Chapter 17: THE MIDNIGHT FLOWER
IN THE HALF-LIGHT THE BIG EMPTY ROOMS THEY PASSED through on their way to the roof looked as deserted as stage sets, the white-draped furniture looming up out of the dimness like icebergs through fog.
When Jace opened the greenhouse door, the scent hit Clary, soft as the padded blow of a cat’s paw: the rich dark smell of earth and the stronger, soapy scent of night-blooming flowers—moonflowers, white angel’s trumpet, four-o’clocks—and some she didn’t recognize, like a plant bearing a star-shaped yellow blossom whose petals were medallioned with golden pollen. Through the glass walls of the enclosure she could see the lights of Manhattan burning like cold jewels.
“Wow. ” She turned slowly, taking it in. “It’s so beautiful here at night. ”
Jace grinned. “And we have the place to ourselves. Alec and Isabelle hate it up here. They have allergies. ”
Clary shivered, though she wasn’t at all cold. “What kind of flowers are these?”
Jace shrugged and sat down, carefully, next to a glossy green shrub dotted all over with tightly closed flower buds. “No idea. You think I pay attention in botany class? I’m not going to be an archivist. I don’t need to know about that stuff. ”
“You just need to know how to kill things?”
He looked up at her and smiled. He looked like a fair-haired angel from a Rembrandt painting, except for that devilish mouth. “That’s right. ” He took a napkin-wrapped package out of the bag and offered it to her. “Also,” he added, “I make a mean cheese sandwich. Try one. ”
Clary smiled reluctantly and sat down across from him. The stone floor of the greenhouse was cold against her skin, but it was pleasant after so many days of relentless heat. Out of the paper bag Jace drew some apples, a bar of fruit and nut chocolate, and a bottle of water. “Not a bad haul,” she said admiringly.
The cheese sandwich was warm and a little limp, but it tasted fine. From one of the innumerable pockets inside his jacket, Jace produced a bone-handled knife that looked capable of disemboweling a grizzly. He set to work on the apples, carving them into meticulous eighths. “Well, it’s not birthday cake,” he said, handing her a section, “but hopefully it’s better than nothing. ”
“Nothing is what I was expecting, so thanks. ” She took a bite. The apple tasted green and cool.
“Nobody should get nothing on their birthday. ” He was peeling the second apple, the skin coming away in long curling strips. “Birthdays should be special. My birthday was always the one day my father said I could do or have anything I wanted. ”
“Anything?” She laughed. “Like what kind of anything did you want?”
“Well, when I was five, I wanted to take a bath in spaghetti. ”
“But he didn’t let you, right?”
“No, that’s the thing. He did. He said it wasn’t expensive, and why not if that was what I wanted? He had the servants fill a bath with boiling water and pasta, and when it cooled down …” He shrugged. “I took a bath in it. ”
Servants? Clary thought. Out loud she said, “How was it?”
“I’ll bet. ” She tried to picture him as a little boy, giggling, up to his ears in pasta. The image wouldn’t form. Surely Jace never giggled, not even at the age of five. “What else did you ask for?”
“Weapons, mostly,” he said, “which I’m sure doesn’t surprise you. Books. I read a lot on my own. ”
“You didn’t go to school?”
“No,” he said, and now he spoke slowly, almost as if they were approaching a topic he didn’t want to discuss.
“But your friends—”
“I didn’t have friends,” he said. “Besides my father. He was all I needed. ”
She stared at him. “No friends at all?”
He met her look steadily. “The first time I saw Alec,” he said, “when I was ten years old, that was the first time I’d ever met another child my own age. The first time I had a friend. ”
She dropped her gaze. Now an image was forming, unwelcome, in her head: She thought of Alec, the way he had looked at her. He wouldn’t say that.
“Don’t feel sorry for me,” Jace said, as if guessing her thoughts, though it hadn’t been him she’d been feeling sorry for. “He gave me the best education, the best training. He took me all over the world. London. Saint Petersburg. Egypt. We used to love to travel. ” His eyes were dark. “I haven’t been anywhere since he died. Nowhere but New York. ”
“You’re lucky,” Clary said. “I’ve never been outside this state in my life. My mom wouldn’t even let me go on field trips to D. C. I guess I know why now,” she added ruefully.
