death for asking about her money. I don’t do stuff like that. I guess because I’m chickenshit,” Maia said. “Or lazy. Its not because I think I’m better than anybody. I don’t know…something about me just doesn’t want to go there.”
“That’s not a bad thing. Wanting to live doesn’t make you a coward,” Jace said.
He was about to withdraw his hand when Maia said, “Don’t stop. It feels good.”
He kissed her neck.
“Jace…you are a woman, you know that, right?” she said. “You know who you are.”
He said nothing. He didn’t know what he was. He knew that he wasn’t human, or Faer, or a Shadowhunter, but some rare mix that just turned out funny. People looked at him and knew he was different straight off, and if that made them uncomfortable in the beginning their feelings usually didn’t change. His skin and hair and general appearance might have been like their’s, but those eyes gave him away, and singled him out. He was a boy, but he had never felt like one. He always expected to see a girl in the mirror, the second before he glanced at it. In his dreams, he was a girl. When he and Alec kissed in the dark in their room when they were teenagers, he could pretend. Alec’s father, Jace’s foster-father, sent Alec away when he caught them, horrified at the sight of his two sons in each other’s arms. Alec was the only one who had believed that he was a girl….until Maia.
Jace and Maia continued to touch, to kiss, and the rain continued to fall. They fell asleep gently in each other’s arms, and woke up with their bellies pressed to each other, their sweat mingled.
Maia watched Jace blink his eyes drowsily open. One blue, one brown, she observed. She was close enough to see the downy blonde of his eyelashes, and the little pink scars here and there on his face. His stubble was as fair as his eyelashes, and didn’t quite match his girlishly beautiful features.
“Its still raining,” she said.
“Are you in a hurry?” he muttered.
“No, we can stay here for a while,” she said. “I need time, honestly. The last few hours have been crazy. I guess Faerie kidnappings are normal for you Shadowhunters.”
He didn’t confirm or deny. Maia figured she should have guessed that he couldn’t talk about his work, even though he had revealed so much of himself to her in other ways.
“The Faer aren’t what people think,” Jace said, as he idly stroked Maia’s arm with his fingertip. At first she was disturbed by the unwarned contact, but she soon got used to the soothing tickle of it. The hair along her arms stood and waved in the wake of his fingertip.
“What do you mean?” she asked. She didn’t think anything in particular about Faeries. She didn’t know any that well, except this one girl called Kaelie, who seemed like all the other kids she had met on the street: good at heart, but her wariness to trust others manifesed in protectively habitual dishonesty. The people Maia knew lied a lot: about where they were from, where they were going, who they did and didn’t know, where they got their money or their food, where they lived, where they had and hadn’t been. It was their way of gauging who they could trust, evading trouble, or, when the lies were fanciful and grandiose, comforting themselves by painting a better picture than their real lives. She was used to it.
While she didn’t know any Faer besides Kaelie, who had pointy ears and, in the right light, gauzy wings, she had heard about the growing refugee communities of Faer coming to what they called the Middle Realm. While the Downworlders who lived on the street generously adopted each other, there was little sympathy for one who wasn’t accepted into a group, family, pack, etc. She had heard disparaging talk about the new arrivals. She supposed that was life-people needed what they needed for themselves and their families, and new or different people seemed like competition, a threat. She knew this was how life worked, but it still made her sad. It bothered her when people talked about how the Faer didn’t belong, because people said the same thing about werewolves. The people around her thought it was different, but she knew it wasn’t.
“My mother was Faer,” Jace said.
“Your eyes. Is that why they’re different?” Maia asked.
“They’re not the only thing about me that was always different. I always felt different,” Jace said. “I felt like I was supposed to be a girl. It wasn’t even a matter of wanting to wear dresses, or makeup…it was something deeper. It was how I always felt and saw myself, like in my thoughts and dreams. I think my mother knew….but the look in her eyes, it was like she felt guilty, for some reason. But, I still knew I couldn’t hide from her. I had to hide it from my father, and my foster parents, who took me in after the fire. But, Alec….my parabatai. He always saw me the way I really am. And, he loved me.”
Something in Jace’s voice told Maia that their love was more than brotherly, more even than trusted partners in battle. She didn’t want to poke a sensitive spot. Hearing such feeling in his voice made her trust him more. He was giving her so much of himself, and all she had shown him was hate, at first. She thought she was protecting herself.
“See? You can be accepted for who you really are,” Maia said.
“I knew you were kind. Even when you tried to hit me. I could just tell,” Jace said. “I wish I could close my eyes, and open them and see that I was always the me I’m supposed to be, all along. Like the Ugly duckling. Did they read you that story, as a kid?”
“Everyone reads that one, Jace,” Maia said. “Did you think it was just Shadowhunters?”
“Let’s just say I had a sheltered childhood-I had to check,” Jace said.
“What’s your name? I mean, what would you want to be called, if you could be who you want to be?” Maia asked.
Jace hesitated, but then answered, “Jess.”
“Jess,” Maia whispered. “Thanks for taking me home, Jess.”
Jess smiled sleepily, and Maia kissed her softly.

