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Lessons in Love

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She’d been with him for too long. She’d stopped counting after three months, two weeks, four days, 13 hours, and 22 minutes, giving it up as a lost cause. There was no rescue coming, no hope for escape. She was bound too tightly to him, and he was too powerful. When he’d first brought her here, she’d written the date and time of her captivity on the wall behind her bed. When she decided to stop counting, she gouged out the bit of plaster entirely, and tried to erase it just as firmly from her mind.

She had tried escaping at first. Attempt after attempt that failed. He would find her and they would fight and he would tear her apart, her strength no match for his. And when she was subdued, a heaving mass of tears and pain, he would carefully put her back together again. He tended her wounds and laid healing runes on her body, making her whole and strong once more.

After their seventh fight, she finally asked him why. Why he bothered putting her back together if he was just going to kill her anyway.

His hands paused in their gentle work, frozen in place in a light touch on her back. “I’m not going to kill you, Clary. I’m going to make you love me. And we will rule together.”

She couldn’t think of anything to say to that and the silence stretched into what felt like eternity with his hands on her bare back, burning a hole into her skin.

She gave up trying to escape at that point. It clearly wasn’t going to work and she wasn’t sure she could bear the feel of his hands on her skin once more. It was easier to bear his blows to her body than the reverence he touched her with afterward.

She gave up hope of rescue when he returned covered in blood, news of the deaths of their mother, Luke, and Simon rolling off his tongue like a grocery list. She knew the Shadowhunters would leave her to rot, the sacrifice of one for the good of many. He grabbed her arm when she turned to flee, leaving a bloody hand print on her sleeve. “Can you love me now that there is no one else left?” he asked. She shook her head and he let her go. “Someday, sister.”

—-

He brought others back to their house of out time, young men and women with party clothes and hollow eyes. Clary would watch them follow Sebastian to his room from the crack in her door. Glamorous young, hard bodies full to the brim of alcohol and drugs would trail down the hallway, laughter echoing as they went. She would sit in the hall by his door and listen as screams of ecstasy would turn to agony before finally growing silent. She always fled to her room before he came out, unable to face what else might come with him.

When she protested his companions, he shrugged at her. “I have needs Clarissa.” He wrapped his arms around her pulling her lower body flush to his, still looking down at her face. “Even when you finally become mine, I will still have other desires that you will never be able to fill. It’s best that you get used to my diversions now.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“I’ve lied to you far too much already, Clary. It’s not in my nature. I will never lie to you again.”

She didn’t speak as he smiled down at her, painfully beautiful even now, when she knew what kind of soul that beautiful mask contained. “Have you learned to love me yet?” he asked, his voice low and full of promise. He lifted one hand up, stroking her cheek slowly with the backs of two fingers.

Her eyes fluttered closed as she imagined herself somewhere else, with someone else. She leaned into him ever so slightly and he chuckled, snapping her out of her daydream. She spun out of his arms and fled down the hall to her room to the sound of his laughter.

She dimly remembered when she had thought that nearly four months was too long to have spent with him. She’d stopped counting, but the seasons outside her magical windows kept turning and the world moved from spring through to winter as she stayed his captive.

He brought her everything she wanted. Indulged her every whim. Showered her with gifts. But he wouldn’t speak of his plans or his progress, gave her no news of anyone she knew.

He brought her designer clothes and diamonds. Electronic gadgets and art supplies. The finest foods from around the world and trashy take away from her old neighborhood. And somewhere in the middle of it, she forgot to loathe his very being.

Too much kindness and too much isolation had made her starved for companionship. It happened so gradually she barely noticed any change until one night she found herself wrapped in his arms as they lay together on the sofa watching a movie. He was propped on one arm looking down at her more often that he looked at the screen. His other arm wrapped tightly around her middle, fingers splayed across her stomach. She nestled into him before she realized what she was doing and his free hand went wandering: up her side and over her shoulder, across her cheek and through her hair, skimming her hip and caressing her thigh, over and over.

