NYU is doing a trial run with what is tentatively called Experience Classes. They’re not like internships, which basically consist of getting coffee for three months; the Experience Classes show you what lies beyond college and internships and ten years of gruelling ladder climbing, the light at the end of the tunnel that is supposed to be worth the crushing student debt. There are classes for almost every field, and they’re taught by people who actually have these jobs.
There is an accounting class, but after binge watching three seasons of Brooklyn Nine-Nine in three days, Simon made the impulsive decision to sign up for the Detective Experience.
So now he’s here, in a room full of future cops, about to be shown what it’s like to work a real case by a real NYPD detective.
Simon slides a little lower down in his seat. If he could slide under the table unnoticed, he would. What the fuck is he doing here?
Looking at his watch, Simon makes the decision that if their teacher is even one minute late, he’s out of here. The extra credits are nice, but he doesn’t actually need them.
Simon freezes. He knows that voice. He looks up and catches Luke’s eye as the man takes his place at the front of the room. Luke raises his eyebrow in surprise, but then he nods encouragingly, and Simon feels a little better about his impulsive decision.
‘I’m Detective Luke Garroway,’ Luke introduces himself. ‘I’ve been with the NYPD for almost fifteen years. Yes, I’ve seen a dead body. Yes, I’ve shot someone. No, you can’t see my gun.’ Luke’s presence is magnetic, exuding an authority Simon rarely sees from him. Which makes sense, because he almost never sees Luke when he’s in cop-mode. ‘I will not be teaching you. Not exactly. The thing about being a cop is that you can only really learn it by doing it.’ Luke walks back to the door and pulls a cart stacked with boxes into the room. He slams his hand on one of the boxes and grins. The girl behind Simon lets out a breathy oh my god. ‘So that’s what we’re going to do,’ Luke continues. ‘You will be working in pairs, and each pair will get a case. These cases range from murder, to theft, to kidnapping. Your job, as the “lead detectives”, will be to solve these cases. These cases have bits and pieces taken from real cases, but they in themselves are not real. There’s no point in trying to look up the solution on the internet.’
Simon feels excitement for the class bubbling up as Luke continues explaining how the class works. Maybe he picked the right class after all.
‘As a detective, as a cop, you have to know your limits and when to take a step back. Which is also why you can pull out of the class at any time, and you’ll still get credits for the work you did,’ Luke says, looking serious. ‘These cases are fake. The pictures are staged and not graphic, but they might still get to you.’ Luke looks around the room to makes sure everyone got the message. ‘Alright, let’s get you all paired up.’
Simon zones out a little until he hears: ‘Lewis with Lightwood.’ He sits up and looks around. A blond guy in dark jeans and a leather jacket saunters over to him. Lightwood drops down in the chair next to Simon’s, leaning back and legs splayed, like it’s the most comfortable he’s ever been. Then again, he looks like he’d manage to make himself comfortable anywhere. Simon doesn’t know if it’s the guy’s looks or the confidence, but something about him puts him on edge. Lightwood smiles and Simon realizes what it is. Lightwood makes him feel like he has something prove. More than that, Simon wants to prove himself to him.
Simon clenches his jaw and resolves not to let this guy get to him.
‘Jace,’ the guy says, extending his hand. It’s big and warm around Simon’s.
‘Lewis. Simon Lewis,’ Simon says, ignoring the little part of his brain that’s laughing at him for using his standard pick-up line. He tries to mirror Jace’s relaxed posture and smile. He’s not sure he’s succeeding.
‘I look forward to working with you,’ Jace smiles.
Before Simon can reply, Luke calls for their attention as he starts handing out the cases.
‘Almost everything you need is in these files. You don’t need to conduct interviews. You can check locations, but you don’t have to.’ Luke sets a box on Simon and Jace’s table, and Simon doesn’t miss the twinkle in Luke’s eye. Luke knows exactly what case he gave them. ‘Information you think is missing, you can request from me. It’s part of the job, and will require a little paperwork.’
Groans fill the room.
