City of Ashes – Chapte 11: SMOKE AND STEEL

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Chapte11: SMOKE AND STEEL

THE CRITICAL CARE UNIT OF BETH ISRAEL HOSPITAL ALWAYS reminded Clary of photos she’d seen of Antarctica: It was cold and remote-feeling, and everything was either gray, white, or pale blue. The walls of her mother’s room were white, the tubes that snaked around her head and the endless beeping banks of instruments around the bed were gray, and the blanket pulled up around her chest was pale blue. Her face was white. The only color in the room was her red hair, flaring across the snowy expanse of pillow like a bright, incongruous flag planted at the south pole.

Clary wondered how Luke was managing to pay for this private room, where the money had come from and how he’d gotten it. She supposed she could ask him when he got back from buying vending machine coffee in the ugly little café on the third floor. The coffee from the machine down there looked like tar and tasted like it too, but Luke seemed addicted to the stuff.

The metal legs of the bedside chair squeaked across the floor as Clary pulled it out and sat down slowly, smoothing her skirt down over her legs. Whenever she came to see her mother in the hospital she felt nervous and dry-mouthed, as if she were about to get in trouble for something. Maybe because the only times she’d ever seen her mother’s face like this, flat and without animation, was when her mother was about to explode with rage.

“Mom,” she said. She reached out and took her mother’s left hand; there was a puncture mark on the wrist still, where Valentine had shoved one end of a tube. The skin of her mother’s hand—always rough and chapped, spattered with paint and turpentine—felt like the dry bark of a tree. Clary folded her fingers around Jocelyn’s, feeling a hard lump come into her throat. “Mom, I…” She cleared her throat. “Luke says you can hear me. I don’t know if that’s true or not. Anyway, I came because I needed to talk to you. It’s okay if you can’t say anything back. See, the thing is, it’s…” She swallowed again and looked toward the window, the strip of blue sky visible at the edge of the brick wall that faced the hospital. “It’s Simon. Something’s happened to him. Something that was my fault. ”

Now that she wasn’t looking at her mother’s face, the story poured out of her, all of it: how she’d met Jace and the other Shadowhunters, the search for the Mortal Cup, Hodge’s betrayal and the battle at Renwick’s, the realization that Valentine was her father as well as Jace’s. More recent events too: the nighttime visit to the Bone City, the Soul-Sword, the Inquisitor’s hatred of Jace, and the woman with the silver hair. And then she told her mother about the Seelie Court, about the price the Queen had demanded, and what had happened to Simon afterward. She could feel tears burn her throat while she talked, but it was a relief to tell it, to unburden herself to someone, even someone who—probably—couldn’t hear her.

“So, basically,” she said, “I’ve screwed everything up royally. I remember you saying that growing up happens when you start having things you look back on and wish you could change. I guess that means I’ve grown up now. It’s just that—that I—” I thought you’d be there when I did. She choked on tears just as someone behind her cleared his throat.

Clary wheeled around and saw Luke standing in the doorway, a Styrofoam cup in his hand. Under the hospital’s fluorescent lights, she could see how tired he looked. There was gray in his hair, and his blue flannel shirt was rumpled.

“How long have you been standing there?”

“Not long,” he said. “I brought you some coffee. ” He held out the cup but she waved it away.

“I hate that stuff. It tastes like feet. ”

At that he smiled. “How would you know what feet taste like?”

“I just know. ” She leaned forward and kissed Jocelyn’s cold cheek before standing up. “Bye, Mom. ”

Luke’s blue pickup was parked in the concrete lot under the hospital. They had pulled out onto the FDR highway before he spoke.

“I heard what you said back at the hospital. ”

“I thought you were eavesdropping. ” She spoke without anger. There was nothing in what she’d said to her mother that Luke couldn’t know.

“What happened to Simon wasn’t your fault. ”

She heard the words, but they seemed to bounce off her as if there were an invisible wall surrounding her. Like the wall Hodge had built around her when he’d betrayed her to Valentine, but this time she couldn’t hear anything through it, couldn’t feel anything through it either. She was as numb as if she’d been encased in ice.

“Did you hear me, Clary?”