The movie finished playing, leaving them in the darkened room bathed in the blue light of the blank screen as his hand stroked up and down her body. She felt warm and drowsy in his arms and she drifted slowly off to sleep. “Do you love me yet?” he whispered in the dark, but she was already away.

The couch became a routine for them all too quickly. She craved the human contact and the sofa seemed far safer than the bedrooms. He brought home stacks of DVDs and they fell asleep each night to the dim blue light that followed a screening. They would whisper in the dark of inconsequential things, leading to secrets and truths.

He always woke before her, leaving her wrapped in a throw by herself. He would be gone for most of the day, probably out plotting his world domination. She wondered at it, but was silently grateful that she didn’t have to face him after her weakness in the dark.

Then one morning she woke and everything changed. Late morning sunlight streamed in through the window, but he was still there. His strong arm wrapped around her, his body tight against hers. She felt a momentary rush of happiness that she didn’t want to think about before it melted away into embarrassment. He had a very male morning problem, and it was digging into her behind.

She carefully tried to spin in his arms so she could face him, creating air between their bodies at the source of her consternation and she what she was was sure would be the end of their mornings waking up together. She eased around, only to find herself staring into his very awake black eyes.

They stared at each other for what felt like forever, neither moving a muscle. Then finally his arm tightened around her, drawing her lower body flush with his once more. She could feel his hardness pressing into her again, and it was a hardness her body seemed to ache for, no matter how wrong it was.

It probably happened because he was silent. He didn’t ruin the moment with his too frank statements and creepy questions. He just held her close and let her feel his desire. He shifted against her and a moan slipped out before she could bite it back, and then he was on her, kissing her like her lips were the only thing keeping him alive.

Clary was adrift, lost a swirl of feelings and hormones. Her hand came up and went to the back of his neck, pressing his mouth to hers, refusing to let him go. His hand slid from her back, over her butt to her leg, drawing it up and over his hip, pressing his hardness into the place she wanted it most.

And then she wanted more, her hands squirming between them to the top button on his button-up shirt that he’d failed to change out of the night before. Her fingers fumbled with it until it sprung open and moved to the next. She slipped in her haste and the button popped off, pinging on the floor somewhere behind her. She pulled back to apologize, but he spoke before she could. “Yes,” he hissed. “Break them all. Show me that you want it.”

She could do nothing but comply, her fingers loosing button after button as they pinged around the room until finally she was finished and his chest was bare to her.

His body had always been a tool, and it was a marvel. He was lean and hard, the picture of what a male body should be, his muscles straining just under the surface. Her hands traced the dips and planes, the ridges of muscle and he shuddered underneath her touch.

Before she could blink he had struck, their shirts both gone, flung somewhere into the room. She barely had time to adjust before his fingers were at the drawstring of her pants, toying with it. She sucked in a breath, but he made no move for so long that she finally met his gaze. His black eyes bored into her, asking a silent question and Clary felt a rush of feeling for him that would have felt alien even seconds before. She nodded and his nimble fingers untied her string and strong arms lifted her hips to slide her pants off. She lay before him in just her underwear, and she shook as he stared. “I feel a little under dressed.”

“I can fix that,” he said with a smile, contorting himself until his pants had joined the rest of their clothes somewhere outside the bubble of unreality they were sharing. The gentleness he showed only to her rose again, his hands and lips moving across her skin so carefully. In a time she thought he would remain rough and hard, he yielded, treating her like something precious.

Her bra went with a silent question and a nod. His mouth on her breasts made her cry out and she grew bold. Her hands worked lower until she cupped his cock through his boxers, experimentally stroking which made his breath hitch. His hands went to his hips and pushed the boxers down and off.

They both stared down at his freed erection, jutting between them, free at last. “Touch me,” he said, his voice low and full of pleading. Her hands hesitantly went back to where they’d been moments before, now without a protective barrier between her and him. She touched him gently, experimentally, and he shuddered each time. He was hard and so soft at the same time, steel and velvet to her fingers. He let her explore for a few minutes before his hands found the edges of her panties. She didn’t wait for him to ask, just shifted her hips to help him and then they, too, were gone.