‘Oh yes.’ Luke grins evilly. ‘You wanted to know what it’s like to be a detective? Most of it is staring at the evidence you’ve gathered, hoping it’ll all fit together, and filling out lots and lots of forms.’ When he’s handed out the last case, he moves back to the front of the room. ‘Use the rest of your time today to exchange details with your partner and look through your case.’
Simon turns to Jace, and finds his partner already looking through the first file. He tries to glare, but Jace looks up and Simon’s glare falters in the face of so much excitement.
‘We got a murder case,’ Jace stage whispers.
‘What?’ Simon asks. He snatches the file out of Jace’s hands. Luke knows him. Why would he give him a murder case? He reads through the summary of the case, and sighs in relief. ‘It’s not a murder case. It’s a missing person. There’s no body.’
‘Oh please,’ Jace snorts. ‘This guy has a huge fight with his wife and suddenly disappears? She totally killed him.’
‘Wanna bet she didn’t?’ Simon challenges, narrowing his eyes.
‘Depends on the price,’ Jace says.
‘A pizza?’ Simon offers.
‘And the loser has to watch the winner eat it, while not eating any themselves,’ Jace counters.
‘It’s a bet.’
They shake on it, and Simon is again struck by how comfortable Jace’s hand feels in his.
After exchanging numbers, they turn back to the case. As Simon suspected, the case isn’t as clear-cut as Jace first thought. Their victim’s name is Michael Haynes. His car was found near by the East River, windows smashed in and blood on the seats. Drag marks lead from the car to the water, but it can’t be confirmed they’re from a body. To Simon, it looks like a carjacking gone wrong, and he feels more and more confident about getting that free pizza with every paragraph he reads.
‘You have five minutes left!’ Luke calls out. ‘Figure out what to do with the files. You can leave them here, or one of you can take them with you. Do with them what you want, they’re yours.’
Simon and Jace put everything back in the box, and Jace makes sure that everything is in the same order as when they got it. Simon can’t help but find it a little amusing.
‘You want to take it with you?’ Jace asks.
Jace nods. ‘I have very nosy siblings, and one of them is thirteen. He probably sees worse than this in his video games, but still…’
‘Okay,’ Simon says. He puts the lid on the box, then triple checks to make sure they got everything and that it’s secure. ‘You wanna come over some time so we can work on it? Might be easier with a little more room to spread everything out and some privacy.’ He flushes when he hears how that sounded. He mentally crosses his fingers, hoping Jace didn’t hear that.
‘Sounds good to me,’ Jace nods, amusement playing on his lips.
Simon repositions the pile of books on his desk, takes a step back, nods and walks away. He’s almost out of his room when he realizes that, no, it looked better the way it was before. As he puts the books back in their original position, he rolls his eyes at himself. What is he doing? Why is he so nervous? Yes, Jace is coming over and maybe he’s not just a pretty face and broad shoulders, but also kind of a cool guy who likes Star Wars and Fullmetal Alchemist. He also may have said that the murder board Simon created on one of his walls was really cool. And he’s funny. Nobody should be that funny over text.
Simon groans. He cannot crush on the guy he’s doing a project with. Things will get awkward. Which will make him awkward. Which is when accidents happen, like tripping over his own feet or bumping into doorways, and breaking his glasses
The doorbell rings and Simon freezes for just long enough that he doesn’t reach the door before his mom does.
‘Hi, you must be Jace,’ Simon hears her says.
He slides into the hallway on his socks as Jace steps inside. He’s carrying a motorcycle helmet under his arm and he’s clearly just run his hands through his hair to put it back in its place. He looks beautiful. Simon is so transfixed that he keeps sliding and hits the wall.
‘You okay, Simon?’ Jace asks, eyebrows raised.
‘Totally fine,’ Simon says, shaking off the sting in shoulder. At least his glasses are still in one piece.
After Jace has put away his jacket, shoes and helmet, and Simon’s mom has handed them drinks and snacks, they move to Simon’s room.
‘Nice,’ Jace says. He wanders around, sipping his coffee. His turn about Simon’s room ends in front of the murder board. ‘You really did a good job with this.’