Chapter Text

“Very good. The Bard is awake,” said the blonde Faer guard. Simon blinked a few times to clear his head. His vision was blurry, and he had a slight headache.
“Slow,” said the dark skinned guard, whose black hair was streaked with blue.
His tone was tender, and kind, and had a melodic gentleness. Simon figured it worked very well on people who were attracted to him. Jace hadn’t been like that, a cajoling seducer sidling up like there was no chance of being rejected-he’d made Simon laugh, and he instantly trusted him. He felt sad, wishing that he was waking up to Jace instead of the Faer guards.
“Is there pain, Bard?” asked the guard.
“They’re so fragile,” observed the blonde guard, and he added, “humans. No offense, Meliorn.”
Meliorn-the guard who had told Simon to sit up slowly. His beautiful face was marred by a wince.
“We will rest here for the night,” Meliorn said.
“Where is here? Are we even on Earth anymore?” Simon asked. He wouldn’t be surprised if there was a half submerged Statue of Liberty out there, somewhere, a’la “Planet of the Apes.”
Meliorn laughed. “Of course, this is Earth. Sleep. Tomorrow, we reach the palace,” he said. Simon thought of the look on his face when the other guard mentioned humans.
“What palace?” Simon asked.
“Of the Duke of Summer. Your patron,” Meliorn said.
“I don’t have a patron!” Simon said. “That sounds like some kind of sugar baby thing.”
“Sugar Baby? The….candy?” Meliorn said, bemusedly.
“Nevermind. I mean, you guys are either manhandling me or speaking in riddles. Am I supposed to know what any of it means?” Simon said.
“Artists want to be seen, don’t they? To perform for people who enjoy their gifts, to possibly make a living doing what they love,” Meliorn said.
“Yeah, sure,” Simon said.
“Your desire has been felt. Here you are. You have a gift. The rest of the band is terrible. But you, you have a beautiful voice. You will sing to the Duke, of the war in Winter. He is blind, after all. So, you will see, and you will sing,” Meliorn said.
Simon didn’t know how to respond. He knew this wasn’t a prank, or a dream, and everything had happened so fast.
“You….saw Bad Panda?” Simon said.
“Yes. And, we decided that you would be the Bard. As for the Bad Pandas….we’ll find a band more suited to the task at hand. We apologize, for handling you so roughly. That’s why we took you to this inn, so that you could rest. Is there anything you’d like us to bring you?” Meliorn asked.
Simon wanted to trust that voice. Meliorn’s voice was so soothing, and gentle. But, he didn’t know what he wanted, in that moment, so he didn’t know what to ask for. He looked around the room. It looked like the set of a “Masterpiece Theater” miniseries, an old-fashioned and simply furnished room, except for the vines growing along the walls, green beards of vines, and orange flowers peering out of the green leaves like butterflies waiting for the right moment to take flight. The blossoms quivered as if they would fly away. Out the window, it was not night, the night Simon had left behind when he had been seized at Humphrey’s, but a pale, bright day, like fresh morning. The light dappled a large body of water, which was a glistening blue. Simon smelled for the ocean, but didn’t smell the pervading smell of salt that he did when he and Clary left the tourist shops behind and hit the boardwalk in front of the hotels.
“Are we by a lake?” he asked.
“That is the ocean, that touches all five kingdoms-Winter, Summer, Autumn, Spring, and your world, the Middle Realm,” Meliorn said.
Simon noticed that they were answering his questions, now, doing nothing to physically restrain him, like before, or to hide information from him. Meliorn, at least, was being open. He was also in a comfortable bed. The pillows felt like petals. They wanted him comfortable. It must have something to do with this Bard situation, and the Duke of Summer they had mentioned.
“I get that you’re playing Good Cop, but did you really just point out an escape route? That ocean could take me back home?” Simon said.
The blonde smiled bitterly, and Meliorn looked almost sympathetic. “The ocean is boundless. You would sail it for centuries before reaching any realm. Or, it would send you where it desires, not the place you call home.”
Simon breathed in the smell of the water and air, again. It smelled like all the seasons: summer roses and grass, spring fruit blossoms and rainstorms, autumn’s bonfires, and winter frost.
“Rest. You’ve travelled the realms, and for a human, that is an ordeal. Our journey continues tonight,” Meliorn said.
“The middle realm doesn’t have a smell,” Simon observed out loud.
“It smells like human,” said the blonde guard haughtily. Again, Simon saw the pain flit across Meliorn’s eyes. It made him more handsome, and Simon had to remind himself that he couldn’t be trusted.

