When Clary was thrown into the Shadow World by her mother and a group of shadowhunters, she didn’t know what she was getting herself into.
Three months later, she still has no clue what half of these people want with her. Isabelle Lightwood and Jace Herondale, the two warriors who found her and convinced her mom to reveal the Shadow World to her, have become her tentative friends. They’re a bit strange and more than a little insane, but at least she knows they don’t have any evil intentions.
Alec Lightwood, their brother, and Head of the Institute, is also a known variable. He’s not as predictable as the other two in many ways, but Clary knows he doesn’t mean her any harm. He doesn’t really like her, but that’s of no importance. She doesn’t need her boss to like her, she just needs to show him he can trust her and send her on missions.
The other shadowhunters of the Institute are also easy enough to understand. They don’t appreciate change – and therefore her – but they’re willing to work with her and show her the ins and outs of the Institute. They’re hardened soldiers whom she doesn’t always like, but they’re not the worst. Similarly, downworlders are confused about her presence, however her tendency to treat them as she would anyone else has clearly won her bonus points.
Well, that and the fact that her step-father Luke is apparently the Alpha of the werewolf pack or something of the sort.
She’s adjusting a lot better and faster than she anticipated, and even her mother has told her how proud she is of her progress. Everything should be fine. She should be happy to be fitting in and making friends. However, there is still one person she doesn’t understand, one variable she can’t place in this whole mess.
Lydia Branwell, Alec’s second-in-command, his right-hand woman. The one who’s in charge of overseeing Clary’s training and of making sure everything works smoothly under her control. She’s stern, hard-working, a pain in the ass, and also incredibly – unfairly – attractive.
Clary has never been attracted to a woman. Well, she hasn’t really been attracted to anyone before. She’s had a few crushes here and there, but nothing like what she’s starting to feel for Lydia. She doesn’t know how to explain it, and she certainly doesn’t know how to deal with it. With them, her damned emotions.
It’s like lust and passion and confusion and envy and hatred and interest all mashed up into one big bowl. Except in this case, the bowl is her heart. Lydia is a paradox Clary can’t explain, and she doesn’t know whether it infuriates her or makes her want to kiss her. Maybe both, or maybe neither.
That’s how confused Lydia makes her feel.
The redhead throws a weak glare at her instructor, checking the runes in front of her to make sure she hasn’t accidentally written something incriminating on the paper whilst she was daydreaming. The last thing she wants is for Lydia to find a heart with their initials written in it when she looks at Clary’s progress. Her crush is embarrassing enough as it is; the last thing she needs is for the object of her affections to find out about it.
“My runes look fine,” she rolls her eyes instead, gesturing at the rows of curves and lines she’s just drawn. “Runes are the last thing I have to worry about. I may still be pretty bad at fighting demons, but my art skills have never been in question here. Oh and, my last name is Fray, Branwell.”
“Not here it isn’t,” the blonde shrugs, snatching the paper out of Clary’s hands and letting her eyes rove over the neat runes Clary just slaved over. “Although I’ll admit these runes are quite nice. You have a true talent, Fairchild. If a job out on the field doesn’t work out for you, there are plenty of options in research and development that could use you.”
It’s an interesting idea, and one that Clary will definitely explore later. For now, she needs to make sure her superior understands just how unimpressed Clary is with her refusal to treat her with respect.
“My name is Fray everywhere, Branwell,” she states coldly, narrowing her eyes at Lydia. “I get that I was born a Fairchild and that it’s a much more dignified name for a shadowhunter, but I really don’t care. I was raised a Fray, and I’m not going to let your little society of warriors take that away from me.”
“And here I thought you were finally learning to blend in,” Lydia raises an eyebrow at her, folding the paper in her hands in half. Clary winces at the gesture, knowing half of the runes will be ruined by the time Lydia opens it up again. All that work for nothing, once again. “It’s just a last name, nothing more. I’m sure you can deal with a bit of change, after everything you’ve been through.”
“I suppose I could,” Clary admits, tilting her head to the side as though she’s truly considering it. “However, I think I’ve had more than enough change for a lifetime. I’m Clary Fray, and I always will be. I respect your – our – culture, but it doesn’t control or define me. Refusal to comply to your every rule doesn’t mean I don’t fit in here, Branwell. It just means I also happen to have a mind of my own.”
“Oh, I certainly don’t doubt that,” Lydia chuckles. “You never back away from a fight, you’re willing to learn but also desperate to prove your point, you’re not afraid of Alec and even less of me… Tell me, do you really think you’re so much better than all of us, or are you just stubborn?”
“Unfortunately for you, the second option would be the correct one,” Clary smirks. “You can try changing my mind if you want to, but I promise it won’t get you very far. Strangely enough, everyone here has gotten used to my presence. The only person who’s still struggling is you. So how about you tell me what your problem is? Maybe you’re the one who thinks she’s so much better than me.”
It’s something she’s been wondering about ever since she noticed Lydia’s resistance to Clary’s position in the Institute. She even caught Alec and her having an argument about Clary a few weeks ago. It warmed her heart to know that Alec has grown to like her more than he initially did, but it also makes her feel hollow.
