Magnus looked up, his gold-green eyes glinting through his fingers. "How old are you?" he demanded. "Sixteen?"
"Eighteen," said Jordan, looking slightly frightened.
Alec's age, thought Simon, suppressing an interior grin. He didn't really find Alec and Magnus's drama funny, but it was hard not to feel a certain bitter amusement at Jordan's expression. Jordan had to be twice Magnus's size-despite being tall, Magnus was slender to the point of skinniness-but Jordan was clearly afraid of him. Simon turned to share a glance with Clary, but she was staring off toward the front door, her face gone suddenly bone white. Dropping her napkin onto the table, she murmured, "Excuse me," and got to her feet, practically fleeing the table.
Magnus threw his hands up. "Well, if there's going to be a mass exodus...," he said, and got up gracefully, flinging his scarf around his neck. He vanished into the crowd, presumably looking for Alec.
Simon looked at Jordan, who was looking at Maia again. She had her back to them and was talking to Luke and Jocelyn, laughing, flinging her curly hair back. "Don't even think about it," Simon said, and got up. He pointed at Jordan. "You stay here."
"And do what?" Jordan demanded.
"Whatever Praetor Lupus do in this situation. Meditate. Contemplate your Jedi powers. Whatever. I'll be back in five minutes, and you better still be here."
Jordan leaned back, crossing his arms over his chest in a clearly mutinous manner, but Simon had already stopped paying attention. He turned and moved into the crowd, following Clary. She was a speck of red and gold among the moving bodies, crowned with her twist of bright hair.
He caught up to her by one of the light-wrapped pillars, and put a hand on her shoulder. She turned with a startled exclamation, eyes wide, hand raised as if to fend him off. She relaxed when she saw who it was. "You scared me!"
"Obviously," Simon said. "What's going on? What are you so freaked out about?"
"I..." She lowered her hand with a shrug; despite her forced look of casual dismissal, the pulse was going in her neck like a hammer. "I thought I saw Jace."
"I figured," Simon said. "But..."
"You look really frightened." He wasn't sure why he'd said it exactly, or what he was hoping she'd say back. She bit her lip, the way she always did when she was nervous. Her gaze for a moment was far away; it was a look familiar to Simon. One of the things he'd always loved about Clary was how easily caught up in her imagination she was, how easily she could wall herself away in illusory worlds of curses and princes and destiny and magic. Once he had been able to do the same, had been able to inhabit imaginary worlds all the more exciting for being safe-for being fictional. Now that the real and the imagined had collided, he wondered if she, like he, longed for the past, for the normal. He wondered if normalcy was something, like vision or silence, you didn't realize was precious until you lost it.
"He's having a hard time," she said in a low voice. "I'm scared for him."
"I know," Simon said. "Look, not to pry, but-has he figured out what's wrong with him? Has anyone?"
"He-" She broke off. "He's all right. He's just having a hard time coming to terms with some of the Valentine stuff. You know." Simon did know. He also knew she was lying. Clary, who hardly ever hid anything from him. He gave her a hard look.
"He's been having bad dreams," she said. "He was worried that there was some demon involvement-"
"Demon involvement?" Simon echoed in disbelief. He'd known that Jace was having bad dreams-he'd said as much-but Jace had never mentioned demons.
"Well, apparently there are kinds of demons that try to reach you through your dreams," Clary said, sounding as if she were sorry she'd brought it up at all, "but I'm sure it's nothing. Everyone has bad dreams sometimes, don't they?" She put a hand on Simon's arm. "I'm just going to see how he is. I'll come back." Her gaze was already sliding past him, toward the doors that led onto the terrace; he stood back with a nod and let her go, watching her as she moved off into the crowd.
She looked so small-small the way she had in first grade when he'd walked her to the front door of her house and watched her go up the stairs, tiny and determined, her lunch box banging against her knee as she went. He felt his heart, which no longer beat, contract, and he wondered if there was anything in the world as painful as not being able to protect the people you loved.
