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City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments 2) Cassandra Clare 2022/8/5 16:53:15

“I’ve never even been to England,” she said, but she shut her eyelids. She could feel the dank heaviness of her clothes, cold and itchy against her skin, and the cloying sweet air of the cave, colder yet, and the weight of Jace’s hands on her shoulders, the only things that were warm. And then he kissed her.

She felt the brush of his lips, light at first, and her own opened automatically beneath the pressure. Almost against her will she felt herself go fluid and pliant, stretching upward to twine her arms around his neck the way that a sunflower twists toward light. His arms slid around her, his hands knotting in her hair, and the kiss stopped being gentle and became fierce, all in a single moment like tinder flaring into a blaze. Clary heard a sound like a sigh rush through the Court, all around them, a wave of noise, but it meant nothing, was lost in the rush of her blood through her veins, the dizzying sense of weightlessness in her body.

Jace’s hands moved from her hair, slid down her spine; she felt the hard press of his palms against her shoulder blades—and then he pulled away, gently disengaging himself, drawing her hands away from his neck and stepping back. For a moment Clary thought she might fall; she felt as if something essential had been torn away from her, an arm or a leg, and she stared at Jace in blank astonishment—what did he feel, did he feel nothing? She didn’t think she could bear it if he felt nothing.

He looked back at her, and when she saw the look on his face, she saw his eyes at Renwick’s, when he had watched the Portal that separated him from his home shatter into a thousand irretrievable pieces. He held her gaze for a split second, then looked away from her, the muscles in his throat working. His hands were clenched into fists at his sides. “Was that good enough?” he called, turning to face the Queen and the courtiers behind her. “Did that entertain you?”

The Queen had a hand across her mouth, half-covering a smile. “We are quite entertained,” she said. “But not, I think, so much as the both of you.”

“I can only assume,” said Jace, “that mortal emotions amuse you because you have none of your own.”

The smile slipped from her mouth at that.

“Easy, Jace,” said Isabelle. She turned to Clary. “Can you leave now? Are you free?”

Clary went to the door and was not surprised to find no resistance barring her way. She stood with her hand among the vines and turned to Simon. He was staring at her as if he’d never seen her before.

“We should go,” she said. “Before it’s too late.”

“It’s already too late,” he said.

Meliorn led them from the Seelie Court and deposited them back in the park, all without speaking a single word. Clary thought his back looked stiff and disapproving. He turned away after they’d splashed out of the pond, without even a good-bye for Isabelle, and disappeared back into the wavering reflection of the moon.

Isabelle watched him go with a scowl. “He is so broken up with.”

Jace made a sound like a choked laugh and flipped the collar of his wet jacket up. They were all shivering. The cold night smelled like dirt and plants and human modernity—Clary almost thought she could scent the iron on the air. The ring of city surrounding the park sparked with fierce lights: ice blue, cool green, hot red, and the pond lapped quietly against its dirt shores. The moon’s reflection had moved to the pond’s far edge and quivered there as if it were afraid of them.

“We’d better get back.” Isabelle drew her still-wet coat closer around her shoulders. “Before we freeze to death.”

“It’s going to take forever to get back to Brooklyn,” Clary said. “Maybe we should take a taxi.”

“Or we could just go to the Institute,” suggested Isabelle. At Jace’s look, she said quickly, “No one’s there anyway—they’re all in the Bone City, looking for clues. It’ll just take a second to stop by and grab your clothes, change into something dry. Besides, the Institute is still your home, Jace.”

“It’s fine,” Jace said, to Isabelle’s evident surprise. “There’s something I need from my room there anyway.”

Clary hesitated. “I don’t know. I might just grab a cab back with Simon.” Maybe if they spent a little time alone together, she could explain to him what had happened down in the Seelie Court, and that it wasn’t what he thought.

Jace had been examining his watch for water damage. Now he looked at her, eyebrows raised. “That might be a little difficult,” he said, “seeing that he left already.”

