There were a lot of things Simon looked at differently now.
Like: Jace ridiculous at midday in his head to toe black leather. A daytime mission was no longer a closed door to Simon, but his new life made more sense when it was confined to careful halves. He still didn't know how to be this — Nerdferatu, blood-drinking and quip-making — in the sunshine. Sun was for taking Clary to the beach and getting Pommes Frites and going to class and running errands for his mom. Night was for the other stuff. But now here he was chasing demons with a pack of Shadowhunters in broad daylight, his teeth pressing at his gums.
The starkness of the light cast them all into sharp relief, absurd in their leathers and straps but Jace the most absurd of all if only because Simon couldn't stop looking at him. A change of clothes, scrubbed clean of runes, and Jace would be so normal, a guy in a toothpaste commercial. The dichotomy didn't appear to bother Jace, at least not right then: he was careless of how much he did or did not stand out, flashing a grin over his shoulder at Clary that Simon only just caught. White teeth. Golden hair. Gray of the buildings around them and blue skies above. Things Simon had taken for granted, before.
Being a Daylighter made sunlight feel like a secret. It was the winning hand that changed the game, and Jace had been the one to deal the cards. That made it a secret they held between them, made it so Simon could not see sun pass through a windowpane without thinking of Jace's blood in his veins.
In the light it all seemed so obvious.
The first boy Simon ever kissed was a dirtbag jock with perfect teeth who Clary had a desperate crush on throughout their first three years of high school. Kirk Duplasse. Simon always had trouble disentangling jealousy from desire, or separating himself from Clary. It felt better to like something if he knew Clary already did, from TV shows to asshole boys. Clary lost her virginity to Kirk. So did Simon, sort of.
It happened after Clary had moved on and found someone new to set her heart on (though that someone never turned out to be Simon). They went to a party the last month of their senior year and there was Kirk, taunting Simon like he always did but with a spark behind his eyes that made Simon shiver. They messed around in the bathroom and later graduated without ever talking about it. When Simon told Clary, they ended up laughing helplessly and she hugged him so hard it hurt.
Simon wasn't stupid. He could recognize patterns.
One night they were all at the Hunter's Moon, everyone getting drinks to drown bad news. Maia wasn't on shift. She often seemed to disappear just before Simon entered a room, sensing him and skirting away, bad breakup still badly broken. Jace leaned over and around Simon from behind to get the bartender's attention, even though there was plenty of space at the bar. He was not close enough to touch but close enough to say, soft, in Simon's ear, "You look at the bottom of that glass any harder, you're gonna fall in."
Jace's body radiated heat that Simon felt down to his bones, and his skin buzzed like a sunburn.
Simon turned just a little, face only tilted towards Jace, and said, “No idea what you mean, man.”
Jace's laugh was soft, too, but it'd had a brittle brightness ever since Valentine died. "Takes one to know one," he said, and was gone.
Reducing Jace to his body was easy because he had a nice body. Simon could recognize Jace's aesthetic appeal while keeping himself removed, like: oh, I see why Clary likes him. I see why someone would look at the rounded curve of his shoulders, the squared straight hips, the tug of leather over his bicep, and want to put their teeth in him.
As long as it wasn't personal Simon didn't have to think about how blood had twisted things up between them. Or maybe it had been twisted up since they met, when Jace lifted his shirt and took Simon by the hand, flirting tucked away inside masculine posturing. Had the signals ever really been uncrossed?
The trouble with making it all about Jace's body was that Simon knew all too well how that body had been manipulated, an experiment and a tool and a thing to brag about. Jace had had enough of that without Simon doing it to him too, just because he didn't want to think too deeply about the shape Jace's lips made when he smiled.
Jace was not a jock asshole who Simon might blow in a bathroom someday. He was not another Kirk Duplasse. Simon wished it could be that easy and that hard, instead of hard and hard and harder.
They were dispatching with another nest of demons that had somehow sprung up in the wake of the closed rift. When it was over there was oilspill blood on the pavement and on Simon's hands, but the acrid smell of it turned his stomach.
"You're better than you used to be," Jace said in an offhand way. He was wiping the flat side of a blade against his thigh before he tucked it away, leaving showy streaks of ichor behind. His hair was in his face and his cheek was scraped, blood sweet as raspberries in all that burning.
"Nowhere else to go," Simon said, and pointed up.
Jace didn't get it. "Huh?"
"When you start at Level Zero," Simon clarified, "there's nowhere to go but up. If you suck as bad as sucking can, then you can only get better. So I got better."
Jace looked at him with a blunted kind of surprise — no, that wasn't surprise, it was understanding. Common ground. "Mundanity was wasted on you, Lewis."
"Do you think that's a compliment?"
Jace laughed. "Take it how you want."
