“Raphael’s not making you do anything you don’t want to do, is he?” Clary asks when they next meet up, face shadowed in concern, and Simon frowns, wondering if he should start carrying a flask of blood with him every time someone wants to go for coffee.
“Raphael’s always making me do things I don’t want to do,” he says, absently playing with the pile of empty sugar packets Clary’s left between them. “Like, I don’t know, be a vampire. I’m still placing the technical blame for that on him, by the way.”
Clary’s expression darkens, and Simon wonders if they’re not supposed to talk about the vampire thing. He still isn’t totally sure what all the Shadowhunter rules are — or, like, any of them — and Clary’s Clary, but if she’s going by a handbook now then he doesn’t want to put her in an awkward position.
“If he’s hurting you, I’ll kill him,” Clary says, and Simon’s eyes widen in surprise.
“Um,” he says. “Thanks? I’m pretty sure he’d have me wrapped in padding somewhere with, like, five bodyguards at all times if he thought he could get away with it, though, so I don’t think you have to worry?”
Clary blinks at him, and then a smile tugs at the corners of her mouth. “Oh,” she says, “it’s like that. Well, in that case…”
“I have no idea what direction this conversation just took,” Simon says, because he’s used to Clary’s “artistic nature” but this seems like an unusually fast personality switch. “Like what?”
“Nothing,” she says. “Not my business. I’m just glad you’re okay.”
Simon’s really confused, but Clary’s been spending most of her time with the Shadow World’s equivalent of, like, a James Blunt song, so allowances should probably be made. “Same?”
Clary nudges his arm with a grin, and starts talking about how Isabelle’s doing post-trial and how she’s been hanging out with Magnus a bit learning about warlock stuff, and doesn’t mention Jace at all, which is more telling than she’d probably like. Simon’s a good best friend so he doesn’t push her, but he figures she probably needs to talk to someone about it soon. Preferably a very well paid professional, because hell knows what Simon’s going to say other than, “Well, at least you didn’t sleep together?”
He doesn’t deal with awkward situations well, he knows that about himself.
Clary’s cell starts ringing as she’s regaling him with the Tragedy of Alec Lightwood, and Simon pretends he’s not relieved when she has to rush off, stating Shadowhunter business with a vague wave of the hand; once upon a time she would have spilled the details about everything to him, from art classes to crushes to nightmares, but apparently that stopped when she found her “destiny” and he, well, died.
Simon’s not sure he likes this new world order so much, but at least it gets him out of listening to the seemingly endless Shadowhunter soap opera that is Clary’s life.
Then again, he gets to deal with the vampires.
He thinks he’d take the saga of star-crossed love over that any day.
It’s been a week and Simon still has no idea what ‘advisor to the interim chapter president’ means except listening to clan members complain about werewolves and seelies and Shadowhunters, like, a lot, and stopping Raphael destroying the small amount of clothes he’d been able to grab from home.
“Okay,” Simon says, shoving a shirt back into the overly ornate closet that takes up half his room, “this isn’t a nineties movie. There’s not going to be a shopping montage to indie rock chick music, and even though tiny backpacks are probably cool again, please don’t ever buy one.”
Raphael looks at him like he’s a moron. “Do you even understand half the stuff that comes out of your mouth?” he says, shaking his head. “You’re my advisor now. You could at least try and look a little respectable.”
Simon blinks. “We drink blood. I don’t think respectable’s ever gonna be on the table.”
Raphael makes that sound in the back of his throat that means he’s hoping Simon will disappear if he just wishes hard enough, and Simon quickly grabs the jeans with the worn knees that he’s had since he was a sophomore in high school before they crumble to dust by the sheer force of Raphael’s will.
“Just,” Raphael says, gritting his teeth, “put on something decent…ish.”
“Aye aye, Captain,” Simon says, and ducks into his ensuite before Raphael can throw anything.
He waits until he hears him leave and then darts back in to find his nerdiest t-shirt, since it’s basically his job to irritate Raphael at least eighty-percent of all waking hours these days.
And besides, all things are relative.
