The drowning mundane is getting heavier by the moment.
“A little help, Izzy?” Clary pants, her gills flapping frantically.
Izzy rolls her eyes elaborately but swims over to grab the mundane’s spare arm.
“Is he a rich and handsome prince?” she asks, as they start tugging him to the surface. There’s a window of time where a mundane can almost definitely survive; after that, they’re just carrying a dead body.
“We should’ve never let Magnus show you that movie,” Clary responds, seeing moonlight dappling the surface of the water.
“It seemed plausible,” Izzy says, light.
“Which part?” Clary demands, as they both burst through the surface, pulling the mundane’s head up above the water line. “The part with the singing crabs or the part where the mermaids wore shells as bras?”
“I did only fit half a boob in that clam shell,” Izzy agrees, sounding mournful, as they pull the mundane towards the beach. His clothing is waterlogged and keeps trying to drag him back under again, but this isn’t their first rescue by a long way.
Clary decides not to respond to that, and they get the mundane back to land again in silence; Clary lays him out on the beach turned on his side in the way that apparently helps, and then Izzy whacks his back three times until he makes a choking sound and a torrent of seawater pours out of his mouth.
“Ew,” Izzy says, and pulls away, heading back into the deeper water. Clary stays a moment longer and then starts moving away too, before the mundane opens his eyes and sees a couple of merpeople and the Clave yells at them again.
Under the moon and the reflections of light from the mundane coastal town, Izzy’s hair sparkles darkly, her skin luminous. Clary only manages to look bedraggled when she’s above the surface, but that’s never been a problem for Isabelle Lightwood, who manages to look stunning no matter what environment she’s in. Clary should probably find it frustrating, but she’s starting not to.
“Anything to report?” Alec asks, tone stiffly professional.
Jace screws up his nose at Clary, and she smothers a laugh badly, the bubbles escaping behind her fingers anyway.
“We rescued a drowning mundane,” Izzy replies easily, settling herself down on a couch and adjusting the electrum whip she wears around her wrist. “All quiet otherwise.”
“Was he your handsome prince?” Jace asks.
“Not judging by his Gap jeans, no,” Izzy responds, leaning her head back. “How about you guys?”
“One idiot vampire,” Jace says, moving to sit beside Izzy. She shifts her tail, then rests it back over his lap, sprawling. “Easy.”
Alec’s giving Jace his don’t get complacent look, but it’s so much like his regular expression that they can all ignore it.
“I like it when it’s quiet,” Clary admits, because she’s new enough to the world of shadowhunting that nights when they’re not trying to strike down a half-dozen downworlders still come as a relief.
“It’s not usually a good sign,” Alec says, and Jace waves his arm in a sweeping swish of bubbles.
“One night, Alec, c’mon,” he says, and glares until Alec’s expression softens.
Izzy’s elaborately dressing her hair with pearls, large pure white ones that look magnificent against her dark hair. She’s had the silver glitter treatment recently on her tail, the scales shimmering every time she moves.
Clary’s got red hair and a scarlet tail, and half the things Izzy can pull off easily she’ll never make work. She doesn’t mind so much; Clary’s never wanted to wear tiaras and strings and strings of beads, and definitely wouldn’t wear any of them to a potential fight.
“Alec said we should get going on patrol about fifteen minutes ago,” Clary reminds Izzy, though she isn’t particularly impatient to get going; she’s got an agility rune still burning on the inside of her elbow, and she’s content to stay put until her skin stops singing.
“Alec has no sense of style,” Izzy responds with fond sisterly frustration, pinning up another dark wave of hair around a pearl and then tilting her head to check that it’s fixed. Her nails are painted a delicate sheening white that matches the pearls, and every time she moves they glitter like the tiny pale fish that sometimes follow them on patrol, drawn to their witchlights.
