If they were friends, Isabelle would call her pretty. They aren’t friends. Isabelle yanks out a bright strand of hair.
What the Morgenstern girl is, is very small. Unassuming. Wrists delicate and fingers thin, like a piano player. They don’t look fit for wielding knives. But Jace plays the piano too, and his hands are broad, could wrap around a throat and squeeze tight.
A new prisoner means paperwork, and paperwork means protocol. The rudimentary identity checks, thumbprint swipes, hair samples. And this is a Morgenstern. Imogen Herondale would dance naked in the woods before getting caught up in a glamour trick.
So Isabelle’s on a double shift. A responsibility well above her clearance, her mother would say. A night better spent on ichor duty, Alec would counter.
The girl’s hair hangs across her face, unevenly cut. She isn’t knocked out, just lucid enough to let Isabelle safely do her job. Not that she presents much of a danger, anyway. The guards chained her arms to opposite walls, and she’s forced to stand upright while Isabelle swabs behind her ear. It’s a bitch of a position, and she’d feel bad for the girl if she wasn’t, you know.
The girl intermittently flutters her eyes to keep them from shutting all the way, jaw almost slack and slow breathing. Isabelle avoids eye contact anyway. She caught a glance once when she first entered the cell, and found an almost reptilian color staring back.
The girl doesn’t make a sound, and hasn’t shown signs of struggle since Isabelle started poking and prodding at her, since being dragged into the Institute in the late hours of the night. Sometimes she’ll mumble, too unintelligible for Isabelle to understand. She’s small, but lanky. Like clay that’s been flattened for too long. It’s a miracle they found cuffs small enough for her wrists.
Isabelle hysterically wonders if this is an act, if the guards didn’t inject her after all, and in just moments she’ll unravel to strike. Isabelle works a little faster after that.
It’s when Isabelle has a firm grasp on the girl’s chin, flashlight balanced in her own mouth, that she starts to say words. “This is a little,” her words are childishly garbled, muffled by Isabelle’s fingers sweeping through her mouth. “Personal, don’t you think?” A packet stuck to the roof of her mouth, a pill tucked behind a tooth. Any contraband that the guards would have missed on the first pass, the fate of Isabelle’s job relies on finding it next. Hodge would have her head if he didn’t teach her well.
Isabelle roughly pulls her fingers back. “Don’t tell me you’re feeling uncomfortable.”
The girl twists her wrists. They must be chafing from the tight cuffs. “Wouldn’t kill someone to loosen these chains.” She levels a slow blink in Isabelle’s direction. Reptilian.
“You might.” Isabelle mutters.
“Harsh. Hey - I know you,” The girls rolls her head down. “Lightwood.” She says in an off-tune voice.
“Daddy’s favorite?” Isabelle snaps the kit shut. She’s done for today.
“Like mother, like daughter.” The girl counters, a grin unfurling at the edge of her lips.
“Maybe,” Isabelle says, on her way out. “It’s a shame what he did to yours.”
Clarissa. C-L-A-R-I-S-S-A. Mom says the name with contempt, tinged with that bit of disappointment that hangs onto anything that comes out of her mouth. Alec says it with the careful neutrality of someone who, technically, is responsible for her. Isabelle says it to herself, quietly, privately. She rolls the letters over and over around her mouth.
It sounds biblical. Like Isabelle’s own name. I-S-A-B-E-L-L-E: God is my oath. I-S-A-B-E-L. Mom tried to take them to mundane Sunday school, before Max and before Jace. Isabelle would stare out the window, while Alec, full of pre-pubescent fury, spent all of his focus on making himself very still, and very threatening to the old woman leading the class. They stopped going, anyway, when Max was born.
Isabelle spends the day in Imogen Herondale’s shadow, front-row to another one of her creepy interrogation sessions. Alec, the lucky bastard, watches from behind the thick glass.
Since Clarissa arrived, she’s had no food, no water, and no medical attention. It’s a favored tactic - starve them out, let them bleed longer than strictly necessary. They always talk after that.
Isabelle hates it. “I know they’re the bad guys,” she told Alec, once. “But it just - doesn’t feel humane.”
“That’s the point, Izzy.” Alec’s jaw tightened. “The cruelty is the point.”
