“Simon’s betrayed us,” Raphael says, and Simon sees the flash of hurt behind his eyes before they harden, smirk in place around his fangs. Clary straightens up next to him, Camille already in battle mode, and he can see how it plays out as the vampires get ready to move.
“No, stop…” Simon says, and then the wall behind him explodes as the world tilts on its axis and he’s stood outside Pandemonium holding a can of spray paint and feeling his heart beating too loudly inside his chest.
“Simon?” Maureen says, frowning a little.
“What…?” he starts, and then everything fades to black.
“Low blood sugar,” he says, and then starts laughing hysterically.
In hindsight it’s no wonder the others seem a little freaked out.
The first time he lets it play out the same, doesn’t know how to change things without going full on Butterfly Effect. Besides, his head’s spinning and everything’s a little foggy, and Raphael did hang him from a building that one time—
“You’re making a huge mistake,” Clary says, righteous arrogance draped across her shoulders.
They make it out, too many vampires dead and Raphael’s anger a spreading oil fire.
Camille runs and Valentine shows, and then Simon’s being thrown to the ground, head hitting the floor.
He wakes up outside Pandemonium, spray paint in hand.
The second time he tries to tell Clary but she flits between looking concerned and telling him she’s sure there’s an explanation. Simon’s sure there is, too, and the irony of him knowing more about the Shadow World than her would be funny if it weren’t such a mess.
It’s too early, Camille hasn’t taken him yet, and he makes the mistake of mentioning the search in front of Jace and co. and almost gets his head sliced off for the effort.
“What do you know about the Mortal Instruments?” Alec demands, suspicion spread between them, and even Clary looks unsure.
“That’s what you’re looking for, right?” Simon says, playing dumb. “A cup?”
The third time he thinks fuck it and stays home.
Unfortunately Valentine finds him anyway.
The fourth through sixth time are variations on a theme. Simon tries to change things, step by step. He doesn’t let Camille Turn him. He goes searching for the book alone. He tries to find Dot.
To some extent they work. Every time there’s a moment where he thinks maybe he’s done enough, maybe whatever it is is fixed—
He always wakes up outside Pandemonium.
He’s really starting to hate it there.
By the seventh time he’s exhausted.
He goes to the Hotel Du Mort and stays, spends his nights curled up on stupidly comfortable armchairs in the communal spaces Camille never got her aesthetics on, getting to know the vampires he never bothered learning the names of before, listening to their stories and trying to forget how many times he’s had to crawl out of his own grave now. If he thought it’d ever get easier…
He lets Raphael teach him and doesn’t complain — or, okay, doesn’t complain as often — and Raphael watches him suspiciously until he doesn’t, drawing him into clan conversations and slipping new clothes into Simon’s stuff like Simon doesn’t immediately know it’s him.
It’s strange. Simon hadn’t understood the first time, hadn’t realized what it was Raphael was trying to show him. Oh, sure, he got the fighting techniques and the lessons about feeding, but the rest of it? The community Raphael was trying to build? Somewhere safe for his people under a leader who actually cared—
He hadn’t got that, before.
He thinks maybe he’s starting to now.
When Clary comes calling, desperate in her search for a way to wake her mom, he still helps, still betrays them, only this time he knows enough to regret it.
(He knows enough to see the sharpened pain behind Raphael’s eyes and realize it for what it is.)
The eighth time he goes to the Hotel Du Mort again.
The same on the ninth and tenth and eleventh.
“You’re good at this,” Raphael says as Simon ducks from his attack, using the room to his advantage.
“I had a great teacher,” Simon says, and Raphael hums, confused. Simon bites back a smile and watches Raphael shake off a little more of the coldness he seems to keep for less and less time as each loop passes.
Simon’s cell rings, Clary’s name clear as day where he’s dumped it on the ornate table in the corner. Raphael steps back.
“Again?” Simon says, letting it go to voicemail.
Raphael tilts his head, considering.
“Again,” he says.
Simon still ends up back at Pandemonium.
“When did it start?” Magnus asks the twelfth time.
Honestly Simon can only blame time loop idiocy for not coming here earlier.
“Forever ago,” Simon says. “That’s only mostly an exaggeration. It’s a different length every time.”