“This is a club,” Simon says, blinking up at the neon sign with trepidation.
“Congratulations,” Raphael says, “your powers of observation are improving.”
Simon looks down at his Pokemon shirt and winces, swallowing down the sinking feeling that reminds him he’s once again responsible for his own doom. Raphael arches an eyebrow, and Simon rolls his eyes.
“I know, I know, I’m an idiot.”
“See? You really are learning,” Raphael says, clapping a hand on his shoulder. “Come on.”
The bouncer lets them straight in, which shouldn’t surprise Simon but there’s still a large part of him that’s aware that even with his newfound immortality, he’s not actually twenty-one. Also that his fake I.D. sucks.
It’s not like he can say he’s been to all that many nightclubs before, but he is — was — a college freshman so it’s not a totally new experience. Still, this place seems even more other than Pandemonium ever did, and he’s not sure if it’s his new vampire senses or just plain old gut instinct, but he knows there are predators here.
“Stay close,” Raphael says, and Simon nods and for once doesn’t even think about disobeying.
The first thing Simon notices is how beautiful everyone is. Not in that normal, ‘dressed to impress’ kinda way, but like, literally gorgeous. Every single person in the room could easily grace runways or magazine pages or Hollywood movies, and, wow, does he ever wish he’d actually listened to Raphael for once and worn something that doesn’t make him look like a perpetually single fifteen year old.
Whenever he has managed to sneak into clubs before he’s always gone pretty much unnoticed; once he’d managed to accidentally spill a drink down a girl’s dress and her boyfriend had threatened to leave him unconscious in an alley, but even that had passed quickly enough when they’d started making out and totally forgotten about him.
Right now he really misses that anonymity.
“Do I have something in my teeth?” he asks, trying to keep his tone light and missing by a mile.
“You’re new,” Raphael says, not looking at him. “To creatures this old ‘new’ is far too enticing.”
“Well, that doesn’t sound ominous,” Simon says, and moves a little closer to Raphael without thinking about it.
“Just do as I say,” Raphael tells him, and then shoots Simon a look that says he doesn’t actually believe that’s going to happen. Simon would argue but it’s not like he’s ever given his shiny new leader proof otherwise, so he just nods and resists the urge to grip Raphael’s sleeve like a terrified kid.
They head up a set of stairs at the back of the room to a roped off V.I.P. area, and Simon would be impressed if he wasn’t trying to figure out the best means of escape, a feeling that only increases when they’re greeted by four people who are — without a shadow of a doubt — vampires much older than either he or Raphael.
“Ah, Mr. Santiago,” one of them says, a woman who looks about forty and probably has for centuries. She’s wearing a dress that slides like oil when she moves and sapphires the size of quarters in her ears. “Welcome.”
“Thank you, Madame,” Raphael says. “I wanted to come and extend a greeting in person now that…situations have changed.”
“Yes,” she says. “Camille. What a shame. Still, we always approve of fresh blood.” At that her eyes dart to Simon, and it’s like his veins have flooded with ice; Raphael’s arm brushes against his and he remembers to try to look a little less like a scared teenager, but it’s hard to keep a straight face when you feel like a cornered mouse.
“I hope you enjoy your time in New York,” Raphael says, voice firm. “If you need anything, you know where to find us.”
The woman hums, reaching for a champagne glass that appears out of nowhere, its contents just too pink to be anything but a very particular kind of cocktail, and Simon’s used to the blood now — has to be — but there’s something about this kind of casual decadence that makes him want to gag.
Raphael inclines his head at the group once more before turning to leave, reaching to grip Simon’s arm and steer him firmly back down the stairs. Simon can feel the eyes on his back and it makes his skin crawl.
“Who were they?” he asks when they’re far enough away for the music to muffle their voices.
Raphael’s mouth twists into a look of distaste. “Old Ones,” he says. “They existed before both clan law and the Accords, so they follow neither. It makes them too dangerous.”
“So you just invited them to the hotel?” Simon asks incredulously. “That seems sane.”
