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City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments 2) Cassandra Clare 2022/8/5 16:53:10

Jace hesitated for a moment before shrugging. “Fine,” he said, “but you owe me for the Scotch I didn’t drink.”

“That was my last guess,” Clary said with a defeated sigh, sinking down onto the steps outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art and staring disconsolately down Fifth Avenue.

“It was a good one.” Simon sat down beside her, long legs sprawled out in front of him. “I mean, he’s a guy who likes weapons and killing, so why not the biggest collection of weapons in the whole city? And I’m always up for a visit to Arms and Armor, anyway. Gives me ideas for my campaign.”

She looked at him in surprise. “You still gaming with Eric and Kirk and Matt?”

“Sure. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“I thought gaming might have lost some of its appeal for you since…” Since our real lives started to resemble one of your campaigns. Complete with good guys, bad guys, really nasty magic, and important enchanted objects you had to find if you wanted to win the game.

Except in a game, the good guys always won, defeated the bad guys and came home with the treasure. Whereas in real life, they’d lost the treasure, and sometimes Clary still wasn’t clear on who the bad and good guys actually were.

She looked at Simon and felt a wave of sadness. If he did give up gaming, it would be her fault, just like everything that had happened to him in the past weeks had been her fault. She remembered his white face at the sink that morning, just before he’d kissed her.

“Right now I’m playing a half-troll cleric who wants revenge on the Orcs who killed his family,” he said cheerfully. “It’s awesome.”

She laughed just as her cell phone rang. She dug it out of her pocket and flipped it open; it was Luke. “We didn’t find him,” she said, before he could say hello.

She sat up straight. “You’re kidding. Is he there? Can I talk to him?” She caught sight of Simon looking at her sharply and dropped her voice. “Is he all right?”

“What do you mean, mostly?”

“He picked a fight with a werewolf pack. He’s got some cuts and bruises.”

Clary half-closed her eyes. Why, oh why, had Jace picked a fight with a pack of wolves? What had possessed him? Then again, it was Jace. He’d pick a fight with a Mack truck if the urge took him.

“I think you should come down here,” Luke said. “Someone has to reason with him and I’m not having much luck.”

“Where are you?” Clary asked.

He told her. A bar called the Hunter’s Moon on Hester Street. She wondered if it was glamoured. Flipping her phone shut, she turned to Simon, who was staring at her with raised eyebrows.

“The prodigal returns?”

“Sort of.” She scrambled to her feet and stretched her tired legs, mentally calculating how long it would take them to get to Chinatown on the train and whether it was worth shelling out the pocket money Luke had given her for a cab. Probably not, she decided—if they got stuck in traffic, it would take longer than the subway.

“… come with you?” Simon finished, standing up. He was on the step below her, which made them almost the same height. “What do you think?”

She opened her mouth, then closed it again quickly. “Er…”

He sounded resigned. “You haven’t heard a word I said these past two minutes, have you?”

“No,” she admitted. “I was thinking about Jace. It sounded like he was in bad shape. Sorry.”

His brown eyes darkened. “I take it you’re rushing off to bind up his wounds?”

“Luke asked me to come down,” she said. “I was hoping you’d come with me.”

Simon kicked at the step above his with a booted foot. “I will, but—why? Can’t Luke return Jace to the Institute without your help?”

“Probably. But he thinks Jace might be willing to talk to me about what’s going on first.”

“I thought maybe we could do something tonight,” Simon said. “Something fun. See a movie. Get dinner downtown.”

She looked at him. In the distance, she could hear water splashing into a museum fountain. She thought of the kitchen at his house, his damp hands in her hair, but it all seemed very far away, even though she could picture it—the way you might remember the photograph of an incident without really remembering the incident itself any longer.

“He’s my brother,” she said. “I have to go.”

Simon looked as if he were too weary to even sigh. “Then I’ll go with you.”