But Simon didn't know what he wanted.
Between him and Jace there had always been an ongoing box step of bullshit, a step forward from one of them automatically repelling the other. Simon saying I won't tell anyone and Jace's jaw tight enough to crack as he rejected the hug with his entire aura. Jace lavishing Simon with compliments as long as he was saying them to someone else in the flattest voice possible, lest Simon get any ideas. Jace's mouth on Clary's mouth. Jace sighing pleasurably with Clary's parted lips as Simon drank their blood, his teeth locked in and some animal part of him thinking, this doesn't smell like her.
It was never just the two of them. It was always tangled vines and insurmountable problems.
Jace pushed Simon out of the way as a bolt of magic from a wayward warlock shattered against the bricks beside them, sparks skittering like a dying firecracker. One caught on a loose thread of Simon's shoulder seam and Jace patted it out before it could catch fire, his leather-clad hand brisk on Simon's arm. He was still standing close, though he'd released the front of Simon's shirt, and his face was animated in a way it had not been in weeks. Breathless with fighting, Jace looked lit up inside. A blade in his hand and he came alive.
"Gotta watch out," Jace said. "You're kindling."
"I'll keep that in mind." It wasn't the time or the place, but Simon almost found himself leaning into Jace's personal space, wanting —
He didn't know. Wanting something. The motion of being shoved hard against a wall had triggered something in him. That was it. Totally normal emotional and biological response that had nothing to do with anything deeper than the surface level sexiness of a hot guy putting his hands on you with purpose.
"You okay?" Jace was all business, seeming more like the cocky blonde asshole who had been unceremoniously dropped into Simon's life three months ago, as opposed to the bruised doppelgänger who had been wearing his outfits recently. He glanced back at the ongoing fight, distracted, but then returned his careful and assessing gaze to Simon. "You look a little dazed."
"Just swooning," Simon said. "My hero."
Jace didn't laugh or smile but his eyes crinkled with amusement and he gave Simon a disbelieving uh-huh before turning away. In seconds, he was back in the thick of it, blade drawn. Simon stayed where he was for the moment, shoulders pressed into the unforgiving wall, until the sensation of Jace's hands had faded.
The next time they found themselves in between shadowy buildings in lower Manhattan, it was Jace's back against the bricks. He had his head tipped back too, and his profile caught the surrounding light in a way that drew attention to his furrowed brow and tense mouth. This time it was Simon venturing uncertainly, "You okay?" as he stood a safe distance away, the back door of the Hunter's Moon open behind him.
Jace started. "Angels and fuckin' demons," he said. "Vampires really need those little cat bells."
Simon almost smiled, stepping closer. "Shadowhunters need to keep their hearing runes activated."
"Even then." Jace let his body relax against the building, tension seeping from him only to be replaced by exhaustion. "Still wouldn't hear you coming."
Simon stopped in front of him. "Question stands."
Jace surveyed him carefully. "You've gotta be crazy to still come back to this bar."
It wasn't an answer.
"Oh, you know me," Simon said. "I laugh in the face of emotional turmoil. There's a girl around whose heart I personally pulverized? Point me in her direction."
Jace's lips twisted again, but it was another of his non-laughs. He glanced off to the side, hiding whatever he was feeling from Simon, and that was when Simon noticed it. Maia's orange blossom smell, on Jace. Caught in his hair, embedded in his clothes. Not the kind of thing that happened when you brushed by someone in a crowded room, or blocked one of their punches. No. That only happened one way.
Simon rejected the thought as soon as he had it, but the little niggling anxiety voice in the back of his head insisted. How many times had he seen Jace at this bar, nursing drinks like he was waiting for something? How many looks had he seen them share? What had he discarded, what had he ignored, because he'd only been thinking of himself and his feelings for so long?
Why else would Jace be hanging around the alley this near to closing?
Fuck, Simon thought, viciously. Was this jealousy or desire?
"Well, you've got a lot of girls to choose from, don't you," Jace was saying. He was looking at Simon too, his gaze shrewd.
"Yep." Simon spoke unthinkingly, still reeling. When had it happened? How long had it been going on? "I'm never short on thrills."
His face must have been doing something odd, because Jace tilted his head a little and said, "What?"
Simon opened his mouth to answer and had nothing to say, even though questions were brimming at his lips. Why was Simon the thing people wove their way around as they moved towards each other? Why was he always just a stop along the way? Why did Jace always have the scent of Simon's girlfriend clinging to his skin?
"Simon," Jace said. "What is it?"
It would take too many words to say. That wasn't a problem for Simon, generally, but now he wanted to let his hands talk for him instead. He wanted to shove Jace against the wall and shake him for always being there, always being in the way. And for making Simon understand. Making Simon feel sorry for him. Making Simon want him too.
