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You Can Only Go In Pieces

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It was funny, Simon found himself thinking, how during the moments when your life was not so much in a transitional period as in a period of utter chaos and the ground underneath your feet was shifting so much as to become quicksand, your brain chose to focus on the most minor and insignificant details in order to avoid entirely its grip on reality. Like how right now, for example, he was preoccupied with Raphael’s extensive shirt collection instead of the fact that he now lived in a decrepit hotel filled with the tackiest and most glamorous furniture of the last century and an assortment of bloodthirsty (literally!) immortal beings who were multiple decades older than him. Oh, and he was a vampire. That was a thing.

“Where do you buy them? Do you go to, like, the mall?” Simon tried to imagine Raphael walking around a mall, perusing racks of mass-produced clothing in a wash of fluorescent light while the Top Forty hits from eight years ago played weakly from overhead speakers. He pictured the expression on Raphael’s face if a salesgirl asked him if he needed help finding anything and he couldn’t help but giggle. Raphael shot him a trademarked Withering Look. Simon received so many of those from him, he should start ranking and reviewing them. This one was a solid seven point five.

Simon struggled to stop giggling and school his expression into something adjacent to earnest. He knew that Raphael was aware he was messing with him, but somehow that made it even more fun. “Or do you order them online? Do stores deliver here? Does this place, like, come up on Google Maps?” He gasped as an idea struck him. “Wait a second… you’re super old.” Trying extremely hard to keep his mouth from twitching, he fixed Raphael with a very serious, very earnest look, gazing into his eyes earnestly, with lots and lots of earnestness.

Raphael’s eyes were very dark, with almost no difference in color between the pupil and iris, black like obsidian. They were striking in combination with the bold arches of his eyebrows, and Simon faltered for a moment, feeling an odd urge to break eye contact, but he kept looking. “Do you know what the Internet is?” he asked.

Now, this Withering Look was definitely at least a nine. Simon managed to keep his lips sealed for maybe two and a half seconds before he doubled over laughing. He rested his forehead on the cool formica tabletop, body shaking as he cracked himself up. He wasn’t sure if it was even that funny or if he was just losing his mind. It was kind of funny that Raphael was old, he thought, cutting his sanity some slack.

He lifted his head up, grinning at Raphael. He could feel his fangs sticking out, but he was used to it by now. It happened when he was feeling some kind of strong emotion. When he was scared, or angry, or really sad. When he, uh, saw a cute girl. And when he laughed really hard. Which hadn’t happened that often at the Hotel DuMort, to be fair, but it made sense.

Raphael raised an eyebrow. “Are you done?” he asked dryly. But he didn’t look mad, which was rare and somewhat surprising. And Simon was getting pretty good at reading his facial expressions; he could identify such specimina as “Mad (Frustrated)”, “Mad (Frustrated and Hungry)”, “Mad (Fired Up)”, and “Mainly Just Hungry”. This one was unusual, though. It was sort of like “Fed Up” but more… fond. He hadn’t come up with a name for it yet, though, because he had a feeling that exercise could veer dangerously into wishful thinking.

&

He told Luke about his methodology for categorizing Raphael’s facial expressions. “You see, he’s mad a lot, so I have a whole category just for mad expressions. I tried to take pictures of him to get examples for each one, but it turns out if you try to take a picture of Raphael when he’s mad, he just gets even more mad, and he’s all like, ‘Are you taking a photo right now? What is wrong with you?’” He tried his best to imitate Raphael’s velvety drawling voice, but it just ended up kind of sounding like Patrick Star. “Also, I forgot that he doesn’t even show up on camera, anyway. Cause, you know. Vampires,” he shrugged and chuckled.

Luke stared at him, eyebrows raised.

Simon spread his hands questioningly. “Uh, what? Do you not like my science? I promise I’m an ethical researcher even though I’m not funded by the Smithsonian. I mean, as ethical as I can be when I’m living in a hotel where people have definitely been kidnapped and probably murdered.”

Luke chuckled. “Nah, I believe in your research capabilities, Simon. I just didn’t realize you liked Raphael so much.”

Well. He hadn’t been expecting that. He felt weirdly embarrassed, which was annoying because he wasn’t even sure what he was embarrassed about. He stuttered as he tried to formulate a coherent response, all while Luke smirked at him in that irritatingly knowing Dad way. “I don’t, like, really like him! Not really!” he insisted. But then he immediately felt guilty and involuntarily glanced over his shoulder to make sure Raphael couldn’t hear him, which was completely ridiculous, because they were in the Jade Wolf and Raphael was nowhere in the vicinity. Ugh, this was so stupid. “Ugh, G- I mean, damn. Shit.” He sighed and sunk his chin into one hand. “I guess I do like him, don’t I? I somehow think of him as a friend even though he’s kind of dick and he’s really mean to me all the time.”

That wasn’t exactly true, though, when he thought about it. Although he teased Simon a lot and pretty much always seemed like he was fed up with his jokes and antics and inability to instantly master the art of vampire-ing, it had been a long time since Raphael had given the impression that he genuinely wanted to hurt Simon. If he ever really had; it was hard to judge someone’s intentions when you couldn’t get past the whole “terrifying blood-sucking monster” thing, and that had definitely been the case when Simon was first getting to know him.

Raphael was mean to him, but kind of in the way hot girls in high school had been mean to him; yeah, they made disparaging remarks about his nerdy clothes and his dumb jokes and whatnot, but they weren’t really invested in actually making him feel bad about himself, and they were more just having fun teasing him because he was a harmless dork and he’d still help them with their math homework no matter what they said about his glasses. Simon realized he’d just mentally compared Raphael to a hot girl, which was… weird. Hopefully he didn’t have some kind of weird Freudian complex or something.

He hadn’t really been friends with those hot girls, though, ultimately. Was he friends with Raphael?

“At least, I think I’m friends with him,” Simon continued, now feeling unsure about it. Luke looked like he was trying not to laugh. “Hey, what’s so funny?” Simon pouted.

“Nothing. Just you being a goof,” Luke said. “Now tell me about all those other facial expressions.”

&

The best way to gauge if he and Raphael were friends was to see if Raphael wanted to do normal friend things with him, Simon thought.

The opportunity presented itself the next day after Raphael had finished training him on using his magical Vamp Speed.

“You know, you’re getting pretty good. Still not on my level, though,” Raphael informed him, with his characteristic cocky smirk. It made him look handsome in a bad-boy way, like a young gangster from a movie whose role involved convincing the sweet-faced heroine to smoke cigarettes on the hood of his sleek sportscar. Simon was aware that Raphael was a hot guy, but it was different from his awareness of, for example, Jace’s hotness. When he saw Jace, he was mainly annoyed and kind of jealous but also disdainful of Jace’s decidedly-not-hot personality. Looking at Raphael was like looking at a magazine picture of a male model, or seeing a good-looking actor on screen. He could just… appreciate. It was sort of the same way with Alec and with Magnus - both very attractive guys, but they were still a little different somehow. Simon couldn’t exactly quantify it. And it was hard to organize his thoughts into anything cohesive when Raphael was looking at him with that sly smile, like Simon was the sweet-faced heroine from the movie who never stayed out on the streets after dark and certainly not with boys like him. Ugh, what was he thinking? Get it together, Lewis, he chastised himself.

Raphael snapped his fingers in front of Simon’s face. “Distracted by my good looks?”