“I showed them the respect they expected,” Raphael says. “Otherwise they would have felt the need to make a point. Look around you. A week ago this place was only fit for bachelorette parties and drug dealers, now it’s full of the prettiest people in the city, each one under an encanto so deep they’ll never leave. Not until the Old Ones desire it.”
“Fuck,” Simon says, looking around in horror. “Shouldn’t we do something? Tell someone?”
“They’ll have cleaned out before we could so much as whisper about it,” Raphael says, and Simon’s surprised by how angry he sounds. It’s not that he thinks Raphael’s a total dick — the guy’s saved his life at least twice as many times as he’s risked it, so that works in his favor — but he’s also just kind of assumed that Raphael stuck to the law to save his own skin, not because of morals.
He should probably stop underestimating people at some point.
“So why did you bring me?” he asks, and Raphael shrugs.
“You’re the clan’s new fledgeling. They’ll have heard about you, and it was safer to introduce you this way than have them try and meet you on their own terms.”
“Ah,” Simon says. “Blindfolded in the back of a van, I gotcha.”
“You watch too many movies.”
“This did have a silver lining,” Simon says, when they’re outside and everything smells familiarly like home. “I mean, sure, I felt like they were gonna go full on Hannibal for a while there, but it practically made the clan look like the Waltons.”
Raphael rolls his eyes. “Come on John-boy,” he says. “Let’s go home.”
Simon spends a couple of evenings hanging out with Luke at the Jade Wolf even though he’s not technically the werewolf liaison or whatever anymore; he figures if Raphael’s going to keep making up jobs for him depending on his mood then he can at least have some say in the non-existent contract, and right now he’s choosing to use his off hours to stare miserably at Moo Shoo Pork and pretend like most the other dudes here don’t want him six feet under.
“Not to pry,” Luke starts in that voice that says he’s absolutely prying, “but are you hiding out again? I thought things were better now?”
“They are,” Simon says. “I mean, most of the clan are avoiding me until I’m the vamp equivalent of potty trained or whatever, but it’s okay.”
“So…?” Luke presses, and Simon groans, running his fingers through his hair.
“Raphael’s being weird,” he says eventually. “Well, weirder.”
“If he’s making you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, I could—”
“No,” Simon says. “Um, I mean thank you, but also no. It’s not that. If anything he’s being even more protective than usual. There are these ancient vamps in town and they have him on edge, so—”
“Old Ones,” Luke says, nodding. “Vile things.”
“That’d be them. So, yeah, he’s making me stick to a curfew and having a couple of the others follow me, like, all the time, and it’s getting ridiculous.”
Luke looks surprised and then amused in short order, and Simon wonders if that’s where Clary gets it from.
“What?” he says, and Luke shakes his head.
“No, nothing. It’s good that he’s taking your welfare seriously.”
“Sure,” Simon says. “Taking my welfare seriously, invading my privacy, same difference. How do I get him to back off?”
Luke shrugs. “Talk to him?”
“Yeah,” Simon says, “because that’s always a fruitful exercise.”
“Well, you could try letting him be protective for a while, just until he sees you’re able to handle yourself,” Luke says, and huh.
“Okay,” Simon says. “I’ll let Raphael ‘protect me’ to his heart’s content.”
“Nothing,” Luke says. “Nothing at all.”
“Okay,” Raphael says, tugging the headphones out of Simon’s ears. “What’s going on?”
Simon blinks up at him. “Well, Damon and Bonnie are stuck in this prison world and Elena’s making Alaric erase her memories of Damon because she thinks she’ll never see him again.”
“The Vampire Diaries,” Simon says, holding up his iPad so Raphael can see the screen. “I’m doing research.”
“You’re— Dios, I don’t even want to know. I meant what’s going on with you? You’re here. At the hotel. Voluntarily.”
If Simon had known letting Raphael get his own way would have the added bonus of getting under his skin, he would have done it sooner. As it is, he just shrugs and tries not to look smug.
“I just figured it was safest to hang around here for awhile. Besides, Clary’s off killing things.”
Raphael frowns. “Right.”
“Did you wanna watch with, or—?” Simon says patting the seat next to him, and Raphael blinks a few times, mouth opening and closing like a fish, before walking away.