“It’s a nice thing to say, but of course it was my fault. Everything that happened to Simon was my fault. ”

“Because he was angry at you when he went back to the hotel? He didn’t go back to the hotel because he was angry at you, Clary. I’ve heard of situations like this before. They call them ‘darklings,’ those who are half-turned. He would have felt drawn back to the hotel by a compulsion he couldn’t control. ”

“Because he had Raphael’s blood in him. But that would never have happened either if it weren’t for me. If I hadn’t brought him to that party—”

“You thought it would be safe there. You weren’t putting him in any danger you hadn’t put yourself in. You can’t torture yourself like this,” said Luke, turning onto the Brooklyn Bridge. The water slid by under them in sheets of silvery gray. “There’s no point to it. ”

She slumped lower in her seat, curling her fingers into the sleeves of her knitted green hoodie. Its edges were frayed and the yarn tickled her cheek.

“Look,” Luke went on. “In all the years I’ve known him, there’s always been exactly one place Simon wanted to be, and he’s always fought like hell to make sure he got there and stayed there. ”

“Where’s that?”

“Wherever you were,” said Luke. “Remember when you fell out of that tree on the farm when you were ten, and broke your arm? Remember how he made them let him ride with you in the ambulance on the way to the hospital? He kicked and yelled till they gave in. ”

“You laughed,” said Clary, remembering, “and my mom hit you in the shoulder. ”

“It was hard not to laugh. Determination like that in a ten-year-old is something to see. He was like a pit bull. ”

“If pit bulls wore glasses and were allergic to ragweed. ”

“You can’t put a price on that kind of loyalty,” said Luke, more seriously.

“I know. Don’t make me feel worse. ”

“Clary, I’m telling you he made his own decisions. What you’re blaming yourself for is being what you are. And that’s no one’s fault and nothing you can change. You told him the truth and he made up his own mind what he wanted to do about that. Everyone has choices to make; no one has the right to take those choices away from us. Not even out of love. ”

“But that’s just it,” Clary said. “When you love someone, you don’t have a choice. ” She thought of the way her heart had contracted when Isabelle had called to tell her Jace was missing. She’d left the house without a moment’s thought or hesitation. “Love takes your choices away. ”

“It’s a lot better than the alternative. ” Luke guided the truck onto Flatbush. Clary didn’t reply; just gazed dully out the window. The area just off the bridge was not one of the prettier parts of Brooklyn; either side of the avenue was lined with ugly office buildings and auto body shops. Normally she hated it but right now the surroundings suited her mood. “So, have you heard from—?” Luke began, apparently deciding it was time to change the subject.

“Simon? Yes, you know I have. ”

“Actually, I was going to say Jace. ”

“Oh. ” Jace had called her cell phone several times and left messages. She hadn’t picked up or called him back. Not talking to him was her penance for what had happened to Simon. It was the worst way she could think to punish herself. “No, I haven’t. ”

Luke’s voice was carefully neutral. “You might want to. Just to see if he’s all right. He’s probably having a pretty bad time of it, considering—”

Clary shifted in her seat. “I thought you checked in with Magnus. I heard you talking to him about Valentine and the whole reversing the Soul-Sword thing. I’m sure he’d tell you if Jace wasn’t okay. ”

“Magnus can reassure me about Jace’s physical health. His mental health, on the other hand—”

“Forget it. I’m not calling Jace. ” Clary heard the coldness in her own voice and was almost shocked at herself. “I have to be there for Simon right now. It’s not like his mental health is so great either. ”

Luke sighed. “If he’s having trouble coming to terms with his condition, maybe he should—”

“Of course he’s having trouble!” She shot Luke an accusing look, though he was concentrating on traffic and didn’t notice. “You of all people ought to understand what it’s like to—”

“Wake up a monster one day?” Luke didn’t sound bitter, just weary. “You’re right, I do understand. And if he ever wants to talk to me, I’d be happy to tell him all about it. He will get through this, even if he thinks he won’t. ”

Clary frowned. The sun was setting just behind them, making the rearview mirror shine like gold. Her eyes stung from the brightness. “It’s not the same,” she said. “At least you grew up knowing werewolves were real. Before he can tell anyone he’s a vampire, he’ll have to convince them that vampires exist in the first place. ”

Luke looked as if he were about to say something, then changed his mind. “I’m sure you’re right. ” They were in Williamsburg now, driving down half-empty Kent Avenue, warehouses rising above them on either side. “Still. I got him something. It’s in the glove compartment. Just in case…”

Clary snapped the compartment open and frowned. She took out a shiny folded pamphlet, the kind they kept stacked in clear plastic stands in hospital waiting rooms. “How to Come Out to Your Parents,” she read out loud. “LUKE. Don’t be ridiculous. Simon’s not gay, he’s a vampire. ”

“I recognize that, but the pamphlet’s all about telling your parents difficult truths about yourself they may not want to face. Maybe he could adapt one of the speeches, or just listen to the advice in general—”

“Luke!” She spoke so sharply that he pulled the truck to a stop with a loud screech of brakes. They were just in front of his house, the water of the East River glittering darkly on their left, the sky streaked with soot and shadows. Another, darker shadow crouched on Luke’s front porch.

