"What do people do with vampire boyfriends?" Simon wondered. "Can we go to movies? Do you ever go to get a burger? Or is it just, like, tragedy and angst and weird horror show pregnancies?"
Raphael looked as though he regretted ever climbing through Simon's window. "I don't think you have to worry about getting pregnant," he said slowly. "Particularly considering you do not have a vampire boyfriend."
Simon rolled his eyes; this was a line he was getting all too used to hearing. "Right, right, right," he said. "Well, I hate to break it to you, pal, but your hand is in a pretty friendly place for being not someone's boyfriend."
Raphael closed his eyes and shook his head, but he was almost laughing. "Shut up," he said, but he said it into a kiss.
It was strange having a secret that was just Simon's, a secret that didn't belong to anyone else. Growing up any secrets he had were shared with Clary behind cupped hands and through giggles, and they were never anything that mattered much. The only thing he'd ever kept from her before was that he loved her, but even so he'd said it enough. She just never quite heard it right.
He had begun to wonder if Clary felt like this when she was first figuring herself out, when she acted like Jace was the only person on the planet who got her and Simon felt so shut out of everything. Now he went to class and tapped his pen absently against his paper the whole time, letting the professor's voice act like a soundtrack, thinking of Raphael. Now Simon waited for nightfall.
The problem was that Simon had never been particularly good at keeping things to himself. He could feel it waiting behind his teeth with everything he said to her. By the way, I'm not-dating a vampire. Remember when I told you that I don't just like girls? You like Raphael, right? Well, that's good, because I'm sort of crazy about him.
When it happened, it was so stupid, such a non-moment: Simon hung back to get the door for Clary and when she thanked him with a smile, instead of saying something normal like you're welcome, Simon blurted, "I'm dating Raphael."
Simon expected shock or discomfort, maybe a well-meaning warning. Instead all Clary said was, "Well, he does really like you."
"He?" Simon repeated. "Really likes me?"
Clary giggled and put her arm through his. "Don't act so surprised, you're the one who's dating him."
"Yeah, but –" Simon was dumbfounded. "How did you know?"
"Telepathy rune," she said mysteriously. Simon must have looked appalled because she laughed again and bumped her shoulder into his. "Kidding! I don't know. He looks at you a lot. I figured it out." She gave him a little smile. "Sounds like you figured it out too."
"Yeah." Simon was still slightly dazed. "Yeah, I did."
"Are you happy?" she asked. The littlest crease of concern appeared between her brows. "I mean, is he nice to you?"
Yes and no, Simon thought, and smiled. "It's good," he said. "It's –" He couldn't find any other words for it, voice going slightly strangled as his cheeks pinked, and Clary laughed so sweetly.
For two people who weren't dating, Simon and Raphael sure did a lot of making out in Simon's bed.
It was funny how things like that just sort of took over. One kiss, and it was goodbye to everything else, all the other excuses they made to spend time together. Raphael would take off his jacket and fold it over Simon's desk chair, step out of his shoes and then climb into Simon's bed. It was an incongruous place for him to be, the site of so much teenage moping and reading and studying, the place Simon felt safest in in the world. He had never brought anyone back to his room before Raphael.
Still, Raphael was very insistent that nothing serious was actually going on. "Camille would love that," he said, hand stroking idly over Simon's chest, voice spiky with bitterness. "Her little caramel."
Simon swallowed a prickle of discomfort at hearing those words from Raphael. "So, what, you need to wait until you've taken the Iron Throne before you can use the word?"
"No," Raphael said slowly, like Simon was stupid, "I'm not using it because it is inaccurate. We aren’t dating."
"Right," Simon said. "Why was it you saved my life, again?"
Raphael sighed. "Simon."
Raphael's mouth eased over Simon's, a hint of his teeth in the kiss. "I can think of better ways to pass the time the time."
Who was Simon to argue that?
The most obvious outward sign that Raphael was not entirely what he seemed were his nails, overlong and claw-sharp – and desperately in need of a mani, according to Isabelle. He ran their pointed tips lightly over the sensitive inside of Simon's arms, following the tracery of veins.
"I met Camille when I joined the New York clan, after I was turned," Raphael told him. "I was born in 1933. I've been at the hotel since the fifties. It doesn't matter who turned me. He's dust."