“She was afraid you’d freak out? Start seeing demons in the White House?”
She nibbled a piece of chocolate. “There are demons in the White House?”
“I was kidding,” said Jace. “I think. ” He shrugged philosophically. “I’m sure someone would have mentioned it. ”
“I think she just didn’t want me to get too far away from her. My mom, I mean. After my dad died, she changed a lot. ” Luke’s voice echoed in her mind. You’ve never been the same since it happened, but Clary isn’t Jonathan.
Jace cocked an eyebrow at her. “Do you remember your father?”
She shook her head. “No. He died before I was born. ”
“You’re lucky,” he said. “That way you don’t miss him. ”
From anyone else it would have been an appalling thing to say, but there was no bitterness in his voice for a change, only an ache of loneliness for his own father. “Does it go away?” she asked. “Missing him, I mean?”
He looked at her obliquely, but didn’t answer. “Are you thinking of your mother?”
No. She wouldn’t think of her mother that way. “Of Luke, actually. ”
“Not that that’s actually his name. ” He took a thoughtful bite of apple and said, “I’ve been thinking about him. Something about his behavior doesn’t add up—”
“He’s a coward. ” Clary’s voice was bitter. “You heard him. He won’t go against Valentine. Not even for my mother. ”
“But that’s exactly—” A long clanging reverberation interrupted him. Somewhere, a bell was tolling. “Midnight,” said Jace, setting the knife down. He got to his feet, holding his hand out to pull her up beside him. His fingers were slightly sticky with apple juice. “Now, watch. ”
His gaze was fixed on the green shrub they’d been sitting beside, with its dozens of shiny closed buds. She started to ask him what she was supposed to be looking at, but he held up a hand to forestall her. His eyes were shining. “Wait,” he said.
The leaves on the shrub hung still and motionless. Suddenly one of the tightly closed buds began to quiver and tremble. It swelled to twice its size and burst open. It was like watching a speeded-up film of a flower blooming: the delicate green sepals opening outward, releasing the clustered petals inside. They were dusted with pale gold pollen as light as talcum.
“Oh!” said Clary, and looked up to find Jace watching her. “Do they bloom every night?”
“Only at midnight,” he said. “Happy birthday, Clarissa Fray. ”
She was oddly touched. “Thank you. ”
“I have something for you,” he said. He dug into his pocket and brought out something, which he pressed into her hand. It was a gray stone, slightly uneven, worn to smoothness in spots.
“Huh,” said Clary, turning it over in her fingers. “You know, when most girls say they want a big rock, they don’t mean, you know, literally a big rock. ”
“Very amusing, my sarcastic friend. It’s not a rock, precisely. All Shadowhunters have a witchlight rune-stone. ”
“Oh. ” She looked at it with renewed interest, closing her fingers around it as she’d seen Jace do in the cellar. She wasn’t sure, but she thought she could see a glint of light peeking out through her fingers.
“It will bring you light,” said Jace, “even among the darkest shadows of this world and others. ”
She slipped it into her pocket. “Well, thanks. It was nice of you to give me anything. ” The tension between them seemed to press down on her like humid air. “Better than a bath in spaghetti any day. ”
He said darkly, “If you share that little bit of personal information with anyone, I may have to kill you. ”
“Well, when I was five, I wanted my mother to let me go around and around inside the dryer with the clothes,” Clary said. “The difference is, she didn’t let me. ”
“Probably because going around and around inside a dryer can be fatal,” Jace pointed out, “whereas pasta is rarely fatal. Unless Isabelle makes it. ”
The midnight flower was already shedding petals. They drifted toward the floor, glimmering like slivers of starlight. “When I was twelve, I wanted a tattoo,” Clary said. “My mom wouldn’t let me have that, either. ”
Jace didn’t laugh. “Most Shadowhunters get their first Marks at twelve. It must have been in your blood. ”
“Maybe. Although I doubt most Shadowhunters get a tattoo of Donatello from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on their left shoulder. ”
Jace looked baffled. “You wanted a turtle on your shoulder?”