Simon’s jaw dropped. That was the exact situation. Could Raphael read minds? Oh no, the implications of that were horrifying. Wait, Raphael was still smirking. He was teasing. It was just a joke. Simon was saved.

“Ha!” he laughed slightly hysterically. “No, never! I would never! You - you’re not - Uh, anyway,” he cleared his throat, eager to change the subject. Raphael’s expression had shifted to one that Simon called “Commused (Confused But Amused)”.

Simon shrugged off his hoodie and hung it on the rack with Raphael’s fancy designer blazers, which he knew pissed Raphael off, but in a fun way where he reacted by passive-aggressively leaving his shoes outside Simon’s door so Simon would trip over them. Raphael watched him with an eyebrow raised. Simon wondered if he practiced that in front of the mirror. Oh wait, no, he couldn’t do that, could he?

“Wanna watch a movie with me?” Simon asked.

Raphael’s eyebrow lifted higher. He shrugged off his own blazer and hung it on the rack next to Simon’s hoodie - only after moving the hoodie away with exaggerated gingerness, like it was way too horrible to touch. “A movie?”

Simon rolled his eyes, taking the hoodie back off the rack and lightly whipping Raphael’s shoulder with it. Raphael hissed and shrunk away like it was sunlight. “Oh, stop it -” Simon snickered, momentarily distracted from the movie idea. He tried to whip him again, but Raphael darted away, forcing Simon to use his Vamp Speed to chase him. “Come on, dude, I thought we were done with training!” he said, half exasperated, half laughing. Okay, mostly laughing. Raphael was now standing on the other side of the room, but even from here Simon could tell his face was “Smug”.

“Why won’t you let me hang my clothes with your clothes?’ Simon whined. Pretended to whine. He didn’t really mind, he just liked messing with Raphael. But he wasn’t sure if Raphael knew that. He wasn’t sure if he hoped he did.

“Because my clothes are better than your clothes,” Raphael replied smoothly, face passive enough that Simon couldn’t tell if he seriously thought that. In his defense, Simon thought, Raphael’s clothes were objectively better.

“What, so would you prefer I just steal your clothes? That seems like a lose-lose situation. I’m a jacket-ruiner, you know.” Simon smirked skeptically at him as he lifted one of Raphael’s expensive embroidered bomber jackets. “You sure you’d trust me with this?”

Raphael’s expression was unreadable. Simon hadn’t seen this exact one before, or at least hadn’t decoded its meaning. He was staring at Simon like he was trying to figure out what Simon’s angle was. Maybe he was worried that his carefully curated wardrobe was actually in danger of destruction. “I’m just kidding, dude, I wouldn’t actually do anything to your shit,” Simon hastily assured. “On purpose, anyway,” he added after a moment’s rueful consideration.

Raphael tilted his head and made that same face he’d made before. The one that was mostly annoyed but maybe a little fond. Or maybe Simon was just imagining it was fond. He pointed two fingers at his eyes and then pointed them at Simon. “I’m watching you, fledgling.”

Simon smiled and shrugged like ‘wouldn’t expect anything else’. “So how about that movie, huh?” he prompted.

Raphael sighed dramatically like Simon had just asked him to sort laundry for everyone in the hotel. “Okay, if you insist. It better be a good one, though. So many of these modern movies are mierda.”

“Awesome!” Simon grinned so big that his fangs popped out, and he immediately felt bashful. He would’ve blushed if he had any blood. He really needed to work on that. Those fangs made it basically impossible to play it cool in social situations.

Raphael looked at him like he was the most embarrassing person ever. He smacked him on the back. “Come on, nene, let’s go to the rec room. Change my mind about modern movies.”

“‘Nene?’ What does that mean? Is that an insult? I only took two years of Spanish in high school when I was like fifteen and I don’t remember anything. I know how to ask the teacher if I can go to the bathroom, that’s it. Puedo ir al bahn-yo, Raphael?”

“No, you can’t. And it means ‘stupid’. Because that’s what you are.”

Simon hit his shoulder and squawked. “Hey! Rude!”

He got his payback fifteen minutes later when they were sitting on the ridiculous crimson sofa in front of the home theater screen and Raphael realized they were watching Twilight. He tried to run away but Simon threatened to drink all of the blood smoothie he’d been saving in the fridge so he reluctantly sat through the whole thing. Simon couldn’t get him to admit if he was on Team Edward or Team Jacob, though.

&

“How are things going with Raphael?” Clary asked the next time they were FaceTiming. He was curled up against the cushioned headboard of his enormous Hotel DuMort bed. That was the one thing the hotel really had going for it, in his opinion: the beds. They were large enough to comfortably fit at least three or four people, with mattresses so thick he’d probably injure himself if he somehow rolled onto the floor during the night, and soft silky sheets and more pillows than he could find ways to make use of. He supposed if you had to be undead you might as well have a comfortable bed to snuggle up in for the rest of eternity.

Clary had the same irritatingly knowing Dad expression Luke had worn, and she wasn’t even a dad. Come on, Clary.

“Fiiiiiiine,” he replied suspiciously. “Whyyyyyyy?”

Clary snickered. “Oh, no reason. It’s just that Luke mentioned you’re becoming friends now. And I don’t know, I think it’s kind of sweet. Especially considering you met him because he kidnapped you. You two are like the Odd Couple.”

Simon scoffed. “Uh, no way. We are not odd. Well,” he amended. “Raphael is odd. But I’m totally normal. For a vampire, anyway.”

“So you’re a couple then?” Clary prompted teasingly.

“Ugh, no! You know that is not what I meant!”

Clary looked considering. “I don’t know, he’s a pretty sexy guy. If I were you, I wouldn’t mind people calling us a couple. I feel like it would reflect well on me. Like, have you seen his hair? He could be a background dancer from Grease.”

“He definitely has the body to be a dancer,” Simon remarked. Without thinking. Without thinking at all, dammit, Lewis.

Clary looked positively delighted. “You think so?” she asked mischievously, whisper-shrieking because it was early in the morning and there were probably people asleep in the rooms next to hers. Which reminded Simon… He looked nervously at the dark room around him. Most of the other vampires were probably asleep for the day by now, and he didn’t want to wake anyone up with his talking. Especially not… certain people.

“Ugh, Clary, I didn’t mean that, I was just joking, don’t tell anyone I said that!” he whisper-shrieked back at his phone screen.

“Okay, I mean it’s true though. I’ll go on the record and say that.”

“Well, I said it off the record!”

“I’ll make sure to let the press know.”

“Oh shut up, Fray,” he grinned exasperatedly.

At precisely that moment, Raphael’s head appeared in the doorway. He looked grumpy. Definitely a solid “Mad (Wants to Go to Sleep)”.

“Oye loco, keep it down in here, some of us are trying to get our beauty rest,” he grumped. Grumpily. His hair wasn’t styled the way it normally was; it stuck out in every direction, almost curly. It made him appear much younger. Combined with his soft-looking gray T-shirt and flannel pants, he looked about as adorable as a murderous undead entity could conceivably look.

“Pshaw. As if you need beauty sleep,” Simon joked. It took him a second to realize that, completely unintentionally, it was less of a mockery at Raphael’s expense and more of a very sweet compliment. Oh shit. From his phone he heard Clary gasp in delight at the prospect of future teasing.

At Raphael’s “Commused” expression, Simon hurriedly backpedaled. “Uh, I just meant, like, why bother with beauty sleep if you don’t have any beauty to begin with, right?”