Simon writes it off as a victory.
“The Old Ones have asked to meet with all the State clan leaders so I’ll be away for a couple of nights,” Raphael says, cornering Simon as he leaves the kitchen with a mug of hot blood and the comics he ordered from Amazon, much to the dismay of the local mailman.
“And you want me to be in charge until you’re back?” Simon asks innocently.
“God, no,” Raphael says. “Lily’s in charge. I just want you to try not to burn the hotel down or get yourself kidnapped.”
“Aww,” Simon says. “I promise you’re my only kidnapper of note.”
Raphael ignores him. “Seriously,” he says, placing firm hands on Simon’s shoulders, “if anything happens, go to the Shadowhunters.”
Even if the words didn’t make Simon come up short, the look in his eyes would have; Simon’s spoken to the others enough to know that the Old Ones never stay in one place too long, and that all these precautions are mostly just because of the instability since Camille was ousted. None of them are in any real danger — even Simon — but apparently Raphael’s not taking any chances.
Simon takes a gulp of his hot blood and looks at a point just left of Raphael’s ear.
“Sure,” he says. “Okay.”
Raphael keeps hold of him for another moment and then vanishes, off to play nice with the creepiest vamps on the block whilst Simon stands frozen in one of the endless corridors of Hotel Dumort.
For all he’s been enjoying the passive-aggressive battle between them, it’s mostly because he thought Raphael was doing all this to piss him off. Until now it hasn’t actually occurred to Simon that Raphael really has just been trying to keep him safe.
It’s possible Simon’s kind of a dick.
It turns out things are really boring without Raphael around.
He thinks about texting him a bunch to see how long it takes before he becomes so annoyed he actually responds, but even Simon’s not petty enough to get in the way of Serious Vampire Business, especially now it actually pertains to his health and happiness and stuff.
He spends a couple of hours chatting with the other clan members, trying to push aside the preconceived ‘you’re all monsters’ bullshit that’s been clouding his judgment since he Turned, and he thinks he’s making some headway when Marietta says he can borrow a book from her library any time, which, according to Jasper, is normally restricted to her and her five taxidermy deer.
He hides in his room after that.
He goes for dinner with Clary and the Shadowhunters — which is a great band name, come to think of it — even though it’s mostly just torture now he can’t eat. He’s hoping it’ll take his mind off the fact that Raphael’s still not home, but the looks Clary keeps shooting him suggest he isn’t doing a very good job at reigning in the jitters he hasn’t been able to shake.
“Are you okay?” she says eventually, cutting Jace off mid story. Personally, Simon’s impressed they can sit at the same table, but then Clary’s always been pretty good at compartmentalizing. Jace makes a sound of protest, but Clary’s focus is entirely on Simon now, and once upon a time Simon probably would have thrown a parade over it, but apparently things change.
“Yeah,” he says. “No. I don’t know. No one’s heard from Raphael since he went off to this Creeps R Us conference.”
“Oh,” Clary says, frowning with concern, and Simon’s reminded yet again why she’s his best friend. “Is there anything we can do?”
“Uh,” Jace says, “we don’t really get involved with vamp business…”
Clary shoots him a look that says exactly what she thinks of that, and nudges Simon’s arm. “Seriously though, whatever you need.”
She’s wearing that expression that means she’s figured something out about five steps before Simon, which is par for the course but also mildly concerning.
“No,” Simon says. “It’s cool. Like Jace said, it’s vamp business. I’m sure he’s fine.”
“Okay,” Clary says, and turns back to Isabelle to ask her how Meliorn’s doing, swiftly moving the conversation on and away from the swell of awkward emotions bubbling under Simon’s skin.
He’s trying not to think of all the things that could have happened to Raphael but he can’t help it; Raphael’s not the most personable guy in the world, but he’s a good leader and a good diplomat — Simon’s whole situation aside — and he should have been in and out, done and dusted—
Which is a phrase Simon needs to wipe immediately from his vocabulary, geez.
