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City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments 2) Cassandra Clare 2022/8/5 16:53:25

Outside the Institute, night was falling. The faint red of sunset glowed in through the windows of Jace’s bedroom as he stared at the pile of his belongings on the bed. The pile was much smaller than he thought it would be. Seven whole years of life in this place, and this was all he had to show for it: half a duffel bag’s worth of clothes, a small stack of books, and a few weapons.

He had debated whether he should bring the few things he’d saved from the manor house in Idris with him when he left tonight. Magnus had given him back his father’s silver ring, which he no longer felt comfortable wearing. He had hung it on a loop of chain around his throat. In the end, he had decided to take everything: There was no point leaving anything of himself behind in this place.

He was packing the duffel with clothes when a knock sounded at the door. He went to it, expecting Alec or Isabelle.

It was Maryse. She wore a severe black dress and her hair was pulled back sharply from her face. She looked older than he remembered her. Two deep lines ran from the corners of her mouth to her jaw. Only her eyes had any color. “Jace,” she said. “Can I come in?”

“You can do what you like,” he said, returning to the bed. “It’s your house.” He grabbed up a handful of shirts and stuffed them into the duffel bag with possibly unnecessary force.

“Actually, it’s the Clave’s house,” said Maryse. “We’re only its guardians.”

Jace shoved books into the bag. “Whatever.”

“What are you doing?” If Jace hadn’t known better, he would have thought her voice wavered slightly.

“I’m packing,” he said. “It’s what people generally do when they’re moving out.”

She blanched. “Don’t leave,” she said. “If you want to stay—”

“I don’t want to stay. I don’t belong here.”

“Luke’s,” he said, and saw her flinch. “For a while. After that, I don’t know. Maybe to Idris.”

“Is that where you think you belong?” There was an aching sadness in her voice.

Jace stopped packing for a moment and stared down at his bag. “I don’t know where I belong.”

“With your family.” Maryse took a tentative step forward. “With us.”

“You threw me out.” Jace heard the harshness in his own voice, and tried to soften it. “I’m sorry,” he said, turning to look at her. “About everything that’s happened. But you didn’t want me before, and I can’t imagine you want me now. Robert’s going to be sick awhile; you’ll be needing to take care of him. I’ll just be in the way.”

“In the way?” She sounded incredulous. “Robert wants to see you, Jace—”

“What about Alec? Isabelle, Max—they need you. If you don’t believe me that I want you here—and I couldn’t blame you if you didn’t—you must know that they do. We’ve been through a bad time, Jace. Don’t hurt them more than they’re already hurt.”

“I don’t blame you if you hate me.” Her voice was wavering. Jace swung around to stare at her in surprise. “But what I did—even throwing you out—treating you as I did, it was to protect you. And because I was afraid.”

“Well, that makes me feel much better.”

Maryse took a deep breath. “I thought you would break my heart like Valentine did,” she said. “You were the first thing I loved, you see, after him, that wasn’t my own blood. The first living creature. And you were just a child—”

“You thought I was someone else.”

“No. I’ve always known just who you are. Ever since the first time I saw you getting off the ship from Idris, when you were ten years old—you walked into my heart, just as my own children did when they were born.” She shook her head. “You can’t understand. You’ve never been a parent. You never love anything like you love your children. And nothing can make you angrier.”

“I did notice the angry part,” Jace said, after a pause.

“I don’t expect you to forgive me,” Maryse said. “But if you’d stay for Isabelle and Alec and Max, I’d be so grateful—”

It was the wrong thing to say. “I don’t want your gratitude,” Jace said, and turned back to the duffel bag. There was nothing left to put in it. He tugged at the zipper.

“A la claire fontaine,” Maryse said, “m’en allent promener.”

He turned to look at her. “What?”

“Il y a longtemps que je t’aime. Jamais je ne t’oublierai—it’s the old French ballad I used to sing to Alec and Isabelle. The one you asked me about.”

There was very little light in the room now, and in the dimness Maryse looked to him almost as she had when he was ten years old, as if she had not changed at all in the past seven years. She looked severe and worried, anxious—and hopeful. She looked like the only mother he’d ever known.

“You were wrong that I never sang it to you,” she said. “It’s just that you never heard me.”

Jace said nothing, but he reached out and yanked the zipper open on the duffel bag, letting his belongings spill out onto the bed.

“CLARY!” SIMON’S MOTHER BEAMED ALL OVER HER FACE AT the sight of the girl standing on her doorstep. “I haven’t seen you for ages. I was starting to worry you and Simon had had a fight.”

“Oh, no,” Clary said. “I just wasn’t feeling well, that’s all.” Even when you’ve got magic healing runes, apparently you’re not invulnerable. She hadn’t been surprised to wake up the morning after the battle to find she had a pounding headache and a fever; she’d thought she had a cold—who wouldn’t, after freezing in wet clothes on the open water for hours at night?—but Magnus said she had most likely exhausted herself creating the rune that had destroyed Valentine’s ship.

Simon’s mother clucked sympathetically. “The same bug Simon had the week before last, I bet. He could barely get out of bed.”

“He’s better now, though, right?” Clary said. She knew it was true, but she didn’t mind hearing it again.

“He’s fine. He’s out in the back garden, I think. Just go on through the gate.” She smiled. “He’ll be happy to see you.”