She lay naked before him and he called her beautiful as his hands moved between her legs, rubbing and touching in all the right ways. Before long she shattered, her hand on his cock jerking erratically.

He gently pulled her off, moving on top of her on the couch. He trailed one hand down her body, the other stroking himself. “You’re beautiful,” he said again, fingers questing inside her, finding her wet and ready. “Do you want me?”

She nodded, then flushed. “I’ve never,” she said, trailing off and hoping he would understand.

“It will hurt,” he said, “but not for long. And I will make you feel very good after.”

He always spoke the truth to her now, even when it was horrible, and it was something she had come to find endearing about him. “Do it,” she said, nodding as she looked away.

He propped himself on one hand, dragging her face back to his with the other. “Look at me, Clary,” he said and she suddenly couldn’t focus on anything else. His hand left her face and went between them, stroking her a few times before guiding his cock to her entrance. He made shallow strokes, sliding further in a centimeter at a time until he came up against her barrier.

He didn’t ask if she was ready, he just continued making his steady strokes in and out and she felt her body respond to him, fire building between them. Then he didn’t stop, breaking through her barrier and sliding home inside her, buried to the hilt. She let out a wordless cry of pain, and he stopped moving below the waist, just stayed still inside her and kissed her few tears away. “Tell me when you’re ready,” he whispered as he laid kisses on her skin. She did better, thrusting against him when the pain faded, taking him by surprise.

He recovered, setting a steady rhythm that hit places that made her want to scream with every stroke. She wanted it to last forever, but all too soon she came apart, exploding into a thousand pieces, screaming his name. He loosed his careful control, a few uncoordinated thrusts later and he followed her off the edge.

He stayed inside her, turning them so they were once more side by side, his cock buried inside her like he never wanted to be anywhere else. “Have you learned to love me yet?” he asked as he stroked her sweaty skin.

“Enough for this,” she whispered into his chest. “But not the way you want me to.”

Sebastian took her confession in stride. “It’s enough for now,” he would say before he changed the subject. Their routines changed as much as they stayed the same.

He would still leave her alone in the house for the best part of every day, but now he woke with her every morning. That was always their time, and he put it to use, teaching her all the ways he knew to make her body sing and all the ways she could touch him in return.

Their evening ritual remained the same, except clothing was now much more optional. Sometimes they had sex and sometimes they didn’t. The evenings were when he pushed her boundaries, stretching her to see how far she’d go with him. The answer to that question was undefinable: she hadn’t found a limit yet, any line she wasn’t willing to cross with him. She took everything he gave and turned it back to him, and he only became more and more convinced that she was his perfect mate.

Clary reveled in their debauchery. She loved finding new ways to make him come undone. He was always so careful and controlled, she liked making him unravel in her arms and say her name in a million different tones.

Every day he would ask her if she loved him, and her answer never changed. “Not the way you want me to.”

“I need to bring someone here,” he said out of the blue weeks later, and she dropped the plate she was holding to the ground where it shattered into a thousand pieces. She tried very hard not to draw any parallels to her heart while she wondered how that had even become a possibility.

“Why?” she asked, unable to keep the pain from her voice.

Sebastian was who he was, and spoke unflinchingly. “I’ll stop fucking them,” he promised. “But I need other things.” He looked into her eyes and she just nodded, understanding his meaning all too well.

The next time he brought someone home the routine moved from laughter to anguish much faster. One thing about Sebastian, he did keep his promises. He told the truth and kept his promises and maybe that was enough.

Clary hid in her room, unable to face the hallway. She listened to the screams die down, then the soft noises of cleaning and disposal, then his shower running. His footsteps came down the hall and stopped at her door and Clary’s breath caught. She didn’t know if she wanted to face him, didn’t know if he wanted to face her.

Then he knocked and she said “come in” before she could even think about it, let alone second guess herself. The door flung open and there he was, dripping wet from the shower and naked but for a towel around his waist. His erection strained against the towel and his breathing was uneven.

“I want you,” he ground out. “I want you so badly, but I’m afraid I’ll hurt you. And that would negate the point of this exercise entirely.”