“Hmm,” Magnus says and then proceeds to spend several hours pouring potions and herbs over him whilst working his way through about a dozen spellbooks. Simon smells like he’s been bathing in a martini by the time they’re done.
“Nope,” Magnus says afterwards, looking surprisingly cheerful. “No idea. Whatever it is doesn’t seem harmful, so that’s good.”
“But how do I make it stop?” Simon says, still sat crossed-legged on the floor, missing his shirt and at least eighty percent of the dignity he walked in with.
“Well,” Magnus says, pouring himself another drink. “Did you work out what started it?”
“Yes,” Simon says. “I tried changing all that and it didn’t do anything.”
Magnus quirks an eyebrow at him.
“Okay,” he says pointedly, swirling an olive around his glass. “But did you really?”
“Y’know,” Simon says, grabbing his sweater, “I would have been way more chill about the cryptic shit, oh, five loops ago.”
Magnus smiles and waves him out.
“Are you alright?” Raphael asks, loop thirteen. Simon’s sat on the street outside the Hotel, kicking his boots against the curb.
“You ever just feel like it doesn’t matter what you do, nothing changes?” he says, and Raphael hums, brushing down the sidewalk to join him.
“Pretty sure that sums up the Night Children,” he says, and Simon huffs out a laugh of acknowledgment. When you live forever everything changes and nothing does. You get to watch as the world repeats itself over and over. They just have faster cellphones now.
“When I was a child,” Raphael says after a moment, staring straight ahead, “my mother used to plant flowers in our tiny front yard. All sorts of beautiful things. Every time they came into bloom we’d wake up to find them ripped out, her garden nothing but soil. And so my mother would plant them again. Over and over. I’d get so mad. I asked her once why she bothered, and she just smiled.”
“Wow,” Simon says, watching Raphael out the corner of his eye. “That sucks.”
“Hmm,” Raphael says, and the smile on his face is soft, nostalgic. “When I was fifteen I caught one of the boys doing it. He was ten, maybe? A tiny, scrappy thing. It turns out he was picking them for his mother’s birthday. Apparently for years word had got around that my mother grew the most beautiful flowers and children had been taking them as gifts for the people they loved. They had no money, used to gather drinks bottles and deliver papers for pennies. But my mother’s garden was a place of beautiful things and always made their own mothers smile.
My mother knew, I think. So she didn’t see it as a loss. I saw her hard work going to waste and left to dirt, but she saw the beauty being shared.”
Simon’s throat feels tight, and he bites his lip and tries not to say anything stupid.
“We don’t always see the way our actions change things,” Raphael says. “That doesn’t mean they don’t.”
Simon stares out into the night and feels heavy. Overwhelmed. Every part of him is tired and scared and frustrated, and also steadily creeping into the new norm.
He’s starting to understand, and it’s terrifying.
“Thanks Yoda,” he says instead of anything helpful or true.
It’s sad that the way Raphael rolls his eyes is becoming a comfort thing.
Loop fourteen he acts out, tries to stifle this thing that’s been steadily building or maybe was there all along and he’s only now putting name to.
In hindsight trying to persuade Raphael to be the one to Turn him isn’t his most stellar plan.
But, hey, he stays breathing long enough to be killed by one of Valentine’s stupid minions so, uh, silver lining?
“Okay,” he says, loop fifteen. “Okay. I just— Don’t kill me.”
Raphael stays stock still as Simon leans close, pressing their lips together. They’re on the sidewalk outside the Hotel again. Simon hasn’t seen Clary and the Shadowhunters in weeks. Raphael’s told the same story about his mom, and the small smile at the corner of his lips is too much for Simon to take.
Everything’s painfully still, and Simon doesn’t push, just keeps it a soft, gentle thing.
“Okay,” he says, and sits back.
Raphael’s watching him carefully, waiting for the punchline.
Simon leans in to kiss him again and wakes up outside Pandemonium.
He kisses Raphael again, loops sixteen and seventeen and eighteen, like now he’s started he can’t stop.
Every time Raphael looks at him with that same confusion and Simon kisses it away because he doesn’t know how to shape the words that need saying.
If he’s honest, he’s known how to break the loop for a while now, he just hasn’t trusted it.
