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in the taste of blood and salt

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Seven hours after the bite, Jace's hands begin to tremble.

The intervening hours have been busy, too busy at first to notice what's happening to him. It's all adrenaline and exhaustion, making plans and clearing out bodies, scrubbing blood and dirt from their skin, from the flagstones. Jace feels indestructible, at first. He feels capable of doing anything, but in a way that is brittle and taut, unnatural. He doesn't like it. It isn't the same as the rush he's used to after missions, heady and exhilarating; instead he feels like a puppet, his strings pulled by something he has no control over. His mind is racing and his body wants to move just as fast but it can't, weighed down by everything that has happened over the last few days.

Then Jace starts to feel sick. A sharp lightning-burst of pain pulses in intervals along one side of his head. Things begin to look hazy and strange, like Jace is looking at the world through plastic. Everything feels removed, distant and unreal. And then his hands start trembling.

Jace tries to shake it off, stretching out his fingers and then curling them into fists like the motion will jolt the tremors right out of him, but it's impossible to ignore even amongst all the other minor hurts he has to catalogue. His knuckles are bruised. A shiny burn is scorched into the palm of his hand courtesy of the Soul Sword. Every part of Jace's body aches but his wrist is strangely the tenderest of them all, punctured by two small holes that sting every time his sleeve so much as touches them. No matter what Jace does he can feel the bite throbbing, a dark reminder.

Izzy is in the infirmary now, shaking through her own aftershocks. Another Jace, a different Jace from months or even weeks ago, might go down there to sit on her bed and crack jokes, reminisce about the old days. It was rare, but whenever he and Izzy got sick as kids they always got sick at the same time, both of them impatiently grounded together, sneaking off to spar when they were supposed to be resting. This could be just like that. They could go through this together.

Jace doesn't go to the infirmary.

Instead he returns to his old room alone and bolts the door, planning to tire himself out so he'll be able to sleep through the worst of it without help. He does sit-ups until he can't keep his limbs steady, does push-ups until his arms give out, hits the bag until his knuckles bleed. But the tremors are really bad now. And it's like his brain is hardwired to want one thing and one thing only, so all he can think about is Simon's fangs rupturing his skin. The explosion of pleasure in his veins. The slow pull of his blood as it was drawn to Simon's mouth.

Jace is worn out but he's also too wired to sleep. Every part of him wants to unbolt the door and chase down that stupid sun-struck vampire, bleed into his mouth again. Feel the blunt pressure of Simon's teeth turn suddenly needle-sharp.

It's difficult to ignore the fact that he's hard, too.

Jace knows all about vampire bites; he knows about cause and effect, knows about blood and venom and tricky biology. Vampires can make their victims pliable and even willing; it's just one of the tools in their arsenal as predators, it's just how they're made.

Jace knows all this, knows that the burn in his veins is also what's curling hotly in his stomach, but god – god, he can't help it. He's lying flat and exhausted on the cold stone floor of his room when he shoves his sweatpants off his hips and wraps a hand around himself, comes minutes later on his bare stomach. It doesn't satisfy anything. It doesn't get rid of the buzzing in his head. Jace just thinks about Simon's fangs piercing his skin, the way it had hurt but felt good, too.

It'll wear off. It will wear off.

 

 

 

Post-bite finds Jace and Simon in a weird place. That initial camaraderie, born of too much accidental intimacy, has sharpened like a blade against the whetstone. Now there's an edge whenever they're in the same room together, all the air sucked out of it. They forget how to follow their usual script (something snide and self-aggrandizing from Jace; humorous patter from Simon that conceals an extreme level of insecure defensiveness) and instead communicate via brisk nods and curt replies. Any conversation they have is spare, whittled down to the necessities. Except once, when Simon starts to ask, "Hey, um, how are –"

Jace cuts him off with a sharp, almost snarling, "I'm fine. I'm over it."

And that's it. That's it, except –

Jace's heartbeat picks up when Simon is in the room and Simon can hear it even though Jace tries so hard to keep his expression stony, to betray nothing. Simon's pupils dilate when he's close enough to catch Jace's scent. And sometimes his eyes are dark and intent on the line of Jace's throat. His fangs keep popping around Jace, too. They can't keep it in check.

The whole team goes out (minus Izzy, who is still on lockdown) to follow a lead about the Soul Sword: Jace, Clary, Alec, Magnus, Luke, Maia, and Simon all stalking through the East Village after midnight trying to find some vampire who might have heard something from a Seelie about Valentine's sword-stealing backup plan. They've partnered up and fanned out over the streets and avenues, everyone in their corner. Alec and Magnus are a done deal, and Clary and Maia are working through some kind of wicked stepsister issues with Luke, so that leaves Jace and Simon grinding their teeth as they try not to walk too close together.

Then the demons descend.

The scuttling Shax demons are easy enough to skewer but the sheer number of them ups the difficulty level. It doesn't help that Jace has been saddled with a vampire with piss-poor fighting skills who could end up a shower of sparks if he's not careful. Taking matters into his own hands, Jace grabs a fistful of Simon's shirt and forcibly shoves him out of the way, up against the locked metal grating outside a closed storefront.

Jace makes quick work of the demons, wondering in the back of his mind just who they're here to track down, and then stands there panting with his hair in his face. He slumps back against the bumper of a parked car, not quite himself yet, before lifting his eyes to look at Simon. Simon is already watching him.

He's got that dark hunger on his face, jaw clenched with the effort of containing it. Jace is studying Simon's mouth so closely, trying to determine if his lips look bulkier around too-sharp teeth, that he almost misses the rustle in the dark behind him – the skitter of claws, the snapping of pincers. Eleven down, one to go.

"Watch out," Jace growls, irritated, as he hauls Simon out of the way again to dispatch the demon. His blade makes contact, but Simon chooses that moment to try to be useful (did he really think throwing a punch would vanquish a demon?) and it ends up taking them both down. They end up in a tangle, the demon exploding just as they hit the ground hard enough to make Jace's teeth rattle.

Jace is on his back under Simon on the pavement, a mess of elbows to ribs. It's awkward and clumsy and uncomfortable but also too much, too close – Simon's fangs are out and Jace's heartbeat is wild and for a minute all he can think is that he wants Simon to do it, just do it. Jace tilts his head back, sidewalk rough against his scalp.

But Simon has more self-control than Jace seems to possess and he jumps to his feet in a blur of super-speed as though he's been burned. Guilt is written all over his face, and it shows in the brief beat of hesitation before he holds out a hand to help Jace up.

"Sorry," Simon says. "Video games did not prepare me for demon attacks."

"I don't need an explanation for your ineptitude," Jace replies callously. "I already got the memo."

This time when Simon's jaw tightens, it's with good old-fashioned annoyance. There's something comforting about that. But then he says, "Are we ever going to talk about it?"

The tip of Jace's tongue presses hard against his teeth. "I'm not in the habit of talking to you about anything."

Simon isn't deterred. "I keep replaying it in my head," he says quietly. "When I thought it was Clary, the way she – you –"

Stop talking, Jace thinks.

"You came in and you cut your wrist immediately," Simon says. "For me. You didn't even think about it."

"All the blood in your body was on the carpet," Jace says indifferently, holding himself very still. "You were weak. You could've died."

"Already did."

Jace rolls his eyes. "Fine. Next time I'll let them squeeze you like a juice box until they get every last drop. Happy?"

"You're so obstinate," Simon huffs. "If you just – "

"I did you a favor, that's it," Jace interrupts, talking over him. "Handed you your day pass and all it took was a pint or two. Neither of us died. There's nothing to talk about, unless you really want to unpack the fact that now you look at me like you're starving and I'm dinner."

Simon's expression hardens into a frown. "Do you ever get tired of being an asshole?"

Meanly, Jace asks, "Did you like it? Do you crave it?"

They glare at each other, but it doesn't matter how nasty or icy Jace is; Simon's enhanced senses can pick up on all his unintentional cues anyway. He can hear Jace's heart racing. Maybe he even notices the slight shiver in Jace's hands. Jace had detoxed. He had been cleared. It was just a little bit of venom. How much was enough?

Maybe Izzy would have an answer, but Jace hasn't asked. He doesn't long for that false fire in his veins, doesn't miss the skittish high and fragile invincibility. It's the other part Jace focuses on too much when he's up all night attempting to burn excess energy with endless training. It's the other part that has infected his dreams.

Even though his body has stopped wanting the venom, Jace still wants the bite.

The thought makes him flinch with sudden embarrassment, looking away from their furious staring contest first. Lately he feels like he's giving too much away all the time, everything inside him spilling out. He shoves a hand through his hair, exhausted. "Can we get going?"