Simon watches as Jace follows the red strings Simon has tied between several pieces of evidence. He wants to smack himself when he catches himself thinking how cute it is when Jace moves onto his tippy-toes to better read the papers at the top of the board. Only three days ago he’d promised himself to not let Jace get under his skin, now his stomach is filling with butterflies over a compliment and Jace standing on his toes.
‘Shall we get started?’ Simon asks. Maybe it’s just an infatuation. He’ll get to know Jace better and it’ll pass. They’ll become friends. Or maybe they’ll finish this project and then never see each other again until, in ten years, Simon somehow starts doing the books for a crime lord and he becomes a CI for the NYPD and Jace happens to be the detective on the case.
Besides, Jace probably isn’t into guys anyway. Simon rarely has that luck.
Jace nods, and he rubs his hands together in eager excitement. ‘Let’s do this.’
After two hours of trying to establish a timeline, figuring out motives and suspects, and a lot of Doritos, they’re ready to call it a day.
‘Okay, write this down,’ Jace orders. He’s lying on the floor next to Simon’s bed. Simon is on the bed, feet dangling over the edge with Jace within kicking range. Which is exactly what he does.
‘You write it down,’ Simon grumbles. His brain hurts from all the thinking.
‘Fine.’ There’s the sound of movement as Jace gets up and grabs pen and paper. When he sits down again, he’s leaning against the side of the bed. Simon can see his blond hair from the corner of his eye. ‘We need to ask Luke for information about the lawyer, and hope we’ll get interviews too.’
‘Basically,’ Simon nods. ‘Was there anything else?’
‘Fuck if I know,’ Jace groans. ‘I won’t be able to think properly again for at least three days.’
‘We should’ve taken a break.’
After a moment of rest, they both get up and start putting all the files they spread out over the room, back in the right folders and order. Jace’s phone buzzes and Simon waves at him to answer it. He’s dropping the last file in the box when muttered curses sound from behind him. He turns around and raises his eyebrows in question.
‘Sister,’ Jace explains.
‘I can sympathize,’ Simon nods. Becca has pulled a colourful string of curses out of him more than once.
‘She’s trying to set me up on a date,’ Jace continues.
Simon winces. At least Becca’s never tried that with him. ‘So just tell her you’re already seeing someone,’ he says.
Jace shakes his head. ‘She’ll want prove.’
‘Then, say no?’
‘Because I haven’t tried that already?’ Jace does not look impressed with Simon’s suggestions.
‘Hey, I’m just trying to help. Making up a girlfriend who lives in Canada is all I’ve got.’
Jace narrows his eyes and stares intently at Simon. Then a slow grin that sends a thrill down Simon’s spine spreads across his face. ‘How about a boyfriend in New York?’ Jace asks.
‘What?’ It comes out a little squeakier than Simon intended, and he clears his throat. Most of his hopes of his crush dying rested on the fact that Jace isn’t into guys, but if Jace thinks a fake boyfriend will deter his sister, than he must not only like guys, but be out as well. Shit.
‘It could totally work,’ Jace says, jumping up. He’s within Simon’s space in two strides. ‘We’re already spending time together because of the project, so we could just take a couple pics whenever I’m here. I show them to Izzy, and she backs off! I don’t have to go out with people that I don’t want to offend because they’re friends of my sister’s, and Izzy’s happy because I’m happy. Everybody wins!’
Simon’s brain parses through Jace’s explanation a couple times, and each time he comes up with the same thing. ‘You want me to be your fake boyfriend?’ he asks.
‘Yes?’ Jace says, his excitement falters a little. ‘Unless that’s a problem?’
Simon quickly shakes his head. ‘No, it’s fine. It’s just… Will your sister buy it? You dating me?’
‘Are you saying you’re out of my league?’ Jace asks, pressing a hand to his chest and looking offended.
Simon rolls his eyes. That was the opposite of what he meant.
‘You’re cute and we have the same interests. There’s no reason she shouldn’t buy it,’ Jace shrugs. He steps out of Simon’s space to grab his phone. Simon uses those couple of seconds to catch his breath. Jace just called him cute!