For some reason, Lydia’s approval matters to her in a way no one else’s does. Everyone has congratulated her on her progress and her hard work and her resilience in the face of change. Everyone except Lydia. And because Clary clearly likes to torture herself, Lydia’s opinion matters to her.
She doesn’t know why. Lydia and her barely speak to each other. They exchange greetings and talk about Clary’s rune work or – occasionally – fighting form, but other than that, they stay as far away from each other as possible. Part of the redhead wonders if Lydia is doing it on purpose, since there’s no way they wouldn’t have run into each other in a hallway or two otherwise.
It shouldn’t bother her, since she doesn’t even like her instructor. Lydia is selfish and snobbish and all the things Clary hates about this world. She doesn’t care about her subordinates in the same way Alec does, and she isn’t as involved in the Downworld as Isabelle and Jace are. She’s strict and unforgiving, never fails to insult Clary for every tiny mistake, and always seems to know when Clary isn’t following the rules.
She’s the most annoying person Clary has ever met, but the redhead is drawn to her, inexplicably. Maybe she has a bit of a masochist thing going on, or maybe her heart sees something in Lydia that she doesn’t fully understand yet. Or maybe she’s just downright delusional.
Whatever the reason, she cares about this ridiculous blonde lieutenant. And she’s not sure her heart could take it if the woman decides to mock her or dismiss her or insult her one more time. She’s not sure how much more she can handle before she flees and takes refugee in an Alaskan Institute, far from everyone here.
Far from Lydia.
“I don’t think I’m better than you,” Lydia scoffs, her blue eyes wide with disbelief. “How could you possibly think that? Yes, I’m your superior, but you’re the one who’s been pushing and trying to get on my bad side at every single turn. Every time I enter a room, you roll your eyes or whisper something to your friends or undermine my authority. So no, Clarissa, I don’t think I’m better than you, I’m just not going to let a newbie push me around because she has some personal grudge I don’t understand.”
“What on earth are you talking about?” Clary exclaims, throwing her hands in the air exasperatedly. “The only reason I undermine your authority is because you’re hellbent on asking me to complete impossible tasks because, for some reason, you’ve decided that you don’t want me here.”
“I never said that!” Lydia hisses, sapphire blue flashing dangerously. “Maybe I just don’t want you looking me up and down incessantly like I’m some sort of mystery you’re trying to solve. I’m a human being, Fray, not some toy you can control with your angelic abilities. I ask the impossible of you because you bring out the worst in me with your judgemental stares and angry retorts every time I so much as open my mouth.”
Clary gapes at the blonde woman, her mouth opening and closing uselessly. She won’t deny that she’s spent quite a lot of time analysing Lydia and trying to find whatever it is that makes Clary attracted to her, but she’s not using her as some sort of project. If anything, she was under the impression it was the other way around.
“I thought you were using me as a way to… I don’t know,” she starts, looking away from Lydia’s intense gaze. “I’m just… I don’t understand you, alright! I don’t understand this, this strange tension between us that’s been there from the very first day. I don’t understand why you expect so much out of me, and I don’t understand why you bring out the worst in me too. And more than anything, I don’t understand why despite everything, despite all your harsh words and treatment, I still want to spend time with you!”
She’s panting by the end of her little speech, though she hurriedly covers her mouth with her hands in an effort to prevent herself from saying anything else. She may not have directly told Lydia that she has some strange crush on her, but she certainly came close enough that the blonde will probably figure it out.
She gives it one minute, maximum. Two if she’s lucky.
Her heart is beating wildly, and she doesn’t know if it’s because she’s afraid of rejection or because she has hope that Lydia will actually say yes. Because if there’s one thing this little conversation has proven, it’s that Lydia feels the same way about Clary as the redhead does about her.
A minute passes, and Clary almost smirks when Lydia finally opens her mouth to speak again. Not even two.
“I’m not even going to try to unpack everything you just blurted out,” the blonde murmurs, her brows furrowed in either concentration or confusion – or both, most likely. “But that last thing you said sounded dangerously close to a… By the angel, Fray, what were you trying to say? What are you trying to achieve here?”
“Well, I mostly just want to understand why you hate me,” Clary answers with a small smile. “However, I have a feeling I might get something else out of this if I play my cards correctly. Tell me, Lydia, am I the only one who feels this inexplicable attraction? Or is there more to this than I anticipated?”
“I-” There’s a flush on Lydia’s cheeks, dark and unexpected and beautiful. “I don’t understand it.”
Clary nods slowly, taking a step closer to Lydia until she can reach out for her hand. When their fingers curl around each other, Clary’s heart eases. It doesn’t make any sense, even now. Nothing about their relationship is rational, especially not this. But Clary hasn’t felt this peaceful in weeks and, if the surprised look on her face is anything to go by, neither has Lydia.
Clary doesn’t know if she could handle a romantic relationship with a woman, especially one as stunning and skilled as Lydia. She doesn’t know if this will go anywhere of it it’ll end in disaster. She doesn’t know if their attraction is enough to take them anywhere. She doesn’t know if they’ll manage to keep their insults and reproaches to themselves long enough to go on a- to go out together. As friends.
(Or as more.)
“I don’t either,” she whispers, squeezing Lydia’s hand. “But maybe we don’t have to understand it. Maybe we just have to take a leap of faith.”