Clarissa hangs in front of Isabelle now, arms stretched awkwardly. The Inquisitor’s leaned toward her now, questions at the ready. From what they hear about the whole family, Isabelle expected an angry woman, spitting answers and deflections with poison.
Instead, Clarissa is quiet. Her body folds inward, and she answers questions with a small, detached voice. Nothing she says really seems to please Imogen, judging by the increasingly sharp tone of voice.
When they leave, Imogen unsatisfied, Isabelle hangs back. She’s already pushed back the instinct the activate Clarissa’s iratze herself, but — “It’s not going to get better. I’d start saying something useful, if I were you.”
Clarissa hacks out a cough. Blinks in Isabelle’s direction. She wills herself not to look away. “What’s dear old Imogen Herondale,” the name spits out, “got in store for me?”
Her withdrawn demeanor is gone, replaced by that familiar cool anger. “You think you can hold up under an agony rune?”
Clarissa smiles ruefully. “Dad’s favorite.”
Isabelle does feel bad. She doesn’t show it. “Think about it,” She says. “You can save yourself a lot of pain if you just cooperate.”
The girl narrows her eyes. “I know how to endure pain.”
As it turns out, Clarissa has very good endurance.
The first pass of Imogen Herondale’s stele elicits a shriek, to be sure. But they quickly learn it’s out of surprise rather than distress. Her reaction after that is — it’s harrowing.
The thing is, Isabelle will feel bad for the smallest of things. Like when Mom snaps at Max, or when Dad finally stopped pretending like he wanted to keep in touch with his kids. She should learn how to bottle those feelings up, maybe even bury it, like Alec.
But Isabelle watches Clarissa shake violently, letting out nothing more than low grunts and hisses, and thinks How can one person take so much pain? She’s a murderer, guilty of war crimes, and her existence alone pushes the bounds of ethics. She’s also well overdue for an iratze, and toeing the line beyond mundane medical help. Her eyes have begun to sink into her skin, and wrists look bent in the wrong direction, the way they hang off the cuffs.
Isabelle loses track of Imogen’s rounds when Clarissa begins to choke.
Her eyes roll back, her whole body collapses, the chains dragging harshly across her wrists. Isabelle steps back in alarm as the guards rush forward. Alec follows, too. He grips Isabelle’s arm, pulling her toward the door. “That’s enough for today,” he says firmly. But his eyes aren’t on Clarissa. They’re on Isabelle. Watching, scanning. Isabelle realizes, then, that she hasn’t uncrossed her arms since they started. Half-moon indents line her upper arms. Her shoulders ache.
“I’m fine.” She untangles herself from Alec’s grip. Isabelle watches the guards carry a now-unconscious Clarissa out the door. In the private space of her mind, she thinks, I hope she is, too.
They still don’t give her an iratze, which leaves Isabelle fuming, Alec standing by her side as they peek inside from the window.
Alec drops his chin onto Isabelle’s head, body craned around her. “I don’t think mundane medicine will be enough.”
“It’s ridiculous,” Isabelle huffs. “Can’t they see she won’t talk?”
“She talks to you.”
Isabelle blindly pushes a hand up against Alec’s face. “Get off me.” Alec, for his part, resolutely does not move.
“She won’t talk,” Alec sighs. “Because they’ve been treating her like an animal. She might be crazy, but — I still hate it.” He drops his gaze. “I know that sounds weird.”
Isabelle looks up at her brother. “No,” she says. “I was thinking the same thing.”
She turns back toward the window, watching Clarissa’s chest rise and fall. There’s few differences between the cell and here. Her wrists are still tied up. But she’s hooked up to a heart rate monitor too, the screen showing a weak but steady pulse. At least she’s not forced to stay on her feet.
“All that pain and torture,” Alec says. “You wonder if the brother’s just as used to it.” They stand shoulder-to-shoulder, and Isabelle doesn’t ask him which brother.
“Maybe,” Isabelle says. “She’ll talk. If she has someone to talk to.”
Honestly, it’s awkward when Clarissa wakes up.
It’s just Isabelle in the room. There’s a guard stationed outside that insisted on following her in, but Isabelle already gave him a strong talking to. Alec snorted when she got started on the inability of men to leave women to handle their own. Hey, it was effective.
Clarissa opens her eyes but she doesn’t blink. Isabelle’s used to that by now, in a weird newborn baby slash reptile way. What’s more weird, however, is the way she doesn’t move her eyes from Isabelle for a very long time.