‘Let’s take a selfie so I can send it to Izzy,’ Jace proposes.
Simon nods, his words stuck in his throat. He sidles up next to Jace, who wraps an arm around Simon’s shoulder and pulls him close. Simon’s arm goes around Jace’s waist almost involuntarily. He can feel the heat of Jace’s body through his shirt. Smushing their faces together, Jace extends his arm until they’re both more or less in frame.
‘Smile,’ Jace singsongs.
Simon can’t help it, with Jace so close, and that silly voice, he lets out a giggle.
Fuck, he thinks as Jace takes the picture.
Convincing Jace’s sister that they’re really dating takes a little more effort than they thought. A couple selfies once a week isn’t enough. She wants to know how they met (they stick to the real story of the Experience Class), who made the first move (Jace), and she keeps asking for details about their dates. Simon thinks it’s sweet that she’s so concerned for her brother’s happiness; Jace says she’s just being nosy. He’s smiling when he says this though, and Simon thinks that maybe Jace doesn’t mind as much as he pretends to.
For a greater variety of pictures to show Jace’s sister, they decide to spend some time together outside of Simon’s room. They get coffee a couple times, go to the park, and Simon gets to know Jace in a way he didn’t really expect. He sees Jace get embarrassed about wiping the foam from his cappuccino off his upper lip, but when they’re running for Simon’s house for shelter from the rain one afternoon, Jace is completely unselfconscious about taking his shirt off before they’re even inside.
At first they only meet up on Thursday afternoons, when neither of them has classes, or on Sundays for their “dates” and working their case, but after a couple weeks there’s hardly a day that goes by without them seeing each other. Sometimes it’s just for a quick bite between classes, but they also go to the movies and museums; and when Jace finds out Simon is a musician with real, live performances, he insists on coming to them and cheering Simon on.
It starts to feel like they’re really dating, and the more Simon gets to know Jace, the more time he spends with him, the more he likes him. And sometimes he thinks it’s not entirely one-sided. Jace’s casual touches linger just a little too long, and Simon catches Jace looking at him with an expression that is soft and puzzling at the same time. Or maybe he’s just imagining things.
Simon knows he’s walking a fine line between having fun and getting hurt, but with Jace always there, smiling and flirting, it’s hard to pull himself back all the way to safety.
The thing that surprises Simon the most is how considerate Jace is. He’s completely thrown when Jace hands him a giant box of chocolates filled with only his favourites, and the Dracula Pop he’s been trying to get his hands on for months, for his birthday. Simon doesn’t even remember telling him about that. It’s the little things that really get to him, though, like Jace remembering how Simon likes his coffee, and how he always knows where Simon put his glasses when he’s searching for them.
When Simon gets a text from Jace, wishing him a happy first day of Hanukkah, Simon stares at it for five minutes before he texts back.
<< How did you know?
>> Google is a thing
>> And our neighbours are Jewish. All their baking is making me really hungry
<< I’ll save you some for when you come over Thursday
>> Is that still okay? It’s cool if we skip crime night, and you just wanna spend it with your family
Simon’s stomach twists at how casually Jace suggests they don’t see each other for a couple days. It’s not that he has to see Jace as often as he does, but it’d be nice if Jace sounded at least a little bit as if he’ll miss him.
>> Well not COOL
>> I’ll miss your pretty face
Simon grins and his stomach untwists.
<< You think I’m pretty?
>> Seriously is it okay?
<< It’s fine
Simon’s fingers hover over his phone, waiting for a wave a courage. When it hits, he sends another text.
<< Wouldn’t want you to miss my pretty face
That Thursday, Simon isn’t exactly in a crime solving mindset, and Jace seems distracted too, lapsing into silently staring into nothing every couple of minutes. They’re not going to get much done like this, and they’re definitely not going to break through the wall they’ve hit in their investigation.
The information and interviews with the lawyer they got from Luke seemed really promising at first. The lawyer is a divorce lawyer, and their victim came to her because he wanted to divorce his wife. The wife, however, wasn’t cooperating. She even threatened to sue if her husband tried to leave her.