Oh no, what if that was too mean? He didn’t want Raphael to think that he actually thought he was ugly. That just seemed cruel. And dishonest. Dammit, Clary.

“Not to say that you aren’t, uh, good-looking! Or whatever!” Simon nervously added. “I mean! Gaaahhh! I don’t know what I’m saying! Just get out of here, I promise I’ll be quiet and end the call soon!” Simon feinted like he was about to throw a pillow at Raphael’s face.

Raphael gave him a weird look for a moment, and then seemed to decide that he didn’t care enough to unpack whatever all of that was. “Okay. Buenas noches.” He closed the door.

On the phone screen, Clary was clearly trying very hard to hold in laughter. Probably only because she didn’t want to wake up the other shadowhunters.

“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up at my awkwardness.” Simon rolled his eyes.

“You should just tell him he’s sexy,” she said. “He already knows anyway, I bet. He’s been alive for like, ages; a few people have probably mentioned it,” she giggled.

That made Simon think. He didn’t actually know very much about Raphael’s life (or after-life); he didn’t know how many opportunities he’d had to receive compliments on his appearance. “I’m not gonna say that to him, Fray. That would be weird.”

“Really? I feel like he’d be flattered. I would be, anyway,” she replied. “Hey, what was it he called you? Loco? Doesn’t that mean ‘crazy’?”

“Yeah, it’s like a nickname sort of thing in Spanish, he calls lots of people that. He’s surprisingly into nicknames, considering, like, everything else about his entire personality and general steaze.”

“Really? What else does he call you?”

“Well, the other day he called me ‘nene’. I think he’s called me that a few times, actually.”

Clary giggled. “Really? He called you that? And you don’t know what it means?”

Simon gave her a suspicious glare. “Yeah, why? Do you know?”

Clary nodded. She had that weird knowing look again. She probably learned it from Luke. He’d probably given her formal training in Messing With Simon. “Yeah, I heard people using it when I was studying abroad in Lima last year. It means - actually, you know what, no. I’m not going to tell you. If you don’t know, you can figure it out on your own.” Her smile was absolutely evil.

From the other room, Raphael’s muffled voice yelled, “Dios, end your call already.”

“Can you hear what I’m saying?” he yelled back.

“I couldn’t before but you’re still tan ruidoso! Shut up already!”

Simon grinned. “Whatever you say, nene!” he replied.

No answer. Clary giggled.

&

 

When nothing in life made much sense anymore, routine was all Simon could cling to. If he started thinking too hard about the fact that he was dead, or the fact that even though he was dead he was still going to be walking around and talking for long after everything about the society he knew was gone, including all the people he loved – if he thought about all of that, he’d go crazy. To avoid going crazy, he only let himself focus on getting through each day. Eternity boggled the mind. Mondays were manageable.

He’d wake up at sundown every day and bum around the hotel, drinking blood he found in the fridge and hoping it wasn’t anyone’s personal property that they’d get upset about him using. At some point Raphael would find him and either train with him for a few hours or make up some task for him to do on his own. “It’s the job of the advisor to the interim chapter president to check that the generator downstairs is working,” he’d say archly, and Simon couldn’t argue with him because Raphael had made up his position in the first place.

In his free time he’d hole up in the rec room and watch movies or play video games to try to stave off existential dread. The hotel had only had a VHS player when he moved in, but Simon had convinced Raphael to buy a secondhand DVD player and a Playstation on eBay, insisting that they would boost morale (his morale, specifically). The two of them had gone together to meet the seller on a street corner after sunset. Simon felt that his presence helpfully decreased Raphael’s “supernatural killer” vibes.

He FaceTimed Clary a few times a week, and once in a while she’d have time for a late-night meet-up at a coffee shop. He tried to visit Luke at the Jade Wolf once a week. On nights when he was feeling particularly adventurous or lonely, he’d leave the hotel to wander around the city. Parks were kind of nice after dark. There were a few grocery shops and cafes around that were open twenty-four hours. It was eerie, only ever seeing the city at nighttime, like he was living in an alternate dimension.

Raphael had stopped actively preventing him from leaving the premises but he still interrogated him about where he’d been as soon as he returned. He seemed to be convinced that if Simon were left to his own devices, he’d end up getting killed, or killing someone, or something – to be honest Simon didn’t exactly know what was going through his head.

It was a little depressing but he figured that came with the program of being dead. And it could definitely be worse. At least he finally had a chance to catch up on all the eighties movies he’d been wanting to watch for ages.

A particular Thursday night found him hanging out in a pretentious hipster boutique that was open until two am and sold DVD’s in the back, because they were “vintage” now, apparently. (Which would probably make Raphael an antique.) He was in the romance and comedy aisle trying to decide on something to watch before bed that morning when Raphael himself suddenly appeared at his shoulder.

“What are you doing?” Raphael asked directly into his ear.

Simon nearly screamed and dropped the Freaky Friday DVD he was holding. “What are YOU doing? Did you follow me here?”

Raphael looked like he was weighing different responses. Simon sighed. “Look, you don’t need to protect me, all right? Or protect the rest of the world from me, or whatever it is you’re doing. I can take care of myself, Raphael.”

Raphael fixed him with a classic “Dubious”.

Before Simon could say anything else, the green-haired salesperson approached them. “Can I help you find anything?” They glanced at the ‘Romance’ sign on the shelf. “Something for date night?”

It took Simon a moment to register what they were implying, and he then immediately took a step away from Raphael, who smirked with amusement.

“Uh, no – that’s not – Uh – you know what, do you have ‘When Harry Met Sally’ anywhere around here?” Simon stuttered awkwardly.

“Oh, yeah, let me show you.”

Simon shot an exasperated glare at Raphael, who just smiled like he was enjoying himself immensely.

 

&

 

Ameko was a one-hundred-forty-something-year-old Japanese-American drag queen who specialized in geisha makeup. She’d started hanging out with Simon in the rec room because it turned out that she really liked rom-coms. It also turned out that she made really good blood cocktails and owned a lot of soft afghans and cushy throw pillows, and she liked to call Simon “cutie” and “brown eyes” and give him advice on his hair.

“What’s wrong with it? Do I need to cut it? I thought it was a pretty good length right now,” he’d say to her anxiously, and she’d hand him a blood jello shot and reply, “You just need to trim the back, sweetheart. You’re cute already but you’d be even cuter if you weren’t halfway to a mullet.”

They got another vampire named Ted to cut it. Ted had apparently once been a hairstylist, and he still had all his tools in a drawer in his hotel room. Ted only appeared to be a few years older than Simon, but he was actually sixty-three (he had a bottle of blood champagne in his minifridge that he was planning on popping for his sixty-ninth birthday). He had voluntarily Turned in the eighties because he was afraid of getting AIDS, which was actually a pretty dark story in Simon’s opinion, but Ted seemed to have fairly good humor about it and clearly loved providing information about himself. He was the kind of barber who liked to talk instead of listen, but Simon didn’t mind. Ted was full of stories about crazy parties he’d been to. When Ameko asked if he wanted to watch movies with them, he was thrilled.

Eventually they became a little trio. Simon got used to waiting until all three of them were awake to eat breakfast, and then after he got done training with Raphael or doing chores for Raphael, they would meet in the rec room and wrap themselves in blankets and watch Hugh Grant fall in love with another actress onscreen – obviously with lots of commentary on his soulful blue eyes. Sometimes one or both of them would go with Simon on his little sojourns to Starbucks or the supermarket. They even met Clary over FaceTime once; she thought Ted’s undercut was very radical. They immediately asked her what her sign was and tutted when she told them she was a virgo sun, scorpio moon. Simon tutted too even though he had no idea what a moon sign was; he was still miffed at her for not telling him what “nene” meant.