Clary trembled. That was Sebastian, brutal and honest. She eyed his quivering body, the barely controlled rage inside him and she was afraid. But there was something else that she was surprised to find. “I trust you,” she said, opening her arms and inviting him in.

His eyes burned with dark fire and he crossed the room in three steps and was on her, ripping her clothes off. He took her hard, and she was surprised to find she loved it, screaming his name over and over with each new mark, dragging her nails uncontrollably across his back leaving marks of her own.

She fell asleep after, curled into his body. She woke the next morning in the same position and smiled up at him. “Morning,” she said, attempting a stretch and wincing.

His face was a stony mask. “I hurt you.”

“I hurt you too,” she said with a smile, tracing the scratches she’d left on his arms and back with the tip of her finger.

“Stop, Clary,” he said, his voice tight, catching her hand in an iron grip.

“Why?” she asked, hurt in her voice.

He pulled away from her, rolling onto his back and putting his head in his hands. “Everything about me is a mess. You’re the only good thing in my life and I don’t want to do this to you. I don’t want to hurt you. I want to love you. I want it to be normal. Father ruined everything about me, but he gave me one good thing. He made you for me - the light to balance my dark.”

Clary moved fast, before he could stop her. She climbed on top of him, straddling him and pushing his hands off his face, pinning them to the bed. She knew he was stronger, could break her grip at any moment that he wanted to, but for now he let her have the power. “If I was made for you, wouldn’t it make sense that I would like this side of you too?”

“Did you?” he asked, his voice broken.

“Yes,” she whispered. “I wouldn’t want it that way every time, but it was good, Sebastian. And yes, there are marks, but you gave them to me. I can bear the reminders of that for a few days. And I marked you right back.”

Her bare breasts dangled in his face and she could feel him growing hard beneath her. She kissed him, and he was ready again. She rose up and slipped him inside her, sinking down on him and pulling a moan from them both. He flipped them, moving inside her slowly. Proving to himself that he could. He had been made a monster, but he was just as much a man.

When they finished, he cradled her in his arms. “Have you learned to love me yet?” He didn’t want to ask as much as he wanted to know the answer.

Clary opened her mouth, then closed it. “I don’t know,” she said at last.

Their life slipped back into routine. Long empty days, nights of experimentation, and long mornings of what felt almost like love. And once a month or so, when the urges grew too strong, he would bring home another transient party kid and work out the demons in his head and heart. He always came to her afterward, a rage-filled husk of a man bursting with dark desire. And she took him then, as she took him in his lighter moments. She took everything he had to give and gave it back.

A few cycles passed and the game changed again. She heard the thumps of disposal, but no shower before he came to her door. She gave him access as she always did and he was covered in blood. “Come with me,” he said, holding out his hand and she did.

He lead her down the hall to his room, a place she had never been. Despite all of their games, all of their debauchery, he had never brought her here. Never invited her in to who he was at his darkest. She was afraid, but she allowed him to position her in the doorway, his body pressed into the back of hers. Another outfit ruined by bloodstains.

She had to steel herself before looking into the room, half expecting it to be littered with corpses, but it was empty of figures. His bed was massive, covered in some kind of vinyl sheet to protect the mattress with a normal cotton overlay. The bed had rings and chains and cuffs attached, things Clary wasn’t even sure what they were for. Weapons and toys hung on the walls, some had clearly been used then abandoned on the floor.

The stark white sheet on the bed was stained red with fresh blood. “Please,” he said raggedly and Clary knew he wanted her here, with all of this around.

“Are you going to hurt me?” She knew her voice was small, but she couldn’t help it. She could only think he had tired of her at long last and would finish her as he had done so many others.

“No more than usual,” he promised. “I just want you here, with all of this. Sometimes I just want you to be as dirty as me.”

Clary pulled away from him, stepping into his room and pulling off her clothes before standing next to the bloody bed. He crashed into her and they fell, rolling in pools of blood, painting their skin with one macabre splash after the next. He took her hard and she strained against him, wanting to give him more than he was even asking for. She carved sharp lines in his skin, marking him as hers all over again.