Jace got really excited when he read the lawyer’s file, because for a while it looked like the wife might be a killer after all, but they still have no evidence tying her to any sort of violent altercation, let alone a murder.
They have managed to fit together other bits and pieces from Michael’s life. The wife didn’t report him missing, but his best friend. And that best friend, they quickly realized, was actually Michael’s boyfriend. None of the interviews outright say it, not even the one with the boyfriend, but Michael had all but moved in with him. If that wasn’t enough, the number of Michael’s neighbours that used the phrase “that sort of thing” when referring to Michael and his “best friend”, quickly solved that part of the case for Simon and Jace.
Jace is sitting in Simon’s desk chair, rolling around the room, leafing through the interviews with the wife and the neighbours. The rumble of the little wheels on the hardwood floor is the only thing keeping Simon from dozing off as he goes through all the tips the police got. It’s repetitive, not even the occasional false confession spices things up.
‘Can I throw out a wild theory?’ Jace asks, sliding to a stop next to Simon, who’s sitting on his bed.
‘No aliens or monsters,’ Simon says. They had one very fun afternoon theorizing about supernatural and extra-terrestrial suspects, but they have to solve this before the end of January for a chance at full credits. They don’t really have the time to do that again. ‘No matter how awesome that would be, I don’t think Luke would except that.’
‘I still think there’s a monster living in the East River, and it totally could’ve grabbed that guy from his car and dragged him into the water for a snack,’ Jace says. ‘But that’s not the theory I meant. What if he faked it?’
‘What if he faked his death? Or kidnapping. Whatever.’ Jace waves his hand at the murder board. ‘The car, the drag marks, the blood. They’re all easily faked. He just has to lie low for a while and then he can sneak out of New York and be free to live the gay life with his boyfriend.’
‘But the boyfriend’s still in New York,’ Simon points out. ‘All this stuff is supposedly a month from after the guy disappears. Wouldn’t they have left the city already?’
Jace slides out of the chair to the floor and searches through the files. ‘Aha!’ he shouts holding up the file on the boyfriend. He flips through it. ‘Oh my god. They did leave.’ He shoves the file under Simon’s nose.
Simon scans the page. It’s the last page of the file. There’s not much there, just one single paragraph. It says that when the NYPD contacted him for a follow up interview, he wasn’t home, and when they came by, a neighbour said he moved out the week before.
‘How did we miss this?’ Simon asks.
Jace shrugs. ‘We didn’t suspect him, so we didn’t look that close at his file.’
‘But where did they go? And we need something to prove that the guy’s still alive.’
They’re silent for a minute, both thinking. Jace gets up and paces up and down in front of the faked-murder board. The solution hits Simon and he looks up to Jace, who is already looking back at him.
‘The tip line!’ they shout at the same time.
Simon hands Jace half the tips, and Jace makes himself comfortable on the bed next to Simon. All the confessions are instantly dismissed, and anything out of state is too hard to confirm, so they focus on sightings in and around New York. Simon gets through two pages before he pauses and reads them again.
‘Are you also getting several reports of a red car with a dent in the driver’s side door?’ Simon asks. He grabs a pen and marks the ones he’s already found.
‘Yeah, I got one.’ Jace drags his finger down the page. ‘Here! A woman saw two man in a red car. The driver looked a lot like our missing guy. No mention of the dent, but it was late at night so she could’ve just missed it.’
They look at each other. Jace’s eyes are wide, and his cheeks red. Simon feels his own smile growing at the sight.
‘We need a map,’ Jace says.
‘We need a map,’ Simon agrees. He pulls his laptop towards him. His taps the housing impatiently as his waits for it to boot up. Jace’s leg is a bouncy distraction in the corner of his eye. When the laptop is finally done, Simon pulls up a map of New York, but putting all the markers for all the sightings on it proves frustrating.
‘We need a real map,’ he grumbles, slamming his laptop shut again.
‘There’s a gas station nearby, right?’ Jace asks, already sliding off the bed.
‘Yeah, it’s a block from here.’