“He what?” Clary whirled around and stared. Simon was gone; the three of them were alone by the pond. She ran a little way up the hill and shouted his name. In the distance, she could just see him, striding purposefully away along the concrete path that led out of the park and onto the avenue. She called out to him again, but he didn’t turn around.


ISABELLE HAD BEEN TELLING THE TRUTH: THE INSTITUTE WAS entirely deserted. Almost entirely, anyway. Max was asleep on the red couch in the foyer when they came in. His glasses were slightly askew and he clearly hadn’t meant to fall asleep: There was a book open on the floor where he’d dropped it and his sneakered feet dangled over the couch’s edge in a manner that looked as if it were probably uncomfortable.

Clary’s heart went out to him immediately. He reminded her of Simon at the age of nine or ten, all glasses and awkward blinking and ears.

“Max is like a cat. He can sleep anywhere.” Jace reached down and plucked the glasses from Max’s face, setting them down on a squat inlaid table nearby. There was a look on his face Clary had never seen before—a fierce protective gentleness that surprised her.

“Oh, leave his stuff alone—you’ll just get mud on it,” said Isabelle crossly, unbuttoning her wet coat. Her dress clung to her long torso and water darkened the thick leather belt around her waist. The glitter of her coiled whip was just visible where the handle protruded from the edge of the belt. She was frowning. “I can feel a cold coming on,” she said. “I’m going to take a hot shower.”

Jace watched her disappear down the corridor with a sort of reluctant admiration. “Sometimes she reminds me of the poem. ‘Isabelle, Isabelle, didn’t worry. Isabelle didn’t scream or scurry—’”

“Do you ever feel like screaming?” Clary asked him.

“Some of the time.” Jace shrugged off his wet coat and hung it on the peg next to Isabelle’s. “She’s right about the hot shower, though. I could certainly use one.”

“I don’t have anything to change into,” Clary said, suddenly wanting a few moments to herself. Her fingers itched to dial Simon’s number on her cell phone, find out if he was all right. “I’ll just wait for you here.”

“Don’t be stupid. I’ll lend you a T-shirt.” His jeans were soaked and hung low on his hipbones, showing a strip of pale, tattooed skin between the denim and the edge of his T-shirt.

Clary looked away. “I don’t think—”

“Come on.” His tone was firm. “There’s something I want to show you, anyway.”

Surreptitiously, Clary checked the screen on her phone as she followed Jace down the hall to his room. Simon hadn’t tried to call. Ice seemed to crystallize inside her chest. Until two weeks ago, it had been years since she and Simon had had a fight. Now he seemed to be mad at her all the time.

Jace’s room was just as she remembered it: neat as a pin and bare as a monk’s cell. There was nothing about the room that told you anything about Jace: no posters on the walls, no books stacked on the night table. Even the duvet on the bed was plain white.

He went to the dresser and pulled a folded long-sleeved blue T-shirt out of a drawer. He tossed it to Clary. “That one shrank in the wash,” he said. “It’ll probably still be big on you, but…” He shrugged. “I’m going to shower. Yell if you need anything.”

She nodded, holding the shirt across her chest as if it were a shield. He looked as if he were about to say something else, but apparently thought better of it; with another shrug, he disappeared into the bathroom, closing the door firmly behind him.

Clary sank down onto the bed, the shirt across her lap, and pulled her phone out of her pocket. She dialed Simon’s number. After four rings, it went to voice mail. “Hi, you’ve reached Simon. Either I’m away from the phone or I’m avoiding you. Leave me a message and—”

“What are you doing?”

Jace stood in the open doorway of the bathroom. Water ran loudly in the shower behind him and the bathroom was half full of steam. He was shirtless and barefoot, damp jeans riding low on his hips, showing the deep indentations above his hipbones, as if someone had pressed their fingers to the skin there.

Clary snapped her phone closed and dropped it onto the bed. “Nothing. Checking the time.”

“There’s a clock next to the bed,” Jace pointed out. “You were calling the mundane, weren’t you?”

