“Hodge, can I ask you a question?”
Hodge’s face spells bewilderment, and at that Robert is hardly surprised. He can count on both hands how many times he’s actually talked to Hodge over the last ten years, and even then, it was usually for business, brisk and professional: what information they had on selkies, or research on demons crawling around Central Park. The New York Institute is big enough for the three of them, him and Hodge and Maryse, to seclude themselves in some private corner and never interact again - sometimes, if it weren’t for the children, Robert thinks he and Maryse would be strangers. It’s hard to look at each other and not remember what they’ve done, why they’re in New York instead of Idris. Like tally marks on a chalkboard, stark and glaring.
“Jace,” he begins, then stops, feeling awkward. None of them have dared mention the things they did in the Circle since the trials following the Uprising, save for the discussions that followed the fire-message from the Clave, announcing Michael Wayland’s death. But if anyone would know, it would be Hodge, and if he didn’t, well - there isn’t anyone left to ask.
Jace doesn’t look like Michael.
He doesn’t. Jonathan - Jace looks nothing like Robert expected, though he’d only seen the baby a bare handful of times. He’d been there for the first protection rites, standing stiffly at Michael’s elbow as he crooned over his fussing son and turned him over for Robert to hold for the first time. And of course, Robert had been named next of kin. Some things were expected, even of a parabatai that was no longer parabatai in anything but name.
Godfather, Michael had said, smiling tightly. In case anything happens to me.
It had hurt, somehow. Wherest thou go, I goest - but Robert could no longer grasp him by the shoulder and give him a playful shake, say, as if I’d let anything happen to you. They’d both known the truth, serrated and ugly as it was. It hadn’t needed voicing.
“Jace,” Robert repeats, stalls. Hodge looks mildly impatient, though impatient to do what, Robert can’t imagine. The Institute library is massive, but there are only so many ways to re-categorize books, and Hodge must have exhausted them by now. “Do you think Jace looks like Michael?”
He doesn’t tack on the desperate at all at the end, but he might as well have.
Hodge blinks at him owlishly. “Ah,” he says, in the same tone Robert’s heard him use with the children whenever they ask him a particularly interesting history question. “Well, that’s hard to say. It was you and Stephen who were closer to him, yes, and Lucian and…”
Valentine. Hodge diverts his attention to a shelf of heavy leather tomes that suddenly need consulting. “It’s been so long, I can’t remember,” he continues, a little too loudly. “But no, now that you mention it, he doesn’t look much like him. Maybe he takes after his mother. The Rosewain girl? Ella, or, no - Eliza.”
Robert doesn’t remember Eliza much. He knows she had short light brown hair and green eyes and freckles, and he has a vague memory of her laugh, buried in with a memory of her nestled into Michael’s shoulder, but that’s where his memories end. She’d died before the Uprising and they hadn’t been around each other much before then, kept busy by Valentine and their respective children and...the tension between him and Michael.
He does remember going to the funeral. He’d seen Michael at the foot of the pyre with Jonathan in his arms, face pale and drawn with grief, and for a fleeting moment had desperately wanted to go to him, to steady him. For more than a fleeting moment.
He hadn’t done it. In the end, he’d left Michael alone. Another tally mark of regret.
Hodge is still talking. “I’m sure there are, ah, photographs somewhere. Kept for historical records, you understand. I could look - ”
“No!” Robert nearly shouts. He can feel beads of cold sweat on his forehead. The thought of seeing their faces, the dead and the gone and the gone and Valentine’s cold black eyes makes him feel like his skeleton is shrinking within his body. It leaves him disoriented and unsteady. “No, Hodge, it’s...alright. I have photos.”
Hodge, who initially startled into stillness, busies himself with the shelves again. “Well, if you’re certain,” he says blandly, like he knows.
The sounds of running feet and laughter announces the kids’ imminent arrival. Isabelle triumphantly bursts through the library doors, Alec and Jace just a step behind her, all three sweat-soaked and in training gear.
“I see you are all very excited to learn about the piskies of 1534,” Hodge says loudly, with the same measured blandness, and all three kids come to a screeching halt so fast it’s almost comical. Robert schools his expression into a disapproving frown. It isn’t hard. “You know there’s no running in the library.”
Alexander dips his head and murmurs, “Sorry,” but Isabelle just grins at him, smile a mile wide. “Sorry,” she chirps, though she sounds like she doesn’t mean it in the slightest.
“Well, we weren’t really running,” Jace allows. His gold eyes are aglow with mischief (much like Michael when they were younger, Robert thinks, but perhaps not quite - ) and his smile is bright. He reminds Robert of Michael, but again - not quite. “I’d say it was more of a fast jog. A canter, if you will.”
Hodge adjusts his glasses and sighs. It’s exasperated, but Robert thinks the fond maybe-grimace balances it out.
Robert points toward the door. “All of you,” he says. “Shower, change, then come back.”
Isabelle careens into his side for a quick hug - then it’s Alexander, shyly, getting taller all the time and now up to Robert’s ribs. Robert watches them bound out the door, Jace between them, playfully pulling Alexander off-kilter by slinging his arm around Alec’s thin shoulder.
He’s slender like Michael was, hair tousled in the same way. The gleam in his eyes most likely belongs to Eliza - Michael’s eyes, as far as Robert can remember, were always just slightly unfocused, as though he was seeing something else in your place. Something, someone fantastic. Wondering.
If he didn’t know any better, he’d say that smile has more Stephen Herondale in it than Michael.
Behind him, Hodge clears his throat. “Was there something else we needed to discuss?”
“No,” Robert says absently, as the doors swing shut behind Izzy’s ponytail, muting the kids’ chatter. He tears his gaze away to look at Hodge. “No. I’ll be in the office.”
What does it really matter, in the end? Michael Wayland is dead.