Simon doesn't answer. His eyes are focused on Jace's still-raised hand and it takes him a moment to realize why: his sleeve had pulled up just enough to reveal the marks on his wrist. The ones he hasn't healed yet. Jace tugs his sleeve down sharply.

"Don't you have runes for that?" Simon wonders, seeming a little dazed.

"The others are waiting," Jace says. "We're never going to find our source just standing here."

He turns to go but Simon stops him, reflexes vampire-quick. His fingers wrap securely around Jace's wrist, pressing against the little scabs and watercolor bruises. He's very gentle; he's still sorry. Jace isn't interested in either of those things.

"I did like it," Simon says after a tense, quiet moment. He sounds subdued. He draws closer – they both do, pulled towards each other like magnets – and turns Jace's wrist over in his hands. He folds the sleeve back. "Sometimes I can still taste it."

His fingertips move over the marks almost as though he's hypnotized by them, tracing over the imprint of incisors and the deeper wells left by his fangs. Jace stands there motionless, waiting, and doesn't wince when one of the scabs pulls away from his skin, leaving behind the tiniest bead of blood.

"I should've known it wasn't her, because of the heartbeat." Simon starts to lower his head. "I could feel it like it was mine. Your pulse. It sounds different than hers, I should have ¬–"

Jace is barely breathing as he watches Simon. He holds himself so still, anticipation hanging over him like a shroud; certain any false move will ruin this.

But a moment later Maia's voice pierces the dark. "Jace!" she calls. "Simon! We got him. Come out, come out, wherever you are."

Jace and Simon break away from each other instantly, guiltily. Jace is breathing way too hard, and Simon is only saved from flushing thanks to his vampire constitution. At the corner Maia waves them over, impatience in every line of her body, and they go without saying another word.

 

 

 

Later, standing apart from everyone else, Simon says quietly, "I would have bitten you."

Jace's jaw is so tense that he can feel a vein twitch. "I would have let you."

 

 

 

They decide to take the vampire in question to the Jade Wolf only because the Institute is too full of activity and prying eyes. Any vampire brought there for questioning would end up barbecue. But Jace knows it's a mistake for more than the obvious reasons – more than bringing a shifty vampire source into wolf territory. Jace shouldn't be here after what he did.

He knows it and the wolves know it too; he can feel them eyeing him sharply and sizing him up. He can see the snarls on their lips and the green flashing in their eyes. Luke trying to vouch for him doesn't help. If anything it makes it worse for Luke, splintering his hold on the pack a little bit more.

Jace has to get out of here.

But stuck waiting for the interrogation to finish up, he can only lurk near the door feeling caged. Clary and Luke are handling talks in the back, and the restaurant is cluttered with people curious about the outcome. Simon leans against the counter the register sits on, his back to Jace. But then he turns his head to meet Jace's eyes, face betraying very little. Jace wonders when Simon learned to do that.

Very casually, Simon informs him, "I moved back home, you know. Now that the sunlight's not a big deal, it's a lot easier."

"Congratulations." Jace's voice is flat and affectless. "Though I should probably be saying you're welcome."

Simon presses his lips together. "I'm just saying. That's where I am these days."

Jace frowns a little, but then it clicks for him. His mouth goes dry.

It's not a good idea. It's not a good idea.

 

 

 

The last time Jace was in Simon's childhood bedroom, Simon was dead.

The broken glass has been cleaned up but the closet door still bears the mirror's empty frame. The desk, previously split in two, has been replaced. All the little mementos of tragedy are gone and oddly normal ones have taken their place: a rumpled, slept-in bed and open, half-read comics. A plate of uneaten food that Simon sheepishly moves aside when he notices Jace looking. "The one thing that's still hard to hide," he says ruefully. "I pretend to eat out a lot."

It's on the tip of Jace's tongue to ask why Simon would come home when he still has to keep so much of himself secret, but Jace already knows the answer. Instead he raises his eyebrows and surveys Simon, decides to be an asshole for old time's sake. "What, no red wine? No music?"

A complicated little two-step of embarrassment dances across Simon's face. "No," he says, but he doesn't follow it up with anything else – no quips, no jokes, nothing. It hangs awkwardly in the air until he adds, "How should –"

"Shut up," Jace says. "Come here."

They perch uncomfortably on the edge of Simon's bed, which, when coupled with Jace's shitty joke, makes the atmosphere in the room even more strained. Jace begins to wish that Simon had just done it in the street, sudden and unexpected; planning gives things meaning.

Jace holds his wrist out, the same one Simon had before, and watches with interest as the gesture is enough to incite a flash of Simon's teeth. Simon supports Jace's arm with a light touch but then unexpectedly lets him go. "You know what we're doing, don't you? You know as far as choices go, this is the wrong one to make?"

Jace knows, but there is no part of him that cares. Simon was the one who invited him here, for Christ's sake. He grits his teeth to spit out something nasty but what he ends up saying is, "Please. You want it. I want it. That's as good as it's gonna get. Please."

Simon's expression softens, though it's in a way that is deeply melancholy – like there's a depth of sadness there, years' worth, that Jace has never spared a thought to. But there is also the dark gleam of his eyes, the sharp tips of fangs when his lips part. All the horror movie cues, right down the line. A creature in a dark room who wants to be fed.

Jace recoils a little in surprise when Simon leans in, but it's just so he can tilt Jace's jaw up to expose the line of his throat. Oh, Jace thinks, anticipation drumming in his chest. He's going to

Before Jace even has a chance to take a steadying breath, Simon's teeth have pressed past the shallow resistance of skin. Jace's blood is on his tongue again.

Jace's eyelids flutter shut and his breathing goes shallow, the initial flare of pain giving way to sensory overload. The bite takes him high and low at once, fizzing tipsily under his skin and sending a shot of adrenaline to his heart. Not that Jace cares about that. Jace is waiting impatiently for the whole production to finish up so he can get what he's craving: the slow rush as his blood is drawn out. The quiet.

But they don't get that far.

Simon's teeth have barely sunk in before the door clatters open with casual carelessness. "Oh, god, Simon, I'm sorry!" comes a woman's startled, embarrassed voice. "I didn't know anyone was here."

Simon retracts his fangs but doesn't move away immediately. He's frozen with his mouth against Jace's neck, neither swallowing nor stemming the flow. Jace opens his eyes in time to see a girl who must be Simon's sister pivot away slightly, though she doesn't leave. She's got one hand up shielding her eyes sitcom-style and the door is still open. Simon doesn't want his sister to see the blood, Jace realizes.

He gives Simon a little nudge to get him moving, nose against Simon's temple. He does finally pull back but at the same time his hand slides up and over Jace's neck, covering the wound. Jace ducks his head slightly, hoping the shadows and the awkward position will be enough.

“It’s okay, Becks,” Simon says, licking blood from his lips and teeth. The tip of his tongue flicks out to the corner of his mouth to catch a wayward drop. “What is it?”

Rebecca launches into a spiel about borrowing something, but Jace disengages from the situation almost as soon as she opens her mouth. He's spacey and dazed, intoxicated. It dulls his ability to care about anything that's happening. Simon, however, must have found some secret store of composure, because he's answering his sister promptly, seeming remarkably together and at ease.

Jace hears the door close, but it takes several seconds of prompting before he realizes Rebecca has left and Simon is saying his name.

"I'm okay," Jace rasps automatically, regardless of the question. "I'm fine."

"Are you?" Simon wonders, and there's something strange in his voice, something dark.

"I'm always fine." To prove it, Jace fumbles for his stele and runs it over his runes: amissio to stem the blood and iratze to heal the surface wound. Simon starts when the flesh knits together under his fingers, though the skin is still sticky with blood. Some of it has absorbed into the collar of Jace's t-shit, but, well. There's a reason Shadowhunters wear black.

To distract him, Jace asks, "What about your sister?"

Simon shrugs dismissively. "She just thought we were hooking up."

Jace's eyebrows lift. "Oh?"

Simon raises his right back. "What would think if you saw two people on a bed together and one of them was sucking on the other one's neck?"

Despite himself, Jace feels the back of his neck heat up. "So now your sister thinks you're gay."

Simon shakes his head a little, but his attention is stolen by the sudden realization that he still has Jace's blood on his fingers. He brings his hand to his mouth. "No," he murmurs, distracted. "She knows I'm bisexual, it's not a big deal."

In Jace's head, there's the slow whistle of a bomb careening towards earth and then the explosion as it hits. It's stupid that he's blindsided by that, but he is. "Does Clary know?"

Simon does not appear to be half as interested in this conversation as Jace is. "Mm," he says. "I told her, like, right after I realized sophomore year. Before my mom and everything." He must feel the weight of Jace's stare because he looks up again, lips reddened. "Is that not something you knew?"

