Authors: Cassandra Clare,Sarah Rees Brennan
Tags: #Fantasy, #Young Adult, #Vampires
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The problem was that Simon did not know how to pack like a badass.
For a camping trip, sure; to stay at Eric’s or overnight at a weekend gig, fine; or to go on a vacation in the sun with his mom and Rebecca, no problem. Simon could throw together a jumble of suntan lotion and shorts, or appropriate band T-shirts and clean underwear, at a moment’s notice. Simon was prepared for normal life.
Which was why he was so completely unprepared to pack for going to an elite training ground where demon-fighting half-angel beings known as Shadowhunters would try to shape him into a member of their own warrior race.
In books and movies, people were either whisked away to a magical land in the clothes they were standing up in, or they glossed over the packing part entirely. Simon now felt he had been robbed of critical information by the media. Should he be putting the kitchen knives in his bag? Should he bring the toaster and rig it up as a weapon?
Simon did neither of those things. Instead, he went with the safe option: clean underwear and hilarious T-shirts. Shadowhunters had to love hilarious T-shirts, right? Everyone loved hilarious T-shirts.
“I don’t know how they feel about T-shirts with dirty jokes on them in military academy, sport,” said his mom.
Simon turned, too quickly, his heart lurching up into his throat. His mom was standing in the doorway, arms folded. Her always-worried face was crumpled slightly with extra worry, but mostly she was looking at him with love. As she always had.
Except that in a whole other set of memories Simon barely had access to, he’d become a vampire and she’d thrown him out of their house. That was one of the reasons Simon was going to the Shadowhunter Academy, why he’d lied to his mom through his teeth that he desperately wanted to go. He’d had Magnus Bane—a warlock with cat eyes; Simon actually knew a warlock with actual cat eyes—fake papers to convince her that he had a scholarship to this fictitious military academy.
He’d done it all so he would not have to look at his mom every day and remember how she had looked at him when she was afraid of him, when she hated him. When she betrayed him.
“I think I’ve judged my T-shirts pretty well,” Simon told her. “I’m a pretty judicious guy. Nothing too sassy for the military. Just good, solid class-clown material. Trust me.”
“I trust you, or I wouldn’t be letting you go,” said his mom. She walked over to him and planted a kiss on his cheek, and looked surprised and hurt when he flinched, but she did not comment, not on his last day. She put her arms around him instead. “I love you. Remember that.”
Simon knew he was being unfair: His mother had thrown him out thinking he was not really Simon anymore but an unholy monster wearing her son’s face. Yet he still felt she should have recognized him and loved him in spite of everything. He could not forget what she had done.
Even though she had forgotten it, even though as far as she or almost anybody else in the world was concerned, it had never happened.
So he had to go.
Simon tried to relax in her embrace. “I’ve got a lot on my plate,” he said, curling his hand around his mom’s arm. “But I’ll try to remember that.”
She pulled back. “So long as you do. You sure you’re okay getting a lift with your friends?”
She meant Simon’s Shadowhunting friends (who he pretended were the military academy buds who had inspired him to join up too). Simon’s Shadowhunting friends were the other reason he was going.
“I’m sure,” said Simon. “Bye, Mom. I love you.”
He meant it. He’d never stopped loving her, in this life or any other.
I love you unconditionally,
his mom had said, once or twice, when he was younger.
That’s how parents love. I love you no matter what.
People said things like that, without thinking of potential nightmare scenarios or horrific conditions, the whole world changing and love slipping away. None of them ever dreamed love would be tested, and fail.
Rebecca had sent him a card that said:
GOOD LUCK, SOLDIER BOY!
Simon remembered, even when he’d been locked out of his home, door barred to him in every way it could be, his sister’s arm around him and her soft voice in his ear. She had loved him, even then. So there was that. It was something, but it wasn’t enough.
He could not stay here, caught between two worlds and two sets of memories. He had to escape. He had to go and become a hero, the way he had been once. Then all of this would make sense, all of this would mean something. Surely it would not hurt anymore.
Simon paused before he shouldered his bag and departed for the Academy. He put his sister’s card in his pocket. He left home for a strange new life and carried her love with him, as he had once before.