 

“So, do you feel better?” Isabelle asked Clary.
Clary felt compelled to say yes, suspecting that Isabelle wanted a compliment on her cooking. It wasn’t bad, just heavy on spices, kind of like those teas with inspirational messages dangling from the tea bag that Clary’s mom liked.
“Yeah. I think the ginger soup really…hit the spot,” Clary said.
“You’re a terrible liar,” Isabelle said, and jogged ahead of Clary on the carpeted staircase, past another painting in a heavy gold frame.
“No, really. It was just what I needed. So….am I going back to the lab? Do I have to take those pills again?” Clary said.
“Nurse is a real pro….but she is pretty terrifying. No, you don’t have to go back to her torture chamber,” Isabelle said.
Clary exhaled out of relief, and Isabelle gave her a bemused smile. Stars danced in her eyes.
“Shadow Hunters aren’t like that,” she said.
“Like what?” Clary asked.
“The way you are. Everything shows on your face, and in your eyes. I can see all your feelings, I never have to guess. You just tell me everything, even when you aren’t saying anything,” Isabelle marveled. “Like, when I met you at the mall-I could tell you thought I was beautiful.”
Clary didn’t know what to say. She was embarrassed, and her face felt warm.
“And it felt really good. It was also encouraging, since I think you’re beautiful, too,” Isabelle said.
“Thank you,” Clary managed to stutter out. Isabelle was incredibly confident, and Clary didn’t know how to match that.
“But, you and the werewolf girl….” Isabelle said.
“What, you mean Maia?” Clary said incredulously. “She’s….a werewolf?”
“You didn’t notice her eyes? And her nails? And her open hatred of Shadowhunters? Not that I can blame her. When my father was Commander at this Institute, his policies were very hard on their community. The only thing worse than knowing that someone hates you is knowing that you deserve it,” Isabelle said.
“I didn’t even know that these things were real, before last night. But, I do know that we shouldn’t punish ourselves for things we didn’t do or have anything to do with. You’re not your father,” Clary said.
“Our world isn’t like that. Your name is who you are, you can’t change it. When I’m out there, amongst Mundanes, I feel like someone else. I get to pretend to be someone else. I’m glad you met me during one of the few times I get to be who I want to be,” Isabelle said.
“I’m glad we met, too,” Clary said. Part of her wanted to drink as much of Isabelle’s beauty with her eyes as she could, the other half wanted to shy away from her, like a fire that has gone from warm to too intense.
“Don’t worry about Maia. Jace takes every mission seriously-he’ll get Maia back to the city, safely,” Isabelle said. Clary picked up on the resigned note in her voice. She wasn’t sure if she could or should correct it-Isabelle thought Maia was her girlfriend….and Clary wasn’t sure if she was, or not. She would want her to be….but, she felt drawn to Isabelle, too.
“That’s good to hear,” Isabelle said.
They reached the end of the staircase, and Underhill approached them.
“Tell me more about Bad Panda, Simon’s band,” Underhill said.
“They’re…..alternative? Like a Guided By Voices, Yo La Tengo kind of sound?” Clary said.
Underhill looked to Isabelle as if to translate.
“Are they popular?” he asked.
“Um….welll……” Clary said.
“But, they do sometimes perform at public engagements?” he asked.
“Yes!” Clary said. Mostly at crappy beach bars, but it was something. Simon enjoyed making music, and loved his friends, and Clary was glad he had an outlet, something that made him happy that he could do with others, instead of holding all his feelings inside. “Why? Do you think you have a lead? Do Shadow Hunters say lead?”
“Are you feeling jiggy again?” Underhill asked. “If you need to lie down….?”
“No, I’m fine. I want to do something to help you find Simon,” Clary said.
“Then I need you to show me his things, especially anything to do with his music. It may be how he came to the Faer’s attention,” Underhill said.
Clary thought about it-Simon’s mother, Elaine, worked long shifts at the department store. Even though retail payed just above minimum wage, the hours were long, often without weekends and holidays, with strict attendance policies. That was why Simon had spent so much time caring for his father, when he was ill-his mother wasn’t allowed the time off. She was most likely not home, meaning that Clary could help Underhill search Simon’s things.
“We could go to his house, and I can show you around his room. Maybe there’s something there, that will help,” Clary said.
Underhill nodded his assent.
“Do you want me to come with you?” Isabelle asked.
Clary nodded.
“For time’s sake, we’ll have to take an egress. Are you comfortable travelling that way?” Underhill asked Clary.
“The fiery circle thing that Jace drew with a crystal? As long as you don’t push me through the way he did,” Clary said.
Underhill winced, as if Jace’s faux pas pained him.
“Good,” Isabelle said. “Think about Simon’s home, and you can take us there.”
It was like The Wizard of Oz, Clary thought: ‘There’s no place like home’.
She took Isabelle’s hand. It was so soft. Underhill pulled a crystal like Jace’s out of his pocket, and drew in the air.
Clary felt like a small personal storm cloud had started swirling around her, knocking her on her feet. She felt herself lose her balance and fall on her stomach, but thankfully, it was on the grass. She looked up-she was laying sprawled on her stomach in Simon’s yard. The grass was dappled with sour smelling, cheerfully yellow dandelions, and Elaine Lewis’s car was gone.
“Are you always this clumsy?” Isabelle asked.
“Never,” Clary said, making her way to a seated position. “I mean, my mom’s a Yoga teacher. That’s how me and Simon met. His parents were her students. He used to come to class with them. I guess all our parents are pretty….granola.”
“Granola?” Isabelle said, looking almost as mystified as Underhill whenever slang came up. Clary loved the slightly confused look on her face. It softened the look of determined focus that she had since they decided to search Simon’s house. She offered her hand to Clary, and helped pull her up.
“I have a key, but its not on me. Its with my purse…which I guess is still in my room at the Institute. Damn,” Clary said.
“Its okay. We have our ways,” Isabelle said playfully. She pulled out one of the crystals that Clary was getting used to seeing the Shadowhunters use, and was about to do something with the doorknob when Elaine’s car pulled up.
“Zut!” Clary muttered.
“Are you French?” Isabelle said, bemusedly. She didn’t seem to be nonplussed by being caught in the act of breaking and entering.
“I think my mom might be. That’s what she says when a car cuts her off in traffic, or she stubs her toe. She never told me where she was from, but she wrote decimal marks and calendar dates the European way, and the way she spoke, and spelled things….” Clary said.
“Curiouser and curiouser,” Isabelle said.
“Hunter Rodriguez-Lightwood, cloak yourself and the civilian, now,” Underhill said sternly.
Isabelle rolled her eyes, then waved the crystal over her head and Clary’s.
“Are we invisible now?” Clary said.
Isabelle nodded.
“Just checking,” Clary said, and then Isabelle put a finger to her lips to tell Clary to hush.
Underhill, Clary, and Isabelle watched as Elaine got out of her car. She wasn’t dressed in the business professional attire of the department store where she and Clary both worked, but in shorts and a tanktop. Elaine was very active and in great shape-petite, thin, toned, with thick and glossy chestnut brown hair that caught the wind as she strode into her house. She looked very determined and focused, as if she was in the middle of a task. Underhill, Isabelle, and Clary followed her into her home, but of course she couldn’t see them. Walking in a line between the two Hunters, Clary felt like she was in an episode of “Scooby Doo”. It was surreal that Elaine Lewis, who was like a second mother to her, couldn’t even see her.