Luke narrowed his eyes. In wolf form, he’d told her, his eyesight was perfect; in human form, he remained nearsighted. “Is that…?”

“Simon. Yes. ” She knew him even as an outline. “I’d better go talk to him. ”

“Sure. I’ll, ah, run some errands. I have things to pick up. ”

“What kind of things?”

He waved her away. “Food things. I’ll be back in a half hour. Don’t stay outside, though. Go in the house and lock up. ”

“You know I will. ”

She watched as the pickup sped away, then turned toward the house. Her heart was pounding. She’d talked to Simon on the phone a few times but she hadn’t seen him since they’d brought him, groggy and blood-splattered, to Luke’s house in the dark early hours of that horrible morning to clean up before driving him home. She’d thought he ought to go to the Institute, but of course that was impossible. Simon would never see the inside of a church or synagogue again.

She’d watched him walking up the path to his front door, shoulders hunched forward as if he were walking against a heavy wind. When the porch light came on automatically, he flinched away from it, and she knew it was because he had thought it was the light of the sun; and she started to cry, silently, in the backseat of the pickup, the tears splashing down onto the strange black Mark on her forearm.

“Clary,” Jace had whispered, and he’d reached for her hand, but she’d recoiled from him just as Simon had recoiled from the light. She wouldn’t touch him. She’d never touch him again. That was her penance, her payment for what she’d done to Simon.

Now, as she mounted the steps to Luke’s porch, her mouth went dry and her throat swelled with the pressure of tears. She told herself not to cry. Crying would only make him feel worse.

He was sitting in the shadows at the corner of the porch, watching her. She could see the gleam of his eyes in the darkness. She wondered if they’d held that sort of light in them before; she couldn’t remember. “Simon?”

He stood up in one single smooth graceful movement that sent a chill up her spine. There was one thing Simon had never been, and that was graceful. There was something else about him, something different—

“Sorry if I startled you. ” He spoke carefully, almost formally, as if they were strangers.

“It’s all right, it’s just—How long have you been here?”

“Not long. I can only travel after the sun starts going down, remember? I accidentally put my hand about an inch out the window yesterday and nearly charred off my fingers. Luckily I heal fast. ”

She fumbled for her key, unlocked the door, swung it open. Pale light spilled out onto the porch. “Luke said we should stay inside. ”

“Because the nasty things,” Simon said, pushing past her, “they come out in the dark. ”

The living room was full of warm yellow light. Clary shut the door behind them and flipped the dead bolts closed. Isabelle’s blue coat was still hanging on a hook by the door. She’d meant to take it to a dry cleaner to see if they could get the bloodstains out, but she hadn’t had a chance. She stared at it for a moment, steeling herself, before turning to look at Simon.

He was standing in the middle of the room, hands awkwardly in the pockets of his jacket. He was wearing jeans and a frayed I NEW YORK T-shirt that had belonged to his dad. Everything about him was familiar to Clary, and yet he seemed like a stranger. “Your glasses,” she said, belatedly realizing what had seemed strange to her out on the porch. “You’re not wearing them. ”

“Have you ever seen a vampire wearing glasses?”

“Well, no, but—”

“I don’t need them anymore. Perfect vision seems to come with the territory. ” He sat down on the couch and Clary joined him, sitting beside him but not too near. Up close she could see how pale his skin looked, blue traceries of veins apparent just beneath the surface. His eyes without the glasses looked huge and dark, the lashes like black ink strokes. “Of course I still have to wear them around the house or my mother would freak out. I’m going to have to tell her I’m getting contacts. ”

“You’re going to have to tell her, period,” Clary said, more firmly than she felt. “You can’t hide your—your condition forever. ”

“I can try. ” He raked a hand through his dark hair, his mouth twisting. “Clary, what am I going to do? My mom keeps bringing me food and I have to throw it out the window—I haven’t been outside in two days, but I don’t know how much longer I can go on pretending I have the flu. Eventually she’s going to bring me to the doctor, and then what? I don’t have a heartbeat. He’ll tell her that I’m dead. ”

“Or write you up as a medical miracle,” said Clary.