Jace ignores that. "Won't your sister care that you were hooking up with someone else when you have a girlfriend?"

Simon doesn't answer right away. When he does, his voice has a forced lightness to it. "She doesn't know about me and Clary. I haven't told them." Jace stares at him with blank surprise; Simon is almost apologetic in response. "I guess I got used to not telling them things."

Jace feels a little spike of sympathy. Softly, he says, "Next time we'll have to go somewhere else."

Simon is quiet again for a long moment. "I know where," he says finally.

 

 

 

They don't do it in one of the canoes. Jace has some dignity.

But it's not much better than that. The boathouse has been stripped of all its personal, Simon-identifying details except for a blanket that they unfurl on the cold concrete floor and sit on, backs against wooden rack where the boats are stacked. The large, cavernous room is dim except for the flicker of caged but otherwise bare bulbs by the door. They're deep in the shadows, just the outline of Simon illuminated as he carefully folds back Jace's sleeve. The light traces a line down his left side, hair and cheekbone and jawline, shoulder and jacket. It highlights his nervous posture.

"What if I can't stop?"

"I trust you," Jace says.

The look Simon gives him is both startled and skeptical, but he doesn't say anything. He just nods, a solemn nod like he's undertaking some kind of sacred task and he accepts the weight of that responsibility. It's ridiculous enough to make Jace laugh, but he's not laughing when Simon runs his thumb lightly over the vulnerable underside of Jace's wrist. He's not laughing when Simon lowers his head and bites.

This time there are no interruptions.

Jace understands what made his sister crave the venom: the jolt, the feeling of being able to do anything, the way the first hit felt like the best orgasm you'd ever had times fifty. It was a wave that never stopped cresting. Being a Shadowhunter was always pushing harder and harder to be better and do more, and the venom made it feel like there was nothing you couldn't do. You could jump off a cliff and land on your feet. But that's not what Jace is here for.

For Jace it's the slow drag through his entire body, the undertow, the ocean pull of his blood towards Simon's mouth. The quieter and quieter thrum of his heart until there is nearly blissful silence, everything inside Jace going quiet and dark. He wants that.

The aborted attempt in Simon's room had left Jace on edge for days, dissatisfaction making him jittery. Even the first time hadn't really been satisfying with all those people on hand to pry them apart. And Jace hadn't known, he hadn't known before it happened what it would feel like.

Now he slumps back against the wooden structure, breathing slow and soundless. It feels like stirring in the deepest sleep, that moment of waking up while you're still dreaming: everything is so still, so silent, so dark, and awareness has gone hazy. Everything is so soft, even Jace's heart. His blood moves through his veins sluggish and sweet as honey.

When Simon pulls away it's like getting splashed in the face with cold water. Jace makes a huffy little noise of protest but it shifts abruptly into a breathless groan when Simon's tongue swipes over the puncture wounds. Jace had felt Simon's cold fingers turn hot as he drank and now all of him was warmed, pumped full of Jace's blood.

"Your runes," Simon tells him. "You have to –"

"Yeah, yeah," Jace breathes, eyes closed as he leans too hard into Simon's shoulder. "You stopped."

"I stopped," Simon agrees. "Now I won't have to explain accidentally murdering you to your brother. He doesn't seem like he'd be down with that."

Jace's lips quirk in a lazy smile. "You'd be surprised," he jokes. It's amazing that he can even feel like joking at a moment like this, when he's weak and useless, his head spinning and veins emptied. "Was it hard? To stop?"

He peels his eyes open to try to focus on Simon. It looks like Simon's pupils are blown, but it's hard to tell in the dark with his brown eyes. "I feel it all the time," Simon says eventually, voice a little thick around the fangs in his mouth, still faintly red with blood. "It's – it's what I'm supposed to do. Feed. I can feel that. I didn't even – until I – I hadn't realized what was missing. I didn't know that was the thing I wanted all the time."

He says it hushed like a secret, but Jace has been learning about vampires his entire life. He had always been taught that they were ravenous monsters, craving of blood and sex, manipulative to a fault. He knows Simon is not any of these things, but there's still something in him that wants and wants and will never be sated. Realizing that changes things. Jace always knew vampires were hungry but he had never spared a thought to the vastness of that hunger.

What’s the difference between hunger and addiction for vampires? Is there one?

"And it stops when you drink," Jace says, still watching Simon with half-lidded eyes. "That feeling."

Simon inclines his head a little. "It's peaceful."

Jace swallows hard and nods. Something inside him shatters at that word, peaceful, and his lips twist as he tries to keep that feeling – that broken feeling – inside.

Venom doesn't feel any different than the poison Jace already keeps inside himself. He has always been brittle and impetuous, egotistical and broken. Labeling that part of himself demon blood had almost made it easier to understand. Attributing it to Valentine's DNA made it fated. Now Jace has no excuse. He's adrift; he's a void. He needs a new poison.

Jace needs to feel something and guilt seems to be the only thing that doesn’t wear off.

 

 

 

By the time Jace returns to Magnus' loft, the buzz has worn off and he feels almost normal again: brash and bold, ready to take on the world. He knows tomorrow will be worse, but at the moment he couldn't care less.

Alec has taken up semi-permanent residence at Magnus', but he's not there tonight. Magnus is still awake, however, sipping tea and making notations in a large tome that looks older than all of them combined. Something about Jace's swagger must catch Magnus' attention, because he actually looks up from what he's doing. "Are you alright?"

"I'm always alright," Jace says.

Magnus gives him a strange look, one with more depth than his usual dismissiveness. "There's blood on your shirt."

Jace pulls the fabric away from his body slightly so he can take in the dark splotch left behind near the hem of his dark gray shirt. It's almost unnoticeable, so he's not sure how Magnus clocked it. At least Jace had healed the wounds before he left; there was no trace of what had happened besides the brightness in his eyes, the demonic impurities inside him again. Even with his angel blood, Jace wouldn't pass a purity test now. "There usually is," he says finally. "Goodnight, Magnus."

Jace reaches the door of his room without looking back, hearing Magnus' curious but not probing response from a distance. "Goodnight, Jake."

 

 

 

Hiding things is easy when no one is looking.

Jace heals the marks, or glamours them. Amissio replenishes the blood. His refusal to return to the Institute after the initial lockdown means that the only time he comes into contact with his family is on missions, or when he awkwardly runs into Alec at two a.m. in Magnus' kitchen. Isabelle would be the one most likely to see the signs so Jace keeps his distance, guilt forming a knot in his stomach every time he catches her eye and sees the confused hurt there. They've barely talked since her secret came out. She must think Jace hates her. But she doesn't push; no one does. Jace has already been through a lot, hasn't he?

Lately more than half their missions happen without Clave sanction, including the one they're on now: Jace, Alec, Izzy, Clary, and Simon investigating the latest in a string of Downworlder murders. The last victim had been a werewolf, another strike against an already diminished pack. Aldertree hadn't thought it was worth the time or the manpower to look into it, so here they are in Brooklyn. Izzy isn't even cleared yet.

The girls and Simon take off in one direction, Jace and Alec in another. The assumption is that a rogue Circle member is behind it, trying to finish up where his boss left off, and they're closing in on a suspect when Jace makes a stupid mistake. He thought he was still in the sweet spot, in control but not yet jonesing, but he's holding his seraph blade to the man's throat when a tremor runs through his hand so violently that he loses his grip.

What happens after that happens fast. The Circle member disarms Jace, cracks him hard across the face with the hilt of his own blade, and then drops him on his ass. The man has an arrow through the chest before he can make another move, but Jace's heart is racing. How could he be so stupid?

Alec steps up beside him. He looks down at Jace with too much curiosity in his eyes, brow furrowed. "You okay?"

Jace offers a hand so Alec can pull him to his feet. "I'll survive, but my ego probably won't."

Alec doesn't go along with the script. Your ego could survive anything is what he should say, but instead he's studying Jace too closely. "Things feel different lately with you."

"Things are different lately," Jace points out.

Alec gives him a look of quiet understanding that would mean something if he had all the information. "If you ever want to –"

"I know, man." Jace finds a grin for him and pulls Alec into a quick, one-armed hug. "I know where you live. And whose fridge you'll be rifling through in the middle of the night."

It's enough to make Alec roll his eyes and blush, enough to get him to move on from the conversation. They rejoin Clary and Isabelle and Simon, whose head jerks so sharply in Jace's direction that he's in danger of whiplash. He zeroes in immediately on Jace's split lip, the blood staining his chin and neck. Jace wants to tell Simon not to be so obvious, but more than that he wants –

Something he shouldn't.

