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City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments 2) Cassandra Clare 2022/8/5 16:53:26

She waved the hand that wasn’t holding the coffee cup. “Don’t ask.”

“I see.” He probably did. “Did you want me to drop you at home?”

“You’re going to the hospital, right?” She could tell from the nervous tension underlying his jokes. “I’ll go with you.”

They were on the bridge now, and Clary looked out over the river, nursing her coffee thoughtfully. She never got tired of this view, the narrow river of water between the canyon walls of Manhattan and Brooklyn. It glittered in the sun like aluminum foil. She wondered why she’d never tried to draw it. She remembered asking her mother once why she’d never used her as a model, never drawn her own daughter. “To draw something is to try to capture it forever,” Jocelyn had said, sitting on the floor with a paintbrush dripping cadmium blue onto her jeans. “If you really love something, you never try to keep it the way it is forever. You have to let it be free to change.”

But I hate change. She took a deep breath. “Luke,” she said. “Valentine said something to me when I was on the ship, something about—”

“Nothing good ever starts with the words ‘Valentine said,’” muttered Luke.

“Maybe not. But it was about you and my mom. He said you were in love with her.”

Silence. They were stopped in traffic on the bridge. She could hear the sound of the Q train rumbling past. “Do you think that’s true?” Luke said at last.

“Well.” Clary could sense the tension in the air and tried to choose her words carefully. “I don’t know. I mean, he said it before and I just dismissed it as paranoia and hatred. But this time I started thinking, and well—it is sort of weird that you’ve always been around, you’ve been like a dad to me, we practically lived on the farm in the summer, and yet neither you nor my mom ever dated anyone else. So I thought maybe…”

“You thought maybe what?”

“That maybe you’ve been together all this time and you just didn’t want to tell me. Maybe you thought I was too young to get it. Maybe you were afraid it would start me asking questions about my dad. But I’m not too young to get it anymore. You can tell me. I guess that’s what I’m saying. You can tell me anything.”

“Maybe not anything.” There was another silence as the truck inched forward in the crawling traffic. Luke squinted into the sun, his fingers tapping on the wheel. Finally, he said, “You’re right. I am in love with your mother.”

“That’s great,” Clary said, trying to sound supportive despite how gross the idea happened to be of people her mom’s and Luke’s age being in love.

“But,” he said, finishing, “she doesn’t know it.”

“She doesn’t know it?” Clary made a wide sweeping gesture with her arm. Fortunately, her coffee cup was empty. “How could she not know? Haven’t you told her?”

“As a matter of fact,” said Luke, slamming his foot down on the gas so that the truck lurched forward, “no.”

Luke sighed and rubbed his stubbled chin tiredly. “Because,” he said. “It never seemed like the right time.”

“That is a lame excuse, and you know it.”

Luke managed to make a noise halfway between a chuckle and a grunt of annoyance. “Maybe, but it’s the truth. When I first realized how I felt about Jocelyn, I was the same age you are. Sixteen. And we’d all just met Valentine. I wasn’t any competition for him. I was even a little glad that if it wasn’t going to be me she wanted, it was going to be someone who really deserved her.” His voice hardened. “When I realized how wrong I was about that, it was too late. When we ran away together from Idris, and she was pregnant with you, I offered to marry her, to take care of her. I said it didn’t matter who the father of her baby was, I’d raise it like my own. She thought I was being charitable. I couldn’t convince her I was being as selfish as I knew how to be. She told me she didn’t want to be a burden on me, that it was too much to ask of anyone. After she left me in Paris, I went back to Idris but I was always restless, never happy. There was always that part of me missing, the part that was Jocelyn. I would dream that she was somewhere needing my help, that she was calling out to me and I couldn’t hear her. Finally I went looking for her.”

“I remember she was happy,” Clary said in a small voice. “When you found her.”