“Uh —“ Isabelle didn’t think this far ahead. “Hello?”
Clarissa, emphatically, says nothing. She does keep staring, though.
Isabelle throws a look over her shoulder, where Alec is presumably lurking outside. “Are you…feeling better?”
Clarissa does move then, a grotesque jerk of her head, accompanied by rattled wheezing. Isabelle, who considers herself moderately okay at reading body language, realizes the girl’s throat is compromised. Probably damaged chords from — their session.
Isabelle swears. No one’s stopping her now, so she might as well take her chances. “I need you to stay still —“ she says, striding toward Clarissa’s bed. “No, don’t freak out. Stop moving, I’m not going to hurt you.” She gets a hand on Clarissa’s chin, tipping her to one side and pulling out her stele.
“Relax,” Isabelle says. “I’m trying to help.” Clarissa’s eyes look back, accusatory, as the stele traces over her neck, forming an iratze.
“There.” Clarissa immediately sucks in a deep breath, almost of relief, and closes her eyes. “Thank you,” she breathes out.
Isabelle doesn’t really know how to feel about being thanked by the heir apparent of a family of murderous war criminals, but she tries her best. “It’s not like you had much use for it,” she half-jokes.
Clarissa looks away. “There’s nothing to say.”
“Right. Family protects family.” Isabelle crosses her arms. “I get that, but. The alternative is just the Inquisitor making things worse for you.”
“The alternative…” Clarissa muses. “Because if I turn in my father and brother, Imogen will happily shake my hand and let me go. The Inquisitor really,” she uselessly shakes at her wrist cuffs. “Cares about my wellbeing.”
Well. Isabelle can’t technically argue with that. “So, what. You’re fine with just rotting underground?” She keeps pushing. “I know you’ve been through some horrible living situations, Clarissa, but —“
“Clary,” She interrupts. “My name is Clary.”
Jace, not Jonathan. Isabelle’s lips quirk up. C-L-A-R-Y: Bright, clear.
“Clary,” She tests the letters out loud, stretching the vowels in experimentation. “OK. There’s no alternative that doesn’t end with you in here, and not out there.”
Clary has an unreadable expression on her face. “Wouldn’t be so bad. There’s a bed, clean clothes…”
“You probably have bed bugs. And they don’t wash those uniforms beyond every other month.” Isabelle wouldn’t call herself a Lightwood if she didn’t have some powers of perception, and she can tell Clary’s tone isn’t totally joking.
She connects the dots. “You don’t want to go back.”
The realization hangs between them, stretching across the distance, thickening the silence. Isabelle doesn’t mean it as an accusation, but. She lets herself believe that this means something. That things could be different.
Clary closes her eyes. “I’m tired.” Like it’s nothing. Like she isn’t strapped to a hospital bed, but complaining over coffee. She lets out a long sigh. “I’m so tired, and I — I wish I could rest. Could stop everything and just —” She cuts herself off.
Isabelle is tired of bottling up her kindness. “I’m sorry,” She says carefully. Picking each word. “That you feel like this. I wish I had known, back then.”
Clary’s eyes narrow. “I don’t want your pity.”
“It’s not yours to take.”
“So, what — you’re just gonna feel bad for me, now?”
“I’m trying to care,” Isabelle snaps, no matter how naive she’s being. Because if humanity isn’t given, if it’s taken from you, then it chips away. It doesn’t have a choice. Clary is — must be — living proof of that. “No one here cares about you. I’m trying to. Even if you think you don’t deserve it.”
Clary falls silent. Isabelle pretends she doesn’t see her eyes watering.
The quiet between them is cavernous, but for once Isabelle feels settled. Not watching from afar, or stepping in the wrong words. But assured that this is right. That the hand reaching out won't get slapped away.
Then: “I don’t regret the things I’ve done.”
But: “I regret what they’ve made of me.”
Isabelle nods. "Regret is good." It's a start.
"Is it?" Clary huffs. "It feels terrible."
"Maybe," Isabelle curls and uncurls her fingers. "Maybe you just need a push in the right direction."
"Yeah?" Clary blinks, meeting her gaze.
"Yeah." Isabelle affirms. For the first time that night, she sees eyes that are a deep shade of green.