"I'm a vampire," Simon said. "I've been one for about two months now. I'm sorry I didn't tell you before. I didn't know how."
Elaine Lewis's face was chalk white. "Vampires don't exist, Simon."
"Yes," he said. "They do. Look, I didn't ask to be a vampire. I was attacked. I didn't have a choice. I'd change it if I could." He thought wildly back to the pamphlet Clary had given him so long ago, the one about coming out to your parents. It had seemed like a funny analogy then; now it didn't.
"You think you're a vampire," Simon's mother said numbly. "You think you drink blood."
"I do drink blood," Simon said. "I drink animal blood." "But you're a vegetarian." His mother looked to be on the verge of tears.
"I was. I'm not now. I can't be. Blood is what I live on." Simon's throat felt tight. "I've never hurt a person. I'd never drink someone's blood. I'm still the same person. I'm still me."
His mother seemed to be fighting for control. "Your new friends-are they vampires too?"
Simon thought of Isabelle, Maia, Jace. He couldn't explain Shadowhunters and werewolves, too. It was too much. "No. But-they know I am one."
"Did-did they give you drugs? Make you take something? Something that would make you hallucinate?" She seemed to have barely heard his answer.
"No. Mom, this is real."
"It's not real," she whispered. "You think it's real. Oh, God. Simon. I'm so sorry. I should have noticed. We'll get you help. We'll find someone. A doctor. Whatever it costs-"
"I can't go to a doctor, Mom."
"Yes, you can. You need to be somewhere. A hospital, maybe-"
He held out his wrist to her. "Feel my pulse," he said.
She looked at him, bewildered. "What?"
"My pulse," he said. "Take it. If I have one, okay. I'll go to the hospital with you. If not, you have to believe me."
She wiped the tears from her eyes and slowly reached to take his wrist. After so long taking care of Simon's father when he'd been sick, she knew how to take a pulse as well as any nurse. She pressed her index fingertip to the inside of his wrist, and waited.
He watched as her face changed, from misery and upset to confusion, and then to terror. She stood up, dropping his hand, backing away from him. Her eyes were huge and dark in her white face. "What are you?"
Simon felt sick. "I told you. I'm a vampire."
"You're not my son. You're not Simon." She was shuddering. "What kind of living thing doesn't have a pulse? What kind of monster are you? What have you done with my child?"
"I am Simon-" He took a step toward his mother.
She screamed. He had never heard her scream like that, and he never wanted to again. It was a horrible noise.
"Get away from me." Her voice broke. "Don't come any closer." She began to whisper. "Barukh ata Adonai sho'me'a t'fila..."
She was praying, Simon realized with a jolt. She was so terrified of him that she was praying that he would go away, be banished. And what was worse was that he could feel it. The name of God tightened his stomach and made his throat ache.
She was right to pray, he thought, sick to his soul. He was cursed. He didn't belong in the world. What kind of living thing doesn't have a pulse?
"Mom," he whispered. "Mom, stop."
She looked at him, wide-eyed, her lips still moving.
"Mom, you don't need to be so upset." He heard his own voice as if from a distance, soft and soothing, a stranger's voice. He kept his eyes fixed on his mother as he spoke, capturing her gaze with his as a cat might capture a mouse. "Nothing happened. You fell asleep in the armchair in the living room. You're having a bad dream that I came home and told you I was a vampire. But that's crazy. That would never happen."
She had stopped praying. She blinked. "I'm dreaming," she repeated.
"It's a bad dream," Simon said. He moved toward her and put his hand on her shoulder. She didn't pull away. Her head was drooping, like a tired child's. "Just a dream. You never found anything in my room. Nothing happened. You've just been sleeping, that's all."
He took her hand. She let him lead her into the living room, where he settled her into the armchair. She smiled when he pulled a blanket over her, and closed her eyes.
He went back into the kitchen and swiftly, methodically, swept the bottles and containers of blood into a garbage bag. He tied it at the top and brought it to his room, where he changed his bloody jacket for a new one, and threw some things quickly into a duffel bag. He flipped the light off and left, closing the door behind him.
His mother was already asleep as he passed through the living room. He reached out and lightly touched her hand.