“Well, this is true,” Clary allows, though she’s little better; she doesn’t have any of the semi-permanent beauty treatments applied to the deep red scales of her tail, which blend into the darkening water well enough, and her own curls are tied up tight so they won’t drift into her eyes in a battle. Where Isabelle is wearing a bandeau with halterneck straps in silver and white, Clary’s wearing a black shirt with half-sleeves, which leaves as little skin as possible exposed. Isabelle likes to draw attention, even from the creatures living in the caves and deep waters; Clary prefers to be a little more hidden.
“Are you getting bored?” Izzy asks, swivelling away from her dressing table. Her eyes are ringed in heavy black, her eyelashes tipped in silver; her mouth painted dark dark red. Before she met her, Clary thought no one outside of the mer royalty dressed like this; perhaps no one else does, but no one’s told Izzy that, anyway.
“No,” Clary admits, because there’s something hypnotic about watching Izzy dressing her hair for battle, her blades lying on her dressing table beside her lipstick and pearl pins and looking perfectly natural there.
Isabelle gives her a grin and blows her a kiss before she turns back to the looking glass.
“It’s just a scratch,” Clary explains to Simon, who still fusses over the slice on her upper arm and presses tea on her. Clary takes the tea because she likes it, and waits patiently for her best friend to calm down a little. If it was serious, she’d have applied an iratze rune; as it is, her Nephilim blood will help her heal faster anyway.
“I still think you’re all nuts,” Simon sighs eventually, drifting over to lie on his bed. Clary puts her mug down, swims over to lie beside him. This part of her life will always be familiar; Simon’s room, the posters overlapping on the walls and ceiling, his guitar in the corner of the room humming occasionally when a stray current passes over the strings.
“Probably,” Clary agrees peaceably, because up until maybe a year ago she had plans for her life and absolutely none of them involved going out at night and stabbing water demons with angelic marks carved into her skin. She was probably going to do college, art school, something like that. Now, she’s not always sure that she’ll live to see the weekend, let alone a steady paying career.
Simon makes a soft sound of amusement, winding one of Clary’s curls around his fingertip. He’s said all he’ll ever say about wanting Clary to stay safe, and Clary’s told him all she’ll ever tell him about her determination to do so, and even Simon agrees that he thinks she’s safest with Izzy, rather than Jace, who leans more toward reckless, and Alec, who tries to take the brunt of danger onto himself and can skew a situation fast as a blink. Izzy has never doubted Clary’s abilities, not for a single second, and if she occasionally goes hunting vampires in phosphorescent body paint, well, it doesn’t impede her speed with her blades and whip.
“You’ll come to my show on Friday?” Simon asks, and he no longer sounds sure of Clary, like he used to when he dropped the words on her after a day at school, sounding like a question, but never one. She hates that, of course she does, but she has a different life now, one that intersects but runs parallel nevertheless.
“I’ll be there,” she promises, reaching down to squeeze his hand.
After a second, Simon squeezes back.
The demon hisses, and the surrounding water is suddenly green with poison; Clary swims away as fast as she can, but can feel the breathing rune on her arm burning as it fights to counteract the venom flooding into her gills. Her moving is making it worse, she thinks, dragging the water with her and helping the poison diffuse with it. She forces herself to stay still, despite the tightening in her chest, and twists, throwing a knife toward the demon’s chest.
Generally throwing things underwater doesn’t work particularly well; Shadowhunter weapons are enchanted a little to ensure straight trajectories, and Clary feels the knife leaving her fingers, can almost feel the impact when it thuds into the demon’s scaly flesh. Immediately, the water is flooded black with blood; Clary can’t see, and fights not to claw at her vision; demon blood isn’t poisonous, at least, and she thinks she’s slowed it down, anyway.
There’s a scatter of silver, and that’s all Clary can make out through the mess of demon blood, but she swipes her arm hard to clear the water ahead of her, to see that Izzy’s wrapped her whip around the demon’s neck and is dragging it backwards. The creature hisses and claws at the whip but nothing can break out of Isabelle’s hold if she doesn’t want it to. Clary swims toward them, the demon’s blood trailing like a ribbon through the water, in case Isabelle needs help, but she doesn’t; as soon as she has the demon where she wants it, her blade flashes white and then the demon is sinking down, down, trailing more black blood behind it as it vanishes into the depths.