The only places more familiar to Clary than the Lewis’s house were her own home, her mother’s Yoga studio, and Luke’s bookstore. They were all like home to her. As she looked around, now, she saw the familiar clutter of Simon’s comic books, Elaine’s crystals and sage smudging sticks, Becky’s college textbooks, along with family photos on various shelves and tables. In most of them, Simon’s father was there, smiling valiantly despite how thin and tired he looked. He had been such a happy person, and the absence of such people always leaves a lacuna, a sagging spot once lit by something bright. The house had such a sagging spot, a spot that Becky, Elaine, and Simon were constantly rushing by and away from as they went to work, school, and back again.
Clary and the Hunters lost Elaine as she headed upstairs, then she came down with bubble wrap and cardboard boxes. Clary watched as she began to pack things, mostly books, that hadn’t been moved in years.
“What’s going on? What is she doing?” Clary asked.
“Moving,” Isabelle said, as if it was obvious.
“We see each other every day, and I see Simon every day, too. They didn’t say anything about moving. They’ve lived here forever. This is bizarre, trust me,” Clary said. “Un-invisible me, so I can talk to her.”
“Let’s proceed to Simon’s room,” Underhill said.
“Right-so we can do a Faerie drug sweep,” Isabelle said.
“What?” Clary asked. “Drug sweep? I told you, I didn’t know if Simon was into that, right now.”
“I mean no disrespect to your friend, but this seems like a textbook case of a drug deal gone wrong. Your friend must have been unable to afford the substances that he’s become addicted to. Faeries don’t like it when humans stop paying tithes to them. Chances are, he was taken to their realm to work off the debt. Now, we need to find evidence of that so we can figure out where he is,” Underhill said.
“Look, all of Mrs. Lewis’s memories of Mr. Lewis are here. They were really, really in love. Like, sappy Hallmark channel romcom in love. Look at all the pictures. They were all really happy here, and she’s not the kind of person who likes change. There’s something up with her, and I need to talk to her and find out more about it. Can’t you search Simon’s room for Faerie drugs while I talk to Mrs. Lewis?” Clary said, over the sound of Elaine pulling masking tape off a roll and sealing a box.
“Come on,” Isabelle said, pulling Clary to the kitchen.
“Pretend you came in through the kitchen door,” Isabelle said, as she waved the crystal over Clary’s head again.
“Wow. Thanks,” Clary said.
“You know these people. I trust you,” Isabelle said.
The fact that Isabelle believed in Clary gave her confidence in this strategy. Otherwise, she was hesitant to face Elaine. How could she tell her that Simon was missing? Simon was her youngest child, and he’d struggled when he was young, not just with the aftermath of losing his dad but with bullying, fitting in, and substance abuse. She would always see him as someone who needed looking after, and Clary thought that’s what she did, as his best friend. She had always defended him, and taken up for him against people who made fun of him, when they were kids. Now, she’d let him disappear.