“I wanted to cover my chicken pox scar. ” She pulled the strap of the tank top aside slightly, showing the star-shaped white mark at the top of her shoulder. “See?”
He looked away. “It’s getting late,” he said. “We should go back downstairs. ”
Clary pulled her strap back up awkwardly. As if he wanted to see her stupid scars.
The next words tumbled out of her mouth without any volition on her part. “Have you and Isabelle ever—dated?”
Now he did look at her. The moonlight leached the color out of his eyes. They were more silver than gold now. “Isabelle?” he said blankly.
“I thought—” Now she felt even more awkward. “Simon was wondering. ”
“Maybe he should ask her. ”
“I’m not sure he wants to,” Clary said. “Anyway, never mind. It’s none of my business. ”
He smiled unnervingly. “The answer is no. I mean, there may have been a time when one or the other of us considered it, but she’s almost a sister to me. It would be strange. ”
“You mean Isabelle and you never—”
“Never,” said Jace.
“She hates me,” observed Clary.
“No, she doesn’t,” he said, to her surprise. “You just make her nervous, because she’s always been the only girl in a crowd of adoring boys, and now she isn’t anymore. ”
“But she’s so beautiful. ”
“So are you,” said Jace, “and very different from how she is, and she can’t help but notice that. She’s always wanted to be small and delicate, you know. She hates being taller than most boys. ”
Clary said nothing to this, because she had nothing to say. Beautiful. He’d called her beautiful. Nobody had ever called her that before, except her mother, which didn’t count. Mothers were required to think you were beautiful. She stared at him.
“We should probably go downstairs,” he said again. She was sure she was making him uncomfortable with the staring, but she didn’t seem to be able to stop.
“All right,” she said finally. To her relief, her voice sounded normal. It was a further relief to look away from him as she turned around. The moon, directly overhead now, lit everything nearly to daylight brightness. In between one step and another she saw a white spark struck off something on the floor: It was the knife Jace had been using to cut apples, lying on its side. She jerked hastily back to avoid stepping on it, and her shoulder bumped his—he put a hand out to steady her, just as she turned to apologize, and then she was somehow in the circle of his arm and he was kissing her.
It was at first almost as if he hadn’t wanted to kiss her: His mouth was hard on hers, unyielding; then he put both arms around her and pulled her against him. His lips softened. She could feel the rapid beat of his heart, taste the sweetness of apples still on his mouth. She wound her hands into his hair, as she’d wanted to do since the first time she’d seen him. His hair curled around her fingers, silky and fine. Her heart was hammering, and there was a rushing sound in her ears, like beating wings—
Jace drew away from her with a muffled exclamation, though his arms were still around her. “Don’t panic, but we’ve got an audience. ”
Clary turned her head. Perched on a nearby tree branch was Hugo, watching them beadily from bright black eyes. So the sound she’d heard had been wings rather than demented passion. That was disappointing.
“If he’s here, Hodge won’t be far behind,” said Jace under his breath. “We should go. ”
“Is he spying on you?” Clary hissed. “Hodge, I mean. ”
“No. He just likes to come up here to think. Too bad—we were having such a scintillating conversation. ” He laughed soundlessly.
They made their way back downstairs the way they had come, but it felt like a different journey entirely to Clary. Jace kept her hand in his, sending tiny electrical shocks traveling up and down her veins from every point where he touched her: her fingers, her wrist, the palm of her hand. Her mind was buzzing with questions, but she was too afraid of breaking the mood to ask him any of them. He’d said “too bad,” so she guessed their evening was over, at least the kissing part.
They reached her door. She leaned against the wall beside it, looking up at him. “Thanks for the birthday picnic,” she said, trying to keep her tone neutral.
He seemed reluctant to let go of her hand. “Are you going to sleep?”
He’s just being polite, she told herself. Then again, this was Jace. He was never polite. She decided to answer the question with a question. “Aren’t you tired?”
His voice was low. “I’ve never been more awake. ”
He bent to kiss her, cupping her face with his free hand. Their lips touched, lightly at first, and then with a stronger pressure. It was at precisely that moment that Simon threw open the bedroom door and stepped out into the hall.
