Clary wakes up to an empty apartment every morning, but there are signs of Isabelle everywhere: the fresh pot of coffee; the hard boiled eggs in the fridge waiting to be unpeeled; the toast poking out of the toaster. The buzz of the toast popping up tends to function as Clary's alarm clock more reliably than her phone does. Isabelle always times perfectly.
It's like Izzy always gets ready for two instead of one. She sets out a mug and plate for Clary, too, left waiting to be used on the counter. They're never Izzy's classy parent-purchased white and gold china, but instead the pink and purple heart-patterned ones Clary got on sale at Century 21. Best of all, Izzy always leaves a sticky note on the handle of the coffee maker with the red print of her lipstick on it.
Every morning Clary wakes up warm and happy that she ended up with Isabelle as a roommate. She's not sure what she did to get so lucky.
Nights are a different story.
Isabelle is a contradiction of sorts. She's about as regimented as Alec when it comes to keeping to her schedule but she's also the most fun, free-spirited, easygoing person Clary has ever met. Izzy could spend half the night covered in glitter dancing on tables and still wake up in time to hit the gym before class. It's something Clary admires about her but lately it's been…different.
Clary doesn't want to be a jerk. She doesn't want to make it seem like she's passing judgment on Izzy, especially since a few frosty brunches have shown Clary just how much judgment Izzy faces from home. It's brave of her to live her life to the fullest and be as true to herself as she is, but Clary wishes Izzy could be less free now that they share a very thin wall.
There's Meliorn, the yoga instructor Izzy always ends up bringing home after her Tuesday evening classes. Apparently their collective bendiness is something remarkable, because Izzy practically sings. Then there's Lydia, the law student who quote-unquoted "dated" Alec for about fifteen seconds before he was out and ended up hanging around to hook up with Izzy. There was even Simon for a month before they parted amicably and he moved on to moodier, more masculine pastures. After that there was Emily and Amy and Ben and Sasha, and a host of other people whose names Clary never caught. She just heard the sounds of their moans mixing in with Isabelle's, filtering through the wall and keeping Clary up all night.
No wonder she can never get up on time.
It's not that Clary has a problem with Izzy embracing the spectrum of her sexuality and taking advantage of it as often as she wants. That's Izzy's right. It's her body, her life.
Clary totally does not have a problem with it. At all.
Except for the boiling rage, of course.
If Clary had to pinpoint the moment cool shifted over to not cool for her, she would say it was the night of Simon's birthday party. Izzy hadn't come because their breakup was still fresh. Clary had been planning on crashing at Simon's for the night until she realized that would be totally honing in on him and Raphael – and it's not like Raphael needed an extra excuse to be chilly around her. So around two a.m., dizzy off gin and tonics and dancing, Clary had swung into her apartment hoping Izzy was still awake to watch Netflix with.
Izzy was still awake, but she probably wouldn't have been down for an episode of Don't Trust the B because her tongue was down some girl's throat. Clary suddenly felt like the booze swirling around her stomach was about to meet the hardwood.
She laughed it off as soon as they noticed her and toddled unsteadily into her room, where she sat on the bed and tried not to cry for a half hour straight.
Since then she's rarely run into any of Izzy's dates in person – the closest they've come is stilted pleasantries as whoever it is darts out in the morning. Clary suspects Isabelle hustles them out quick for her benefit, which Izzy shouldn't have to do even if Clary is grateful for it. It's bad enough hearing them at night through her headphones as Clary listens to blaring pop and tries to paint her anger away.
The exits of Isabelle's nighttime partners are not always so smooth.
On Saturdays Clary and Izzy usually go food shopping for the week after they grab a lazy brunch, sharing one monster stack of pancakes between them. Izzy will tag along while Clary hits the art store, trailing behind as they move through the aisles and trying to talk Clary into buying gold leaf, airbrushing kits, glass tiles, anything exciting and new.
But this Saturday Clary wakes up to find Izzy laughing with someone else in the tiny kitchen off the living room – a tall pretty girl with brown hair. The girl is dressed and she has her bag on her arm but she doesn't look like she's planning on leaving any time soon. They both have mugs of coffee in their hands – Clary's purple mugs – and the girl keeps putting her free hand on Izzy's arm, pulling it away slowly.
It sets Clary's teeth on edge before she's even in the room. Once she is she doesn't bother saying hello, just slams cabinets and coffee pots and refrigerator doors, makes enough obnoxious noise that Isabelle and that girl exchange startled looks. Isabelle tries to cover it up with an apologetic smile and finally makes her goodbyes, but when she walks the girl out it hardly looks final.
"Clary, what's up with you?"