His life – or afterlife, rather – still felt empty, but it was less empty with friends.

 

&

 

“You hang out with Ameko and Ted a lot these days,” Raphael remarked, seemingly out of nowhere.

Simon looked up from the stack of invoices he'd been filing. It was a rainy midnight, and the hotel was unusually chilly, so he was wearing a sweater and a hoodie under a flannel and Raphael was wearing a turtleneck sweater under his bomber jacket, which made him seem like the sort of guy who wrote slam poetry and drank black coffee cut with liquor. It was an attractive look, partially because the idea of Raphael being chilly enough to want to wear a sweater was disarmingly humanizing. "Humanizing" was always a look to shoot for when you were a vampire.

“Yeah? So?” Simon raised his eyebrows, wondering where this was going. He tossed another outdated budget record into the recycling bin. “Should I not?”

“No, you can do whatever you want,” Raphael replied, clearly feigning disinterest as he studiously read through a financial spreadsheet.

“Wow, that’s pretty generous coming from you,” Simon teased, remembering how not long ago Raphael wouldn’t even let him leave the hotel. “Am I not allowed to have friends?”

Raphael glared at him, though there was no heat in it. It was more of a “Tired of Simon’s Antics” glare. “I just said you are,” he deadpanned.

“I know your words said that, but your face is telling me something different,” Simon smirked.

“Oh? What is my face telling you, oh Perceptive One?”

“It’s telling me that you’re annoyed at me for hanging out with Ameko and Ted, because…” Simon rotated his hand, prompting Raphael to finish the sentence because he didn’t know how to finish it himself.

“Because nothing. I’m not annoyed,” Raphael said, looking annoyed.

“Are you suuuuure you’re not annoyed?”

“Well, now I’m annoyed,” Raphael snapped. “Can you finish that filing already? I swear to God you’re the slowest vampire I’ve ever met.”

Simon pouted. “Okay, now you’re just rubbing it in my face that you can say the g-word and I can’t.”

“You could if you were putting more effort into your training. Most vampires can say it within forty-seven days of being Turned.”

“Wait, is that true?” Simon tried to think of how many days it had been since he’d Turned. He began counting the weeks on his fingers. Raphael’s lips twitched. Wait a second…

He shoved Raphael’s shoulder. “Hey, you’re bullshitting me again! You can’t do that, man, I’m a fledgling, I’ll believe anything you tell me!”

“That’s what makes it fun.” Raphael laughed. He actually had a rather nice laugh; Simon supposed it stood out to him because he hadn’t heard it very many times. Come to think of it, he was pretty impressed with himself for actually getting Raphael to laugh out loud, even if it was because of how dumb and gullible he was.

He grinned at Raphael and his fangs popped out again. “Dammit,” he mumbled, slapping a hand over his mouth. “Can our next training be on how to get my fangs stop doing that?”

Raphael looked at him with a shockingly fond expression. Simon hadn’t categorized this one even though he had seen it before – maybe he’d wanted to call it “Fond” but didn’t want to presume too much about the level of friendship he was at with Raphael. He felt safe calling it that now, though. It was nice to know that Raphael was at least a little bit fond of him after forty-seven days, give or take a few.

“No,” Raphael said. “Your next lesson will be about how to drink blood without spilling it on your shirt.”

“Oh, screw you,” Simon said, whacking him in the chest with a rolled-up invoice. Raphael laughed again. It was a nice sound.

 

&

 

“Would you guys say that Raphael and I are friends?” Simon asked the next time he, Ameko, and Ted were hanging out on the ridiculous gold couches in the lobby, painting their nails while ABBA played from Ted’s ancient boom box. Ameko had insisted that painting your fingernails dark red-black was a vampire rite of passage, and Simon was ninety percent sure she was joking but to be honest, so many vampire traits were so weird and arbitrary that he felt like he couldn’t discount it completely. Compared to the fact that he physically couldn’t enter homes without a verbal invitation, the idea of needing nail polish to cement his identity didn’t seem entirely bizarre.

“Do you want to be friends with him?” Ted asked as he added a layer of gold glitter to his toenails. His sickly-looking bare vampire feet were kind of unpleasant but Simon figured they were past those kinds of boundaries with each other.

Simon shrugged. Ameko hummed. “Well, he clearly likes you. I mean, he bought a DVD player AND a Playstation just because you told him to.”

“I mean, that doesn’t really prove much,” Simon reasoned. “They’re useful things to have.”

“I’ve been begging him to buy a cotton candy machine for YEARS now and he hasn’t budged!” Ameko whined. Simon decided there wouldn’t be much value in pointing out the comparative usefulness of a DVD player versus a cotton candy machine.

“For what it’s worth, I think he likes you, too. I can just tell,” Ted added cryptically. He was like that a lot. He enjoyed talking about people’s auras and “vibes”.

Ameko nodded. “I can just tell, too. I think you’re one of his favorites. Maybe even his favorite-favorite.”

For some reason, the idea of being Raphael’s number-one favorite made Simon feel self-conscious. If he still had blood, his face would almost certainly be flushed right now. “Do you really think so?” he asked shyly.

Ameko and Ted both beamed at him. “Aw, honey,” Ted cooed. “I certainly wouldn’t doubt it. Especially with that cute smile of yours, how could he not have a soft spot for you and your big brown eyes?”

“That’s what I’ve been saying!” Ameko chimed in, ruffling his hair.

“You guys are the best,” Simon chuckled. “I don’t think Raphael really cares about my big brown eyes, though.”

“Oh, sweetie, don’t sell yourself short,” Ameko assured him.

“Darling, no gay man in his right mind could resist that face,” Ted tutted. “Well, I can because I love you like a baby brother, but I reckon that’s not the way he sees you.”

It took Simon a few seconds to fully process that. “Wait, are you saying that Raphael is gay?” he asked incredulously.

Ted and Ameko looked at each other in confusion. “Sweetie, did you not know?” Ameko asked.

“No! He never mentioned that!” Simon sputtered.

Ted still looked confused. “Well, yeah… everyone just, like, knows. It’s not like he needs to go around telling us he’s gay, because we already get it. Well… most of us…” he finished, twisting his mouth apologetically.

“HOW does everyone know?” Simon asked, still trying to process this information.

“It’s just… clear. Maybe you don’t see it because you’ve been assuming he’s straight. You shouldn’t do that, you know,” Ameko told him sternly, tapping his wrist with a long acrylic nail.

Simon frowned. “Wow… I guess I have been assuming. Sorry about that, guys,” he said ruefully.

Ameko kissed his hair. “Don’t apologize to US, sweetheart. It’s just that internalized homophobia being a bitch as always.”

“Hear, hear!” Ted agreed, snapping his fingers.

It wasn’t until later after Ted and Ameko had both gone to bed that Simon realized he still didn’t know the answer to his original question.

 

&

 

“Raphael, are we friends?” Simon asked one night, riding a brief burst of irrational confidence that he wasn’t going to scare off with analysis.