He was blinking and tousle-haired and without his glasses, but he could see well enough. “What the hell?” he demanded, so loudly that Clary leaped away from Jace as if his touch burned her.
“Simon! What are you—I mean, I thought you were—”
“Asleep? I was,” he said. The tops of his cheekbones had flushed dark red through his tan, the way they always did when he was embarrassed or upset. “Then I woke up and you weren’t there, so I thought …”
Clary couldn’t think of a thing to say. Why hadn’t it occurred to her that this might happen? Why hadn’t she said they should go to Jace’s room? The answer was as simple as it was awful: She had forgotten about Simon completely.
“I’m sorry,” she said, not sure whom she was even speaking to. Out of the corner of her eye she thought she saw Jace shoot her a look of white rage—but when she glanced at him, he looked as he always did: easy, confident, slightly bored.
“In future, Clarissa,” he said, “it might be wise to mention that you already have a man in your bed, to avoid such tedious situations. ”
“You invited him into bed?” Simon demanded, looking shaken.
“Ridiculous, isn’t it?” said Jace. “We would never have all fit. ”
“I didn’t invite him into bed,” Clary snapped. “We were just kissing. ”
“Just kissing?” Jace’s tone mocked her with its false hurt. “How swiftly you dismiss our love. ”
She saw the bright malice in his eyes and trailed off. There was no point. Her stomach felt suddenly heavy. “Simon, it’s late,” she said tiredly. “I’m sorry we woke you up. ”
“So am I. ” He stalked back into the bedroom, slamming the door behind him.
Jace’s smile was as bland as buttered toast. “Go on, go after him. Pat his head and tell him he’s still your super special little guy. Isn’t that what you want to do?”
“Stop it,” she said. “Stop being like that. ”
His smile widened. “Like what?”
“If you’re angry, just say it. Don’t act like nothing ever touches you. It’s like you never feel anything at all. ”
“Maybe you should have thought about that before you kissed me,” he said.
She looked at him incredulously. “I kissed you?”
He looked at her with glittering malice. “Don’t worry,” he said, “it wasn’t that memorable for me, either. ”
She watched him walk away, and felt the mingled urge to burst into tears and to run after him for the express purpose of kicking him in the ankle. Knowing either action would fill him with satisfaction, she did neither, but went warily back into the bedroom.
Simon was standing in the middle of the room, looking lost. He’d put his glasses back on. She heard Jace’s voice in her head, saying nastily: Pat his head and tell him he’s still your super special little guy.
She took a step toward him, then stopped when she realized what he was holding in his hand. Her sketchpad, open to the drawing she’d been doing, the one of Jace with angel wings. “Nice,” he said. “All those Tisch classes must be paying off. ”
Normally, Clary would have told him off for looking into her sketchpad, but now wasn’t the time. “Simon, look—”
“I recognize that stalking off to sulk in your bedroom might not have been the smoothest move,” he interrupted stiffly, tossing the sketchpad back onto the bed. “But I had to get my stuff. ”
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“Home. I’ve been here too long, I think. Mundanes like me don’t belong in a place like this. ”
She sighed. “Look, I’m sorry, okay? I wasn’t intending to kiss him; it just happened. I know you don’t like him. ”
“No,” Simon said even more stiffly. “I don’t like flat soda. I don’t like crappy boy band pop. I don’t like being stuck in traffic. I don’t like math homework. I hate Jace. See the difference?”
“He saved your life,” Clary pointed out, feeling like a fraud—after all, Jace had come along to the Dumort only because he’d been worried he’d get in trouble if she got herself killed.
“Details,” said Simon dismissively. “He’s an asshole. I thought you were better than that. ”
Clary’s temper flared. “Oh, and now you’re pulling a high-and-mighty trip on me?” she snapped. “You’re the one who was going to ask the girl with the most ‘rockin’ bod’ to the Fall Fling. ” She mimicked Eric’s lazy tone. Simon’s mouth thinned out angrily. “So what if Jace is a jerk sometimes? You’re not my brother; you’re not my dad; you don’t have to like him. I’ve never liked any of your girlfriends, but at least I’ve had the decency to keep it to myself. ”
“This,” said Simon, between his teeth, “is different. ”
“How? How is it different?”