"I'll be gone for a few days," he whispered. "But you won't worry. You won't expect me back. You think I'm on a school field trip. There's no need to call. Everything is fine."
He drew his hand back. In the dim light his mother looked both older and younger than he was used to. She was as small as a child, curled under the blanket, but there were new lines on her face he didn't remember being there before.
"Mom," he whispered.
He touched her hand, and she stirred. Not wanting her to wake, he jerked his fingers back and moved soundlessly to the door, grabbing his keys from the table as he went.
The Institute was quiet. It was always quiet these days. Jace had taken to leaving his window open at night, so he could hear the noises of traffic going by, the occasional wail of ambulance sirens and the honking of horns on York Avenue. He could hear things mundanes couldn't, too, and these sounds filtered through the night and into his dreams-the rush of air displaced by a vampire's airborne motorcycle, the flutter of winged fey, the distant howl of wolves on nights when the moon was full.
It was only half-full now, casting just enough light for him to read by as he sprawled on the bed. He had his father's silver box open in front of him, and was going through what was inside it. One of his father's steles was in there, and a silver-handled hunting dagger with the initials SWH on the handle, and-of most interest to Jace-a pile of letters.
Over the past six weeks he had taken to reading a letter or so every night, trying to get a sense for the man who was his biological father. A picture had begun to emerge slowly, of a thoughtful young man with hard-driving parents who had been drawn to Valentine and the Circle because they had seemed to offer him an opportunity to distinguish himself in the world. He had kept writing to Amatis even after their divorce, something she hadn't mentioned before. In those letters, his disenchantment with Valentine and sickness at the Circle's activities were clear, though he rarely, if ever, mentioned Jace's mother, Celine. It made sense-Amatis wouldn't have wanted to hear about her replacement-and yet Jace could not help hating his father a little for it. If he hadn't cared about Jace's mother, why marry her? If he'd hated the Circle so much, why hadn't he left it? Valentine had been a madman, but at least he'd stood by his principles.
And then, of course, Jace only felt worse for preferring Valentine to his real father. What kind of person did that make him?
A knock on the door drew him out of his self-recriminations; he got to his feet and went to answer it, expecting Isabelle to be there, wanting to either borrow something or complain about something.
But it wasn't Isabelle. It was Clary.
She wasn't dressed the way she usually was. She had a low-cut black tank top on, a white blouse tied loose and open over it, and a short skirt, short enough to show the curves of her legs up to midthigh. She wore her bright red hair in braids, loose curls of it clinging against the hollows of her temples, as if it had been raining lightly outside. She smiled when she saw him, arching her eyebrows. They were coppery, like the fine eyelashes that framed her green eyes. "Aren't you going to let me in?"
He looked up and down the hallway. No one else was there, thank God. Taking Clary by the arm, he pulled her inside and shut the door. Leaning against it, he said, "What are you doing here? Is everything all right?"
"Everything's fine." She kicked off her shoes and sat down on the edge of the bed. Her skirt rode up as she leaned back on her hands, showing more thigh. It wasn't doing wonders for Jace's concentration. "I missed you. And Mom and Luke are asleep. They won't notice I'm gone."
"You shouldn't be here." The words came out as a sort of groan. He hated saying them but knew they needed to be said, for reasons she didn't even know. And he hoped she never would.
"Well, if you want me to go, I will." She stood up. Her eyes were shimmeringly green. She took a step closer to him. "But I came all the way here. You could at least kiss me good-bye."
He reached for her and drew her in, and kissed her. There were some things you had to do, even if they were a bad idea. She folded into his arms like delicate silk. He put his hands in her hair and ran his fingers through it, untwisting her braids until her hair fell around her shoulders the way he liked it. He remembered wanting to do this the first time he had seen her, and dismissing the idea as insane. She was a mundane, she'd been a stranger, there'd been no sense in wanting her. And then he had kissed her for the first time, in the greenhouse, and it had almost made him crazy. They had gone downstairs and been interrupted by Simon, and he had never wanted to kill anyone as much as he had wanted to kill Simon in that moment, though he knew, intellectually, that Simon hadn't done anything wrong. But what he felt had nothing to do with intellect, and when he had imagined her leaving him for Simon, the thought had made him sick and scared the way no demon ever had.