Clary raises her eyebrows and offers only a snotty, "Nothing."
Arms folded over her chest, Izzy looks at her disbelievingly. "You're not acting like you. Why were you being so rude to Jennie?"
Clary purses her lips. "Oh, is that her name?"
"What is your problem?"
"I don't have one," Clary insists. Her heart is beating too fast in her chest and she can hear how much of an asshole she's being but she can't seem to make herself turn it off. "I don't care what you do or who you sleep with. Or how many of them there are."
Isabelle's expression shifts, turning shut-off and cold in a way she only really gets around her mother. "What did you just say to me?" When Clary doesn't say anything, Isabelle gives a frustrated little huff and shakes her head. "I didn't think you were like that, Clary. I thought you –" She breaks off, so Clary doesn't get to know exactly how badly she's disappointing Isabelle right now. "You know, I didn't love it when you were hooking up with Jace and I had to see you with my brother all the time."
Clary's shoulders slump. She can't quite make eye contact with Isabelle, all her anger gone in a flash as shame takes over instead. "Iz –"
"I don't really want to hear it."
Clary finally summons the courage to look at her and it's the worst she's ever felt, seeing the expression on Isabelle's face.
"I don't want to look at you right now, either," Isabelle adds, before turning on her heel and stalking off with an impressively angry hair flip.
"I'm a homophobe!" Clary bemoans, burying her face in her folded arms. "I'm a homophobic, slut shame-y, misogynistic –"
Simon is laughing, which Clary finds frankly offensive. And she should know something about that, she's become very offensive herself. "Somehow I don't think that's the problem."
"God, Simon, you should see the way Iz looked at me, it was like I murdered a basket of kittens. Which I totally did, metaphorically, by being the hugest bitch on the planet earth –"
Things have been understandably weird around the apartment since their fight. Isabelle ended up spending the rest of the weekend coasting on Alec and Magnus' couch, but since her return the forecast has been no less chilly. All Clary wants is to take back every awful thing she said but she doesn't think that's possible.
"You don't hate me, right?" Simon points out reasonably. "Or Magnus or Alec or anyone else in your really very gay circle of friends. Raphael you're maybe less thrilled with because half the time he pretends not to know your name, but –"
"Oh my god," Clary says, "I hate women. I have internalized my misogyny so deeply that now I'm spitting it back at Isabelle for no reason."
Simon still looks like he's trying not to laugh as he puts his hands on Clary's shoulders so he can get her to look at him directly. "Maybe – and this is just a suggestion – it is actually the opposite of that?"
Clary rolls her eyes and shoves him. "Okay, Simon."
"No, bear with me for a moment." Simon adjusts his glasses and then begins to tick off points on his fingers. "One, you hate seeing her with other people. Two, when you first met Isabelle you spent like three weeks telling me about her hair. Three, you totally snapped on her booty call. Four, you have heretofore not shown any homophobic or misogynistic traits in the time I have know you, i.e. forever. Five, jealousy is a powerful mistress, powerful enough to make even the normally even-keeled and adorable Clarissa Fray into a breakfast time jackass."
Expression sour, Clary says, "Do not assign my terribleness a noble motive. I need to do penance."
The look Simon gives her is full of more affection than Clary deserves at a moment like this. "If you say you're sorry, you know Iz will forgive you."
Clary shrugs, glancing away. Part of the reason she hasn't said anything yet is the fear that Isabelle will not forgive her and their relationship will be permanently fractured because of it. And it's all Clary's fault.
"And hey, think about the other thing I said." Simon smiles a little and gives her a nudge. "I've been there. I recognize the signs."
"You're crazy," Clary tells him, and her heart skips, skips, skips.
Simon may very well be crazy, but their conversation sticks in Clary's head for days afterwards.
She tries to ease into the apology with little thoughtful gestures: staying up too late to chop up fruit for Izzy's morning smoothie, doing every last one of the dishes, cleaning the bathroom until the dull old tiles shine as if they were brand new. Clary isn't a neat person by nature but it feels like the only way she can show how sorry she is: myriad tiny acts of caretaking.
Finally she rips half a sheet out of one of her sketchbooks and loopily scrawls can we talk? on it. Then she leaves it propped up on the counter for Isabelle to find. When Clary wakes up later to check, eager as a kid on Christmas morning, she finds the imprint of Isabelle's lipstick right next to her own question mark.
Clary feels so light she could be walking on air.
The other things Simon said are echoing in Clary's brain too, and as she gets ready for the day she can't shake them, even knowing Isabelle is open to talking.