“Because I see the way you look at him!” he shouted. “And I never looked at any of those girls like that! It was just something to do, a way to practice, until—”
“Until what?” Clary knew dimly that she was being horrible, the whole thing was horrible; they’d never even had a fight before that was more serious than an argument about who’d eaten the last Pop-Tart from the box in the tree house, but she didn’t seem able to stop. “Until Isabelle came along? I can’t believe you’re lecturing me about Jace when you made a complete fool of yourself over her!” Her voice rose to a scream.
“I was trying to make you jealous!” Simon screamed, right back. His hands were fists at his sides. “You’re so stupid, Clary. You’re so stupid, can’t you see anything?”
She stared at him in bewilderment. What on earth did he mean? “Trying to make me jealous? Why would you try to do that?”
She saw immediately that this was the worst thing she could have asked him.
“Because,” he said, so bitterly that it shocked her, “I’ve been in love with you for ten years, so I thought it seemed like time to find out whether you felt the same about me. Which, I guess, you don’t. ”
He might as well have kicked her in the stomach. She couldn’t speak; the air had been sucked out of her lungs. She stared at him, trying to frame a response, any response.
He cut her off sharply. “Don’t. There’s nothing you can say. ”
She watched him walk to the door as if paralyzed; she couldn’t move to hold him back, much as she wanted to. What could she say? I love you, too? But she didn’t—did she?
He paused at the door, hand on the knob, and turned to look at her. His eyes, behind the glasses, looked more tired than angry now. “You really want to know what else it was my mom said about you?” he asked.
She shook her head.
He didn’t seem to notice. “She said you’d break my heart,” he told her, and left. The door closed behind him with a decided click, and Clary was alone.
After he was gone, she sank down onto the bed and picked up her sketchbook. She cradled it to her chest, not wanting to draw in it, just craving the feel and smell of familiar things: ink, paper, chalk.
She thought about running after Simon, trying to catch him. But what would she say? What could she possibly say? You’re so stupid, Clary, he’d said to her. Can’t you see anything?
She thought of a hundred things he’d said or done, jokes Eric and the others had made about them, conversations hushed when she’d walked into the room. Jace had known from the beginning. I was laughing at you because declarations of love amuse me, especially when unrequited. She hadn’t stopped to wonder what he was talking about, but now she knew.
She had told Simon earlier that she’d only ever loved three people: her mother, Luke, and him. She wondered if it was actually possible, within the space of a week, to lose everyone that you loved. She wondered if it was the sort of thing you survived or not. And yet—for those brief moments, up on the roof with Jace, she’d forgotten her mother. She’d forgotten Luke. She’d forgotten Simon. And she’d been happy. That was the worst part, that she’d been happy.
Maybe this, she thought, losing Simon, maybe this is my punishment for the selfishness of being happy, even for just a moment, when my mother is still missing. None of it had been real, anyway. Jace might be an exceptional kisser, but he didn’t care about her at all. He’d said as much.
She lowered the sketchbook slowly into her lap. Simon had been right; it was a good picture of Jace. She’d caught the hard line of his mouth, the incongruously vulnerable eyes. The wings looked so real she imagined that if she brushed her fingers across them, they’d be soft. She let her hand trail across the page, her mind wandering …
And jerked her hand back, staring. Her fingers had touched not dry paper but the soft down of feathers. Her eyes flashed up to the runes she’d scrawled in the corner of the page. They were shining, the way she’d seen the runes Jace drew with his stele shine.
Her heart had begun to beat with a rapid, steady sharpness. If a rune could bring a painting to life, then maybe—
Not taking her eyes off the drawing, she fumbled for her pencils. Breathless, she flipped to a new, clean page and hastily began to draw the first thing that came to mind. It was the coffee mug sitting on the nightstand next to her bed. Drawing on her memories of still life class, she drew it in every detail: the smudged rim, the crack in the handle. When she was done, it was as exact as she could make it. Driven by some instinct she didn’t quite understand, she reached for the cup and set it down on top of the paper. Then, very carefully, she began to sketch the runes beside it.