“Um, Mrs. Lewis? Do you need any help with that?” Clary asked.
“Clary! Babe, what are you doing here? Didn’t you have an opening shift in Missy Activewear?” Elaine asked.
“Um…..that’s clothes for teenagers, right?” Clary said.
“No, that’s Juniors,” Elaine said. She sighed. Despite her best efforts, Clary couldn’t tell Juniors, Missy Activewear, Petites, and Women’s World apart. “Why aren’t you at work, honey?”
“I…um…I have something to tell you,” she said. Moment of truth, Clary figured. It was time to tell her that Simon was missing, she couldn’t avoid it, anymore.
“Can it wait until I get this box in the mail? Sending all this stuff to Italy is going sooooo slow,” Elaine said.
“Italy?” Clary asked.
Elaine lit up. “I’m reclaiming my citizenship! You know my great-grandpa was from Italy? You knew that, right, Babe?”
“Um. I think so. Yeah,” Clary said.
“It turns out, you never lose your Italian citizenship, even when you emigrate! And you automatically pass it on to your kids, and your kids’ kids, and everybody. And the village where we come from is underpopulated, so they’re giving away property. I got this letter about it…Well, anywho, now I just gotta pack everything up, sell this place….oh, and quit my job,” Elaine said giddily.
Clary’s head was spinning. This didn’t sound like Elaine, at all. She still had tons of hospital bills from her husband’s final illness-there was no way she was in financial shape to quit her job and move to Italy. And, Clary had never heard her talk about an ancestral Italian village giving away property. There was something over-excited and feverish in her eyes.
“What about Simon and Becky?” Clary asked.
“Oh, they can take care of each other, don’t you think? They gotta fly the nest sometime, right? And they can join me, anytime they want. Sweetheart, you better get to work! You don’t wanna be late!” Elaine said cheerfully, and clapped Clary on the shoulder.
She hadn’t asked about Simon once.
Underhill, still invisible to Elaine, walked up to Clary’s shoulder.
“She’s under the influence of magic,” Underhill said.
“I think I know someone who can help,” Isabelle said. “But how do we get her to cooperate?”
They had to stop Elaine, before she abandoned and sold her entire life. Clary doubted that this Italian village was even real. The same Faeries who took Simon must have enchanted his mother, so that she wouldn’t notice his absence.
Isabelle pointed her crystal at Elaine, and a phantasmagoric mist enveloped the space around her. Elaine looked shocked, then dizzy. Underhill caught her as her knees folded. Isabelle drew a flaming portal, and Underhill went through first, carrying Elaine. Isabelle waved Clary through, and this time, she leapt and did her best to land on her feet.
When she landed on the other side, she expected to see the Institute. Instead, they were in front of a trendy downtown loft.
“Where are we?” Clary asked.
“Simon’s mother has been enchanted. So, she needs a warlock to break the spell,” Isabelle said.
“The Nurse can’t do it?” Clary asked.
“This is deeper magic,” Isabelle said. “I’m pretty sure Magnus Bane can help-he’s a warlock, who’s helped us before, when my brother was injured.”
Clary braced herself, to see yet more magic.