"You look sick," said a voice at his elbow. Husky, familiar. "Thinking about what a horrible person you are?"
Simon turned and saw Maia leaning against the pillar behind him. She had a strand of the small, glowing white lights wound around her neck, and her face was flushed with champagne and the warmth of the room.
"Or maybe I should say," she went on, "what a horrible vampire you are. Except that makes it sound like you're bad at being a vampire."
"I am bad at being a vampire," Simon said. "But that doesn't mean I wasn't bad at being a boyfriend, too."
She smiled crookedly. "Bat says I shouldn't be so hard on you," she said. "He says guys do stupid things when girls are involved. Especially geeky ones who previously haven't had much luck with women."
"It's like he can see into my soul."
Maia shook her head. "It's hard to stay mad at you," she said. "But I'm working on it." She turned away.
"Maia," Simon said. His head had started to ache, and he felt a little dizzy. If he didn't talk to her now, though, he never would. "Please. Wait."
She turned back and looked at him, both eyebrows raised questioningly.
"I'm sorry about what I did," he said. "I know I said that before, but I really do mean it."
She shrugged, expressionless, giving him nothing.
He swallowed past the pain in his head. "Maybe Bat's right," he said. "But I think there's more to it than that. I wanted to be with you because-and this is going to sound so selfish-you made me feel normal. Like the person I was before."
"I'm a werewolf, Simon. Not exactly normal."
"But you-you are," he said, stumbling over his words a little. "You're genuine and real-one of the realest people I've ever known. You wanted to come over and play Halo. You wanted to talk about comics and check out concerts and go dancing and just do normal things. And you treated me like I was normal. You've never called me 'Daylighter' or 'vampire' or anything but Simon."
"That's all friend stuff," Maia said. She was leaning against the pillar again, her eyes glinting softly as she spoke. "Not girlfriend stuff."
Simon just looked at her. His headache pulsed like a heartbeat.
"And then you come around," she added, "bringing Jordan with you. What were you thinking?"
"That's not fair," Simon protested. "I had no idea he was your ex-"
"I know. Isabelle told me," Maia interrupted. "I just feel like giving you hell about it anyway."
"Oh, yeah?" Simon glanced over at Jordan, who was sitting alone at the round linen-draped table, like a guy whose prom date hadn't showed up. Simon suddenly felt very tired-tired of worrying about everyone, tired of feeling guilty for the things he'd done and would probably do in the future. "Well, did Izzy tell you that Jordan got himself assigned to me so he could be near you? You should hear the way he asks about you. The way he says your name, even. Man, the way he ripped into me when he thought I was cheating on you-"
"You weren't cheating. We weren't exclusively dating. Cheating is different-"
Simon smiled as Maia broke off, blushing. "I guess it's good that you dislike him so much that you'll take my side against him no matter what," he said.
"It's been years," she said. "He's never tried to get in touch with me. Not once."
"He did try," Simon said. "Did you know the night he bit you was the first time he ever Turned?"
She shook her head, her curls bouncing, her wide amber eyes very serious. "No. I thought he knew-"
"That he was a werewolf? No. He knew he was losing control in some way, but who guesses they're turning into a werewolf? The day after he bit you he went looking for you, but the Praetor stopped him. They kept him away from you. Even then he didn't stop looking. I don't think a day's gone by in the past two years that he hasn't wondered where you were-"
"Why are you defending him?" she whispered.
"Because you should know," said Simon. "I sucked at being a boyfriend, and I owe you. You should know he didn't mean to abandon you. He only took me on as an assignment because your name was mentioned in the notes on my case."
Her lips parted. As she shook her head, the glittering lights of her necklace winked like stars. "I just don't know what I'm supposed to do with that, Simon. What am I supposed to do?"
"I don't know," Simon said. His head felt like nails were being pounded into it. "But I can tell you one thing. I'm the last guy in the world you should be asking for relationship advice from." He pressed a hand to his forehead. "I'm going to go outside. Get some air. Jordan's over at that table there if you want to talk to him."