Clary barely has time to let out a sigh of relief before Izzy’s there beside her, hands on Clary’s shoulders, just this side of too tight.
“Are you alright?” she demands, harsh and sharp, none of the languid cheerfulness that Izzy usually projects.
Clary nods, because her chest is burning less now she’s in clear water, and the poison’s been rendered useless by the demon’s death. Nevertheless, Izzy is looking at her with concern, pressing gentle fingertips to Clary’s gills. The touch is intimate, and Clary closes her eyes for a long moment, focusing on breathing, before she lets her head tip forward onto Isabelle’s shoulder, and Izzy pulls her close and says nothing.
When Clary finally pulls away, Izzy’s face is clear of the sharp anxiety that twisted it a few minutes ago; she looks like herself again, eyelids painted pale pink to match the straining shine of her handkerchief top, the glittery ribbons that trail through the water behind her from where they’ve been tied into her hair.
Izzy hooks a finger around a loose tendril of Clary’s hair, and Clary can see that it’s caked in green gunk, the remnants of the poison she swam through clinging to it. Izzy’s bare shoulder is smeared with it now too, but the rest of her is immaculate. Clary doubts she looks the same.
“You’ll be scrubbing that out for a week,” Izzy says, and although the words sound right, relief leaks through her voice, giving it a little shake.
“Why is it always me that gets covered in demon crap and never you?” Clary grumbles, as Isabelle hooks an arm around her shoulders and starts towing her toward home; they’ve probably done enough for one night.
“It’s a talent,” Izzy responds, laughing, but she doesn’t let go.
Against all the odds, particularly because Simon and Maureen have never been able to pick a name and stick to it, their band is actually really good, and the club is packed with merpeople, swimming around each other gracefully beneath the gorgeous chandelier formed of long-emptied conch shells.
“I liked you best when you were Horseshoe Crab Candy,” Jace says, arms folded. Clary knows that he likes Simon’s band, and has even caught him humming some of their songs to himself when he’s sharpening weapons and thinks no one is listening, but you wouldn’t know it to listen to him.
“…why?” Simon asks, eyebrows raising. “Literally no one else did.”
“It wasn’t as bad as when you were Seahorse Womb,” Izzy cuts in, wrinkling her nose.
“I think it’s super cool that seahorse males carry their young,” Simon begins, earnestly, and Clary elbows him before he can go into a long rant about how sad he is that mermen can’t do the same.
“Go sort your soundcheck already,” she orders him, and watches him swim away.
“The males of lots of species actually carry their babies,” Jace says.
“Don’t tell Simon that,” Clary begs, “I don’t even want to know what he’s going to call his band next.”
Alec appears, carrying a tray with drinks on it. They tend to send him to the bar because he’s best at literally elbowing people out of the way and having no compunctions about it.
“I can’t believe you’re my brother,” Isabelle complains, even as she takes one of the glasses. “Look at you, no one would even know you were at a gig to have fun.”
“Who says I’m going to have fun,” Alec replies flatly. He tends to do most things with his I’m Only Doing This Under Duress expression, even things he’ll probably like; it used to freak Clary out a bit when she first met him, but she’s gotten used to it now, enough she can even find it endearing sometimes.
“What if Magnus shows up?” Isabelle adds. “He’ll see you looking like you just rolled out of bed, and not even the fun, sexy way.”
Jace snorts into his glass, and then looks innocent when both Lightwoods glare at him.
“I don’t care,” Alec says stolidly, “Magnus knows I don’t dress up for anyone.”
Izzy rolls her eyes. Alec is dressed in a simple black shirt, of the kind he wears… well, pretty much for all occasions. His tail is deep purple, which under bright lights looks stunning, but down here just looks murky; the only adornment to it is the silver parabatai rune on his hip, etched bright into the scales. Jace has a matching one on his own tail, though it stands out less, because his scales are blue-silver.