They make their way through Red Hook to the Jade Wolf so they can report back to Luke. As they walk, Jace can feel the weight of Simon's focus like a physical thing. Simon is talking to the girls but his gaze keeps flicking sideways, finding Jace again and again. His eyes are heavy on the line of Jace's neck, following the burgundy trail of blood that has spilled and dried on his skin. Jace deliberately does not wipe it away or heal himself. He knows. He would bet that Simon can almost taste it.

Once they're on the docks a hand grabs Jace's shoulder from behind, pulling him away from the group and into the shadows, then spinning him so his back hits the hollow metal of one of the many storage containers that form a maze around the Jade Wolf. A thrill goes through Jace like it did the time Simon pulled his own blade on him, but there's no anger or frustration in the forcefulness of his hands. This is something else. Jace enjoys the feeling of being hunted by someone who could not, and would not, hurt him; it's safety and danger rolled up together, being so sweetly menaced and manhandled by Simon specifically. The good boy you can trust with your life and the creature drinking your blood in a dark alley. One and the same.

Simon doesn't say anything before his teeth are in Jace's throat, rough and fast and much too daring. Jace moans without meaning to and then presses his lips together so hard that the cut re-opens, blood beading on the surface of his lip. His tongue flicks out unthinkingly to catch the drops and it makes him wonder what this tastes like to Simon. Is it metallic and tart, or did the change in Simon make it seem somehow sweeter? Did it feel as good to bite as it did to be bitten?

Jace leans into Simon with his whole body, pressing into the hands holding him down just enough to feel the resistance but not enough to get free. He wraps an arm around Simon and clutches at his jacket, hand clenched tight in the denim and not letting go. Even through the fabric he can feel the tensed muscles of Simon's back, the cool flesh blossoming with warmth.

Simon pulls back after just a few seconds, breathing too hard for someone who doesn't really need to breathe at all. He still has Jace pinned. In that moment reality sinks in: what if Alec wondered where they were? What if Clary dropped back to see what was keeping them?

It had only been a taste.

"I'm sorry," Simon breathes.

His face is close. His brows are knit, mouth red. Eyelids heavy, Jace murmurs, "I'm not," and wills something, anything, to happen.

But nothing does. Simon lets him go (Jace has to force his hand to release Simon's jacket) and steps back, peering around the edge of the storage unit to see how far everyone has gotten without them. "Will you –" His wrist swivels, hand drawing an imaginary rune with an imaginary stele.

"Yeah, yeah," Jace says.

Simon gives him another long look, but when he starts to say something, Jace cuts him off.

"Don't tell me you're sorry again," Jace says. "I'm not."

Simon goes first and Jace follows ten minutes later. He has no excuse at the ready, but luckily everyone seems too caught up in discussion to have noticed his absence. They know he's reserved around the wolves lately, so they don't question him.

He chooses a spot behind Maia, hoping to hide.

"Simon," she starts without looking to see who she's talking to, "Did you –" The rest of the sentence dies on her tongue when she turns and sees that it's Jace standing with her. "Oh. I thought I smelled –"

Maia has always been a little too quick. Her eyes travel over Jace and then find Simon across the room with Clary, realization dawning like so many light bulbs clicking on at once.

"No," Jace says, to head her off. "It's not like that."

She holds up her hands. "You don't have to 'no homo' me, I didn't ask." But, interestingly, she doesn't push it. "You haven't been in for a drink in a while."

"That sounds dangerously like you miss me."

Maia scoffs. "Don't make me puke, Shadowhunter."

They're silent for a moment.

"What does he smell like to you?" Jace asks indifferently, choosing to ignore it when Maia rolls her eyes.

"Too much cologne, sometimes," she admits, and Jace smiles despite himself because he could have told her that. "Night air. Cookies, weirdly. Decay." She pauses. "Blood." She looks at him. "Is that why you haven't been coming in?"

Jace blanches but his expression doesn't change. "You know why I'm not coming in."

Maia shrugs, the delicate raise of shoulders in a satin bomber jacket. "You'd think you would have to drink a lot more after what you did."

It's a closed circle, a cycle, a loop – the bite is the only thing that makes it possible for Jace to pretend that he's fine, but it's also the very thing that proves he's not. He'd tried other things – picking up girls, swallowing shots – but it never worked for long enough. He wouldn't quite say this is working but it gives him a path to follow: wanting, getting, feeling guilty. All that remorse has to mean something, right? If he was like Valentine, then he wouldn't feel anything at all. Feeling bad means he isn't all bad. Right?

Jace touches his neck. "Yeah," he says. "You'd think."

 

 

 

They're already nearby, so that night they go back to the boathouse.

Jace is skittish after his talk with Maia but he lets Simon pull the sliding door closed and then back him up against it. Simon pushes the leather collar of Jace's jacket away from his neck, but after a slightly nervy pause he eases the jacket off Jace's shoulders entirely. Simon moves away to lay it carefully in one of the canoes, leaving Jace shivering against the cold metal door. His hands are buzzing. He must look as pathetic as he feels, because when Simon comes back, he lays his hands uncertainly on Jace's arms and then drops them, more of a flinch than a touch.

"Can I see?" Simon asks, gesturing at his neck, so Jace lets the glamour fade and reveal the marks from earlier: not just too neat little pinpricks, but the half-moon impression of teeth left behind by Simon's lack of caution. Simon touches the indentations with an apologetic wince, but thankfully says nothing. Instead he merely moves to the other side of Jace's neck, fingers firm on Jace's jaw to tilt his head away slightly. And he bites.

It's the first time Jace can breathe after a long day of suffocating.

He shuts his eyes tight to blot out the room, to blot out everything except the sensation of it, the soothing thrum of his own heart in his ears. His lips part but he doesn't make a sound. Involuntary tears spill onto his cheeks. The bite releases something in Jace every time and that rush of sudden relief is always, somehow, a surprise.

When Simon lifts his head, the only sound in the room is Jace's shallow breathing. His eyes are still closed so he doesn't see Simon move, only feels it a moment later when Simon's thumb presses unexpectedly to the tear tracks on his cheeks, swiping gently over one side of his face and then the other. Jace finally looks at him, helpless, and can't find a damn thing to say. The moment hangs there.

It's different for Simon to bite his throat. It's bodice-ripper, too intimate and not impersonal enough. When it's Jace's wrist, then it's just two people making a deal, trading the things they want. Providing a service. But when it's his throat, it's different: it's Simon pressed close to him, his hair tickling Jace's cheek. It's the weight of his body as it warms. Jace can't help but cling to him in response, fingers digging into his shoulders and back and feeling how startlingly solid he is. He's unmovable; he's marble. He's in control when Jace can't be, and Jace just wants to pull him closer.

Jace understands why people conflate vampires with sex. He understands why, venom-hazed, you can look at the person who made you feel that way and think, god. My hero. The one who saved me, who made me feel this good when before there was nothing but the emptiness, the pain. It's biological. That's why Jace kisses Simon. Biology.

With Jace's eyes half-lidded and Simon so close, the room goes fuzzy and unfocused around them, his vision blurring at the edges. Simon's lips are soft and open, sharing that iron taste between them as his tongue curls in Jace's mouth, bloodied teeth clinking against Jace's when the kiss deepens. Simon's mouth is always very soft against Jace's skin before his teeth pierce through it.

When Simon pulls away, Jace follows. But their lips don't meet again. Instead Simon lets go of Jace abruptly, slides his hand out of Jace's hair and releases his fistful of Jace's shirt. He takes one step back and then another, and his fingers come up to cover his mouth as though they can erase everything he's done with it.

"Shit," Simon says.

Jace looks away, jaw tight. He can feel the cut on his lip pulsing, his mouth tingling from Simon's kiss. His neck stings, his skin itches, and everything tastes cold and sour suddenly.

"That just happens sometimes." Jace's voice sounds weird in the echoing quiet of the room, far from the reasonable tone he'd been trying to attempt. "That's – it's not a big deal."

"Is that what I'm supposed to tell Clary?" Simon wonders, sarcasm just edging around his voice. "'Sorry I accidentally made out with your brother after I drank his blood'? Do you think that'll go over well?"

Jace grits his teeth and he thinks, not her brother.

You're not my son, after Jace had watched that fucking bird die. After he'd spent so many nights alone waiting for the only person he had to come back, pretending he wasn't scared because then that would mean he was weak. Jace had been kidnapped and beaten and healed and hit and chained and splashed with freezing water and sliced open. Jace has tasted his own blood so many times. It never made him invincible.

"I don't care what you do as long as you don't tell anyone," he says finally. "We got caught in the moment. It doesn't mean anything."