‘I’ll get a map, you figure out which of these sightings are the most helpful.’ Jace shoves the stack of papers in Simon’s hands, then runs out of the room. A minute later, the front door slams.
Simon looks through the tips again, marking the ones that are probably real and the ones that might be real. There are several that are highly unlikely, but he marks them anyway.
Jace is back before Simon’s done, panting, hair a mess, but triumphantly holding a roadmap of New York and the surrounding area. He unfolds it, laying on the floor. He grabs the sticky notes and a pen off Simon’s desk.
‘Hit me, pretty boy,’ he grins, bouncing on the balls of his feet.
Simon laughs and shakes his head, but starts calling out the times and places of the sightings. Slowly, a route appears on the map. It’s not a direct route, but it clearly leads south and out of the city.
When they’re done, Jace joins Simon on the bed. He’s sitting cross-legged and his knee is pressing against Simon’s thigh. With some of the excitement wearing off, Simon is suddenly very aware of Jace. Jace’s cheeks are still flushed from his run to the gas station, and his windswept hair refuses to stay in place, no matter how many times Jace pulls his hand through it. Simon’s hand itches to do the same when a lock of hair refuses to stay in place, and falls down to rest against Jace’s cheek. He quickly looks away, back at the map.
‘I can’t believe he actually faked his death,’ Jace says. ‘I thought that only happened in movies.’
‘Me too.’ Simon glances at Jace. ‘But wouldn’t you do the same if someone was stopping you from being with the one you love?’
Jace looks at him for a moment, and a smile tugs on the corner of his mouth. His voice is soft when he says, ‘I would.’
Simon’s chest feels tight all of a sudden. His skin his buzzing, an electrical current that is pulling him towards Jace like a magnet.
‘Hey, are you guys okay? We saw Jace run out.’
Simon jumps and almost falls off the bed. He looks at Jace, who is biting his lip, like he’s trying not to laugh.
Simon turns to his sister. ‘We’re awesome,’ he says, putting a grin on his blushing face with some effort. He gestures at the map on the floor. ‘We cracked the case.’
‘That’s awesome!’ Becca cheers. ‘Celebratory snacks?’
‘Thanks, but I should be going soon,’ Jace says.
Simon’s shoulders slump. A moment ago it seemed like they were going to kiss, and now Jace is leaving.
‘Okay. Well, there’s plenty if you change your mind,’ Becca says, and leaves them alone again.
‘So next week we need to ask Luke for footage from these roads,’ Jace says. He points to the map. ‘If we’re right we might even begin on our final report before winter break.’
‘That would be awesome,’ Simon says, mustering as much enthusiasm as he can.
Jace writes their theory down while Simon tidies up. The tension from earlier left when Becca interrupted, and Simon starts to think there maybe wasn’t any tension in the first place. Maybe it was just the excitement of the moment.
Simon walks Jace to his bike when they’re done.
‘Hey, Simon?’ Jace starts when he’s sitting astride the bike, ready to put his helmet on.
‘I kind of had to tell my family about you. Well, not really about you, but what I told Izzy.’
‘And they want to meet you.’ Jace plays with the visor on his helmet, pushing it up and down, but his eyes are still on Simon. ‘You’re invited for dinner on Christmas.’
‘You wouldn’t be the only new one. My sister has a new girlfriend and she’s coming, too.’ Jace looks away now. ‘I know you didn’t really sign up for this when you agreed to pretend to be my boyfriend, but you’ll get a fancy meal out of it, and my family is generally pretty nice.’
‘Generally?’ Simon asks.
‘When they want to be,’ Jace says, smiling. ‘And since you’re my boyfriend, they’ll want to.’
‘Really?’ Jace’s smile is so bright Simon gets pulled in by it, and he takes a step forward.
‘Yeah. Sounds like fun,’ Simon nods.
‘Awesome! I’ll text you the details,’ Jace says. He leans forward and presses his lips against Simon’s. Then he puts his helmet on and rides off, leaving behind a dumbstruck Simon.
Things are weird between them. It takes Simon a while to notice, because Jace pretends they’re not and he’s really good at it.