Chapter Text

Ribbons of sunshine and shadows fell on Maia’s arms, neck, and face. There was no real reason for her and Jess to stay at the “Bates” motel, but they were still lying languidly on the sheets, enjoying each other’s warmth. Maia never thought she could trust a Shadowhunter, let alone that she would end up sleeping beside one, and feeling safe and content. The way Jess stroked her arm lovingly made her feel calm.
“Are you awake?” Jess asked.
“No!” Maia said cheerfully.
Jess smiled. “I don’t want to leave yet, either…but we have to get you home.”
Maia smiled. “Right,” she said. “then you can forget all about that crazy werewolf girl who tried to attack you in a parking lot.”
“I won’t forget you,” Jess said, and kissed Maia.
It was a soft, unassuming kiss that wasn’t asking anything of her. Even though Maia began to think of Jess as a woman the minute she told Maia her secret, her stubble brushed Maia’s chin. Jess was a contradiction-a Shadowhunter, a Faer, a man, a woman. They had revealed so much of themselves to each other in such a short time, and Maia realized that she hadn’t thought of Clary once. Maia felt guilty. If you really liked someone, how could you forget them, as she had teased that Jess would forget her. But she was the one who’d forgotten.
“I mean it. I want to see you again,” Jess said, mistaking the reason for the troubled look on Maia’s face.
Maia didn’t know if that was a good idea. She might not have belonged anywhere when she was a kid, and had traded good grades, an academic future, and her mother’s trust for partying with the only people who made her feel she belonged….but her wolf family was different. They had fed her, sheltered her, they really cared. She couldn’t betray them by triggering their fears and traumas by flaunting a Shadowhunter around them. Sacrifices kept families together, and Downworlders without families just didn’t survive. Hanging out with the outsiders, the kids who stayed out late, went to rock shows in the city, and experimented with drugs when she was a teenager might have given her a home, but she had left herself behind, been careless, and when her friends weren’t around she was attacked by a monster. She was no longer human, she never would be again, and part of her would always feel like she had thrown away her human life. She was like Emily at the end of the play ‘Our Town’, looking down on her home and unable to return. She couldn’t lose the only place left for her to belong, no matter how much she liked Jess.
Jess stroked Maia’s face with reverent fingertips. Maia held back tears as Jess leaned in and kissed her again. She knew she would have to tell Jess they could never see each other again, once they returned to the city.

 

With a name like Magnus Bane, Clary expected the warlock to answer the door wearing a flowy robe, with a long white beard, to look like Dumbledore or Gandalf. Instead, a slender and androgynous young Asian man with bronze skin and naughty eyes, wearing a Yohji Yamamoto genderless black skirt and no shirt answered the door.
“You know I don’t take professional calls before 2 o’clock,” Magnus said. “this is impertinent.”
“No, more like insouciant, and you love my insouciance,” Isabel said, sounding very insouciant indeed.
“Where’s the victim?” Magnus said.
“Must we use the ‘V’ word? Its so disempowering. How about… ‘the afflicted party’?” Isabel said.
Magnus grimaced. “Eww. Yeah, let’s not,” he said.
“I like ‘Afflicted’ a lot better than ‘victim’,” Isabel said.
“It sounds too much like ‘consumptive’, which makes me feel like I’m about to get coughed on,” Magnus said.
“Um, you guys? You can use whatever term you want, but I thought we were here to help Mrs. Lewis,” Clary said.
“Ah, redheads,” Magnus said fondly, aiming his mischievous eyes Clary’s way. “They’re always so much fun.”
“I hope that wasn’t a double entendre,” Clary said.
“Of course not, Cherry,” Magnus said, feigning innocence. “What’s this about, Hunter Rodriguez Lightwood.” When he addressed Isabel officially, it was with a teasing, insouciant tone, as if mocking the very idea of authority and protocol. Clearly, he lived by different rules. Clary felt a little disoriented in his presence, and as they stood in the doorway she realized that his eyes didn’t just have a naughty expression, they were an unusual color-a lustrous, winking amber, like lashing flames.
“We have a civilian who was enchanted by faeries. She almost sold her home and left the country. We think the faeries want her out of the way so that they can have her son,” Isabel said.
“Oh, a changeling case? ‘Come away, human child, to the waters and the wild…’” he said.
“ ‘With a faerie, hand in hand-the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand’,” Clary finished.
Magnus’s flaming eyes regarded her, impressed. “Cherry Valance knows her Yeats. He was quite the warlock, so they say. Never met him. Just missed him one weekend in London.”
“William Butler Yeats, a warlock? Seriously?” Clary said.
“Google it!” Magnus said.
“Can you help Mrs. Lewis? Her son is my best friend, Simon. He’s missing. Faeries took him, and they enchanted Mrs. Lewis to make sure she wouldn’t notice he was gone,” Clary said.
Underhill, who was still holding Elaine, unconscious, in his arms, cleared his throat, and gave Clary a disapproving look. She was confused-they wanted Magnus’s help, didn’t they? He needed details. Maybe it would have been more appropriate for Underhill or Isabel to be the one to impart them, and that was where she had erred. She didn’t think it mattered who did what, as long as Elaine and Simon were rescued.
“Well, lucky for you its my nature to selflessly help others,” Magnus said loftily. Isabel stifled a laugh.
“Okay, I’m still going to charge you by the hour, but you can pay in installments! Huli jing are generous, compassionate, celestial creatures. I mean, I even accept American Express,” Magnus said.
“Huli jing? I thought you were a warlock,” Clary said.
“Shadowhunters call everyone who can do magic a warlock. I’m a fox demon,” Magnus said.