And Simon, fucking Simon, says, "It means something to me."

 

 

 

Four days go by before Jace hears from Simon again.

He spends most of that time irritating Magnus or training in his room until his body is slick with sweat and he's ready to pass out from exhaustion. Three glasses slip from his shaky fingers and shatter on the floor, making Magnus huff with irritation as he whisks up the shards with a gesture.

"I thought people like you could up your dexterity with a doodle," Magnus says.

Jace rubs anxiously at the side of his neck, but his response is preempted by the chirping of his phone. It's a text from Simon. Meet me, it says. You know where.

Jace arrives with his faux swagger in full effect: all in black, armored up in a leather jacket and gloves as though he has anywhere else in the world to be. He drops onto one of the trunks in the room, reclining back on his elbow, and pretends he doesn't give a shit what Simon has to say about anything. "Your text was very Things A Serial Killer Would Say."

Simon fidgets as he stands across from Jace. He has no armor, and never did. "I broke up with Clary."

Jace's body wants to jolt upright but he forces himself to be still, though his falsely casual sprawl turns rigid. He stares at Simon. "What?"

Simon shifts his weight and tugs at his sleeves and curls his hands into nervous fists. "We broke up," he says again, unnecessarily.

"I heard you," Jace snaps. "Why?"

This time it's Simon's turn to stare at Jace like he's crazy. "I can't lie to her," he says. "She's my best friend. Like, first and foremost. I can't lie to her."

Jace presses his lips together, wishing for the first time that Simon could just be somebody else, someone less concerned with right and wrong, someone less careful with other people's feelings. Jace didn't tell Clary what Valentine had told him because she was happy and he wanted her to stay that way: being spun around in the sun by someone who loved her. Now Simon is fucking that up, and punishing himself in the process.

Then again, Jace was the one to fuck it up in the first place by getting his blood in Simon's mouth. He gave Simon the key to getting his life back and then took it away, all in one accidental gesture.

"So you told her everything?" Jace asks flatly.

Clary would be so worried and confused if she knew what was going on, and something in Jace cracks at the thought of hurting her so much. He never wanted to do that, but it wasn't really a surprise that he would. Look whose son he wasn't.

But Simon shakes his head a little and drops his gaze. "Everything isn't mine to tell," he says. "I told her I kissed someone else. I didn't say who."

Jace couldn't really picture Clary letting that go easily. "Interesting interpretation of honesty, Simon."

Simon doesn't say anything for a moment, but then offers, "I get it more than you think I do. My mom –"

He doesn't finish the sentence so Jace prompts, "What does your mom have to do with it?"

Simon just shakes his head again and changes the subject, meeting Jace's eyes despite his obvious discomfort. "You kissed me. That's not nothing. I know it's the venom, but until we get this under control, it's not fair to Clary."

"It's not the venom."

"You're straight."

Can Simon hear his heart now? He must be able to; even Jace thinks he can hear it echoing in the silence. Cagey and irritated, he says, "It's complicated."

Simon is unconvinced, his voice too gentle. "It's the biting. The venom. That's what it does. You just got –"

"It's not," Jace says again.

Simon sighs. "Jace –"

It's something Jace has never said to anyone before and he's not planning to start now. "I'm telling you it's not. Can you just drop it?"

There had been a time in Jace's life when he'd tried to pass it off (to himself, at least) as some kind of bizarre side effect of his parabatai bond. He was just feeling what Alec felt, right? Jace knew he liked women, so he could ignore the rest. For a while.

"Even if you're… Even if it's complicated, or whatever word you want to use, I know how it was for me…with Camille," Simon says haltingly. "It's just what happens. It's supposed to do that, to subdue people and make them easier to control. It makes you think you want someone when you don't. I don't want to do that to you."

He's so earnest. That was always the thing that bothered Jace the most about Simon, particularly because early on he thought it was a total crock of shit. He had been happy to write Simon off as the kind of guy who liked to think of himself as nice until it made him curdle inside. But Simon's goodness is not a ploy. There's something about him that is almost innocent in its sweetness, unmarred no matter what has happened to him. Jace hates that and he craves it, and he wants Simon and Clary to be together because they deserve each other even though he's bitter about being metaphorically left out in the cold.

“You’re not,” Jace says. "I don't know how many times I have to say that."

“You hate me,” Simon points out.

“I don’t hate you, I resent you,” Jace tells him. “There’s a difference.”

Simon’s brows draw together. “Why?”

"Are you stupid or genuinely this oblivious?" Jace asks, but the unamused look he gets in response pushes the honesty out of him. "I think you're a good person, Simon."

Simon's expression gets strange in response, soft and private and thoughtful, and after a moment he comes in close. He shakes his head a little and brings a hand up to touch Jace's neck carefully, fingertips tracing over marks that are long since gone. "If I was, then I wouldn't be doing this."

"You'd be surprised what people can do." There are things Jace wants to know that he can't find it within himself to ask for fear of the answers he might get. Instead settles for something safer, a question with an answer that doesn't matter. "What does it taste like?"

Simon's lips quirk a little, not a smile. He drags his gaze up from Jace's pulse point to meet his eyes. "Like swallowing the sun."

It's been four days since the last time they were here together. When Jace kisses Simon again, he doesn't have a handy excuse.

 

 

 

Jace gets called into the Institute. The reasons are banal and routine (apparently all those unsanctioned missions don't get a pass forever) but it puts him on edge anyway. This place was his home for most of his life, but no longer. No one here will trust him again regardless of whose son he is. It doesn't help that Valentine is imprisoned nearby like a bomb waiting to go off. And no matter where Jace looks, he keeps seeing bodies.

Then there's Clary.

There are a lot of things about Clary that Jace has chosen not to deal with.

He analyzes her for any signs of distress: sniffles, red eyes, country music. At first glance she looks like the same old Clary, clear-eyed and determined, but upon closer inspection he can see the cracks. There's something breakable about the ways the carries herself, like the wrong move will cause her to snap. Her face is drawn and humorless, lips downturned but not trembling. Hurt, but functioning. Holding herself together. The same old Clary after all.

"Hey," Jace says quietly, before he can help himself. "I'm sorry about Simon."

He knows it's the wrong move instantly. Clary is mystified, her brow furrowed. "How do you know about that?"

Jace thinks fast. "Ran into him at Magnus'. You know, they have that whole Adopt-A-Downworlder thing going on. He seemed –" Don't, he tells himself. Don't give her hope or take it away. "Well, he gave me the update."

Clary nods, but it's a skeptical one. "It still feels kind of unreal. I didn't… I should have seen it coming. I wish I saw it coming." She sighs, her shoulders seeming to collapse inward. "He wouldn't give me any details."

Carefully, Jace asks, "Would that help?"

"Yes. Maybe. I don't know." She gives him a rueful smile. "Maybe I just want someone to blame."

"Understandable," Jace says, expression neutral. "Sounds like a pretty normal reaction to me."

"But that just feels like an excuse," Clary continues with another soft little exhale. "He says it wasn't me, but I wouldn't blame him if it was. Not after everything that happened."

It hurts for Clary to give so much up to him, handing off her fears and worries like they cost nothing at all. Jace is still someone she trusts.

"It's not you," he says firmly. The very picture of a good older brother. "Simon loves you."

"Just not the way he thought he did, I guess." She tilts her head, searching his face. "I'm sorry. This is weird for you, isn't it?"

Jace shakes his head. "No, no, it's okay," he lies. "You should be able to talk to me if you want."

Her lips curve up ever so slightly. "Thanks, Jace. That means a lot."

He nods. His pulse thunders. "Anytime, Clary."

 

 

 

The cold is seeping up through the blanket from the cement underneath, but Jace can barely feel it. Before, when he'd lain back against the scratchy knit all jumpy and uneasy, feeling stupid and posed, it was all he could think about. He'd felt that cold in his bones, in the spine that ached from trying to lie still on the unforgiving floor of the boathouse. But then Simon stretched out next to him and affixed his mouth to Jace's neck and Jace stopped caring.

It's the first time they've laid down together like this. One of Simon's hands cradles the back of Jace's head, fingers tangled up in his hair. Half of Simon's weight presses Jace down into the blanket, his other arm draped over Jace's chest. His leg slides between Jace's. And Jace holds onto him in return, fingers curling into a fist compulsively against Simon's back and then releasing slowly, over and over.

It's hard to feel the cold when the sensation of Simon drinking his blood is so hot. Jace is all heated and flushed, a burning in his body that radiates from the spot where Simon's mouth is latched. Simon himself remains cool. There's something soothing about that, like a damp cloth during a fever. But when it's over they reverse: Simon brought to boiling and Jace drained, just this side of chill.