Like, Clary has never been able to not marvel at Isabelle; not only the way she looks, which is exceptional, but the depth of Izzy's ability to care for people, to look out for them, to welcome them. Clary has never met a person quite like her. Even Isabelle's teasing is full of so much sweetness.
The way Isabelle looks doesn't hurt either, of course.
She has always been somewhat overwhelming for Clary, from the very first moment they met, in a self-defense class eighteen-year-old Clary had stupidly signed herself up for because Jace was the instructor. Isabelle had come in to help him out and Clary had just been bowled over by her, all loose black hair and cute sporty clothes, encouraging smiles and helpful little touches. Clary had always interpreted it as jealousy; she was envious of Izzy's comfort in her own skin, the way anything and everything looked so good on her. The way her hair spilled over her shoulders, or the practiced sweep of her hands when she twisted it into a bun. The smell of her perfume, nutty and vanilla.
Clary blinks, train of thought coming to a screeching halt as she stares at herself in the mirror, aghast, her toothbrush hanging out of her mouth. She immediately dives for her phone to text Simon.
I think you might be on to something, she tells him.
Your welcome packet should arrive in three to five days, he texts back.
Clary doesn't expect to see Isabelle until later when they're both done with class and work and they can sit down together for some conciliatory take-out. Clary's treat, of course. And Clary will apologize for everything she said without mentioning anything she might have realized. Then being roommates will be smooth sailing once again, except for the part where Clary gets better at swallowing her feelings when Isabelle is entertaining guests. Her feelings should be easier to stamp down now that Clary knows what they are. That's the theory, anyway.
But instead Clary is running late to class thanks to her mid-morning teeth-brushing bisexuality revelation (those can be a real time drain) and when she skids to a whirlwind stop on the stoop she catches Isabelle finishing up her workout routine. Isabelle is in leggings and a sports bra, her hands wrapped and hair up, and she's doing pushups off the stairs. Her body is one long perfect line, back straight enough to sketch on, and the easy strength of her arms makes Clary want to swoon right into them. Izzy's legs are also taking up more than half the sidewalk, but no pedestrians seem to mind. Quite the opposite, in fact, and Clary narrows her eyes at a curious man walking his dog.
Clary really doesn't know how this took her so long.
She tries to say hello but only succeeds in making a string of incomprehensible, strangled half-syllables. Either way, it gets Izzy's attention. She pushes herself upright (some people on the street actually applaud and Isabelle gives them the finger, laughing) and then turns to face Clary. It takes a second for the mirth to fade from her face so for a moment she's smiling as she looks at Clary and it's just like they never fought. But then she sobers.
"You wanted to talk?"
Clary nods, but corrects, "Apologize. Totally. On my knees begging, maybe, if that helps."
Izzy's eyes widen ever so slightly and she gives Clary a little up-and-down look before clearing her throat. "It's okay, Clary. I know you didn't really mean it, you were just… It was just hard for me to hear that from you."
"Well, see…" Clary takes a step down, closer to Izzy. "I didn't mean it when I said I didn't care. I do care. Just not – not for the reason you think."
Isabelle arches an eyebrow but says nothing, waiting.
"I'm jealous," Clary says, fast, her hands twisting in the strap of her messenger bag. "I hate that I made you feel judged when it wasn't about that, it was just me working through my own dumb stuff without realizing, because I –" She takes a deep breath. "Was really, really jealous."
"What?" Izzy laughs, but it's because she's confused. "How? You're adorable, you know if you wanted to find someone, the guys would be lining up." Isabelle takes a deep breath of her own and adds, "And if you really wanted, I could help you meet someone, you don't have to be jealous."
Clary blinks in surprise and then shakes her head, because that is so far from it that it has been left in the dust, Wiley Coyote-style. She takes another step down. "No, jealous like – like I wish it was me you were kissing. Just me."
Izzy stares at her, expression morphing into something vulnerable before she looks away and her hands come up to awkwardly rub at her arms. Iz never looks awkward. Then she clears her throat again and looks back to Clary, eyes shining a bit despite an obvious wariness. "What?"
"Turns out I'm really oblivious," Clary tells her ruefully.
"Really oblivious," Isabelle says, and takes a step up. "Because all this time you didn't notice how much I wanted to do this."
Clary is ever so slightly taller than Izzy at the best of times, but now – on the steps, Izzy in sneakers – she's at a distinct height advantage, so Izzy has to tiptoe up to kiss her. She leans bodily into Clary, warm and flushed from exercise and the sun but maybe this too, and then slips a hand into Clary's hair. Izzy's fingers curl at the nape of Clary's neck. She's so close, giving off so much heat, and her mouth is soft, open, familiar but alien.