They finished and he hovered above her, out of breath and shaking. “Can you even love someone like me?” he asked, cutting her off before she could even speak. “No, it’s better not to know.”

——

He came home the next evening broken and bloody. Clary screamed when she saw him, rushing to the door to help him in, settling him on the couch while she got bandages. When she got back, he handed her his stele for the first time. “You can fix me with this,” he said, wheezing as he breathed. “Please don’t leave me,” he added before passing out.

She repaired him with runes, some old and some new. Then she stared down at him for a long time, then at the door. Finally she put the stele back in his hand and settled on the floor next to him, her head next to his waist on the sofa, her hand gripping his.

She woke stiff the next morning to find him staring at her, an expression of wonder on his perfect face. “You stayed,” he said.

“You asked me to.” It was the only answer she had for him, but it seemed to please him none the less. Where would she go? It had been two years now of sleeping with the enemy, the Clave would never take her in. The only people she could have gone to were dead, was anywhere else really better than here?

She hesitated before speaking again, reluctant to do what she needed to do. “Sebastian, I know we don’t talk about what you do or your plans or the world, I get it, but I need to know - what happened to you?”

She watched him war with himself. He steadfastly kept her out of everything, seeming to think that knowing the details would push her away. Really, the details she imagined could only be worse. “She saw the marks you left on me. She wasn’t pleased,” he said at long last.

“She?” asked Clary, swallowing back unexpected tears.

“Lilith. First of all demons and mother of my rebirth. She flew into a rage when she realized that you were…” he trailed off.

“I don’t think she thinks of you as a son,” said Clary dryly.

“No kidding,” Sebastian laughed, then hissed and clutched his ribs. “Still sore,” he said, “but better. Thank you.”

Days passed as he healed and didn’t leave her during the day. Clary waited on him hand and foot, hovering until he waved her over and pulled him down to him. “What has gotten into you?” he asked.

Clary didn’t answer, just stared down at their feet all tangled together. Finally she took a deep breath and spoke, turning his question around on him. “Do you love me?”

He froze around her. “Clary?”

“You promised you’d never lie. Just tell me.”

“I didn’t promise I’d answer everything you asked.”

“Please,” she said, using his weapon against her, the pleading of a broken soul.

“As much as an evil, broken thing like me can,” he responded, carefully avoiding the word as he pressed her face into his chest so he wouldn’t have to face her. “I’m better with you, you fill me up and give me a soul. I’m still a demon, still a monster, but you remind me I’m a man.”

“If you do love me, if you feel anything for me, do one thing for me,” said Clary, her voice shaking. “I’ve never asked you for anything, Sebastian. But I will ask you for this.”

“I can’t stop what I’m doing, Clary.”

“Not that,” she said.

“Then what?” he asked. He sounded confused, as if he couldn’t fathom her asking for anything but for him to stop.

“Kill Lilith.”

He pushed her up and sat so they faced each other on the sofa. “What?”

Her voice had turned rock steady. “Kill her. You are mine to have, mine to mark, mine to break, mine to heal. No one else gets to lay a finger on you, Sebastian. Whatever you are using her for, whatever you need her for, I will help you figure a way around it. Just kill her for me.”

Sebastian stood, leaning down to kiss her on her forehead, then strode off to this room. When he returned, he had changed clothes and was wearing a sword strapped to his back. “I’ll be back soon,” he said before slipping out the door.

Clary waited for him on tenterhooks. She didn’t know if she’d asked the impossible of him or if he stood a chance against the mother of all demons. She went to his room, the place the felt the most like him, and curled up in the middle of his bed to wait.

He came back just after midnight, hours after he had left. She didn’t hear him until he made it into his room, clearly startled to find her waiting there. She turned her head to him, and he was a sight - cuts and bruises and blood. He raised a lump in his hand at her and she realized it was a head, Lilith’s head. Her eyes widened and he dropped the head carelessly onto one of his many tarps before crossing over to stand in front of the bed.

“Have I proven myself to you?” he asked, breathing ragged with nerves.

“I didn’t ask you to do that to prove something to me,” said Clary incredulously.