The back office of Hunter’s Moon was down a narrow corridor strewn with sawdust. Here and there the sawdust was churned up by footsteps and spotted with a dark liquid that didn’t look like beer. The whole place smelled smoky and gamy, a little like—Clary had to admit it, though she wouldn’t have said so to Luke—wet dog.

“He’s not in a very good mood,” said Luke, pausing in front of a closed door. “I shut him up in Freaky Pete’s office after he nearly killed half my pack with his bare hands. He wouldn’t talk to me, so”—Luke shrugged—“I thought of you.” He looked from Clary’s baffled face to Simon’s. “What?”

“I can’t believe he came here,” Clary said.

“I can’t believe you know someone named Freaky Pete,” said Simon.

“I know a lot of people,” said Luke. “Not that Freaky Pete is strictly people, but I’m hardly one to talk.” He swung the office door wide. Inside was a plain room, windowless, the walls hung with sports pennants. There was a paper-strewn desk weighted down with a small TV set, and behind it, in a chair whose leather was so cracked it looked like veined marble, was Jace.

The moment the door opened, Jace seized up a yellow pencil lying on the desk and threw it. It sailed through the air and struck the wall just next to Luke’s head, where it stuck, vibrating. Luke’s eyes widened.

Jace smiled faintly. “Sorry, I didn’t realize it was you.”

Clary felt her heart contract. She hadn’t seen Jace in days, and he looked different somehow—not just the bloody face and bruises, which were clearly new, but the skin on his face seemed tighter, the bones more prominent.

Luke indicated Simon and Clary with a wave of his hand. “I brought some people to see you.”

Jace’s eyes moved to them. They were as blank as if they had been painted on. “Unfortunately,” he said, “I only had the one pencil.”

“Jace—” Luke started.

“I don’t want him in here.” Jace jerked his chin toward Simon.

“That’s hardly fair.” Clary was indignant. Had he forgotten that Simon had saved Alec’s life, possibly all their lives?

“Out, mundane,” said Jace, pointing to the door.

Simon waved a hand. “It’s fine. I’ll wait in the hallway.” He left, refraining from banging the door shut behind him, though Clary could tell he wanted to.

She turned back to Jace. “Do you have to be so—” she began, but stopped when she saw his face. It looked stripped down, oddly vulnerable.

“Unpleasant?” he finished for her. “Only on days when my adoptive mother tosses me out of the house with instructions never to darken her door again. Usually, I’m remarkably good-natured. Try me on any day that doesn’t end in y.”

Luke frowned. “Maryse and Robert Lightwood are not my favorite people, but I can’t believe Maryse would do that.”

Jace looked surprised. “You know them? The Lightwoods?”

“They were in the Circle with me,” said Luke. “I was surprised when I heard they were heading the Institute here. It seems they made a deal with the Clave, after the Uprising, to ensure some kind of lenient treatment for themselves, while Hodge—well, we know what happened to him.” He was silent a moment. “Did Maryse say why she was exiling you, so to speak?”

“She doesn’t believe that I thought I was Michael Wayland’s son. She accused me of being in it with Valentine all along—saying I helped him get away with the Mortal Cup.”

“Then why would you still be here?” Clary asked. “Why wouldn’t you have fled with him?”

“She wouldn’t say, but I suspect she thinks I stayed to be a spy. A viper in their bosoms. Not that she used the word ‘bosoms,’ but the thought was there.”

“A spy for Valentine?” Luke sounded dismayed.

“She thinks Valentine assumed that because of their affection for me, she and Robert would believe whatever I said. So Maryse has decided that the solution to that is not to have any affection for me.”

“Affection doesn’t work like that.” Luke shook his head. “You can’t turn it off, like a tap. Especially if you’re a parent.”

“They’re not really my parents.”

“There’s more to parentage than blood. They’ve been your parents for seven years in all the ways that matter. Maryse is just hurt.”

“Hurt?” Jace sounded incredulous. “She’s hurt?”