But when his hands found the front of Jace's jacket, Simon yanked him forward into a kiss instead.
Jace's mouth was surprised beneath Simon's but then suddenly, tenderly soft. Simon's grip slackened and his fingers smoothed out over Jace's chest; he sank into the kiss with the intention of drowning. But Jace turned away as abruptly as he'd given in, laughing a little with something like astonishment, and Simon's still-searching mouth glanced off the edge of his jaw.
"Thought so," Jace said, but his expression said the opposite.
"The arrogant thing doesn't work as well now that I know you," Simon informed him. His lips were buzzing.
"What 'thing'?" Jace took Simon by the wrists and removed his hands, then pushed off the wall and slipped away. "I knew you had it bad, Lewis. Always did. I've seen how you look at me."
"Stop acting like an asshole. I know you're not one."
Jace grinned at him with that mouth that Simon had kissed, and his eyes were blank. "You don't know anything." He paused at the bar's back door. "Good kiss, though."
The door banged shut heavily behind him. It sounded final.
It was the niceness that Simon couldn't stand, after.
He spent a day or two marinating in embarrassment in the boathouse, playing angry guitar and wondering what on earth had possessed him to kiss Jace, before duty dragged him back into the daylight. Jonathan was still alive, so they all converged on Magnus' loft to try and figure out how to put an end to him again.
Simon expected Jace to be terse or jittery, but quickly realized how illogical an assumption that was. That would never be the case. Jace was himself: focused and ready to take action. He debated methods and argued plans, but with such casual detachment that no one could have guessed he was talking about someone he'd stabbed in the back just a month prior.
And if he felt anything about the kiss, that was buried even deeper.
It was still at the tip of Simon's tongue; a humiliating neediness was crowding him from the inside out, prickling over his skin. He watched Jace talk and knew he should have been listening, but all he could think about was the fact that he had kissed that mouth. That he had been kissed back.
One on one, Jace was solicitous. There were no nerves, no jumpiness, no avoidance. When he and Simon bumped into each other navigating the group huddled around Magnus' coffee table, Jace set him straight with a light touch and a smile. He looked Simon right in the eye. There was nothing to suggest denial or encouragement. It was an unforeseen resolution and Simon didn't know what to do with it. He'd thought Jace might pull him closer and lie about it later, or push him away and throw a punch. Simon did not expect Jace to arch up into him, passive and sweet, and then offer a polite no thank you.
Frustrated and uncertain, Simon found himself tugging on Jace's sleeve and half-demanding, "Can we talk?"
Jace lifted his eyebrows but nodded, so they went out into the hallway. All their loved ones remained safely sealed behind the polished black door of Magnus' apartment. "What's up?"
"What's up?" Simon said, sounding incredulous. "What's up? We kissed, that's what's up."
Jace's brows came together in confusion. "I know," he said. "What about it?"
Simon's jaw clenched. "You're acting —" He faltered, because a second before he said the word, he knew how absurd it sounded. "Nice."
Amusement crossed Jace's expression. "Should I be acting different?"
"It's condescending," Simon complained. "Like this whole thing is a joke to you, like it doesn't matter. Just because I'm a guy or because I'm —" He coughed. "Me."
"You're being ridiculous," Jace said flatly. "There are more important things going on right now than who kissed who and who feels what about it. What do you want from me?"
Simon didn't have an answer.
Jace stepped closer, then closer still. "This?" he asked, low. He put a hand on Simon's hip and let the other rest on the wallpapered wall behind them, so close now one of his knees fit neatly between Simon's. "Is this it?"
The throb of Jace's pulse was making Simon dizzy.
"Seems like it," Jace continued softly with that egotistical confidence that made Simon want to drain him dry. "Always has."
When their lips met, parted so Jace's tongue could curl in Simon's mouth, Simon shoved him away hard. "Fuck you," he said, and then pulled Jace in again with the fingers that had remained knotted in the front of his shirt.
Jace's laugh was stifled in the kiss, his heartbeat steady and sure against Simon's lips. Jace's hand immediately left the wall to cup Simon's cheek roughly, his whole warm palm burning Simon like a brand. They fell back against the wallpaper and Simon pressed up into Jace, grabbed fistfuls of his hair and pushed his thigh between Jace's legs —
When the door to the apartment suddenly clicked, Simon and Jace burst apart like a bomb exploding. Their friends streamed out none the wiser, chattering about the mission ahead, and they joined the troupe like they had never left it. Without so much as a second shared glance, off they went.
Later everyone went out for a drink. When Jace excused himself to the bathroom, Simon picked up Jace's half-empty glass of beer and pressed his mouth to the imprint of Jace's on the rim.
Sometimes the wanting was enough.