He cocked his head at her like he didn’t understand. “Then why?”

“Because she hurt you. And I wanted her to die for it.”

His face broke out into a smile and she raised to her knees as they stared at each other. “How hurt are you?” she asked as she pulled her shirt over her head, exposing her bare breasts to him.

“Not enough to stop me,” he said, shedding his clothes before joining her in the bed. Despite his evening’s work, he wasn’t in his usual post-bloodshed frenzy. He held her gently, working her body with his usual precision until they came together and she screamed.

“Do you?” he asked, combing her hair out of her face with his fingers.

Clary replayed what had just happened and realized what she’d screamed at the top of her lungs. She nodded and he smiled again.

“Say it.” The words were an order and a plea at the same time.

“I love you, Sebastian.”

——

He stayed with her night and day for the next week. Without Lilith, his plans were on hold and he couldn’t think of anywhere he’d rather be. Clary would barely let him get dressed and Sebastian couldn’t complain.

He loved to tease himself through her. One of his favorite games was to sit her naked in his lap, facing away, his cock buried inside her. He had full access to her breasts and her clit, and he used them - over and over he used them. He would make her come again and again, feeling her muscles contract around his cock. It was nearly enough to send him over the edge by itself.

Then, when he couldn’t take any more, he’d tell her to ride him. She’d bring her knees up, rising and falling on him as he toyed with her once more, bringing her to one last orgasm that, combined with her bouncing movements, would finally send him over the edge.

In a quiet moment he brought up what she had said when she asked him to kill Lilith. “You said I was yours to break.” Clary flushed and nodded. “Do you want to break me, Clary?”

She looked away and didn’t answer. “None of that,” he said, pulling her onto his lap facing him, forcing eye contact. “You never have to be ashamed of what you want with me. I will try anything with you.”

“Yes,” she whispered.

“Father made you more like me than either of us could have imagined,” said Sebastian, rising from the couch with her in his arms. She wrapped her legs around his waist as he carried her to his bedroom. He spent the entire day teaching her what the things on his walls were and how to safely use them, then let her tie him to the bed with the traffic light system in place as she played.

She hurt him, soothed him, and teased him for what felt like an eternity. She pulled scream after scream from his body like a seasoned pro, listening to his greens and ambers, always stopping before he felt the need to call red. Then she climbed on top and rode him, using his body to pleasure herself while he watched, begging to be let loose to touch her. “You’ll have your chance later,” she laughed. “This is my time.” She finished and climbed off leaving him unsatisfied, crawling forward to loose his hands, rubbing out his muscles before turning and going to his feet.

As soon as she had finished her work, he pounced, slamming into her from behind and taking her hard until he screamed his release. They collapsed on the bed together and she smiled radiantly at him. “Do you want me to heal you?”

He shook his head. “I want to remember that as long as I can,” he said, tracing the marks she’d left on his chest.

“I can always do it again,” she said, working hard to put suggestion into her voice.

“Would you want to?” he asked carefully and she responded just as cautiously.

“If you liked that, I’d happily do it again. If you didn’t like it, I don’t ever need to again.”

“I liked it. I’ve never liked it with anyone, but I did with you. What have you done to me?”

"Loved you. Only loved you.”

Clary’s confession seemed to release something inside Sebastian, and he took her at her promise. He told her everything about the plans of his army, which to her surprise actually /was/ his now that Lilith was gone. He had been her second in command and now he lead.

She proved to have a brilliant mind for strategy as she helped him unpick situation after situation. She tried to distance herself from the fact that the people she was condemning to fall to his forces were the people she had spent her whole life with.

Best of all, he taught her how to fight. He drilled her relentlessly in everything from bare hands to two-handed swords until she could at least hold him off. He showed no more mercy in this than he had in anything else, and she ended too many days battered and bruised.

And every night, his too gentle hands healed her, putting her sore and broken body back into working order only to unravel her with his touch.

Clary was shocked to find herself actually happy for the first time in a long time. She started to think that this life might be enough.

He curled around her in the dark in front of the TV and she couldn’t hold her tongue any more. “Do you love me?” she asked, conscious of how many times he had asked her the same question and the sad reversal.