And then Valentine had told them they were brother and sister, and Jace had realized that there were worse things, infinitely worse things, than Clary leaving him for someone else-and that was knowing that the way he loved her was somehow cosmically wrong; that what had seemed the most pure and most irreproachable thing in his life had now been defiled beyond redemption. He remembered his father saying that when angels fell, they fell in anguish, because once they had seen the face of God, and now they never would again. And he had thought he knew how they felt.
It had not made him want her any less; it had just turned wanting her into torture. Sometimes the shadow of that torture fell across his memories even when he was kissing her, as he was now, and made him crush her more tightly to him. She made a surprised noise but didn't protest, even when he lifted her up and carried her over to the bed.
They sprawled onto it together, crumpling some of the letters, Jace knocking the box itself aside to make room for them. His heart was hammering against the inside of his ribs. They had never been in bed together like this before, not really. There had been that night in her room in Idris, but they had barely touched. Jocelyn was careful never to let either of them spend the night where the other one lived. She didn't care much for him, Jace suspected, and he could hardly blame her. He doubted he would have liked himself much, if he'd been in her position.
"I love you," Clary whispered. She had his shirt off, and her fingertips were tracing the scars on his back, and the star-shaped scar on his shoulder that was the twin of her own, a relic of the angel whose blood they both shared. "I don't ever want to lose you."
He slid his hand down to untie her knotted blouse. His other hand, braced against the mattress, touched the cold metal of the hunting dagger; it must have spilled onto the bed with the rest of the contents of the box. "That will never happen."
She looked up at him with luminous eyes. "How can you be so sure?"
His hand tightened on the knife hilt. The moonlight that poured through the window slid off the blade as he raised it. "I'm sure," he said, and brought the dagger down. The blade sheared through her flesh as if it were paper, and as her mouth opened in a startled O and blood soaked the front of her white shirt, he thought, Dear God, not again.
Waking up from the nightmare was like crashing through a plate glass window. The razored shards of it seemed to slice at Jace even as he pulled free and sat up, gasping. He rolled off the bed, instinctively wanting to get away, and hit the stone floor on his hands and knees. Cold air poured through the open window, making him shiver but clearing away the last, clinging tendrils of the dream.
He stared down at his hands. They were clean of blood. The bed was a mess, the sheets and blankets screwed into a tangled ball from his tossing and turning, but the box containing his father's things was still on the nightstand, where he'd left it before he went to sleep.
The first few times he'd had the nightmare, he'd woken up and vomited. Now he was careful about not eating for hours before he went to sleep, so instead his body had its revenge on him by racking him with spasms of sickness and fever. A spasm hit now, and he curled into a ball, gasping and dry-heaving until it passed.
When it was over, he pressed his forehead against the cold stone floor. Sweat was cooling on his body, his shirt sticking to him, and he wondered, not idly, if eventually the dreams would kill him. He had tried everything to stop them-sleeping pills and potions, runes of sleep and runes of peace and healing. Nothing worked. The dreams stole like poison into his mind, and there was nothing he could do to shut them out.
Even during his waking hours, he found it hard to look at Clary. She had always been able to see through him the way no one else had, and he could only imagine what she would think if she knew what he dreamed. He rolled onto his side and stared at the box on the nightstand, moonlight sparking off it. And he thought of Valentine. Valentine, who had tortured and imprisoned the only woman he'd ever loved, who had taught his son-both his sons-that to love something is to destroy it forever.
His mind spun frantically as he said the words to himself, over and over. It had become a sort of chant for him, and like any chant, the words had started to lose their individual meanings.
I'm not like Valentine. I don't want to be like him. I won't be like him. I won't.
He saw Sebastian-Jonathan, really-his sort-of-brother, grinning at him through a tangle of silver-white hair, his black eyes shining with merciless glee. And he saw his own knife go into Jonathan and pull free, and Jonathan's body tumbling down toward the river below, his blood mixing with the weeds and grass at the riverbank's edge.