Clary blinked, and Magnus changed. He was still a handsome, even pretty, young man with a slender build, but he also had fox’s ears peering out of his wild black hair, and several fox’s tails waving languidly behind him, white tipped with red. It took her eyes a minute to adjust, but she was used to the concept of kitsune from anime and manga. They could do good deeds, according to legends, but they also tended to be capricious. Maybe huli jing were more altruistic than kitsune, she thought.
Underhill, carrying Elaine, Clary and Isabel followed Magnus into his loft.
“Is that a real Warhol?” Clary asked, looking at the technicolor pop art portrait of Marilyn Monroe that took up most of one wall.
“It was a gift,” Magnus said airily.
“From a customer, who was paying in installments in creative ways?” Isabel said.
“From Andy,” Magnus said.
“Um, how old are you?” Clary asked. He looked around the same age as her but had ‘just missed’ Yeats and known Andy Warhol.
“I’m going to let that one slide because I like your hair,” Magnus said to Clary, and to Andrew, “Set her down, over there.”
Underhill laid Elaine down on a long couch. Clary had never seen her so still. She was a cheerful, animated, woman, who energized the people around her and could even be a little ‘too much’. Inert and pliable as she was, she looked younger and smaller. It was hard to believe that such a small woman had been through so much-her husband’s illness and death, working a demanding retail job to support her family, medical debt, Simon’s struggle with substance abuse. Clary was suddenly so scared that neither Elaine nor Simon would be okay, after all the faeries had done.
Magnus arranged a row of crystals on Elaine’s body, from her forehead to below her navel, and after some flourishes of his slender and graceful hands, the crystals filled with light. Elaine took a deep breath, and opened her eyes.
“Clary?” she said, looking over and noticing the only familiar person in the room. Then, abruptly, her eyes shut once more and her head fell back on the couch cushion.
“What happened? She was okay, now she’s out again,” Clary said.
“Don’t worry. Magic takes time. Healing magic, anyway. An attack can happen in an instant, but healing is a process,” Magnus said.
“I don’t have an American Express card,” Clary said.
“That’s all right-I take checks,” Magnus said. “Don’t worry about the money, Cherry-the Shadowhunters are good for it. Your friend will be back to herself in about 12 hours. You might want to field some calls from her realtor in the meantime.”
“Thank you,” Clary said.
“Looks like you’ve been through quite an ordeal, too,” Magnus said.
“I can take it,” Clary said. She was used to working through difficult emotions alone, afraid of upsetting her mother.
Her mother! Clary realized that she hadn’t spoken to Jocelyn in almost two days! She had been at the Institute, and then when she went back to her neighborhood, they had discovered Elaine’s predicament. She had to go home!

Chapter Text

“I have to go home, and check on my mom. Its been two days since I spoke to her. Oh my God, what if she’s gone to the police?” Clary said.
“I think they’d only investigate if its been three days,” Isabel said, and added, “calm down.”
“I keep getting told to calm down, and relax,” Clary fumed.
“We just don’t want you to be upset at such a difficult time,” Isabel said.
“Don’t worry, most diagnosed hysterics I knew were actually perfectly lovely brunch companions,” Magnus said. “Do you want some tea?”
Clary hesitated. “Um….sure,” she said, with a sigh.
If she was being honest with herself, she was somewhat relieved to postpone getting in touch with Joscelyn. She’d have to explain about Simon’s disappearance. And, how would she ever explain the Shadowhunters, their Temple, their ancient chivalric order that fought evils which the rest of the world was taught didn’t exist?
A jade green porcelain tea set appeared on the coffeetable, and Magnus gracefully poured Clary, Isabel, and Underhill green tea.
“I’m going to continue my search,” Underhill said.
Clary didn’t know what he was talking about, at first, then she said, “Of Simon’s things?”
He nodded, placed the tea on the end of the coffeetable, and left.
“Andrew needs a day off,” Isabel said.
“Sorry I snapped at you,” Clary said.
“Clary, you’re going through a lot,” Isabel said.
“So, I wasn’t hysteric?” she said.
“Well, on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being sang froid, ten being Zelda Fitzgerald, you were a 4. Sometimes misplacing what’s precious to us is worse than losing it. You jump at shadows, the ghosts of hope, that you might find it again, at any moment,” Magnus said.
“That’s totally how I felt, after the portal closed behind those Faerie Knights, and Simon was just gone. I thought I’d see him coming around the corner. If Underhill is right, and he’s into drugs again, how could I not have seen that? Its like the more we love someone, the more we see what we want to see about them, because we want to think that they’re okay,” Clary said.