“I don’t think I know what love is or how to do it,” he said, watching her face fall. He tried to explain. “I feel a great number of things for you. Too many things. All confusing. But I know that I need you, and I need you to love me. That’s the only sure thing I have.”

Then he took her into his arms and tried to show her how he felt, make her somehow understand everything that raged inside him like a storm.

“Tonight is the night,” said Sebastian and Clary understood.

“Are you sure?” she asked, readying herself for a long night of fear and worry.

“Come with me,” he said and her head snapped around to look at him. “The new world starts tonight,” he continued, “and I want you to be by my side.”

“Always,” she promised, launching her smaller body at him, and he caught her, pulling her out of the air and into his arms. “When do we leave?”

“Soon,” he said. “I need to get ready.” He set her on her feet and she went to her own room, showering and taking her time in picking out an outfit that would please him. She settled on a red halter top, a short black shirt, and thigh highs. She left all her underwear in her room - the halter was tight enough and structured enough that her breasts were secure and pushed up, and she never knew when easy access would be a nice thing to have. She put her hair up and applied dark, dramatic makeup. A pair of tall black boots with a low heel completed the outfit and she wandered back to the living room to find him waiting for her. He wore black jeans and a tight black t-shirt, a sword strapped to his back and a satchel at his feet.

His breath caught when he saw her. “You’re stunning,” he said, bending down and picking up a few things before crossing to her. He solemnly offered her the things he carried: a sword of her own, a knife in a thigh sheath, and a stele, plus another sheath.

“For me?” she asked and he nodded.

“You’ve proven yourself to me over and over, Clary. No more holding back. You will be my partner, my queen.”

“Help me put them on?”

He nodded and fixed the sword on her back like his, then knelt beside her to fix the sheathes to her thighs. He lifted her skirt to secure the top straps and his breath caught when he saw what she wasn’t wearing. “Clary,” he said in a tight voice and she smiled. “You are going to be the death of me. Now I’m going to be thinking about that all night.”

“Just remember that it’s yours to have later,” she responded.

He swallowed hard, running one finger over her before returning to his task, finally completing it with professionalism and detachment.

He took her to Alicante, where his army had already subdued the city. They walked arm in arm through the rubble filled streets and Clary felt nothing for the city that would have been her home, the city of her birth. They finally arrived at the Gard and Sebastian handed her off to one of his lieutenants to escort while he made for the stage at the front.

The man lead her off to a shadowy arch at the side to wait, to watch as Sebastian gave his victory speech and introduced his new cup. He drank from it, then offered it to the crowd. “Who will be the first to join my new world order?” he asked and Clary stepped into the light.

“I will,” she said, voice clear and steady, eyes only for Sebastian.

Sebastian’s smile was radiant. “Then come forth.”

She wound her way through the crowd, climbing onto the stage with him at last. “Clary?” came a voice in the crowd and she and Sebastian both turned. And there was Jace, standing with the Lightwoods. He was holding hands with a blonde girl that Clary didn’t recognize and he was older and more scarred, but it was still him. “They said you were dead,” he said in a stunned voice.

Clary just stared at him. “They were wrong,” she finally said.

“Clary, don’t do this. You can stand with us. Come back home. You don’t have to do this.” He kept talking and his words were buzzing in her ears.

There were so many things she wanted to say to him, so many ways she could respond, but in the end she just said “I know I don’t have to,” and turned back to Sebastian, holding her hands out for the cup.

The look on his face went from fear to radiance as she publicly chose him. Clary took a swallow from his cup, which Sebastian handed off to a lieutenant, gathering her into his arms.

“I love you,” she whispered to him, wrapping her arms around him in return.

“I love you, too” he replied, saying the words to her for the first time.

She smiled, kissing him on the cheek before exiting the stage and returning to her alcove. One by one, those already working with him drank from the cup, and then there was a pause while Clary held her breath. Then, one by one, people from the crowd filtered forward, taking what was being offered. Werewolves, vampires, faeries, and warlocks came first.