He gestured over toward the tables and then turned away, away from her questioning eyes, from the eyes of everyone in the room, the sound of raised voices and laughter, and stumbled toward the doors.
Clary pushed open the doors that led out onto the terrace and was greeted by a rush of cold air. She shivered, wishing she had her coat but unwilling to take up any time going back to the table to get it. She stepped out onto the terrace and shut the door behind her.
The terrace was a wide expanse of flagstones, surrounded by ironwork railings. Tiki torches burned in big pewter holders, but they did little to warm the air-which probably explained why no one was out here but Jace. He was standing by the railing, looking out over the river.
She wanted to run over to him, but she couldn't help hesitating. He was wearing a dark suit, the jacket open over a white shirt, and his head was turned to the side, away from her. She had never seen him dressed like this before, and it made him look older and a little remote. The wind off the river lifted his fair hair, and she saw the little scar across the side of his throat where Simon had bitten him once, and she remembered that Jace had let himself be bitten, had risked his life, for her.
"Jace," she said.
He turned and looked at her and smiled. The smile was familiar and seemed to unlock something inside her, freeing her to run across the flagstones to him and throw her arms around him. He picked her up and held her off the ground for a long time, his face buried in her neck.
"You're all right," she said finally, when he set her down. She scrubbed fiercely at the tears that had spilled out of her eyes. "I mean-the Silent Brothers wouldn't have let you go if you weren't all right-but I thought they said the ritual was going to take a long time? Days, even?"
"It didn't." He put his hands on either side of her face and smiled down at her. Behind him the Queensboro Bridge arced out over the water. "You know the Silent Brothers. They like to make a big deal out of everything they do. But it's actually a pretty simple ceremony." He grinned. "I felt kind of stupid. It's a ceremony meant for little kids, but I just kept thinking that if I got it over with fast, I'd get to see you in your sexy party dress. It got me through." His eyes raked her up and down. "And let me tell you, I am not disappointed. You're gorgeous."
"You look pretty good yourself." She laughed a little through the tears. "I didn't even think you owned a suit."
"I didn't. I had to buy one." He slid his thumbs over her cheekbones where the tears had made them damp. "Clary-"
"Why did you come out here?" she asked. "It's freezing. Don't you want to go back inside?"
He shook his head. "I wanted to talk to you alone."
"So talk," Clary said in a half whisper. She took his hands away from her face and put them on her waist. Her need to be held against him was almost overwhelming. "Is something else wrong? Are you going to be okay? Please don't hold anything back from me. After everything that's happened, you should know I can handle any bad news." She knew she was nervously chattering, but she couldn't help it. Her heart felt as if it were beating a thousand miles a minute. "I just want you to be all right," she said as calmly as she could.
His gold eyes darkened. "I keep going through that box. The one that belonged to my father. I don't feel anything about it. The letters, the photos. I don't know who those people were. They don't feel real to me. Valentine was real."
Clary blinked; it wasn't what she'd expected him to say. "Remember, I said that it would take time-"
He didn't even seem to hear her. "If I really were Jace Morgenstern, would you still love me? If I were Sebastian, would you love me?"
She squeezed his hands. "You could never be like that."
"If Valentine did to me what he did to Sebastian, would you love me?"
There was an urgency to the question that she didn't understand. Clary said, "But then you wouldn't be you."
His breath caught, almost as if what she'd said had hurt him-but how could it have? It was the truth. He wasn't like Sebastian. He was like himself. "I don't know who I am," he said. "I look at myself in the mirror and I see Stephen Herondale, but I act like a Lightwood and talk like my father-like Valentine. So I see who I am in your eyes, and I try to be that person, because you have faith in that person and I think faith might be enough to make me what you want."
"You're already what I want. You always have been," Clary said, but she couldn't help feeling as if she were calling into an empty room. It was as if Jace couldn't hear her, no matter how many times she told him she loved him. "I know you feel like you don't know who you are, but I do. I know. And someday you will too. And in the meantime you can't keep worrying about losing me, because it'll never happen."