When Jace seems quiet during the Experience Class, Simon doesn’t think much of it because they’re proving their theory; and when they turned out to be right Luke handed them a stack of papers to fill out. He doesn’t even get an eye roll when he reminds Jace he owes him a pizza. Cancelling their movie date and only meeting once for coffee doesn’t strike Simon as very odd either, because they’re both busy with finals and papers; and Jace is preparing for Christmas, which must take up quite a bit of his time.
The thing that tips Simon off to the weirdness between them are the texts. Jace isn’t a very diligent texter, but when he does text, he never fails to flirt or make Simon laugh. The past week, all Jace’s text have been very functional, no pictures of random cats and not a single emoticon. Simon doesn’t know how to talk to Jace about it, or about the kiss, but he knows it’s not something to talk about over the phone or text. He tries to get Jace to agree to coffee the first weekend of winter break, but Jace claims he’s busy.
Come Monday, Simon has rehearsed the conversation hundreds of times in his head, each rehearsal unfailingly leads to another kiss. He knows it’s not realistic, but Jace was the one who kissed him, not the other way around.
Simon arrives at the Lightwood residence a little before 6 o’clock. Jace told him to be here before 6.30, and Simon wanted to be here sooner, but picking a shirt turned out to be a little trickier than he expected. He eventually had to ask his mom for help. She wouldn’t stop smiling the entire time.
When the door opens, it’s not Jace or someone he doesn’t know on the other side, it’s Clary.
Izzy and Isabelle, Clary’s new girlfriend, must be the same person, Simon realizes. He just hadn’t made the connection, because why would he? New York is a big city. What are the odds that the guy’s sister who he’s a fake boyfriend to, is the same girl dating his best friend? Not as big as he thought apparently.
‘Hey, Simon,’ Clary says, her smile and voice sugary sweet. ‘How nice to see you here.’
‘Hey, Fray,’ Simon says. His voice wobbles. ‘What’s up? Little nippy out here. Mind if I come in?’
‘Not at all.’ Clary steps aside to let him in. She still has that smile on her face. ‘Your boyfriend is in the living room.’
‘Look, Clary, this isn’t–‘ Simon starts, but he’s interrupted when two women stride into the hallway, and greet him with a lot of enthusiasm and hugs.
‘You’re so cute. No wonder Jace kept you all to himself,’ the younger woman says with a wink. She holds a hand that Simon gingerly takes. ‘I’m Isabelle. But you probably know that since you’re also Clary’s best friend. It must be fate.’
‘And I’m Jace’s mother. You can call me Maryse,’ the other woman says. ‘It’s so nice to finally to meet you.’
‘It’s nice to meet you, too,’ Simon nods. He feels a little overwhelmed. Is Jace’s entire family this beautiful? He gets his answer when a tall man appears at the end of the hallway, dark-haired like both the women, and nothing like Jace. In fact, none of these people look anything like Jace.
‘You must be Simon,’ the man says. ‘I’m Alec.’
‘Hi,’ Simon waves.
‘Mom, the oven’s doing that weird thing again,’ Alec says.
Maryse and Isabelle both file out of the hallway, leaving Simon alone with Clary again.
‘I can’t believe you,’ Clary hisses, poking him in the chest just after Simon’s taken his coat off.
‘Ow,’ Simon grumbles and rubs the sore spot.
‘You have a boyfriend and you didn’t tell me?’ she asks. ‘I had to find out from my girlfriend! Who I told you about minutes after I met her, by the way.’
‘I’m sorry,’ Simon sighs. ‘But..’
‘You should be,’ Clary agrees, crossing her arms over her chest. ‘Apparently you and Jace have been dating for months, while I, your supposed best friend, knew nothing about it.’
‘It’s not real, okay?’ he says, pulling her closer to him to make sure no one else can hear him. ‘Jace asked me to pretend to be his boyfriend so Isabelle would stop setting him up with people. He just wanted a little break from sisterly matchmaking.’
‘So… You don’t have a boyfriend?’ Clary asks, raising her eyebrows. ‘Isabelle showed me some of the pictures. You looked like you’re boyfriends.’