Magnus Bane appeared next to her in her alcove. “Does he mean this Clary, or is it all a trick?”

“He means it.”

“Have you been OK?”

“I’m better than OK, Magnus. I’m happy.”

Magnus studied her for a full minute before speaking. “You look good, Clary. I’m sure we’ll catch up later.” And then he turned on his heel and marched to the stage, accepting the cup from Sebastian.

“Magnus?” came a voice from the crowd and Alec looked up at him.

“Equality, Alec. At long last,” said the Warlock before downing a swallow and handing the cup back. “If you can’t understand that…”

Alec’s face grew hard and he marched to the front. “This is the challenge you choose?” he hissed, loudly enough to be heard in the entire room.

“Yes.” Magnus’ face was frozen porcelain.

“Fine.” Alec leapt up, grabbed the cup in one smooth motion, downing the contents, then landing back on the floor in front of Magnus. “I will follow you in all things to the ends of the earth. Can you say the same?”

“Always,” promised Magnus, kissing Alec.

Clary had no idea what had happened between the two, but it seemed to have resolved. And now that the first of the Shadowhunters had fallen, others came forward. One by one people drank, and Clary watched the world change.

When a lull in volunteers struck, Sebastian asked for any more. When none came forward, he banished from Alicante all those who had not drunk. Clary turned to the man next to her and asked him to have Sebastian meet her on the roof when he was finished.

Jace found her first. “What are you doing, Clary? You could have gone into exile with us.”

She didn’t even turn around when she answered him. “I don’t want exile, Jace. I want this,” she said, spreading her arms. “A new world is being built, and I am queen.”

“You’re with him? How can you?”

She faced him at last. “You were created to be his replacement, his alternate should he fail. And I was created to be his balance, his temperance in this world. I was literally made for him, Jace - how could I do anything in the end but love him and all that he is?”

“She keeps me grounded, Jace,” said Sebastian in the dark.

Jace whirled, pulling a weapon but Clary was quicker. “Don’t,” she warned, her knife under his chin. “I don’t want to hurt you, but I will if you hurt him. I am the only one that’s allowed to hurt him.”

“Hurt him?”

“Oh, she does beautiful things with whips and knives,” said Sebastian, stepping into the light, weaponless - trusting Clary.

“I’m not the girl you knew any more, Jace. It’s been too many years, too many changes. You’ve moved on. Find that girl I saw you with downstairs, leave, and don’t look back.”

Jace took a running leap, bounding onto the roof of the next building, then down to the street level. He joined with the group that had refused to drink, and together they left behind the world they had always known.

Sebastian wound his body around her from behind as they looked out over the city. “Do you want to find a place to break out those knives of yours, beautiful?”

“I have a better idea,” she said.

“Oh really?,” he asked, kissing her neck.

“Mmmhmm,” she said, reaching up her hand to loose the catch on her halter, letting her breasts spring out into the night, pebbling her nipples. She took two steps forward, spreading her legs and leaning onto her elbows at the railing. “Fuck me right here, where we can see everything that is ours.”

She heard his zipper go down, then her skirt was lifted and he was in her and she moaned, not caring who heard. “I was scared tonight,” he said as he stilled himself inside her. “Scared that you’d leave me as soon as you saw him.”

“Then why did you bring me?”

“Because I can’t keep you in a cage forever. You either loved me truly, or you never would. You’ve proved yourself over and over and still I kept you in an ivory tower, afraid. I was not raised to bow to fear. It had to end.”

He started moving and she sighed in happiness as he filled her, hitting every place that made her quiver. “Say it,” she demanded, and he knew what she’d meant. The words he’d run from for so long, all while demanding them of her.

“I love you,” he said over and over, every stroke into her body punctuating his sentences until he finally screamed it over the rooftops. She came with him, her voice the soprano to his tenor and together they sagged against the railing.

“Take me home?” she asked, her voice a whisper in the night.

“You don’t want to stay here?” he asked, surprised at her choice to go back to her prison.

“This place belongs to us all. Here we have to be king and queen. The house is just ours, and there we can be whatever we want.”

“And what do you want to be?”

“Yours.”