Clary sucks in a startled breath through her nose and her hands come up to grip Izzy's arms, slightly ungainly in this as in all things but also just overwhelmed, completely bowled over with shock that this is really happening. But it's a good kind of shock. The best kind.
"Wow," Clary says when they pull apart. "This is like the best day I've ever had."
Isabelle laughs, all the sweeter for how close it is, and Clary laughs too, kissing her again.
After Isabelle is through thoroughly teasing Clary over the entire debacle, which Clary delights in now that the angst has dissipated, things pretty much return to how they were. They spend their Saturdays together. There are nights on the couch watching Netflix, poking forks into the same takeout container. Isabelle is back to leaving post-its for Clary in the morning. Everything's the same, except for one thing.
Now they kiss goodbye and hello and for no other reason except to kiss. Their fingers tangle together as they walk down the street. Clary feels suddenly self-conscious about Izzy seeing her in her crummy old pajamas, so she invests in a few adorable sets. All of their friends make fun of them. Clary loves it.
So far that's all it is, though. The handholding and kissing and sometimes Izzy toying with the end of Clary's braid when they're standing around, waiting in line or something. Clary is open to the other stuff, waiting for the other stuff, but so far that's all it is – other stuff, stuff that is not part of what they do but just on the outside of it. She can tell Izzy is trying not to push, even though Clary wouldn't mind the pushing. Izzy usually goes fast and this time she's trying to go slow and Clary gets why. She appreciates it.
But she's also going a little crazy. Take, for example: it's Wednesday night, neither of them have early classes, and they're cuddled on the couch watching Clueless. Clary is wearing one of her new cute nightgowns; it's patterned with pink cupcakes and cuts off mid-thigh. Izzy's hand is resting just at the hem and her fingertips are trailing gently, absently, over Clary's leg. Clary is trying to be chill but she must not be succeeding because Izzy leans in, laughing softly, and murmurs in her ear, "You're very tense."
Clary watches Alicia Silverstone flip her hair and tries not to smile. "Do you know any good ways for relieving tension?"
Isabelle is smiling; Clary can feel it like sunshine. "I could give you a neck message."
"My neck is not the source of my tension," she says, and Isabelle laughs again. Then Isabelle leans in, her mouth on Clary's neck.
"Alright," she murmurs. "I think I can help."
Isabelle's hand curves over Clary's thigh, pressed flush from palm to fingertip. Clary is still all-over tense but it's the good kind, the kind of tension that has her whole body strung tight waiting for the right touch to make her buckle. Isabelle's mouth is on hers, soft, when her hand slips into Clary's panties. Her fingers are long and slender, strong, with short perfectly manicured nails. It's good – the certainty and knowledge of her hand, the relaxed insistence of her mouth, and best of all the open curious look on her face. The wanting, the waiting to see if anything she does might scare Clary off. It won't. It couldn't.
Clary shifts up a little, pushing back until she's levered herself up and into Isabelle's lap. Isabelle gasps a little, looking up at Clary, and then she kisses her hard; they kiss until Clary breaks it, pushes Izzy back against the couch again, their eyes locked as Isabelle's fingers slip against Clary again. Clary fidgets, twists her hips, settles her weight into it; Isabelle's eyes are on her, dark and fringed with lush black eyelashes, and just touching Clary is making Isabelle moan. Clary wants to kiss her but right now she likes looking at her more: the parted lips, the flushed skin.
The fit is close, tight, but Clary slides a hand down Isabelle's toned stomach palm-down until her fingertips ease underneath Isabelle's cotton shorts and into her lace panties. Everything about Isabelle is just a little bit more luxurious than other people, somehow; even her skin feels pampered into supernatural smoothness. Clary touches her for the first time, all heat and slickness, neither of them with much room to move because of Clary in Izzy's lap, just hands working feverish, desperate.
When Clary comes the sound that tears its way out of her throat is like nothing she's ever made before, not alone or with anyone else, and that makes Isabelle moan again, loud. She finally breaks the staring contest to kiss Clary senseless, kiss Clary until she shudders, until they slump together in an exhausted, shivering heap.
"Moving in with you is the best decision I ever made," Clary says.
Isabelle laughs, still the best sound Clary has ever heard, and kisses her collarbone. "Back at you."
Clary has started getting up early. The dip of the bed wakes her and then the sound of the shower, the smell of fresh coffee and toast. Clary struggles out of bed and wraps herself in Izzy's robe so she can stagger into the kitchen-living room and watch, bleary-eyed, as Izzy gets them both ready for the day. When Izzy hands her her plate she does it with a kiss and Clary feels so warm she could catch on fire.