They’re saved from the siblings sniping at one another by Simon swimming onto the stage, smile suddenly bright and a little unfamiliar under the lights. His hair’s getting longer, and it drifts around his head, and his tail almost glows green like emeralds; he clears his throat near the microphone and Clary sees several people edge a little closer to the stage. She smiles; she can’t see Simon like that, but she appreciates the attention he gets. When she glances at her friends, she can see Izzy is grinning and Alec’s expression hasn’t flickered; Jace’s knuckles have gone white around his glass.
“Hi,” Simon says, “we’re Sea Vegetable Conspiracy.”
He draws his fingers down his guitar strings and kicks into the first song, which is just as well, because Clary’s pretty sure she was about to storm the stage and tell him he was fired from getting to name his own band.
Despite their lamentable name, Simon’s band is great, and the sound echoes around them; Clary even catches Alec twitching his tail fins in time before he realises that Clary’s looking and scowls.
“C’mon,” Izzy says, reaching out a hand to Clary, “let’s go dance, these miserable bastards can stay back here.”
Clary laughs and takes Izzy’s hand, lets her pull her toward the designated dancefloor space near the stage, where dozens of merpeople are already moving, spinning around one another, some couples clinging tight to each other with their tails closely entwined. Izzy’s in gold tonight, a thin golden chain dripping over her hair and down her back, and she pulls Clary closer than Clary was expecting, her hands sliding soft down Clary’s back.
“Okay?” she says, and Clary glances toward the stage to see Simon is looking right at them and grinning, and she looks back to where Izzy is looking at her with her eyes huge and dark and rimmed in shining gold.
“Okay,” she agrees, and lets Izzy set the pace.
The sun is warm and bright, surrounding Clary like a quilt or a tide, and she rolls onto her side with effort, skimming her fingertips over the rock until she can find Isabelle’s side, and poke it.
“Mmm,” Izzy responds, sounding sleepy, “five more minutes.”
“Five more minutes and you’ll be fried,” Magnus says, and Clary thinks about it for a moment and then manages to raise her head.
Magnus is a warlock, and he spends most of his time on land, but he can live anywhere he chooses to and all it takes is a snap of his sparkling fingers for him to have gills like any of them. Clary hasn’t met many warlocks yet, but the ones she has have all chosen to have tails like the merpeople underwater; Magnus has never bothered, complaining that to lose his legs would be to lose his aesthetic.
Since Magnus is the only person who can give Izzy’s dressing a run for its money, Clary can just about understand.
For now, Magnus is sunbathing alongside them, sprawled out happily on a bright pink towel, wearing a pair of huge sunglasses with sparkling blue frames that match the paint on his nails and the extremely small speedo he’s wearing. Clary finds herself sad that Alec isn’t up here enjoying a little time above the surface with them; though she suspects he’s at the stage where he’d swallow his own tongue, and that wouldn’t be much fun at all.
“That’s just a myth,” Izzy says groggily, propping herself up on one elbow. Her skin has turned a deep gold under the sunlight, and she’s wearing bold black cats-eye sunglasses. She’s also wearing the smallest black bikini top she could get away with, and Clary’s been trying not to look all afternoon with varying levels of success. “Like the foam thing. Like anyone would turn themselves into foam over a guy.”
Magnus takes great delight in telling them any mundane stories about mermaids he comes across; Clary knows Isabelle likes the ones where they’re all incredibly sexy and lie around on rocks luring sailors to their eternal doom. Of course, this afternoon they’re wearing invisibility runes, and Izzy’s done nothing more than fan herself lazily with her tail, no effort to look alluring at all.
She’s Isabelle Lightwood, of course, so the effect is still mind-blowing.
“Well, quite,” Magnus agrees cheerfully. He slides his sunglasses down his nose, revealing thick pewter eye make-up, and scrutinises Clary for a moment. “How are you doing, kitten?”