Okay, he thinks, eyes on Raphael’s lips. I get it now.
He wakes up one more time outside Pandemonium and lets everything play out the way it was always meant to.
“Hey,” he says, and Raphael looks up from the paperwork in his hands. “Clary and Isabelle are coming by to talk to you.”
Raphael quirks an eyebrow. “What do the Shadowhunters want now?”
Here it is, Simon thinks, and prays it works even as he knows it will.
“They want us to let Camille go so she can take them to a book she has that might be able to wake Clary’s mom. It doesn’t go well. There’s a whole ton of carnage, and I’m an asshole, and Camille gives over the book but then does a runner, and Valentine shows up anyway…”
Raphael stares at him.
“So here’s the thing,” Simon says, because in for a penny, in for a pound. “This has all happened before. Like, a stupid number of times. And it didn’t matter what I did, it just happened again and again and again, and I thought for ages that I knew why, but I was wrong.”
Raphael leans back in his chair, watching Simon carefully. He probably thinks Simon’s completely lost it, but to be fair that’s his default expression most the time anyway.
“It’s like your mom’s flowers,” he says, taking the risk, and watches Raphael freeze, eyes wide. “I was so focused on the messy parts, I couldn’t see the bigger picture.”
“What bigger picture?” Raphael says eventually, so cautiously, and Simon thinks of all the other versions of him, the ones who had accepted Simon’s kisses and still looked unsure afterwards, waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under him.
“Trust,” Simon says. “I thought it was about me, about my mistakes. And it was, sorta. But mostly it was about you. I should have just told you everything the first time, about Clary and why it was important to her, but to me, too. I should have given you time to come up with alternatives and understood why you made the choices you did and the position you were in and not just let everything turn into an ambush. I should have trusted you.”
Raphael watches him, head tilted to the side, and Simon lets him, keeping his gaze.
Simon’s still exhausted, knows at some point he’s going to have to unravel the trauma of reliving his own death and rebirth so many times. He’s not sure he’ll ever be able to get the feeling of grave dirt out from under his nails, and he knows too many things he shouldn’t, memories imprinting over one another confusingly.
Right now, though, it’s just him and Raphael and a long, telling moment.
“Whatever choice you make, I’ll support you,” he says, and means it for the promise it is.
Raphael stands up, takes a halting step and then another until they’re close enough to touch. The tips of Simon’s fingers itch with the desire to reach out, to cup Raphael’s cheek in his hand and kiss him again in that same gentle way he’s become so embarrassingly hungry for.
He doesn’t. He waits.
“Why?” Raphael says, and Simon hears everything he’s asking.
“Because there’s a version of the story where we’re just dirt and hard work,” Simon says, “but I think there can also one where we can make a place of beautiful things.”
Raphael makes a noise at the back of his throat, something soft and feral, and when he kisses Simon it’s new and surprising and so, so wanted. Simon kisses him back eagerly, hands settling on his hips, his shoulders, his cheeks, unable to stop.
“God,” Raphael says when they pull apart, and Simon laughs.
“…The garden thing was too much, wasn’t it?”
“It was appalling,” Raphael says, hand still tangled in Simon’s hair. “You’re a disaster.”
“Yeah,” Simon says, then, because he’s learnt too much now not to understand time and gravity and priorities: “We should probably figure out a plan before the Shadowhunters get here.”
“Okay,” Raphael says, a promise of his own that Simon lets sink into his bones. “We’ll figure it out.”
(“How many times?” Raphael asks later.
Simon’s still at the Hotel, drinking blood from his new favorite mug, sat on the couch and saving every press of Raphael’s shoulder against his to memory. None of the loops had ever taken him here before, and it’s the final assurance that it’s finally over.
“Uh,” he says, thinking about it, “eighteen? Nineteen if you count this one.”
There’s a long moment of silence where Simon thinks Raphael’s taking in the gravitas of it all before Raphael turns to stare at him.
“Are you telling me,” he says, and oh, yeah, okay, there’s that old familiar look, “that it took you eighteen times to just talk to me?”
Simon blinks. “…Maybe? I’m a disaster, remember!”
In the end he has to kiss Raphael just to stop the ranting.
It’s not the worst lesson to have learnt.)