“She was and she wasn’t. She was glad to see me, but at the same time I symbolized for her that whole world she’d run from, and she wanted no part of it. She agreed to let me stay when I promised I’d give up all ties to the pack, to the Clave, to Idris, to all of it. I would have offered to move in with both of you, but Jocelyn thought my transformations would be too hard to hide from you, and I had to agree. I bought the bookstore, took a new name, and pretended Lucian Graymark was dead. And for all intents and purposes, he has been.”

“You really did a lot for my mom. You gave up a whole life.”

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“I would have done more,” Luke said matter-of-factly. “But she was so adamant about wanting nothing to do with the Clave or Downworld, and whatever I might pretend, I’m still a lycanthrope. I’m a living reminder of all of that. And she was so sure she wanted you never to know any of it. You know, I never agreed with the trips to Magnus, to altering your memories or your Sight, but it was what she wanted and I let her do it because if I’d tried to stop her, she would have sent me away. And there’s no way—no way—she would have let me marry her, be your father and not tell you the truth about myself. And that would have brought down everything, all those fragile walls she’d tried so hard to build between herself and the Invisible World. I couldn’t do that to her. So I stayed silent.”

“You mean you never told her how you felt?’

“Your mother isn’t stupid, Clary,” said Luke. He sounded calm, but there was a certain tightness in his voice. “She must have known. I offered to marry her. However kind her denials might have been, I do know one thing: She knows how I feel and she doesn’t feel the same way.”

“It’s all right,” Luke said, trying for lightness. “I accepted it a long time ago.”

Clary’s nerves were singing with a sudden tension that she didn’t think was from the caffeine. She pushed back thoughts about her own life. “You offered to marry her, but did you say it was because you loved her? It doesn’t sound like it.”

“I think you should have told her the truth. I think you’re wrong about how she feels.”

“I’m not, Clary.” Luke’s voice was firm: That’s enough now.

“I remember once I asked her why she didn’t date,” Clary said, ignoring his admonishing tone. “She said it was because she’d already given her heart. I thought she meant to my dad, but now—now I’m not so sure.”

Luke looked actually astonished. “She said that?” He caught himself, and added, “Probably she did mean Valentine, you know.”

“I don’t think so.” She shot him a look out of the corner of her eye. “Besides, don’t you hate it? Not ever saying how you really feel?”

This time the silence lasted until they were off the bridge and rumbling down Orchard Street, lined with shops and restaurants whose signs were in beautiful Chinese characters of curling gold and red. “Yes, I hated it,” Luke said. “At the time, I thought what I had with you and your mother was better than nothing. But if you can’t tell the truth to the people you care about the most, eventually you stop being able to tell the truth to yourself.”

There was a sound like rushing water in Clary’s ears. Looking down, she saw that she’d crushed the empty waxed-paper cup she was holding into an unrecognizable ball.

“Take me to the Institute,” she said. “Please.”

Luke looked over at her in surprise. “I thought you wanted to come to the hospital?”

“I’ll meet you there when I’m finished,” she said. “There’s something I have to do first.”

The lower level of the Institute was full of sunlight and pale dust motes. Clary ran down the narrow aisle between the pews, threw herself at the elevator, and stabbed at the button. “Come on, come on,” she muttered. “Come—”

The golden doors creaked open. Jace was standing inside the elevator. His eyes widened when he saw her.

“—on,” Clary finished, and dropped her arm. “Oh. Hi.”

He stared at her. “Clary?”

“You cut your hair,” she said without thinking. It was true—the long metallic strands were no longer falling in his face, but were neatly and evenly cut. It made him look more civilized, even a little older. He was dressed neatly too, in a dark blue sweater and jeans. Something silver glinted at his throat, just under the collar of the sweater.

He raised a hand. “Oh. Right. Maryse cut it.” The door of the elevator began to slide closed; he held it back. “Did you need to come up to the Institute?”

She shook her head. “I just wanted to talk to you.”