Clary’s got the pale skin that goes with her red hair, and it burns like a mundane’s if she spends too much time in direct sunlight, which is a pity, because she does enjoy her time on the beaches and rocks above the water.
“I’m going back in,” Clary decides, pulling away from Izzy’s reaching fingers to take off her sunglasses and drop back into the water. It’s sudden and cool around her, and she takes a few deep breaths before she breaks the surface again, water droplets clinging to her eyelashes.
Izzy is watching her, and she smiles.
“You coming?” Clary asks.
“I guess so,” Izzy sighs elaborately, “burnt scales aren’t a good look on anyone, and the flaking…” She shudders theatrically, slipping off her own sunglasses. Her face looks smaller somehow, more vulnerable with them on. She edges over and dips her tail into the water, then twists to look over her shoulder. “Are you joining us, Magnus? Coming to torment my brother?”
“If by ‘torment’ you mean ‘flirt with’, then, probably,” Magnus tells her. “Tell him to expect me tonight.”
“Don’t want to surprise him?” Izzy asks, faux-innocent.
“I’ve learned my lesson there,” Magnus says, rubbing ruefully at one shoulder where you can’t even see the arrow scar because he healed it almost instantaneously.
Clary laughs, swimming closer. “C’mon, Izzy,” she says.
Izzy’s response is to use her tail to splash Clary, sending a torrent of water into her face. Clary rubs salt out of her eyes and swims nearer to try and grab Izzy in response, but Izzy splashes her again, making her lose her grip. The sunlight is almost too bright, catching the water in Clary’s eyes and spiralling it into rainbows. Clary reconsiders her tactics, remembering a sparring trick Jace taught her, and dives downwards until she can swim almost beneath Izzy, wrap her tail around Isabelle’s, and drag her into the sea with her.
Even underwater, she hears Izzy’s shriek as she splashes into the water, reaching out for Clary to push herself free, but Clary tugs her again and then they’re just a tangle of limbs and tails and laughter, the sun dappling through the disturbed waves above.
“I hate downworlder parties,” Clary complains.
“No, you don’t,” Isabelle corrects. “Now stay still, or I’ll poke you in the eye.”
Clary sighs, but submits to Izzy’s eyeliner pencil like she always does. Izzy’s own eyes are rimmed in shining white, the lids painted a deep, bloody red that spreads in elegant swoops onto her cheekbones, up to her temples. Her mouth is painted to match. Clary’s not sure what Izzy’s doing to her, but the eyeliner pencil is black, anyway.
They’re only doing a recon mission tonight, no one’s expecting any violence, and even Simon’s been allowed to come, Alec having huffily acceded the fact that Clary’s going to bring him with her most of the time, whatever anyone else says. Magnus is coming, anyway, which Clary is pretty sure will keep Alec distracted.
Izzy’s wearing a tiara salvaged from a mundane shipwreck; it’s a beautiful gold and studded carefully with flawless rubies that match her make-up, match the jewelled drops dangling from her ears and the enchanted pendant she always wears. Her top is decorated with swirling lines of red and pink sequins, made to look a little like scales.
Clary’s wearing a black and silver top Izzy picked out for her, that reveals more skin than she’s comfortable with but less than she often does when wearing Izzy’s clothes, and Izzy’s already knotted up her hair in elaborate braids, studding them with black pearls. When Izzy finally lets her see herself in the mirror, Clary can see how elegant she looks; not quite herself, but not a stranger, either.
“There,” Izzy says, and she’s grinning.
The music is loud and heavy, and shoals of luminous fish drift through the party, casting trails of phosphorescence in their wake. Izzy reaches after some of them, light sparkling from her fingertips. Clary can’t look away, doesn’t try to.
They find Simon arguing with a vampire about guitar manufacturers and the ten best mundane riffs of all time, and Jace watching him with a sour expression on his face – “someone has to make sure he doesn’t get his throat ripped out for being too annoying” he growls, and Clary nods and says “Sure” like she even slightly believes him – and they drift through the party together. Some of the undersea fae have come, their wings fluttering like fins, casting their own light, and Clary looks over them, trying to figure out if any of them are the fae that Izzy used to date, her stomach knotting weirdly at the feeling.