When Simon pulls away Jace drops back against the blanket like a rag doll, boneless. He feels poured inside his skin. He loves this, when it's quiet like this.

His eyes are closed, so he doesn't notice Simon lifting a hand until it's touching his face. Simon runs his fingers over the mellow line of Jace's lips, his smooth forehead. There isn't an ounce of tension in his jaw. "You know," Simon tells him, "It's much easier to enjoy looking at you when you're not talking."

Jace smiles despite himself. "Back at you."

"Hm." The low murmur of Simon's voice vibrates against Jace's skin. "You're gonna have to at least open your eyes for me to buy that line."

Jace obeys, taking Simon in for a moment before replying, "And you're going to have to stop talking."

Simon laughs, his whole face crinkling with it. His teeth are still sharp, though, and red. "Hey, better men than you have tried and failed to make that happen."

"I don't doubt it." Jace touches Simon's mouth, spreading the blood over his lips and pressing the pad of a finger lightly to the knife tip of a fang. It doesn't break the skin but it's a nice tease. "Stop talking, Simon."

Simon leans into Jace's touch until he's close enough to kiss, until he can say against Jace's mouth, "You got it," which is, of course, still talking.

Jace cups Simon's jaw but he makes himself hold back otherwise. He doesn't clutch at Simon like he had been just minutes ago, suddenly worried about stupid shit like what this means and if it's real or not, worried about lines and boundaries and right and wrong. You pull one thread and the whole thing unravels in your hands. Jace doesn't want to think about things like that. He wants the quiet.

As though he can hear Jace's brain suddenly start whirring, Simon shushes him gently and kisses him again, just a soft one, quick. "It's alright," Simon says, like he's had a lot of practice saying it. Like maybe he has to tell himself the same thing, sometimes.

Jace nods and presses up into another kiss, tasting blood. So used to the burn of copper on his tongue that he'd almost missed it.

 

 

 

It gets experimental, bold. Simon scratches Jace's skin with his teeth and runs his tongue flat over the line of blood left behind. Once he pushes up the hem of Jace's t-shirt and drives his fangs into the soft flesh between his ribs, swallowing messy mouthfuls of blood like sweet wine. Jace gives himself up to Simon's hunger. Those first few times, he would hold his breath and smother any noise he made, but the more they do it the less he cares. It feels too good. It should be embarrassing, tears leaking out of the corners of his eyes and his mouth open around a moan, but it feels too good.

After you cross the line once or twice, what's crossing it a third, fourth, fifth time?

They hadn't touched often before this whole thing started, or at least not in a friendly way. A barrier of competition and condescension and machismo kept them at each other's throats instead of – well. Poor choice of words. Now that barrier is gone, and they get soft with each other.

After the bite Simon will carefully clean away any blood still staining Jace's skin, mouth slow and gentle as he licks along Jace's collarbone or his throat. Vampire saliva has anti-coagulating properties to keep the blood flowing but Jace appreciates the gesture anyway, enjoys the little kisses Simon presses to his neck. He might like that part better than the bite and it makes him ashamed to crave such closeness and affection. Not sex, not family, but being treated like –

Like he was somehow deserving of such tender attention. How long has it been since he really had that? Since Clary, maybe, though they'd never quite gotten that far. Maybe Jace had never had it. But the thing with Simon wasn't anything Jace could trust. It was a bond based in blood, in physiology, in shared secrets. Simon was predator and Jace was prey, or maybe it was the other way around; there was no guarantee that it was real. So much of Jace's life wasn't.

The problem with Simon is that everything he does is genuine, somehow, so Jace can never tell. Simon is the most honest idiot Jace has ever met.

In his head, Jace asks Simon questions he doesn't want to voice. Have you spoken to Clary since? I'm losing track of all the people I'm avoiding. Do you go out in the sun now like you used to when you were a mundane, do you pretend nothing's changed? Did you like me before? Do you even like me now?

Jace doesn't like being split open and spilling his insides everywhere. He'd rather keep it in and let Simon pull it out of him, drop by drop.

 

 

 

Sometimes they forget to bite. Sometimes they just kiss. That's even more dangerous.

It's one thing after a bite; it almost feels like they have to kiss, or they don't know where else the feelings will go. Kissing is a minor intimacy after someone has been inside your veins. But sometimes they don't bother with teeth and venom and blood. Instead they settle on that stupid blanket that makes the backs of Jace's arms break out in a rash every damn time and paw at each other like stupid teenagers. Which they sort of are.

They press closer and closer together like there's no such thing as close enough, careless of where and how they touch each other because somehow it's all good. Hands grasping and lips dragging over skin, anything, everything; all of it feels right. Pulling each other in tighter, unable to get enough. Jace feeling Simon get hard against his hip and not minding it, though it makes him a little nervous. He wonders sometimes if Simon is still using those unspoken cues – scent, pulse, an innate sense of how Jace's blood moves through his body – because he always seems to land on the very things that drive Jace craziest, knows just where to touch him, where to kiss.

Jace supposes they've spent enough time together in this boathouse for Simon to figure a couple of things out.

Which is a couple more than Jace has worked through, if he's honest. Simon is the first boy Jace ever kissed. He's the first boy Jace has touched like this, intimately, putting his hands under Simon's shirt just to feel his cool skin, the solid muscle, the hair on his chest. It heats Jace up in a different way than the bite does; this is low in his body, a squirmy pulsing kind of heat. Jace hates feeling like he doesn't know what he's doing, but here with Simon, he really doesn't.

Jace rolls onto his back and pulls Simon on top of him, brings his knees up on either side of Simon's hips but stays loose, legs sprawled. He gives Simon enough room to get between them and gasps when Simon does, when he feels Simon pressed against him so insistently. Jace shifts his hips, presses back.

"Okay?" Simon asks, which he does periodically.

Jace rolls his eyes in response. "Shut up."

Simon gets a smirky little look on his face, mischievous, and he leans in to flick his tongue against Jace's lips, moving just out of reach when Jace tries to kiss him. With a noise of frustration, Jace tries again and is evaded again. This time Simon grabs a fistful of Jace's hair and yanks his head back sharply, bares Jace's throat only to trail his lips down the center of it, whisper-light. Simon's other hand eases down to work itself between them, palm snug against Jace's zipper.

Jace's fingers dig into Simon's shoulder, massaging fitfully as Simon moves down his body a little, tongue curling in the hollow of Jace's throat. Not tasting anything except for Jace's skin. Unable to wait any longer, Jace pushes up enough to reach for the hem of Simon's shirt, hauling it up and over his head. It makes Simon's hair fluff up a little and he smiles at Jace, looking so cute and normal and sweet that Jace can hardly stand it. He pulls Simon in for another kiss.

And another. Whenever Simon leans away even slightly, even if he's just adjusting his position, Jace reels him back in. He can't stop himself. If their lips are apart for a second, it's a second too long.

(Briefly, Jace wonders what it would be like if they did more than this, more than Simon's mouth pressed semi-innocently to his neck. More than skin on skin where Jace's shirt has ridden up. What if they actually – and what if Simon put his teeth in Jace while they did it?)

Simon laughs a little as their mouths move together. "You're so needy," he breathes, and he says it as though it's a good thing, a thing that turns him on. But when he tries to kiss Jace again, Jace turns his face away.

"What's that supposed to mean?" His voice has an audible edge that he didn't intend for it to have.

Simon just kisses along his jaw, oblivious. "I didn't know you'd be like this," he muses. "I guess I thought it'd be this whole power play thing. All aggressive. If I ever thought about it, which I honestly didn't, but –" He shakes his head, a motion Jace feels against his cheek. "But I shouldn't be surprised, considering."

Jace says, "Considering what?"

"You know." Simon pushes up on one arm so he can look at Jace and he lets his fangs drop, baring them playfully. Jace hates the shudder that runs through him at the sight, the involuntary twist of his hips that Simon must feel. Stupid, stupid. Simon knows exactly how much Jace wants it. Jace is needy.

He pushes Simon away instead of pulling him closer, sitting up so abruptly that Simon kind of tumbles to the side. "I don't need anything," Jace says tightly.

"Uh," Simon says. "Okay, that was a quick heel turn. That's not what I –"

"I don't care what you meant." Jace grabs his jacket and shrugs it on over his buzzing arms, back of his neck hot with anger. "I'm not particularly interested in sitting around listening to you explain it, either."

Simon is blankly confused, and Jace doesn't blame him. "Jace –"

But Jace has to get out of there.

 

 

 

Again. Again.