“She loved Valentine, remember,” said Luke. “As we all did. He hurt her badly. She doesn’t want his son to do the same. She worries you’ve lied to them. That the person she thought you were all these years was a ruse, a trick. You have to reassure her.”

Jace’s expression was a perfect mixture of stubbornness and astonishment. “Maryse is an adult! She shouldn’t need reassurance from me.”

“Oh, come on, Jace,” Clary said. “You can’t wait for perfect behavior from everyone. Adults screw up too. Go back to the Institute and talk to her rationally. Be a man.”

“I don’t want to be a man,” said Jace. “I want to be an angst-ridden teenager who can’t confront his own inner demons and takes it out verbally on other people instead.”

“Well,” said Luke, “you’re doing a fantastic job.”

“Jace,” Clary said hastily, before they could start fighting in earnest, “you have to go back to the Institute. Think about Alec and Izzy, think what this will do to them.”

“Maryse will make something up to calm them down. Maybe she’ll say I ran off.”

“That won’t work,” said Clary. “Isabelle sounded frantic on the phone.”

“Isabelle always sounds frantic,” said Jace, but he looked pleased. He leaned back in the chair. The bruises along his jaw and cheekbone stood out like dark, shapeless Marks against his skin. “I won’t go back to a place where I’m not trusted. I’m not ten years old anymore. I can take care of myself.”

Luke looked as if he weren’t sure about that. “Where will you go? How will you live?”

Jace’s eyes glittered. “I’m seventeen. Practically an adult. Any adult Shadowhunter is entitled to—”

“Any adult. But you’re not one. You can’t draw a salary from the Clave because you’re too young, and in fact the Lightwoods are bound by the Law to care for you. If they won’t, someone else would be appointed or—”

“Or what?” Jace sprang up from the chair. “I’ll go to an orphanage in Idris? Be dumped on some family I’ve never met? I can get a job in the mundane world for a year, live like one of them—”

“No, you can’t,” Clary said. “I ought to know, Jace, I was one of them. You’re too young for any job you’d want and besides, the skills you have—well, most professional killers are older than you. And they’re criminals.”

“If you lived in the mundane world,” said Luke, “that’s all you’d be.”

Jace stiffened, his mouth tightening, and Clary knew Luke’s words had hit him where it hurt. “You don’t get it,” he said, a sudden desperation in his voice. “I can’t go back. Maryse wants me to say I hate Valentine. And I can’t do that.”

Jace raised his chin, his jaw set, his eyes on Luke as if he half-expected the older man to respond with derision or even horror. After all, Luke had more reason to hate Valentine than almost anyone else in the world.

“I know,” said Luke. “I loved him once too.”

Jace exhaled, almost a sound of relief, and Clary thought suddenly, This is why he came here, to this place. Not just to start a fight, but to get to Luke. Because Luke would understand. Not everything Jace did was insane and suicidal, she reminded herself. It just seemed that way.

“You shouldn’t have to claim you hate your father,” said Luke. “Not even to reassure Maryse. She ought to understand.”

Clary looked at Jace closely, trying to read his face. It was like a book written in a foreign language she’d studied all too briefly. “Did she really say she never wanted you to come back?” Clary asked. “Or did you just assume that was what she meant, so you left?”

“She told me it would probably be better if I found somewhere else to be for a while,” Jace said. “She didn’t say where.”

“Did you give her a chance to?” Luke said. “Look, Jace. You’re absolutely welcome to stay with me as long as you need to. I want you to know that.”

Clary’s stomach flipped. The thought of Jace in the same house she lived in, always nearby, filled her with a mixture of exultation and horror.

“Thanks,” said Jace. His voice was even, but his eyes had gone instantly, helplessly, to Clary, and she could see in them the same awful mixture of emotions she felt herself. Luke, she thought. Sometimes I wish you weren’t quite so generous. Or so blind.

“But,” Luke went on, “I think you should at least go back to the Institute long enough to talk to Maryse and find out what’s really going on. It sounds like there’s more to this than she’s telling you. More, maybe, than you were willing to hear.”