Every part of him’s vibrating with nerves, and Simon’s about to say screw it and ask Clary and co. to pull a full on military manoeuvre on those ancient vampire asses when his phone buzzes. Simon jabs at it so hard the screen starts to crack.
The hotel’s still standing, I’m impressed.
The relief that floods through him is both overwhelming and embarrassing as hell, and Simon has a moment of calm before it hits him like a freight train.
“Oh shit,” he says, suddenly glad he doesn’t need to breathe, “this is a really bad time to realize I skipped straight over a sexuality crisis and right into feelings, isn’t it?”
“Wow,” Clary says. “Turning didn’t help you with that Inside Voice at all.”
Simon blinks, looking up to find Jace and Alec staring at him with matching expressions of horror whilst Isabelle seems to be trying super hard not to laugh.
“I mean,” Simon says, “feelings? What feelings? No one has time for that. Certainly not me. Ha!”
“Please stop,” Clary says, squeezing her eyes shut and patting his hand.
“Don’t worry,” Isabelle says, eyes glittering. “we’re not ones to judge. Besides, Downworlder sex is totally hot.”
“I didn’t need to hear that,” Alec says. “I did not in any universe need to hear that.”
“How’s Magnus today?” Isabelle fires back, and Simon did not know someone could blush that deeply, wow.
“Okay,” he says, shoving his cellphone back in his jacket pocket and nudging at Clary until she slides out of the booth, “on that note, I’m off. Very important vampire business to attend to and all that.”
“Sure,” Clary says. “Uh huh. Tell Raphael I said hi.”
“He’ll probably just find that suspicious,” Simon points out. “I’ll tell him you were plotting or something. He seems to find a weird amount of enjoyment in other people being sketchy. Why do I like this asshole again?”
“Hell if I know,” Clary says, but she doesn’t seem worried or upset or anything, so Simon figures that’s pretty much the Shadowhunter equivalent of approval.
He throws her a wave and has never been more grateful for supernatural speed.
“There you are,” Raphael says when Simon finds him. He’s stacking paperwork on a desk that probably belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte or someone, and Simon takes a moment to check him over; he looks tired by unharmed, which is about the best possible scenario Simon’s been working with.
“The Old Ones really are party animals, huh?” he says, shooting for casual. “Keeping you out past curfew like that…”
Raphael rolls his eyes. “The clan leader from New Jersey was there. He talks.”
Simon laughs, and it’s only a little desperate. “So the whole protecting me thing,” he says, not bothering to beat around the bush, “I don’t suppose that was innuendo?”
Raphael’s eyebrows shoot up and it takes him longer than usual to control his expression. “Why?” he says, eventually.
Simon shrugs. “I just figured, you know, if it was then that’d be cool.” Raphael still looks thrown, so Simon adds, “I was worried about you.”
“You were worried about me,” Raphael repeats, but he’s taking a slow step forwards which means he’s either on board or planning on putting Simon out of his misery, both of which seem like solid options at this point.
“What?” Simon says. “Like you’re the only one with a monopoly on weird, overprotective behaviour?”
“Huh,” Raphael says, and suddenly he’s there. Personally, Simon thinks this is a much better example of invading his space than Raphael’s usual training exercises.
He likes it even more when Raphael kisses him.
Considering he’d only had his lightbulb moment, like, half an hour ago, Simon’s one hundred percent on board with this development.
“Does this mean you’re going to start doing what I say?” Raphael asks when they part, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth that’s half smug and half something much softer.
“Yeah,” Simon says, “good luck with that.”
Raphael doesn’t look too upset. “What now?” he asks, and Simon thinks if his heart still worked it would have skipped a beat at the hint of vulnerability he can’t believe he’s being allowed to hear.
“I think you should ‘protect me’ some more,” he says with a leer that’s only slightly hindered by the grin that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Raphael buries his face in the curve of Simon’s neck and groans.
“This is the worst choice I have ever made,” he says, muffled, “and that’s really saying something.”
Simon laughs, tugging Raphael towards one of the conveniently placed gold couches.
“Sucks to be you,” he says, and looks forward to protecting Raphael right back.