“It’s not funny. ”

“I know, I was just trying to—”

“I keep thinking about blood,” Simon said. “I dream about it. Wake up thinking about it. Pretty soon I’ll be writing morbid emo poetry about it. ”

“Don’t you have those bottles of blood Magnus gave you? You’re not running out, are you?”

“I have them. They’re in my mini-fridge. But I’ve only got three left. ” His voice sounded thin with tension. “What about when I run out?”

“You won’t. We’ll get you some more,” Clary said, with more confidence than she felt. She supposed she could always hit up Magnus’s friendly local supplier of lamb’s blood, but the whole business made her queasy. “Look, Simon, Luke thinks you should tell your mom. You can’t hide it from her forever. ”

“I can damn well try. ”

“Think about Luke,” she said desperately. “You can still live a normal life. ”

“And what about us? Do you want a vampire boyfriend?” He laughed bitterly. “Because I foresee many romantic picnics in our future. You, drinking a virgin piña colada. Me, drinking the blood of a virgin. ”

“Think of it as a handicap,” Clary urged. “You just have to learn how to work your life around it. Lots of people do it. ”

“I’m not sure I’m people. Not anymore. ”

“You are to me,” she said. “Anyway, being human is overrated. ”

“At least Jace can’t call me mundane anymore. What’s that you’re holding?” he asked, noticing the pamphlet, still rolled up in her left hand.

“Oh, this?” She held it up. “How to Come Out to Your Parents. ”

He widened his eyes. “Something you want to tell me?”

“It’s not for me. It’s for you. ” She handed it to him.

“I don’t have to come out to my mother,” said Simon. “She already thinks I’m gay because I’m not interested in sports and I haven’t had a serious girlfriend yet. Not that she knows about, anyway. ”

“But you have to come out as a vampire,” Clary pointed out. “Luke thought maybe you could, you know, use one of the suggested speeches in the pamphlet, except use the word ‘undead’ instead of—”

“I get it, I get it. ” Simon spread the pamphlet open. “Here, I’ll practice on you. ” He cleared his throat. “Mom. I have something to tell you. I’m undead. Now, I know you may have some preconceived notions about the undead. I know you may not be comfortable with the idea of me being undead. But I’m here to tell you that the undead are just like you and me. ” Simon paused. “Well, okay. Possibly more like me than you. ”

“SIMON. ”

“All right, all right. ” He went on. “The first thing you need to understand is that I’m the same person I always was. Being undead isn’t the most important thing about me. It’s just part of who I am. The second thing you should know is that it isn’t a choice. I was born this way. ” Simon squinted at her over the pamphlet. “Sorry, reborn this way. ”

Clary sighed. “You’re not trying. ”

“At least I can tell her you buried me in a Jewish cemetery,” Simon said, abandoning the pamphlet. “Maybe I should start small. Tell my sister first. ”

“I’ll go with you if you want. Maybe I can help make them understand. ”

He looked up at her, surprised, and she saw the cracks in his armor of bitter humor, and the fear that was underneath. “You’d do that?”

“I—” Clary began, and was cut off by a sudden deafening screech of tires and the sound of shattering glass. She leaped to her feet and raced to the window, Simon beside her. She yanked the curtain aside and stared out.

Luke’s pickup truck was pulled up onto the lawn, its motor grinding, dark strips of burned rubber laid across the sidewalk. One of the truck’s headlights was blazing; the other had been smashed and there was a dark stain across the front grille of the truck—and something humped, white and motionless lying underneath the front wheels. Bile rose in Clary’s throat. Had Luke run someone over? But no—impatiently she scraped the glamour from her vision as if she were scraping dirt from a window. The thing under Luke’s wheels wasn’t human. It was smooth, white, almost larval, and it twitched like a worm pinned to a board.

The driver’s side door of the truck burst open and Luke leaped out. Ignoring the creature pinned under his wheels, he dashed across the lawn toward the porch. Following him with her gaze, Clary saw that there was a dark shape sprawled in the shadows there. This shape was human—small, with light, braided hair—

“That’s that werewolf girl. Maia. ” Simon sounded astonished. “What happened?”