Raphael glanced over at him. They were sitting next to each other on the subway after a late-night trip to the hardware store to pick up industrial-strength cleaning supplies. (It turned out extensive bloodstains were hard to get rid of with just a Swiffer.) Not a lot of people rode this particular line, so the subway car was empty except for the two of them. Raphael looked unusually pallid under the yellowy fluorescents against the backdrop of the dark subway tunnel speeding past behind them. It made Simon realize how young he really was. Well, he was over seventy, but physically and probably mentally, he was still around Simon’s age.

His normally perfectly-coiffed hair was also falling in his face a little bit because he’d been training Simon on hand-to-hand fighting earlier and he hadn’t had time to fix it before they went out shopping. There was a single curl touching his forehead and it made him look like a dashing world war two soldier on his way to chat up pretty nurses at the commissary. Why did Simon keep comparing Raphael to all these handsome male archetypes? It seemed like he was kind of obsessed with Raphael’s looks, and with male beauty in general as it would appear. Maybe it was his subconscious crying out for him to improve his own hairstyle and fashion.

“What do you think?” Raphael asked, which Simon felt was a cop-out.

“I asked YOU,” he huffed.

Raphael sighed like Simon was the most annoying person he’d ever had the displeasure of interacting with. He still didn’t look mad, though, which Simon counted as a stroke of luck. “I guess we are if you want us to be.”

“I do want us to be,” Simon replied, feeling oddly vulnerable. He looked down at his lap, suddenly nervous about maintaining eye contact for reasons he couldn’t explain. The situation felt oddly high-stakes (pardon the pun). Being a vampire was bleak, but not being friends with Raphael felt like it would increase the bleakness factor exponentially.

He glanced back up through his eyelashes. Raphael was staring at him in this calculating way, like he was trying to read Simon’s mind. Finally his mouth twitched into a small, secretive smile. “Okay, nene. We’re friends.”

The subway turned a sharp corner and Simon almost fell out of his seat, because apparently he’d achieved that level of clumsiness. Raphael laughed at him and Simon grinned back, enjoying the sound. He managed to keep his fangs restrained this time, which felt like a major accomplishment. Suddenly he remembered something.

“Oh, hey, Raphael! Since we’re friends…” he began. Raphael stared at him skeptically, clearly waiting for a request. Simon cleared his throat. “Can you buy a cotton candy machine for Ameko?”

Raphael sighed deeply. (He still didn’t look mad.)

 

&

 

Ameko was enjoying the hell out of her new cotton candy machine. It was the kind that could make cotton candy in more than one color, so she was experimenting with different combinations. She’d recently figured out how to do pink and blue twisted together, so she’d prepared a couple of those for Simon and Ted.

Simon still couldn’t eat any food that wasn’t blood, but cotton candy was ephemeral enough that he could ingest it and even taste it a little bit.

“It’s not quite the same as it was on Coney Island before the war,” Ameko remarked softly, and although her tone was light, there was a heavy slate-gray sadness underneath it, much too massive for Simon to see fully. Sometimes – selfishly – he avoided thinking about Ameko’s life or even Ted’s, because they reminded him just how immense and looming eternity was. Getting through each day at the DuMort was enough of a challenge on its own.

Although, Simon thought to himself as he watched his two vampire friends eating cotton candy in the rec room while his third vampire friend filled out clan paperwork in an office somewhere upstairs, the days had been getting less challenging lately. Very slowly and gradually. With lots of ups and downs. But the progress was there, if you looked at it from the grand scheme of things, which Simon supposed you should if you were immortal.

“We’re just lucky that Raphael does whatever Simon tells him to,” Ted commented happily. “Hell, I haven’t eaten this stuff since the nineties.”

“Oh, come on, guys, he doesn’t do everything I tell him,” Simon said. “He’s the one bossing me around more often than not, in case you haven’t noticed.”

“Well sure, I mean he’s our leader after all,” said Ameko. “But he listens to you more than anyone else. You ARE his advisor.”

That was true. Raphael had appointed him advisor, and seemed pretty keen on the idea of having him around to “advise” at all times. He’d always been skeptical about the amount of helpful advice he actually provided, but maybe Raphael trusted him more than he’d realized. “I guess maybe you’re right…”

“Of course we are, toots. We always are,” Ted replied archly. “Now can you ask him to hire a bartender for the hotel? Pretty please? A cute bartender would be ideal.”

“I’ll work on it,” Simon promised. “Don’t get your hopes up, though.”

“You’re the best, Si,” Ted exclaimed as Ameko said, “See, this is why I keep saying you’re his favorite. He looooves you, he’ll give you anything you ask for.”

Now that was new. “What do you mean?” Simon asked.

“You’re Raphael’s favorite,” Ted and Ameko chimed in unison.

“Hey, don’t say that, guys, he really likes you guys too!”

Ted and Ameko smirked at each other. “Oh, we don’t mind,” she said. “We know he cares about everyone in the clan. But he likes you the most. Probably because of that gorgeous goofy grin of yours.”

“Aw shucks,” Simon beamed as Ted kissed him on the head. “But I think you guys are imagining things. Like, yesterday he told me that vampires can drink plain water as long as it’s through our noses. I even tried to snort water up my nose and he just laughed at me!”

Ted and Ameko started cracking up. Simon sighed. Vampires. Ugh.

 

&

 

Today was the third time that week that Clary had needed to cancel their FaceTime call because she was busy doing Shadowhunter Things. Truth be told, it was just poor timing, really. Simon had already been having a not-great day. It was the anniversary of the death of some relative or close friend or maybe ex-lover of Ameko’s, and so she had holed herself up in her room and likely wouldn’t speak to anyone until tomorrow at the earliest. Ted said that Ameko’s “energy” was affecting him and he wasn’t in the mood to do anything, either, so Simon supposed he was also locked in his room, or maybe alone in the basement or something. The absence of his two friends made Simon remember how lonely how he actually was (and had been all along) and the reason for their absence made him remember how the loneliness probably wouldn’t go away anytime soon. Part of him wanted to go visit his family, but it was nighttime, and he had told them he was busy at college anyway.

He felt lethargic and miserable, like his veins were full of liquid cement. He’d been counting on Clary’s face to remind him that he generally enjoyed existing but now he didn’t even have that anymore.

He knew he didn’t have a right to be angry at her; she was very apologetic over text and they’d made plans to reschedule. He was just needy, a bottomless reservoir of need, and he hated himself for it.

It was past one in the morning and Simon still hadn’t gotten out of bed. Vaguely, he was aware that he should’ve met Raphael over an hour ago. So much for that. Maybe he should just count this night as a lost cause and sleep through the rest of it.

The next time he drifted back to consciousness, the clock on his bedside table declared it was three seventeen am in boxy red digits. His room was completely dark. There was also a person sitting on the bed by his waist.

Simon blinked awake and propped himself up on his elbows. “Whozzah?” he mumbled at the shadowy figure. Who sighed exasperatedly. Well, that answered that.

“Where have you been? We were supposed to train hours ago,” Raphael said. He sounded almost like he was pouting, although Simon had just woken up, so his Raphael-emotional-perception skills probably weren’t exactly on point.

“I’m sorry, I’m just not feeling good today,” Simon grumbled. He wasn’t in the mood to elaborate any further; it was difficult to put into words anyway.

Raphael frowned. Now that Simon’s vampire-eyes were more awake and adjusting to the lighting, he could see him perfectly. And he did look like he was pouting, although his lips were naturally pouty, so maybe it didn’t mean anything. “Why not?” he asked.