Isabel put her hand over Clary’s comfortingly. Clary felt like she was going to jump out of her skin. Her skin was jolted by electricity at Isabel’s touch. She decided to play it off by drinking more tea, and just succeeded in spilling it down the front of her shirt. Good thing it wasn’t too hot. She was embarrassed, and would have cried if not for something inside that said it wasn’t the time or place, yet. She was used to that feeling. Maybe another reason she was postponing calling her mom was because a big, unwieldy truth had crashed into her life, and she didn’t know how to protect her mom from it the way she always seemed to need protecting.

“You can’t be blamed for not knowing your friend’s secrets. That’s what secrets are, the things people don’t want you to know,” Magnus said.

“Wow-you’re pretty philosophical for a guy who sleeps in until two and doesn’t wear shirts,” Clary said.

“I like you too, Cherry Valance,” Magnus said.

 

“Okay, I have a question-am I allowed to ask questions?” Simon asked.
The blonde, whose name was Willow, looked at him with listless contempt.
“That’s a question,” Willow pointed out.
“So, no questions?” Simon asked.
“What is your question, Simon?” Meliorn said, with strained patience.
“Where exactly are you taking me?” Simon asked.
He’d remembered from various high fantasy novels that Faeries couldn’t lie. He hoped that this knowledge, derived from Celtic folklore, bore out. They had told him that he was going to be the Bard of the Duke of Summer and witness a Faerie war, but those were ‘Who’ and ‘What’. Now, his question was ‘Where?’.
“We’re taking you to Nightshade, the palace of the Duke of Summer” Meliorn said, and then there was a knock on the door.
The innkeeper, an amphibious looking, corpulent man who was short and looked shorter beside Willow, who’d opened the door, said, “The people would like a song.”
Willow looked annoyed, Meliorn looked unruffled.
“A song?” Simon repeated, but no one acknowledged that he had spoken.
“No. Rumor travels fast in these provincial Hell-holes-obviously. We’ll have to stop at every inn between here and Nightshade for him to entertain all these inbred rubes,” Willow said.
Simon didn’t like Willow, and got the feeling that Meliorn didn’t either, by the way he pointedly looked out the window at the Ocean Between Realms while he spoke. Maybe he would continue to have moments of sympathy towards him to annoy Willow, Simon thought.
The frog-man looked sheepish, and admitted, “A Bard is a rare thing. It would bring the people joy.”
“Why not?” Meliorn said. “It might calm them, to be entertained.”
“He’s supposed to sing of the war, at the palace, to the Duke. Not the commons in these backwaters,” Willow said.
“Yes, but there’s a lull in the war between the Princes of Winter, as of late. We have time,” Meliorn pointed out. “You’re right, the villagers will talk. We’ll have to make more stops. The people will be grateful for these nights of song, and thank their Duke for it.”

Simon wondered, was music really so valuable to the Faer? There were folk tales about faeries dancing in rings, and kidnapping humans to sing for them or dance for them, but it sounded like the villagers in the inn would so value music that gratitude for it would shore up their loyalty to the Duke of Summer, calm any dissent that may be stirring among them. 'Bread and circuses,' Simon thought.

Maybe they would be grateful to the person who had sung for them, too. If Simon could escape from Nightshade once he got there, he could retrace his path by finding all the inns Willow had alluded he would have to visit. Grateful faeries, folklore suggested, did humans favors. If he could make it to the Ocean, it didn’t matter that he might get lost trying to make his way home. He would take his chances. He did his best to look acquiescing-so this would look like Meliorn’s idea, he was just going along.

Willow feigned disinterest-he was pissy and lazy, more than willing to protest someone else's decision but lacking the will to truly offer an opposing viewpoint and defend it. Which was, in this case, perfect.

Simon didn’t actually like singing in front of people. Singing, yes, but doing so in front of others, that was the scary part, every single time. He went downstairs, and the innkeeper’s daughter, whom he could only describe as a really sexy lizard, gave him two things, while the eager-eyed Faer looked on, waiting for a song. One was an instrument he had never seen before, and the other was something in a glass, that didn’t have a taste at first and then it tasted like rain, like berries, like sunshine, like the center of the sky where the sun is the brightest. He was hesitant to drink it-didn’t accepting food in the Faerie Realms mean that you had to stay for a hundred years? But, he thought back to a National Geographic Channel show he had watched with his dad at the hospital, where the hosts had to accept a drink made of fermented saliva made by their hosts, a remote Amazonian tribe. The Faer would be offended if he didn’t drink what was offered, and the whole point was to earn their gratitude so they would help him get to the Ocean, later.

He drank.

The liquid suffused his body with warmth, and when the warmth reached his hands, he knew how to play the instrument in his hands, which did not exist on earth. He could see secret places in the Faer realms, and he was so eager to describe them that he wasn’t, for once, afraid as he sang.