Simon shivered under the slow pass of Raphael's nails, wanting to reach out and touch the shape of Raphael's lips as they moved, gave things up. This was a big deal. Simon knew that.
"Do people ever do it because they want to?" At Raphael's inquisitive eyebrow raise, Simon elaborated, "Turn."
Raphael was silent for a moment. "Some," he said eventually. "But it's hard to tell what you want when it's happening. You remember."
Simon often wished he couldn't. "Yeah. I guess I would've been up for anything when I was, uh." He cleared his throat. "Do you ever want to? With me?"
Raphael's fingertips paused in their steady back and forth. "Why?"
"I don't know. Isn't that like a vamp thing?"
"I wouldn't, Simon," he said. Wouldn't felt like a significant choice of words.
Mouth dry, Simon asked, "Even if I wanted you to?"
"After what happened to you, you're really going to ask me to bite you?"
"Well, see, that's the difference," Simon told him. "I'm asking."
Raphael's eyes raked over him, maybe searching for another meaning in what Simon was saying, a catch. They were close in Simon's bed, under blankets, but Raphael was still alluringly cool to the touch; Simon couldn't help wondering if sharing a little bit of blood would warm him.
"I wouldn't feel right about it," Raphael said finally. Before Simon could quell his unexpectedly sharp disappointment, Raphael was leaning in to brush his lips over Simon's neck. He didn't bite but the edges of his fangs scraped over Simon's skin, a pain like a pinch that was immediately alleviated by the gentle press of Raphael's tongue over the scratch. "I can smell your blood, you know. All the time."
"Things serial killers say for five hundred," Simon said breathlessly. Raphael nipped him a little harder at that and Simon laughed, even though the situation hardly called for it.
"She'll be gone soon," Raphael promised suddenly; Simon didn't have to ask who he meant. "We have a plan in place. It won't be long."
"And then you'll be able to take me to the vampire sock hop without recrimination."
Raphael snorted. His mouth was still at Simon's throat, worrying over the shallow wound he'd made. It wasn't like Camille. Whatever was happening between them was already a heady feeling, Simon didn't think a little sexy biting was going to make it any worse. "Come on, Raphael. Just do it."
"If you're so eager for a little bloodshed…" Raphael brought one of those razor nails to his own neck and moments later blood welled, darker than Simon's. "You can do it to me."
Everything in Simon jolted at that, and he was leaning in before he could think twice.
Raphael didn't often text him, so perhaps Simon should have thought more of it when he got the message Camille gone. Come to the hotel. The problem was, as always, that Simon was too eager, too excited; he wanted to know what happened. He wanted to see Raphael.
Perhaps Simon should have thought more of it when he got to the hotel and it was empty, no vamps stopping his progress as he made his way through the dusty hallways. He wasn't entirely stupid, though, despite his lack of observation skills and apparently vanished sense of self-preservation; the deeper he travelled into the hotel the more his skin prickled with uncertainty. Finally he called, "Raphael?"
"No, darling," Camille said. She was little more than a dark shape in a dark room, drawing closer fast. "Just me."
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
The next thing Simon knew he was sitting up and it was cold and his head ached something fierce. He felt like his brain had been replaced with wads of cotton batting. It was like waking from a nap, the ultimate disorientation, and for a long minute Simon had no idea where he was or what had happened.
There was dirt on his hands and arms and clothes. It was caked underneath his fingernails. It was dark and wet, clinging heavily to his skin, and he could smell it, taste it, before he realized it was blood, blood mixed in with the dirt. He looked up, eyes adjusting too quickly to the dark, and realized for the first time that he was outside. He was outside and covered in dirt and there was blood in his mouth. Clary was sobbing into Jace's chest.
Raphael was standing so far away.
Raphael collected him and brought him back to the hotel, cleaning the grit from his skin and giving him clothes to change into – a black V-neck, pants that were an inch too short. "You did this to me," Simon said, an empty accusation. Raphael's face was blank.
"It's my fault," Raphael said eventually. "She did it to get back at me for what I did."
"Where is she now?"
"Don't worry about it," he said automatically. Then, "Underground."
Dully, Simon said, "She sure went out with a bang, huh?"