Simon scowled. Explaining how he felt right now would require a level of energy that he didn’t currently possess. “I – just – Ameko and Ted are busy today, and Clary is busy too, AGAIN, and I –“

“Oh, you’re sad because your girlfriend can’t call you?” Raphael sneered.

A hot surge of annoyance flared in Simon’s ribcage. “Ugh, no, she’s not my girlfriend, how many times do I have to drill that into your head? It’s not really about that, I just – it’s….” Oh no, now his throat was swelling up and he felt the pressure behind his eyes that meant he was going to start crying if he tried to say anything else. Could vampires even cry? He had no idea, but it certainly felt like it was happening now. Maybe he couldn’t actually produce tears but his body was going through the motions of crying on instinct. Phantom crying. It felt fitting for this phantom life he now lived.

Raphael could evidently tell that Simon was tearing up (or the vampire equivalent of tearing up) because now he looked alarmed. He awkwardly laid a hand on Simon’s shoulder. “Look, I didn’t mean to make you upset, I was just teasing…”

“I know,” Simon sniffled. “I’m just having a really bad day, and I don’t think I can train today, so maybe you should just go.”

But he didn’t actually want Raphael to go. The idea of being alone for a single second longer was as terrifying a prospect as walking into a haunted house. (Or a hotel full of vampires.)

Raphael somehow seemed to intuit this, because instead of leaving, he just wrapped his arms around Simon and pulled him close. Which Simon wasn’t expecting, but also wasn’t complaining about. Raphael had never deigned to hug him before, so he must have looked seriously pathetic at the moment.

Simon buried his face in Raphael’s shoulder. Raphael smelled like new clothes and expensive cologne with just a hint of the dusty antique-store aroma that pervaded the entire hotel. It was an overall pleasant olfactory experience, and it was further helped by the fact that Raphael’s torso was muscular but still soft, and his arms were very strong and made Simon feel incredibly safe and enclosed. Raphael was built powerful; he was only about as tall as Simon, but he was dense and compact with thick limbs and a barrel chest, the kind of stern structure that would be hard to tip over. Simon didn’t know why he’d never thought about how nice it would feel to be held by a guy like him; it seemed like the sort of thing that should’ve occurred to him by now.

Raphael rubbed a hand slowly up and down his back. “Shh, corazoncito, it’s okay,” he murmured. Simon didn’t know what that meant. He didn’t want to ask, though. He didn’t want to say anything at all right now; the moment felt like a charmed anomaly, and he didn’t want to burst the bubble.

 

&

 

In the real world, Raphael patted him on the back awkwardly and then left to go get him a chilled glass of blood, leaving it on his nightstand with a command to get some rest so he would be “in good shape for training tomorrow”. Simon wasn’t so intimidated by his brusqueness now that he knew it was only a façade over a surprisingly sweet true personality. He fell back asleep almost immediately.

In his dream, the scenario replayed, but this time Raphael stayed longer, and he reached out to wrap Simon in his arms again, but this time he kissed him on the mouth. His full lips were just as soft as Simon had imagined, which made Simon realize that he had, in fact, imagined what it was like to kiss Raphael but then apparently actively repressed all memories of having imagined it because, you know. It was an incredibly weird thing to do.

This dream was too vivid for him to ever forget, though. Dream-Simon and Dream-Raphael kissed, and kissed again, and again, and more, this time with more tongue, and then Dream-Raphael was pushing Dream-Simon onto his back and looming over him and hungrily kissing his neck like he wanted to bite him but was much too gentle to ever intentionally hurt him and then Dream-Simon managed to flip them (in a display of boldness and physical strength that Simon wasn’t completely sure he possessed in real life) and they kept kissing harder and more urgently and then they were pulling each other’s shirts off and Simon realized he’d also repressed memories of having pictured what Raphael’s abs looked like –

And then he jolted awake, T-shirt sweaty, uncomfortably aroused, wondering what in the ever-loving hell all of that was about.

 

&

 

The following night Simon ran into Raphael in the kitchen and awkwardly avoided eye contact as much as possible. He couldn’t even look at Raphael’s face without thinking of the dream – not just the dream itself, but how much he’d genuinely enjoyed it, at least while it was happening.

Raphael seemed to sense that something was off but he probably assumed it was because Simon felt weird about how they’d hugged yesterday. Which, Simon thought, was a relatively normal thing to feel weird about, and oh how he desperately wished that was the reason he felt weird. Seeming to take pity on him, Raphael assigned him to go organize the rec room and then vanished for the rest of the night. Leaving Simon to stew in his thoughts. And memories. His distinctly PG-13 memories of things that had never happened in the real world because they involved his – boss? Was Raphael technically his boss? His advisee? Even if Raphael was nothing but his friend, it was still intensely weird to dream about making out with him, especially because the dream indicated that Simon had been thinking about the concept, at least subconsciously.

Simon was so lost in thought that he accidentally mixed up all the video game discs with the DVD’s and had to spend another hour and a half combing back through the neat stacks he’d made and separating them.

 

&

 

“Guys, I have something important to tell you,” Simon said. “And it’s kind of weird, so bear with me. And you have to promise not to make fun of me or anything.”

“Hon, we would never make fun of you,” Ted assured him, which was a blatant lie. He took a sip of his blood martini and smiled encouragingly.

“Spill!” Ameko prompted as she poured herself another blood mimosa.

Simon took a deep breath. Why was he so nervous about saying this out loud? He was a vampire, for heaven’s sake. Revelations about feelings and sexuality paled in comparison to the absurdity of that reality.

“Guys… I think I might be bi? And I think I might have a crush on Raphael?” he said to his lap. And then he looked up at his two friends sitting on their shiny pleather barstools next to him, anxiously awaiting their reactions.

They stared at him in confusion. And then they looked at each other, even more confused. And then they looked back at him. Still confused.

“What? What is it?” he asked, starting to panic. He knew, or at least hoped, that they weren’t weirded out by the queerness thing, because, you know. They were queer, too. Maybe they couldn’t understand why he would be attracted to Raphael. Which didn’t make sense to him, because Raphael was just objectively an attractive guy, Clary had been right all along, he was super sexy, and funny, and intelligent, and secretly a sweetheart as it turned out –

“Cutie-pie, was this supposed to be new information?” Ameko asked.

Well. Simon wasn’t sure what reaction he’d been expecting, but it wasn’t that.

“Uh…yeah?”

Ted looked confused and amused. Commused. “Darling, we knew you were bi all along. Are you telling us that you’ve been thinking you were straight this ENTIRE time?”

Simon scratched the back of his head. “Well… yeah. Shit. I guess I gotta stop assuming everyone is straight including myself, huh?”

Ameko and Ted both burst out laughing. Ted almost knocked his drink off the marble counter.

When Ameko finally caught her breath, she asked, “And so the Raphael thing? You’re telling us you just now realized you have the hots for him? What tipped you off?”

Now Simon felt embarrassed. “Well… I had this dream…”

Ted held up a hand, nodding sagely. “Say no more.”

“Brown Eyes, we’ve known all along but we assumed you just didn’t feel like talking about it in explicit terms. I mean, you do talk about him a lot. You never said the word ‘crush’ but we thought maybe it was because you were embarrassed?”

Simon laughed slightly hysterically and put his face in his hands. “Oh God…” Then he looked up ecstatically. “Hey! I managed to say it! God! God, God, God!”

Ted and Ameko both clapped and cheered.

“Raphael will be SO impressed,” Ted winked.