Jace is swift and precise as he moves, striking at invisible adversaries with the kali sticks in his hands, his body controlled and forceful. The only thing he can hear is the steady sound of his breathing, and underneath it the faintest displacement of air as the sticks slice through it. His arms are burning, sore deep in the muscles and aching at the joints. It's proof of how long he's been at this, because he rarely gets sore anymore. Fastest, fiercest, strongest. Put that one on his headstone.

But then his hand suddenly cramps, the stick falling from his fingers and hitting the stone floor with a clatter. He never knows when it's coming, he can never feel it. Everything will be fine and then his hand will move of its own volition, a thousand tiny tremors traveling from the tips of his fingers all the way up his arm like an abrupt attack of pins and needles. It's not the first time today he's dropped something. It's not the first time this week.

He bends to pick the stick up and slides into the next strike without breaking his momentum. Again.

Magnus has been getting fed up with Jace's nonstop training lately ("I would like my balcony back sometime today, Jared.") and Alec has been at him about avoiding the Institute (which mostly involved subjecting Jace to a flat stare that spoke volumes), so that's where Jace is today. Back in his old stomping grounds, the training room shadowy with stained glass and candles, always a little chilly and thick with the smell of incense.

Jace hasn't returned one of Simon's texts in days. He could only evade so many people and places at once, so something had to give. The upside is that he has access to all the Institute's training tools and weapons. The downside?

He's feeling the effects of Simon's absence in more ways than one.

When the stick shakes out of his hand yet again, Jace can't help the frustrated and furious sound that escapes him, something between a growl and a cry. He throws the other stick as hard as he can across the room and hears it crack. There's a low whistle.

"That's one way to go about it," Isabelle says.

Jace spins around to look at her, breathing hard. "Really showed the wall who's boss."

Her lips twist in a little smile. She looks better than she did the last time he saw her – healthier, less ashen. The old Isabelle. "Looks like someone's in need of a sparring partner."

Jace waves her off, shaking his head. "I'm good, Iz. Just blowing off some steam."

But she's already twisting her hair up into a bun on top of her head. "C'mon, brother," she says, and he knows right then that he's not getting out of this. "For old times' sake."

He snorts, turning away so she won't see his face. He goes to get another set of sticks, his and hers. "You say that like it's been a hundred years."

"Hasn't it?"

Jace takes in her expectant expression and her set stance, hands on her hips and feet hips distance apart. He doesn’t want to have this conversation. "Don't guilt trip me, Iz."

She holds up her hands as she shrugs, then lunges forward unexpectedly. He blocks her, sticks crossed to catch hers. "Interesting choice of words. Feeling guilty?"

Jace rolls his eyes and hits ignore on whatever it is he's feeling. "There's been a lot going on lately."

"I'm aware." Isabelle's voice is dry, but that confused hurt filters over her face again. Jace hates that he has come to recognize it so easily. He ducks another of her blows and takes cover behind a column. Not looking directly at her makes it easier to talk.

"I'm sorry I haven't been around," he says quietly. "It's not because of you. Anything you did."

He steps away before she can catch him there. For a moment there are only footsteps, breathing, the wooden crack of blows landing.

"I heard you haven't been to talk to him," she says. "Jace, you know you have every right –"

"I don't need to hear anything else Valentine has to say," Jace interrupts. "I've heard enough from him."

"It wouldn't be for him," Isabelle says. "It would be for you."

"I'll survive," he says.

Isabelle sweeps his legs out from under him and he falls hard, the kind of drop that's sure to leave him bruised. "Will you?"

A thread of irritation snakes through Jace. "Always do."

He jumps to his feet but his equilibrium is off and he stumbles, which Isabelle takes advantage of to knock him further off balance. It's too easy, easier than it should be. She raises an eyebrow at him and he can almost hear her unspoken questions, but they don't talk as they move back and forth, parrying blows. Isabelle spins and brings the sticks down, but Jace catches them in the crossed cradle of his own, moves to push her off and has no idea it's coming when his hands suddenly convulse, grip loosening.

It always catches him off guard.

"Fuck," Jace spits under his breath, curling his hands into fists and then stretching his fingers out. It doesn't get rid of the buzzing feeling under his skin, but he hadn't expected it to. His heart's in his ears waiting for her to say something. She'd seen it happen earlier too. She's not stupid.

"Is that happening a lot lately?"

Jace shrugs, shakes his head. "You just caught me at a bad angle."

"When Valentine was in the Institute…" Isabelle says slowly, eyes trailing up from Jace's trembling fingers to his terrified face. "Simon bit you. Didn't he?"

"He had to," Jace tells her, almost defensively. "He would've died."

A little crease forms between her brows. "I know. It wasn't an accusation." She pauses, and it feels heavy. "Was that the only time?"

Jace doesn't say anything.

After a moment, Isabelle says, "I don't have those anymore. The shakes. Or the circles under my eyes. Trouble keeping myself steady."

"You seem better." His voice hangs in the quiet, sounding absurdly casual.

"Yeah?" Isabelle tilts her head slightly. "I'm not."

Jace stills. He waits for her to continue, but when she doesn't, he's forced to meet her gaze. She's direct, unwavering. She may say she's not fine, but to Jace it looks like she's already on the other side of it, back in control of herself. "No?"

"It doesn't go away." Isabelle's gaze turns critical and assessing, taking Jace in from head to foot and finding all the little cracks he didn't think anyone could see. "You look dead on your feet."

"I've been better."

They share half a smile then, like they're in on the same joke. "And worse," Isabelle agrees.

Jace wants to ask what made her go back again and again for the bite, what made her so willing to give up so much for something that was slowly killing her, but he finds himself unable to articulate any of it. What kind of answers would he have to questions like that? All he manages is a pathetic, insubstantial, "What made you – I mean. Why did –" He blows out a breath. "Why?"

Isabelle seems to understand anyway. "It felt good. It made me strong. Or I thought it did." She falters slightly, the first sign of any uncertainty in her. "It made it easy to block everything out – everything I didn't want to think about. It made things simple. I needed it."

Jace feels like he's breaking apart on the inside but he remains rooted to the spot, batting not so much as an eyelash.

"Doesn't sound simple," he says eventually.

"No," Isabelle agrees. "But when you're only thinking about one thing, it can feel that way."

Jace hasn't thought about anything else for weeks and weeks. The bite dominated his brain, split his time into periods of waiting and wanting, punctuated with the satisfaction of finally having it. All he thought about was the where and how and when, figuring out how to keep it a secret and letting lies spill from his lips without a second thought. All those things people said about him. All those things he told himself.

"I didn't want anyone to notice," she continues, looking at him with eyes that are much too kind. "And I wanted everyone to."

Jace gives a jerky little shake of the head. "I can't talk about this."

She takes a step towards him with a hand out like he's a skittish animal she has to calm. He hates how she's looking at him, all that pity. "Jace, I know how you feel –"

But Jace steps back. The distance between them remains the same. "I'm sorry, Iz. I can't."

He knew coming back here was a mistake.

 

 

 

Jace doesn't know what possesses him, but when he leaves the Institute he goes to Simon's.

Emotions cloud judgment. Shadowhunters get real good real fast at learning that lesson, at muffling the things inside them so they don't show, like the placid surface of a lake that hides all manner of crawling things in its depths. When Jace notices himself in the dark reflective glass of the train, it doesn't look like there's anything wrong with him. He's just another person going somewhere, expression neutral and body held still, thoughts contained behind an unreadable façade.

But his brain feels like it's vibrating inside his skull. Normally when he feels like this he'd just hit something – bag, demon, consenting sparring partner – until he got too tired to think, body and brain worn out of all that excess energy. But that doesn't seem to be working lately. Even before Isabelle he'd been at it for hours and he's still white noise inside, a bomb ticking down. He keeps feeling like his throat is going to close up and he has to take a deep gulp of air to make sure it's not actually doing it. The train needs to go faster. He shouldn't have taken the train. If the doors don't open soon he's going to rattle right out of his skin.

Jace catches his leg tapping restlessly and forces himself to stop. That's what you have to do. Control it.

Control keeps his pace moderate as he walks from the train to Simon's. He does not rush. He is not desperate. The world does not feel too bright or too sharp and he is at home in his own skin. Tremors are not rolling through him at odd intervals like a gentle earthquake.

Simon's mom answers the door. She receives him with a politely bland lack of recognition and Jace remembers that he was invisible the last time they were in the same space. "I'm Simon's friend," he tells her, hoping he doesn't sound weird. His fingers drum against his leg. "Is he here?"

Elaine tilts her head a little, brows drawing together and eyes narrowing slightly in an expression that is much too reminiscent of Simon. "Have we been introduced?"