“His name is Simon.” Clary wadded Jace’s shirt into a ball between her fists. “And you don’t have to be such a bastard about him all the time. He’s helped you out more than once.”

Jace’s eyes were lidded, thoughtful. The bathroom was rapidly filling with steam, making his hair curl more. He said, “And now you feel guilty because he’s run off. I wouldn’t bother calling him. I’m sure he’s avoiding you.”

Clary didn’t try to keep the anger out of her voice. “And you know this because you and he are so close?”

“I know it because I saw the look on his face before he took off,” Jace said. “You didn’t. You weren’t looking at him. But I was.”

Clary raked her still-dank hair out of her eyes. Her clothes itched where they clung to her skin, and she suspected she smelled like the bottom of a pond, and she couldn’t stop seeing Simon’s face when he’d looked at her in the Seelie Court—as if he hated her. “It’s your fault,” she said suddenly, rage gathering around her heart. “You shouldn’t have kissed me like that.”

He had been leaning against the door frame; now he stood up straight. “How should I have kissed you? Is there another way you like it?”

“No.” Her hands trembled in her lap. They were cold, white, wrinkled by water. She laced her fingers together to stop the shaking. “I just don’t want to be kissed by you.”

“It didn’t seem to me that either of us had a choice in the matter.”

“That’s what I don’t understand!” Clary burst out. “Why did she make you kiss me? The Queen, I mean. Why force us to do—that? What pleasure could she possibly have gotten out of it?”

“You heard what the Queen said. She thought she was doing me a favor.”

“It is true. How many times do I have to tell you? The Fair Folk don’t lie.”

Clary thought of what Jace had said back at Magnus’s. They’ll find out whatever it is you want most in the world and give it to you—with a sting in the tail of the gift that will make you regret you ever wanted it in the first place. “Then she was wrong.”

“She wasn’t wrong.” Jace’s tone was bitter. “She saw the way I looked at you, and you at me, and Simon at you, and she played us like the instruments we are to her.”

“I don’t look at you,” Clary whispered.

“I said, I don’t look at you.” She released the hands that had been clasped together in her lap. There were red marks where her fingers had gripped each other. “At least I try not to.”

His eyes were narrowed, just a glint of gold showing through the lashes, and she remembered the first time she had seen him and how he had reminded her of a lion, golden and deadly. “Why not?”

“Why do you think?” Her words were almost soundless, barely a whisper.

“Then why?” His voice shook. “Why all this with Simon, why keep pushing me away, not letting me near you—”

“Because it’s impossible,” she said, and the last word came out as a sort of wail, despite her efforts at control. “You know that as well as I do!”

“Because you’re my sister,” Jace said.

She nodded without speaking.

“Possibly,” said Jace. “And because of that, you’ve decided your old friend Simon makes a useful distraction?”

“It’s not like that,” she said. “I love Simon.”

“Like you love Luke,” said Jace. “Like you love your mother.”

“No.” Her voice was as cold and pointed as an icicle. “Don’t tell me what I feel.”

A small muscle jumped at the side of his mouth. “I don’t believe you.”

Clary stood up. She couldn’t meet his eyes, so instead she fixed her gaze on the thin star-shaped scar on his shoulder, a memory of some old injury. This life of scars and killing, Hodge had said once. You have no part in it. “Jace,” she said. “Why are you doing this to me?”

“Because you’re lying to me. And you’re lying to yourself.” Jace’s eyes were blazing, and even though his hands were stuffed into his pockets, she could see that they were knotted into fists.

Something inside Clary cracked and broke, and words came pouring out. “What do you want me to tell you? The truth? The truth is that I love Simon like I should love you, and I wish he was my brother and you weren’t, but I can’t do anything about that and neither can you! Or do you have some ideas, since you’re so goddamned smart?”

Jace sucked a breath in, and she realized he had never expected her to say what she’d just said, not in a million years. The look on his face said as much.