Simon was very glad he couldn’t blush. “Oh my god guys, you have to play it cool about this,” he begged them. “He can’t find out, that would be SO embarrassing.”

“If who finds out what?” Raphael suddenly appeared at his shoulder. Simon let out a humiliatingly high-pitched scream. Ameko and Ted looked like they were both trying very hard not to crack up again.

“If Stan finds out that Simon drank his blood detox protein shake,” Ameko lied smoothly.

Raphael glared at Simon. “Nene, you really have to stop drinking what belongs to other people. If we can’t rely on the honor system, we can’t maintain our communal fridge. And then everyone is going to have to buy their own minifridge. Is that what you want? To pay for a minifridge?”

“No, Raphael, I don’t want that,” Simon replied, trying to appear appropriately penitent.

Raphael glanced around at the three of them, sitting there with their various cocktails. He turned back to Simon. “Didn’t I tell you to finish updating the roster, like three hours ago? Have you done it yet?”

“No…”

Raphael sighed. “Get these two locos to help you. Maybe then you’ll actually finish it at a normal pace.”

“Hey! Rude.” Simon pouted at him and Raphael just smirked and walked away. Simon tried not to watch his ass, even though the slacks he was wearing today were extremely flattering.

As soon as Simon was sure that he was out of vampire-earshot, Simon turned back to his two friends and sighed hopelessly. They were both still clearly holding in laughter. Damn vampires.

 

&

 

Simon had realized two things. The first was that he was deeply attracted to Raphael, and he probably had been ever since they’d met but hadn’t started actively paying attention to it until recently, which was his loss really. It was fun to think about how hot Raphael was, and picture him in different outfits, and memorize his smile, and well. Visualize making out with him and contemplate the contours of his body and even imagine what kind of boyfriend he would be (probably a bit on the possessive side, but in a sexy way, not a creepy way).

The second thing was that Raphael was important to him, maybe more so than he’d even thought. The combination of these two things meant that Simon might possibly be in love with him, and that meant that he had to proceed with absolute caution.

“Why don’t we ever play organ music in here?”

Raphael stared at him uncomprehendingly.

“Isn’t that a thing vampires are into? Like Dracula?”

Raphael rolled his eyes. “Maybe you need to stop watching so many movies.”

Simon flopped backwards onto the ridiculous gold couch. “Well, what else is there to do around here? Lurk? I don’t know if I’m supposed to enjoy lurking because I’m a vampire, but it gets boring after a while.”

Pouring a glass of blood for himself, Raphael said, “You might consider doing the chores I tell you to do.”

“Why would I consider that?”

Mad (Fond). “You really are the worst advisor to the interim chapter president.”

“Sorry I’m no good compared to all your other advisors,” Simon snarked.

“I SHOULD hire more advisors. Maybe if I had three more, they’d be able to counteract how useless you are.”

“If I’m so useless, why did you hire me?”

Now Raphael looked directly at him. His face was just fond now, without any anger. It made Simon feel intensely vulnerable. He wanted to break eye contact, but he forced himself to look into Raphael’s eyes. His deep, dark, onyx eyes.

“I don’t actually think you’re useless, nene,” Raphael said. “I think you’re smart, and resourceful, and you understand people really well. And you’re less angry than I am. You balance me out.”

Simon felt so vulnerable he might as well be naked. He had no idea what to say, so he asked, “Who are you angry at?”

“The world. God. For making me this way. Or… I was, for a long time.”

Simon could understand. Although his response had been more akin to depression than anger. Maybe each vampire connected with a particular stage of grief – maybe it was their version of a personality test. “…And now?”

“I’ve made my peace with it. It’s who I am, for better or worse. And it’s not all bad. Some of it’s better than what could’ve otherwise happened. Por ejemplo – we would never have met if we weren’t both vampires.” Raphael smiled at him then, and it was probably the most sincere smile Simon had ever seen on him. It made him look so sweet and earnest as to be an entirely different person. Simon was sure that this was the real Raphael, though. A sunnier Raphael who was now mostly overshadowed but still shone occasionally.

Simon wasn’t sure how cautiously he’d be able to proceed.

 

&

 

“So how are things going in Vampire Land?” Luke asked.

“Fine. Hey Luke, you got any tips for how to flirt?”

Luke frowned and took a bite of egg roll. “Flirt? Like with who?”

Simon considered what to say. “Like with someone you might be desperately in love with?”

“Who are you desperately in love with? And why aren’t you sure about it?”

“Okay, so maybe you are sure, then. And this is totally hypothetical. I’m just wondering how you personally would approach that situation.”

Luke stared at him. “Simon... what aren’t you telling me?”

Simon spread his hands, dropping his mouth comically open. “Wha – nothing! It’s hypothetical!”

Irritatingly knowing Dad face. Damn.

Simon sighed. “Okay, fine, so maybe I’m in love with Raphael. Happy?”

Luke laughed. “Why, yes I am. Happy that you’ve finally realized it, that is.”

Simon laid his forehead down on the table. “Uggghhhhhhhhh. Why is everyone reacting that way? Why am I the absolute last person to get the memo about developments in my own life?”

Luke flashed him a fond look. “Maybe you just have to open your mind a little.”

“Maybe so.” Simon sighed again and cupped his chin in his hand. “Do you have advice or not?”

“Here’s my advice: tell him how you feel.”

“I veto that advice. I don’t think it would go well.”

“Why? What’s the worst that could happen?”

“Uh, he laughs in my face? And then fires me from my advisor position? And then kicks me out of the clan? And then I get killed by rogue vampires because I’m still pretty much defenseless even after months of training because I’m still just a geek whose primary skills involve memorizing star wars lore?”

“Simon, you know that’s not true. And I don’t think you need to worry about him laughing in your face. Trust me on this one.”

Simon stared at him incredulously. “How would you know?”

“Because I’m older and wiser than you.” Luke took another bite of egg roll and smirked at him.

Simon scowled. “I feel like pretty much everyone is, these days.”

 

&

 

Simon wondered how you were supposed to take someone out on a date when you were both allergic to sunlight and couldn’t eat anything except blood. That ruled out so many normal date activities – ice cream, coffee, a walk in the park. The movies would work, but they could only see a late-night showing and they couldn’t have popcorn. What fun would that be?

He was vaguely aware that most of his dating knowledge was based on high school “relationships” where either he or his date arrived in a parent’s SUV and they had to arrange a meeting time based on sports team practice schedules and respective homework loads. This situation was vastly different – especially considering the seriousness of his feelings for Raphael. The movies just didn’t seem like… enough.

Simon was saved from his overthinking by an announcement from Raphael.

“I’ll be away for about a week,” he informed the clan, in a rare group assembly in the lobby. “Since I’ve been appointed as the official leader of the clan, I have to undergo a ceremony to establish my status. While I’m gone, Simon is in charge. Do what he says.”

The other vampires looked at Simon and murmured at each other. He couldn’t tell whether they were excited or annoyed that Raphael was leaving. He bit his lip nervously, but Raphael was smiling at him and Raphael looked incredibly handsome in a designer sport coat, and so he didn’t feel TOO nervous.

Raphael’s absence alleviated the anxiety-inducing sense of urgency about needing to make some kind of move as soon as possible, but it also meant that Simon missed him desperately. Like, truly desperately. To the point that even Ameko and Ted were gently encouraging him to get a grip.

“Don’t you think this is a little much?” Ameko asked when she found him smelling one of Raphael’s jackets.