Jace opens his mouth to bullshit something, but at that moment Rebecca appears suddenly to save him. She's passing by behind Elaine when the sight of him freezes her in place. She nearly drops her cup of coffee, eyes comically huge. "What are you doing, Mom, quizzing him for a password? We know him, let him in."

Jace wonders if she could supply his name if prompted.

"Oh?" Elaine glances over at Rebecca as she joins them at the door. "From where?"

Rebecca nudges her and says in a stage whisper, "That's the guy, Mom. You know. The guy."

Elaine's next oh carries a lot more significance, bells going off in her head. They're both looking at Jace now as though he's the most interesting thing either of them has ever seen. "Well, Simon has just been a nervous wreck these last few days. I'm so glad you stopped by. I hope –"

Rebecca's elbowing is more aggressive this time around. "Don't salt his game, Elaine."

Elaine nods and holds her hands up apologetically. "I absolutely will not." She steps aside to let Jace in, finally. "He's right upstairs, honey."

All Jace can mange is a brisk nod before he's jogging up the steps, getting as far from those loving relatives as he can. Something about them – their pleasantly over the top behavior, funny but irritating just like Simon could be – puts Jace even more on edge. It's too much.

"Door open!" Elaine calls after him.

Jace doesn't knock before twisting the knob and letting himself into Simon's room, but Simon must have heard him or smelled him because he stands up as soon as the door opens. He's wearing a worn black t-shirt and a pair of plaid sweatpants, noise-cancelling headphones hanging around his neck with music still faintly piping through them like he'd only just pushed them off his ears. A thermos of cow's blood sits on his desk with the top twisted off. Jace is interrupting him.

"Jace." Simon's gaze moves over him, assessing, trying to gauge how this will go. "Hey."

Jace shuts the door and nods, wetting his lips. "Hey."

That's enough for Simon to launch into the start of a spiel. "I don't know what I did, but –"

"Simon. Shut up." Before he can think twice about what he's doing, Jace takes two steps forward and kisses him, hands on Simon's face. It's a hard kiss, unforgiving, mouths mashed. Startled, Simon pulls back ever so slightly, a centimeter of space between them, but then he's pressing back into it with equal force. His fingers curl around Jace's wrists. Simon has no idea what's going on but he rolls with it, dives into the kiss.

It's not right. Jace shouldn't be doing this. He breaks away, lips dragging over Simon's skin and cheek sliding against his roughly as Jace moves past him. He sits on the edge of the bed like he did once before, except now his shoulders hunch. He puts his face in his hands.

"Jace?"

He can't say anything for a moment. There's nothing in his head except buzzing and his stomach is filled with dread. "There's something wrong with me."

It isn't what Jace meant to say. He's not sure what he was planning on saying once he got here, but that certainly wasn't it.

Jace isn't looking at Simon, but he can hear the light, jokey tone of his voice. "Yeah, dude. Don't I know it."

"No, I – " Jace's words catch in his throat. "There's something wrong with me. I'm weak. I – "

Simon had been happy. Jace can pull the picture up easily: Simon gathering Clary into his arms and spinning her around, sunlight in her hair and on his skin. The two of them talking rapid-fire, unable to keep from smiling. Clary touching his arms and his face like she needed reassurance that Simon was whole and okay.

Simon had everything he wanted and Jace ruined that for him out of envy and need, because at the end of the day Valentine hadn't been able to wring the weakness of him. It was in Jace's cells. He could never shake it loose.

Simon reaches out to take hold of Jace's jacket, casual and strangely intimate, his fingers curled around the lapel. "Hey," he says, the too-gentle voice that Izzy did, the one Jace hates. "What's going on, man?"

"You know what the fuck is going on, Simon."

Simon is quiet for a moment before he says, "We don't have to tell anybody. We can stop and just keep it to ourselves." He's speaking so softly, sweet. Jace hates him. "I'll take it to my grave, and you know I mean that because – "

"Izzy knows," Jace interrupts.

Isabelle put the pieces together and tried to handle it on her own, but it didn't work. The next line of defense would be Alec. He would tell Magnus, which meant Jace wouldn't be able to go back to the apartment. Clary wouldn't remain deaf to all the whispering forever. Isabelle might internally debate about it, but she would decide that Clary deserved to hear about this from a friend. She would sit Clary down and break the news as compassionately as she could. Soon everyone in the Institute would know: Valentine's son giving it up for a vampire, no surprises there. There's something wrong with that whole family.

Maybe even Valentine would hear about it. And if Jace ever saw him again, Valentine would look at him with that smug condescending smirk, the knowledge in his eyes that he'd been right about Jace the entire time.

"Clary will know," Jace adds, though it's not easy to say aloud. She'll tell Luke, Maia will confirm it, and then the whole Downworld will be up on the latest news too.

He pulls his hands away from his face and looks at Simon, spots the hint of nervous fear in his expression at the mention of Clary's name. Simon told her that he kissed someone else. If she knew about the biting, it wouldn’t be that difficult to connect the dots. One more thing everyone would know about. Even more questions to answer.

But Simon doesn't share whatever he must be feeling. Instead he says, "You know Izzy's not going to judge you. She understands. She was doing the same thing – well, almost. And she loves you. She just wants you to be okay. Clary – Clary too. They're your family."

Jace doesn't have any family. His lips part but it takes a minute for the words to come out. "Not Clary."

Simon doesn't get it. "Yeah, man. I know the situation is weird in an extremely niche way, but –"

Jace shakes his head, a tight and controlled gesture. "No," he says again. "Not Clary. Valentine told me when we captured him. He lied to us. I'm not his son. She's not – I didn't tell her. I don't know. I didn't tell her."

He can feel Simon staring at him.

"I wanted her to be happy," Jace tries. "With you."

It's a quaint excuse. There's no honorable way to keep the truth from someone when it's something like that.

"But –" Simon is at a loss for words, which Jace didn't know was possible. "Why would you do that to yourself?"

Jace averts his eyes, blinking rapidly against the sudden prickling. What kind of question is that?

Valentine turned Jace into the kind of person who lies to the people who love him. He's betrayed them, every last one. Jace has allowed himself to be manipulated again and again, twisted into an almost unrecognizable shape. And for what? An awful father, but one who was his. One he thought was his.

Valentine might not be his father but he left his mark on Jace all the same.

"I thought," Jace starts, but he's unsure how to finish that sentence. He has to start again. "My whole life, at least I knew where I came from. At least I thought I knew. And then none of it – none of it was real, but I had something else, right? He was – he was different but he was still my dad." His eyes well up and he tries to blink it away, but all that manages to do is mat his lashes and blur his vision. His face is wet, his skin tingling with embarrassment. "Now what?"

Jace is like one of those mundane children the Seelies used to snatch on a whim, leaving something else behind in the cradle. Did the real Michael Wayland have a real son that Valentine absconded with, taking on every aspect of the man's identity for authenticity? Or was some other couple made childless out of a need for experiment subjects? Did Valentine kill them? Are they still alive?

Simon hasn't said anything. Jace is possessed with the need to fill the silence, anything to get rid of the awkward quiet and the sound of his own repulsive sniffling. He wonders if Simon feels like this all the time, if that's why he usually can't stop talking.

"I mean, I could've – who would I be if he hadn't picked me? How did he – how did he know then?" How did he know Jace would be so easy to take advantage of, so needy for affection and love? "And why –" Jace is breathing too fast, his hands curling into fists. "Why would he throw me away right after? All that trouble, for nothing."

Jace doesn't have anything, a family or a name. No history. He's just an emptiness that Valentine stamped an impression on. He's adrift. He's a void.

He can't take a deep breath even when he tries. His heart is racing. Simon can probably hear it. God, Jace can't keep anything for himself, can he? Even the hurried pounding in his chest has to be public knowledge.

Simon is no longer touching him, but his hands kind of hover over the outline of Jace's shoulders like he wants to. "You're having a panic attack," Simon tells him carefully. It feels like his voice is coming from somewhere far away.

"And I did it, I pulled you into it," Jace continues. "I fucked it all up, I fucked everything up, just because I wanted to –" Simon is talking to him softly but Jace is having trouble focusing on any of it. Instead he just talks over Simon, tells him, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry." And again, "I'm sorry," over and over, "I'm sorry, I – "

Jace drops his forehead against Simon's shoulder and knots his fingers in Simon's shirt, keeps saying it until Simon quiets him. He tilts Jace's chin up to wipe fingers over his cheeks, reassuringly brisk and matter-of-fact about it, and lets Jace grab him again, hold onto him too tightly.

"It's okay," Simon tells him, words muffled against Jace's neck. "Well, it's not. But I've gotta say it, don't I?"