“Oh.” He looked a little surprised at that, but stepped out of the elevator, letting the door clang shut behind him. “I was just running over to Taki’s to pick up some food. No one really feels like cooking…”

“I understand,” Clary said, then wished she hadn’t. It wasn’t as if the Lightwoods’ desire to cook or not cook had anything to do with her.

“We can talk there,” Jace said. He started toward the door, then paused and looked back at her. Standing between two of the burning candelabras, their light casting a pale gold overlay onto his hair and skin, he looked like a painting of an angel. Her heart constricted. “Are you coming, or not?” he snapped, not sounding angelic in the least.

“Oh. Right. I’m coming.” She hurried to catch up with him.

As they walked to Taki’s, Clary tried to keep the conversation away from topics related to her, Jace, or her and Jace. Instead, she asked him how Isabelle, Max, and Alec were doing.

Jace hesitated. They were crossing First and a cool breeze was blowing up the avenue. The sky was a cloudless blue, a perfect New York autumn day.

“I’m sorry.” Clary winced at her own stupidity. “They must be pretty miserable. All these people they knew are dead.”

“It’s different for Shadowhunters,” Jace said. “We’re warriors. We expect death in a way you—”

Clary couldn’t help a sigh. “‘You mundanes don’t.’ That’s what you were going to say, isn’t it?”

“I was,” he admitted. “Sometimes it’s hard even for me to know what you really are.”

They had stopped in front of Taki’s, with its sagging roof. The ifrit who guarded the front door gazed down at them with suspicious red eyes.

“I’m Clary,” she said.

Jace looked down at her. The wind was blowing her hair across her face. He reached out and pushed it back, almost absently. “I know.”

Inside, they found a corner booth and slid into it. The diner was nearly empty: Kaelie, the pixie waitress, lounged against the counter, lazily fluttering her blue-white wings. She and Jace had dated once. A pair of werewolves occupied another booth. They were eating raw shanks of lamb and arguing about who would win in a fight: Dumbledore from the Harry Potter books or Magnus Bane.

“Dumbledore would totally win,” said the first one. “He has the badass Killing Curse.”

The second lycanthrope made a trenchant point. “But Dumbledore isn’t real.”

“I don’t think Magnus Bane is real either,” scoffed the first. “Have you ever met him?”

“This is so weird,” said Clary, slinking down in her seat. “Are you listening to them?”

“No. It’s rude to eavesdrop.” Jace was studying the menu, which gave Clary the opportunity to covertly study him. I never look at you, she’d told him. It was true too, or at least she never looked at him the way she wanted to, with an artist’s eye. She would always get lost, distracted by a detail: the curve of his cheekbone, the angle of his eyelashes, the shape of his mouth.

“You’re staring at me,” he said, without looking up from the menu. “Why are you staring at me? Is something wrong?”

Kaelie’s arrival at their table saved Clary from having to answer. Her pen, Clary noticed, was a silvery birch twig. She regarded Clary curiously out of all-blue eyes. “Do you know what you want?”

Unprepared, Clary ordered a few random items off the menu. Jace asked for a plate of sweet potato fries and a number of dishes to be boxed up and brought home to the Lightwoods. Kaelie departed, leaving behind the faint smell of flowers.

“Tell Alec and Isabelle I’m sorry about everything that happened,” Clary said when Kaelie was out of earshot. “And tell Max that I’ll take him to Forbidden Planet anytime.”

“Only mundanes say they’re sorry when what they mean is ‘I share your grief,’” Jace observed. “None of it was your fault, Clary.” His eyes were suddenly bright with hate. “It was Valentine’s.”

“I take it there’s been no…”

“No sign of him? No. I’d guess he’s holed up somewhere until he can finish what he started with the Sword. After that…” Jace shrugged.

“I don’t know. He’s a lunatic. It’s hard to guess what a lunatic will do next.” But he avoided her eyes, and Clary knew what he was thinking: War. That was what Valentine wanted. War with the Shadowhunters. And he would get it too. It was only a matter of where he would strike first. “Anyway, I doubt that’s what you came to talk to me about, is it?”