* * *
Simon was meeting up with his friends, even though none of them were going to the Academy. He’d agreed he would come to the Institute and say good-bye before he left.
There was a time when he could have seen through glamours on his own, but Magnus had to help him do it now. Simon looked up at the strange, imposing bulk of the Institute, remembering uneasily that he had passed this place before and seen an abandoned building. That was another life, though. He remembered some kind of Bible passage about how children saw through smudged glass, but growing up meant you could view things clearly. He could see the Institute quite plainly: an impressive structure rising high above him. The sort of building designed to make humans feel like ants. Simon pushed open the filigreed gate, walked down the narrow path that snaked around the Institute, and crossed through to the grounds.
The walls that surrounded the Institute enclosed a garden that struggled to thrive given its proximity to a New York avenue. There were impressive stone paths and benches and even a statue of an angel that gave Simon nervous fits, since he was a
fan. The angel wasn’t weeping, exactly, but it looked too depressed for Simon’s liking.
Sitting on the stone bench in the middle of the garden were Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood, a Shadowhunter who was tall and dark and fairly strong and silent, at least around Simon. Magnus was chatty, though, had the aforementioned cat eyes and magic powers, and was currently wearing a clinging T-shirt in a zebra-stripe pattern with pink accents. Magnus and Alec had been dating for some time; Simon guessed Magnus could talk for both of them.
Behind Magnus and Alec, leaning against a stone wall, were Isabelle and Clary. Isabelle was leaning against the garden wall, looking over it and into the distance. She looked as if she were in the middle of posing for an unbelievably glamorous photo shoot. Then again, she always did. It was her talent. Clary, however, was staring stubbornly up into Isabelle’s face and talking to her. Simon thought Clary would get her way and get Isabelle to pay attention to her eventually. That was
Looking at either of them caused a pang in his chest. Looking at both of them started a dull, steady ache.
So instead Simon looked for his friend Jace, who was kneeling by himself in the overgrown grass and sharpening a short blade against a stone. Simon assumed Jace had his reasons for this; or possibly he just knew he looked cool doing it. Possibly he and Isabelle could do a joint photo shoot for
Everyone was assembled. Just for him.
Simon would have felt both honored and loved, except mostly he felt weird, because he had only a few broken fragments of memory that said he knew these people at all, and a whole lifetime of memories that said they were armed, overly intense strangers. The kind you might avoid on public transportation.
The adults of the Institute and the Clave, Isabelle and Alec’s mother and father and the other people, were the ones who had suggested that if Simon wanted to become a Shadowhunter, he should go to the Academy. It was opening its doors for the first time in decades to welcome trainees who could restore the Shadowhunters’ ranks that the recent war had decimated.
Clary hadn’t liked the idea. Isabelle had said absolutely nothing on the subject, but Simon knew she hadn’t liked it either. Jace had argued that he was perfectly capable of training Simon in New York, had even offered to do it all himself and catch Simon up with Clary’s training. Simon had thought that was touching, and he and Jace must be closer than he actually remembered them being, but the awful truth was that he didn’t want to stay in New York.
He didn’t want to stay around
. He didn’t think he could bear the constant expression on their faces—on Isabelle’s and Clary’s most of all—of disappointed expectation. Every time they saw him, they recognized him and knew him and expected things of him. And every time he came up blank. It was like watching someone digging where they knew they’d buried something precious, digging and digging and realizing that whatever it was—was gone. But they kept digging just the same, because the idea of losing it was so terrible and because maybe.
He was that lost treasure. He was that maybe. And he hated it. That was the secret he was trying to keep from them, the one he was always fearing he would betray.
He just had to get through this one last good-bye, and then he would be away from them until he was better, until he was closer to the person they all actually wanted to see. Then they would not be disappointed in him, and he would not be strange to them. He would belong.
Simon did not try to alert the whole group to his presence at once. Instead he sidled up to Jace.
“Hey,” he said.
“Oh,” Jace said carelessly, as if he hadn’t been waiting out here for the express purpose of seeing Simon off. He looked up, golden gaze casual, then looked away. “You.”