‘We’re just friends. I’m helping out a friend,’ Simon says. ‘Please don’t tell Isabelle. Jace and I are “breaking up” within a couple weeks anyway.’ His throat hurts to says those words.
Clary looks at him for a moment, then sighs. ‘Okay, fine. On one condition.’ She holds up a finger, then places a hand on his arm and squeezes. ‘Take care of yourself, okay?’
Simon doesn’t need ask what she means. He nods and gives her a quick hug before they join the rest of the Lightwoods in the living room.
As Jace promised, his family is really nice and welcoming. Alec, seems a little stern, but Simon thinks that might just be protectiveness; and Alec relaxes almost visibly once his fiancé, Magnus, arrives.
Dinner is amazing. The food is good and the company great, and when Simon says this tol Maryse, the woman looks pleased and sends an approving look in Jace’s direction. But Jace doesn’t seem to notice, because he’s staring at his plate. In fact, Jace has barely looked at anything else all night, and he’s all but ignored Simon.
Things with Jace don’t turn around when Isabelle decides it’s time for a movie and they move to the living room. Simon is pulled onto the couch to sit between Jace and Clary, who has Isabelle on her other side. Jace is a block of tension next to Simon, and Simon has no idea what to do about it. It’s not like he can say what he wants to in front of Jace’s family.
And he isn’t the only one who notices something is off. Both Alec and Izzy throw concerned looks in there direction, and Maryse squeezes Jace’s shoulder every time she walks by him.
‘I need some fresh air,’ Jace suddenly announces. Before anyone can say anything, he’s off the couch and out of the living room.
Simon stares after him. When he turns to Jace’s family for answers, they’re all looking pointedly at him.
‘Right, I should go after him,’ Simon says.
He runs to the hallway, puts on his shoes, then runs after Jace. Jace hasn’t gotten very far yet, barely to the end of the street. Simon quickly catches up with him. He grabs Jace’s arm and Jace whirls around.
‘What?’ He glares at Simon. His posture is still tense and closed off, his hands shoved deep into his coat pockets.
Simon realizes he forgot his own coat and he wraps his arms around himself for warmth.
‘Is this about the kiss?’ he asks.
‘What if it is?’ Jace’s glare intensifies, and it’s pissing Simon off.
‘Well, then it’s stupid,’ Simon bites out. ‘Because I wanted you to kiss me. I want to kiss you. I’ve wanted to for months, and now that we did you’re being a dick about it.’
‘Really? After a week of blowing me off, and being a pissbaby all night, all you have to say is oh?’ Fury rises in Simon’s chest. He opens his mouth to let Jace know exactly how he feels about it, but Jace’s hands come up to frame his face, and the fury melts away. ‘Your mood better improve if we kiss again,’ Simon warns.
Jace chuckles. ‘I promise it will.’
Jace’s lips are warm and they taste like the ice cream they had for dessert. Simon fists his hands in Jace’s jacket to pull Jace closer. He feels like he’s freezing and burning at the same time, and it’s the best feeling he’s ever had. He doesn’t want it to ever stop.
Something soft and cold lands on Simon’s cheek and he startles back.
‘It’s snowing,’ Jace laughs. He looks up in wonder, then looks back down at Simon, and somehow that look of wonder intensifies. ‘We made it snow!’
‘If we kiss some more, maybe we’ll get enough snow to build a snowman later,’ Simon suggests.
‘Well, it’s worth a try.’
They kiss until their lips are numb and Simon starts shivering from the cold.
‘Let’s go inside so I can start warming you up,’ Jace says, waggling his eyebrows.
‘I like that plan.’ Simon smiles around his chattering teeth, and brushes the snow off Jace’s hair. ‘You know we’ll have to tell your family the truth right?’
‘Because I’m not going to lie to them for the rest of my life,’ Simon points out.
Jace tilts his head. ‘You plan on us lasting that long?’
‘I’m going to try,’ Simon says decisively.
Jace presses a soft kiss to Simon’s lips. As they start walking back to the house, he wraps an arm around Simon’s shoulder and pulls Simon into his side.
‘Let’s go tell them,’ he says.