Alec is drinking something violently green coloured and looking a little pinched around the eyes; he looks close to grabbing his blade at any moment.
He looks from Izzy to Clary and back again, twice, and there’s something in his expression that Clary can’t translate, can’t understand. It’s not bad, she doesn’t think; just… different.
“He’ll be here,” Izzy tells her brother.
“I don’t care,” Alec says stolidly, and Izzy drifts close enough to plant a kiss on his cheek.
“Okay,” she says, and reaches out to clasp her fingers around Clary’s wrist, pull her away; Clary lets herself be towed, doesn’t even try to fight it.
They’re supposed to be keeping an eye out for anything suspicious, for any downworlders trying to discuss the breaking of the Accords with one another, but everyone seems too busy enjoying themselves to be plotting war. There’s a semi-decent band on the stage in the corner, made up of two vampires, an undersea fae, and what Clary thinks might be a warlock, and the dancefloor in front of them is packed with downworlders and several reckless merpeople too, dancing closer and more intimately than in most merpeople venues.
They do run into Magnus eventually, dressed in a sharp purple suit that matches Alec’s tail perfectly, Clary realises the moment she sees it.
“I see you had the same idea,” he says to Izzy, who flushes a little and looks away. “You look darling,” he tells them both, and then strides off toward where Alec is still sulking against a pillar, pretending he doesn’t care about anything.
“What was that about?” Clary asks, and Izzy shakes her head lightly, and her tiara catches the light, and Clary thinks oh.
Izzy’s wearing deep red mingled with bands of white and pink, and Clary can’t believe it’s taken her this long to realise that the outfit matches the scales of her own tail perfectly. And the black mingled with silver that Clary’s wearing matches Izzy’s tail.
“Izzy,” she says, and Izzy shakes her head again, her expression oddly tight and uncomfortable, unlike anything Clary usually sees on her face.
“I should get something to drink,” Izzy says, the words a quick blur, and moves toward the bar; this time it’s Clary’s turn to catch her wrist and tow her back, where she can curl her fingers into the loose drifting waves of Izzy’s hair. Izzy sighs, dips her head. “I’m going to kill Magnus,” she murmurs.
“I was going to be an art student,” Clary reminds her, “I know about colour, I’d probably have noticed.”
“You hadn’t yet though,” Izzy says, and smiles, though the edges of it tug rueful.
“Well,” Clary says, “I’m starting to think there’s kind of a lot of things I haven’t noticed.”
All around them, downworlders and shadowhunters and merpeople are moving, partying, dancing, swimming, a cacophony of bubbles and currents and noise, but they’re close enough that the water between them is perfectly still.
Clary isn’t sure who moves first; she thinks it might be Izzy, but she wouldn’t be able to swear to it later because a second after that Izzy’s mouth is pressed against hers and she’s kissing Clary like they’ve always been doing it, like they’re naturals at it. Clary pulls Izzy closer, winding their tails together, and Izzy bites Clary’s lower lip, slides her tongue inside her mouth, sweet and cool, fingertips brushing the edges of Clary’s gills in a movement that makes a shudder run down Clary’s spine.
They only pull apart when a huffy vampire shoves past them, his ink-blue tail knocking them a little, and Clary watches one of the black pearl hairpins drift away from where Izzy’s been running her fingers through Clary’s hair. She reaches out to catch it, but it’s too late, and then she can’t see it anymore.
“Leave it,” Izzy tells her, and when Clary looks back at her, it’s to learn that her tiara is askew, and her lipstick is smudged. Demons can’t affect Izzy’s appearance, but Clary; oh, Clary can.
“I thought,” Clary says, straightening Izzy’s tiara for her, “I thought you were waiting for a rich handsome prince?”
Izzy screws her face up at her. “You know what?” she says. “I’m pretty sure I’ll survive anyway.”