Simon wilted. “It really is, and nobody knows that more than me.”

He’d probably gotten too used to spending several hours with Raphael every day, because now the need to see him was so powerful that his body physically ached. He tried to kill time by napping in his room or watching old episodes of The Office in the rec room, but time passed like molasses, and he couldn’t stop picturing Raphael sitting next to him. That was one of the crazy things about being in love with someone; even when they weren’t there, an imaginary version of them was at your side because you couldn’t help but think of how they would react to different things, what they would say, even where they would stand in relation to you. You were never truly alone, but at the same time you were more alone than ever, because Imaginary Raphael was just a mediocre facsimile of Real Raphael.

Raphael hadn’t told them where exactly he was going, how they could contact him, or even exactly when he would be back, so Simon was starting to lose his mind a little.

His pre-arranged coffee meetup with Clary came at the perfect time. When you had a big stupid crush and you were being really embarrassing and pathetic about it, there was no antidote quite like a good conversation with your best friend. Well, to be honest there was really no antidote, period, but a good conversation with your best friend came very close.

Clary let him complain about how much he missed Raphael for a full fifteen minutes, which Simon thought was extremely generous of her. She hugged him close and ran her fingers through his hair, assuring him that everything would be okay. They were probably a sight to see in Starbucks at eleven thirty pm.

“Oh! I know what would cheer you up,” she exclaimed. “I’ll tell you what those nicknames mean. The ones Raphael calls you.”

That caught Simon’s interest. “Really? What does nene mean?”

“Well, technically it’s slang for ‘baby’. You might use it to refer to a little kid, but usually when you’re referring to an adult or a person your own age, it means. Well. The same thing ‘baby’ means in English.” She smiled at him conspiratorially.

Simon’s mouth fell open. “Wha – well, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything! He might be using it in the little kid way as a joke – the vampires have this running joke where they act like I’m a toddler because they’re all, like, at least three times my age. Stan even bought me a pacifier. They all think it’s hilarious.”

Clary looked doubtful. “Well, what about the other one he called you? What was that one, again?”

“Corazoncito.”

She beamed and hugged at him tighter. “Aww, Simon. It literally means ‘little heart’ but it sort of translates to ‘sweetheart’ I guess. It’s a very… tender thing to call someone.”

Simon felt his own heart kick up to a faster time signature. “…Oh.”

Clary squeezed him around the shoulders. “Yeah, Simon. ‘Oh.’”

 

&

 

“I know what it means!” Simon yelled as soon as he saw Raphael walking through the doors of the hotel lobby a few days later.

Dammit. He’d been hoping his opening line would be smoother than that.

“What, I don’t even get a hello?” Raphael asked, looking peeved. “And what the hell are you talking about, anyway?”

“Hello!” Simon blurted immediately.

Raphael folded his arms, lips twitching. “Well, that’ll do, I suppose…”

“What I meant to say was…” Simon took a deep breath and smoothed down his flannel shirt, trying to get his bearings. “I know what corazoncito means.”

Raphael’s expression didn’t change, but he did unfold his arms.

“It means, like, sweetheart, doesn’t it?” he asked nervously, praying to every deity out there that Clary hadn’t royally fucked up her Spanish.

Raphael rolled his eyes. “Dios, not every term of endearment has a direct translation in every language. You people are always doing this, trying to tie connections between this Spanish expression and that English expression, as if some things aren’t untranslatable, the nuance for God’s sake –“

“But it is a term of endearment, though?” Simon interrupted, trying not to smile. His heart was beating faster and he knew Raphael could hear it.

Now Raphael looked nervous, as though he thought Simon was accusing him of something but he couldn’t figure out what. “…Yes.”

Simon gulped. “The other thing I really want to say is… I missed you. Like, uh. A lot.”

Raphael smirked and raised an eyebrow. “You did, huh?”

Simon shuffled his feet. “Yeah.”

Raphael didn’t answer, but he did step towards him, still smirking. The silence was stressing Simon out just a little. “Will you say something?”

“What do you want me to say?” Raphael asked. “That I missed you, too?”

“That… would not be unwelcome.”

Simon was still mostly looking at the floor. Raphael tilted his head down, making eye contact with him. Their noses were almost touching. “Fine then, I missed you. A lot. More than you know.” He placed a hand on Simon’s cheek. “Corazoncito.”

And then they were kissing. Simon wasn’t sure exactly how it happened - Raphael had pretty clearly been going in for one, but Simon might’ve just completely lost his cool and kissed Raphael first before he could even finish the move. It didn’t matter anyway – kissing Raphael in real life was a hundred thousand times better than it had been in any of his daydreams, because it was impossible to replicate the thrills of excitement that washed through his body like falling stars, or the way his skin burned blazing hot wherever Raphael placed his hands, or the fact that Raphael had more stubble than he’d realized, or even the little mishap where they accidentally bumped noses and started laughing softly and Raphael kissed him on the cheek – it was perfect.

 

&

 

In the weeks and months that followed, Simon learned a lot more Spanish terms of endearment. Like “mi amor”, obviously, But also “mi alma” and “mi vida”.

“Does it even mean anything for you to call me your soul and your life? Since, you know, you’re dead, and… do vampires even have souls?”

Raphael glared at him from his half-buried position on the other pillow in Simon’s bed. His messy hair ruined the effect of the glare somewhat, but Simon found himself not really minding.

“Doesn’t it mean even more for me to call you my soul if I don’t have one in my own body? Because I love you so much that you’re an essential part of who I am?”

Which was such a heartstoppingly romantic thing to say that Simon obviously had to roll over and kiss him like he needed it to survive.

He was also learning and categorizing lots of new Raphael Faces. “Fond” was a classic, but there was also “Earnest” and “Tender” and “Amazed” and “Turned On” and one that Simon liked to call “Lovestruck” even though Raphael insisted that was a stupid word.

“Says the one who looks ‘Lovestruck’ right at this very moment,” Simon replied smugly, and then Raphael surged forward and kissed him which caused Simon to accidentally spill blood-and-gin-and-tonic on both their shirts.

“I told you I’m a clothes-ruiner,” Simon reminded him apologetically, later that night.

Raphael smirked and began unbuttoning Simon’s shirt. “Well, who needs clothes, really?”

 

&

 

“So how’s wedded bliss? Or… boyfriend-ed bliss?” Ted asked him as their trio watched When Harry Met Sally for something like the seventeenth time.

“It’s amazing!” Simon said, beaming so big his fangs popped out. Goddammit, it had been so long since that happened.

“Aww, sweetie!” Ameko kissed him on the head.

He really meant it, though. He wasn’t exaggerating. His life – after-life – didn’t feel empty at all anymore. It felt overflowing. Falling in love did that, he supposed.

Simon looked at his two friends enjoying their favorite movie, and thought of Clary and their nightly FaceTime calls, and his weekly trips to the Jade Wolf to see Luke, and even Stan and his stupid blood protein shakes that he was letting Simon try a taste of from time to time.

Falling in love was like turning a light on in a dark room, he supposed. It made everything warmer and safer and clearer to see, but it also illuminated all the wonderful things that were already there to begin with.

 

&

 

“You know, you acted like the pet name thing was such a big reveal, but I thought you knew what they meant all along.”

“Wha – how would I know that?”

“I don’t know, Google Translate?”

“I’m amazed you even know what that is. Because you’re, you know, super old.”

“Oh, shut up, lindo.”