“I don’t know. ” Clary grabbed her stele off the top of a bookcase. They clattered down the steps, and dashed for the shadows where Luke crouched, his hands on Maia’s shoulders, lifting her and propping her gently against the side of the porch. Up close, Clary could see that the front of her shirt was torn and there was a gash in her shoulder, leaking a slow pulse of blood.

Simon stopped dead. Clary, nearly crashing into him, gave a gasp of surprise and shot him an angry look before she realized. The blood. He was afraid of it, afraid of looking at it.

“She’s all right,” said Luke, as Maia’s head rolled and she groaned. He slapped her cheek lightly and her eyes fluttered open. “Maia. Maia, can you hear me?”

She blinked and nodded, looking dazed. “Luke?” she whispered. “What happened?” She winced. “My shoulder—”

“Come on. I’d better get you inside. ” Luke hoisted her in his arms, and Clary remembered that she’d always thought he was surprisingly strong for someone who worked in a bookstore. She’d put it down to all that hauling around of heavy boxes. Now she knew better. “Clary. Simon. Come on. ”

They headed back inside, where Luke laid Maia down on the tattered gray velour couch. He sent Simon running for a blanket and Clary to the kitchen for a wet towel. When Clary returned, she found Maia propped up against one of the cushions, looking flushed and feverish. She was chattering rapidly and nervously to Luke, “I was coming across the lawn when—I smelled something. Something rotten, like garbage. I turned around and it hit me—”

“What hit you?” said Clary, handing Luke the towel.

Maia frowned. “I didn’t see it. It knocked me over and then—I tried to kick it off, but it was too fast—”

“I saw it,” said Luke, his voice flat. “I was driving up to the house and I saw you crossing the lawn—and then I saw it following you, in the shadows at your heels. I tried to yell out the window to you, but you didn’t hear me. Then it knocked you down. ”

“What was following her?” asked Clary.

“It was a Drevak demon,” said Luke, his voice grim. “They’re blind. They track by smell. I drove the car up onto the lawn and crushed it. ”

Clary glanced out the window at the truck. The thing that had been twitching under the wheels was gone, unsurprisingly—demons always returned to their home dimensions when they died. “Why would it attack Maia?” She dropped her voice as a thought occurred to her: “Do you think it was Valentine? Looking for werewolf blood for his spell? He got interrupted the last time—”

“I don’t think so,” Luke said, to her surprise. “Drevak demons aren’t bloodsuckers and they definitely couldn’t cause the kind of mayhem you saw in the Silent City. Mostly they’re spies and messengers. I think Maia just got in its way. ” He bent to look at Maia, who was moaning softly, her eyes closed. “Can you pull your sleeve up so I can see your shoulder?”

The werewolf girl bit her lip and nodded, then reached over to roll up the sleeve of her sweater. There was a long gash just below her shoulder. Blood had dried to a crust on her arm. Clary sucked her breath in as she saw that the jagged red cut was lined with what looked like thin black needles poking grotesquely out of the skin.

Maia stared down at her arm in obvious horror. “What are those?”

“Drevak demons don’t have teeth; they have poisonous spines in their mouths,” Luke said. “Some of the spines have broken off in your skin. ”

Maia’s teeth had begun to chatter. “Poison? Am I going to die?”

“Not if we work fast,” Luke reassured her. “I’m going to have to pull them out, though, and it’s going to hurt. Do you think you can handle it?”

Maia’s face was contorted into a grimace of pain. She managed to nod. “Just … get them out of me. ”

“Get what out?” asked Simon, coming into the room with a rolled-up blanket. He dropped the blanket when he saw Maia’s arm, and took an involuntary step back. “What are those?”

“Squeamish about blood, mundane?” Maia said, with a small, twisted smile. Then she gasped. “Oh. It hurts—”

“I know,” Luke said, gently wrapping the towel around the lower part of her arm. From his belt he drew a thin-bladed knife. Maia took a look at the knife and squeezed her eyes shut.

“Do what you have to,” she said in a small voice. “But—I don’t want the others watching. ”

“I understand. ” Luke turned to Simon and Clary. “Go in the kitchen, both of you,” he said. “Call the Institute. Tell them what’s happened and have them send someone. They can’t send one of the Brothers, so preferably someone with medical training, or a warlock. ” Simon and Clary stared at him, paralyzed by the sight of the knife and Maia’s slowly purpling arm. “Go!” he said, more sharply, and this time they went.

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