She fastened the gate shut behind her and went looking for Simon. He was in the back garden, as promised, lying on a plastic lounging chair with a comic open in his lap. He pushed it aside when he saw Clary, sat up, and grinned. “Hey, baby.”

“Baby?” She perched beside him on the chair. “You’re kidding me, right?”

“I was trying it out. No?”

“No,” she said firmly, and leaned over to kiss him on the mouth. When she drew back, his fingers lingered in her hair, but his eyes were thoughtful.

“I’m glad you came over,” he said.

“Me too. I would have come sooner, but—”

“You were sick. I know.” She’d spent the week texting him from Luke’s couch, where she’d lain wrapped up in a blanket watching CSI reruns. It was comforting to spend time in a world where every puzzle had a detectable, scientific answer.

“I’m better now.” She glanced around and shivered, pulling her white cardigan closer around her body. “What are you doing lying around outside in this weather, anyway? Aren’t you freezing?”

Simon shook his head. “I don’t really feel cold or heat anymore. Besides”—his mouth curled into a smile—“I want to spend as much time in the sunlight as I can. I still get sleepy during the day, but I’m fighting it.”

She touched the back of her hand to his cheek. His face was warm from the sun, but underneath, the skin was cool. “But everything else is still … still the same?”

“You mean am I still a vampire? Yeah. It looks like it. Still want to drink blood, still no heartbeat. I’ll have to avoid the doctor, but since vampires don’t get sick…” He shrugged.

“And you talked to Raphael? He still has no idea why you can go out into the sun?”

“None. He seems pretty pissed about it too.” Simon blinked at her sleepily, as if it were two in the morning instead of the afternoon. “I think it upsets his ideas about the way things should be. Plus he’s going to have a harder job getting me to roam the night when I’m determined to roam the day instead.”

“You’d think he’d be thrilled.”

“Vampires don’t like change. They’re very traditional.” He smiled at her, and she thought, He’ll always look like this. When I’m fifty or sixty, he’ll still look sixteen. It wasn’t a happy thought. “Anyway, this’ll be good for my music career. If that Anne Rice stuff is anything to go by, vampires make great rock stars.”

“I’m not sure that information is reliable.”

He leaned back against the chair. “What is? Besides you, of course.”

“Reliable? Is that how you think of me?” she demanded in mock indignation. “That’s not very romantic.”

A shadow passed across his face. “Clary…”

“What? What is it?” She reached for his hand and held it. “You’re using your bad news voice.”

He looked away from her. “I don’t know if it’s bad news or not.”

“Everything’s one or the other,” Clary said. “Just tell me you’re all right.”

“I’m all right,” he said. “But—I don’t think we should see each other anymore.”

Clary almost fell off the lounge chair. “You don’t want to be friends anymore?”

“Is it because of the demons? Because I got you turned into a vampire?” Her voice was rising higher and higher. “I know everything’s been crazy, but I can keep you away from all that. I can—”

Simon winced. “You’re starting to sound like a dolphin, do you know that? Stop.”

“I still want to be friends,” he said. “It’s the other stuff I’m not so sure about.”

He started to blush. She hadn’t known vampires could blush. It looked startling against his pale skin. “The girlfriend-boyfriend stuff.”

She was silent for a long moment, searching for words. Finally, she said: “At least you didn’t say ‘the kissing stuff.’ I was afraid you were going to call it that.”

He looked down at their hands, where they lay intertwined on the plastic of the lounge chair. Her fingers looked small against his, but for the first time, her skin was a shade darker. He stroked his thumb absently over her knuckles and said, “I wouldn’t have called it that.”

“I thought this was what you wanted,” she said. “I thought you said that—”

He looked up at her through his dark lashes. “That I loved you? I do love you. But that’s not the whole story.”

“Is this because of Maia?” Her teeth had started to chatter, only partly from the cold. “Because you like her?”

Simon hesitated. “No. I mean, yes, I like her, but not the way you mean. It’s just that when I’m around her—I know what it’s like to have someone like me that way. And it’s not like it is with you.”

“But you don’t love her—”

“Maybe I could someday.”

“Maybe I could love you someday.”

“If you ever do,” he said, “come and let me know. You know where to find me.”

Her teeth were chattering harder. “I can’t lose you, Simon. I can’t.”

“You never will. I’m not leaving you. But I’d rather have what we have, which is real and true and important, than have you pretend anything else. When I’m with you, I want to know I’m with the real you, the real Clary.”

She leaned her head against his, closing her eyes. He still felt like Simon, despite everything; still smelled like him, like his laundry soap. “Maybe I don’t know who that is.”

Luke’s brand-new pickup was idling by the curb when Clary left Simon’s house, fastening the gate shut behind her.

“You dropped me off. You didn’t have to pick me up too,” she said, swinging herself up into the cab beside him. Trust Luke to replace his old, destroyed truck with a new one that was exactly like it.

“Forgive me my paternal panic,” said Luke, handing her a waxed paper cup of coffee. She took a sip—no milk and lots of sugar, the way she liked it. “I tend to get a little nervous when you’re not in my immediate line of sight these days.”

“Oh, yeah?” Clary held the coffee tightly to keep it from spilling as they bumped down the potholed road. “How long do you think that’s going to go on for?”

Luke looked considering. “Not long. Five, maybe six years.”

“I plan to let you start dating when you’re thirty, if that helps.”

“Actually, that doesn’t sound so bad. I may not be ready until I’m thirty.”

Luke looked at her sideways. “You and Simon…?”