Being too cool for school was Jace’s thing. Simon supposed he must have understood and been fond of it, once.
“Hey, I figured I wasn’t going to get the chance to ask this again. You and me,” Simon said. “We’re pretty tight, aren’t we?”
Jace looked at him for a moment, face very still, and then bounded to his feet and said: “Absolutely. We’re like this.” He crossed two of his fingers together. “Actually, we’re more like this.” He tried to cross them again. “We had a little bit of initial tension, as you may later recall, but that was all cleared up when you came to me and confessed that you were struggling with your feelings of intense jealousy over my—these were your words—stunning good looks and irresistible charm.”
“Did I,” said Simon.
Jace clapped him on the shoulder. “Yeah, buddy. I remember it clearly.”
“Okay, whatever. The thing is . . . Alec’s always really quiet around me,” Simon said. “Is he just shy, or did I tick him off and I don’t remember it? I wouldn’t like to go away without trying to make things right.”
Jace’s expression took on that peculiar stillness again. “I’m glad you asked me that,” he said finally. “There is something more going on. The girls didn’t want me to tell you, but the truth is—”
“Jace, stop monopolizing Simon,” said Clary.
She spoke firmly, as she always did, and Jace turned and answered to it, as he always did, responding to her call as he did to no one else’s. Clary came walking toward both of them, and Simon felt that pang in his chest again as her red head drew near. She was so small.
During one of their ill-fated training sessions, in which Simon had been relegated to an observer after a sprained wrist, Simon had seen Jace throw Clary into a wall. She’d come right back at him.
Despite that, Simon kept feeling as if she needed to be protected. Feeling this way was a particular kind of horror, having the emotions without the memories. Simon felt like he was insane to have all these feelings about strangers, without having them properly backed up by familiarity and experiences he could actually recall. At the same time, he knew he wasn’t feeling or expressing enough. He knew he wasn’t giving them what they wanted.
Clary didn’t need to be protected, but somewhere within Simon was the ghost of a boy who had always wanted to be the one to protect her, and he was only hurting her by staying around unable to be that guy.
Memories came, sometimes in an overwhelming and terrifying rush, but mostly in tiny shards, jigsaw pieces Simon could hardly make sense of. One piece was a flash of walking to school with Clary, her hand so little and his barely bigger. He’d felt big then, though, big and proud and responsible for her. He had been determined not to let her down.
“Hey, Simon,” she said now. Her eyes were bright with tears, and Simon knew they were all his fault.
He took Clary’s hand, small but calloused from both weapons and art. He wished he could find a way back to believing, even though he knew better, that she was his to protect.
“Hey, Clary. You take care of yourself,” he said. “I know you can.” He paused. “And take care of Jace, that poor, helpless blond.”
Jace made an obscene gesture, which actually did feel familiar to Simon, so he knew that was their thing. Jace hastily lowered his hand when Catarina Loss walked around the side of the Institute.
She was a warlock like Magnus, and a friend of his, but instead of having cat eyes she was blue all over. Simon got the feeling she did not like him very much. Maybe warlocks only liked other warlocks. Though Magnus did seem to like Alec quite a lot.
“Hello there,” said Catarina. “Ready to go?”
Simon had been dying to go for weeks, but now that the time had come he felt panic clawing at his throat. “Almost,” he said. “Just a second.”
He nodded to Alec and Magnus, who both nodded to him. Simon felt he had to clear up whatever was weird between himself and Alec before he ventured much more.
“Bye, guys, thanks for everything.”
“Believe me, even partially releasing you from a fascist spell was my pleasure,” said Magnus, lifting a hand. He wore many rings, which glittered in the spring sunshine. Simon thought he must dazzle his enemies with his magical prowess, but also his glitter.
Alec just nodded.
Simon leaned down and hugged Clary, even though it made his chest hurt more. The way she felt and smelled was both strange and familiar, conflicting messages running through his brain and his body. He tried not to hug her too hard, even though she was kind of hugging him too hard. In fact, she was pretty much crushing his rib cage. He didn’t mind, though.