"It was your blood that saved me, wasn't it," Simon said. "From dying, I mean. Just dying."
Raphael didn't say anything.
"If you can call this saving," Simon mused.
Simon packed up his old room faster than he expected – not vampire fast, just carelessly fast, throwing stuff into bags and making little distinctions between what he kept and what he left behind. He felt a shocking lack of sentimentality over saying goodbye to his childhood bedroom.
His mother stood in the doorway. Simon could smell her blood. It was all he was thinking about, actually, and maybe that was why he couldn't find it in him to care about which mint condition comics had to come along to the Hotel Dumort. What did it matter when all he could smell was rich copper, when all he could picture was red spilling out from his mother's split neck? He could taste it, even – blood wet in his mouth. It took him a moment to realize he had bitten his own tongue.
Simon swallowed and tried to focus on the task at hand as his mother's distressed voice washed over him.
"You're moving to a hotel in Harlem? That's so far, Simon."
"Couple trains," he murmured. "Good stuff up there."
"And this boy you're moving in with – Rafe? I don't remember you ever mentioning him."
"Raphael." Who had been surprisingly cool and removed in the wake of Simon's rebirth into one of the gruesome undead. Typical, really. Raphael made sure he was fed and taken care of, but that was it. He probably would have done the same for any fledgling. Which was what Simon was now. And forever. Like Cats.
"It's so out of the way, the commute to school will be crazy," his mom said. Simon wished she would just stop. "I know you're going through something lately but if you would just open up and let me –"
This was a test. Raphael told him he wasn't ready to go home so soon, even for twenty minutes to get his stuff, but Simon had to do it, had to see if he could. There must have been some steel in his shaky spine because Raphael had looked at him for a long moment before merely nodding and letting him try. But he'd added a don't come crying to me if you eat your family, because he was Raphael.
"Mom." Simon closed his eyes and opened them. "It's fine. I'm fine. I'm not on drugs. I'm taking a break from school. I don't have to pay rent. I need to do this right now."
His mother seemed to sense that he wasn't looking for alternate opinions because she only sighed heavily and said, "At least bring this boy around for dinner sometime, hm?"
"You're avoiding me."
Raphael had a good excuse for doing so, or good enough; becoming the acting leader of the clan had heaped enough responsibility on him that his plate was full. Still, Simon felt lonelier living in the same place as him than he had when Raphael was just his nighttime visitor. And honestly, if anyone was going to get sent into a downward spiral over what happened, it should be Simon.
"I'm not," Raphael hedged. One look at Simon and his shoulders dropped, gaze fell. "It's my fault."
"I mean, sort of," Simon said. "If innocent bystanders can be to blame for the actions of one psychopath."
"What you said after –"
"I'm new at this, I'm allowed my confusing and conflicting emotions."
Raphael sighed. "This wasn't supposed to happen."
Simon nodded. "You're telling me."
"I shouldn't have –" Guilt was clearly an uncomfortable and unfamiliar mantle for Raphael Santiago. "I didn't approve of what Camille was doing from the start and had I not complied with her initial plans to bring you in –"
"I don't blame you for what Camille did," Simon interrupted. "I blame you for disappearing on me when I needed you."
Simon was aware that words like need made Raphael uncomfortable but he was less inclined to care about that now that he'd died. Raphael lifted his gaze again and met Simon's, more visible in it than Simon could ever remember seeing on his face before.
"I didn't want you to change," Raphael said.
There was irony in that. "Now I won't," Simon told him.
On one of the gold couches, Raphael turned Simon's hand over in his own, tracing the joints and lines. "Will I feel like myself again?" Simon's voice did a funny thing when he asked that, a strange little croak. Would he ever feel like himself again?
"Yes," Raphael said. "Something like it."
Simon endeavored to try. "What about food? Because I'm not so sure I'm ready to sign up for an eternity without garlic bagels. I don't know how long it's been since you've had one of those, but man. Heaven on a plate."
Classic Simon Lewis nonsense patter.
"No food," Raphael said. He paused. "No garlic."
"Mm." Simon looked at him, his bowed head and unhappy mouth. "What about this? You and me?"
Raphael's fingers slipped between Simon's, interlocking, and he finally met Simon's eyes. "There's time to figure it out."