Hey guys. So we're here. I've got quite a bit to say (as usual haha) but I'll leave that to the end. For now, I just want to thank everyone for the birthday wishes and all the amazing reviews from the last chapter. At long last, we've reached the final hurdle and I'm not going to keep you waiting any longer than necessary but just a tip - this is split into two and both halves are set at different times, so the 'after V-day' part refers to how many years have passed since the story first began and that initial Valentine's Day.
So here we have it, the epilogue to end all epilogues. Literally. I hope you enjoy it.
Disclaimer: I do not own TMI, TID or any of its characters, but I do now have two completed fanfictions and insane word counts to match.
A Tale Of Two…
16th January (One Year After V-Day)
Tessa drummed her fingers on the side of the desk. She forced herself to concentrate on the manuscript that had been assigned to her, but all she could see when she looked down at the pages were indiscernible smudges of black ink. It could only have been minutes since she'd last forced her attention to it again. It could also have been hours; her irritation was just the same. Patience was the sort of virtue that she had once commanded easily, but now it was just another one of the things that had been worn down over time by the blue-eyed menace in her life. She huffed out an exasperated breath and swivelled her chair around.
"For the fifth time, nope," came the reply. "What made you think I would change my mind?"
"Your unconditional love for me?"
"Nice try," Sophie smirked. "The answer is still no."
Tessa slumped down in her office chair, pages of the manuscript falling limp in her hands. She eyed the brown packet sitting beside Sophie's computer and sighed longingly. For all of the novels her manager had asked her to peruse, there was only one that she had any real interest in reading.
It was obvious why Tessa wasn't allowed to work on it during the writing process, but now that it had been approved for publication and the final draft completed, she didn't understand why Sophie – the member of their editorial team who had been tasked with the job – wouldn't let her see so much as the cover, let alone the rest of it. She'd claimed it was Will who had requested the book remain a secret from her for as long as possible, but Tessa had a hard time believing that. He'd been asking her for advice all throughout the summer and since they lived together, it was hard for her not to get involved when he'd sometimes wake up in the middle of the night to scribble something down, or bring his laptop to bed and write until the early hours of the morning. Of course, she told him to go back to sleep more often than she deigned to show interest – that would likely lead to a lengthy rant about how this character shouldn't have done that, or how this plot line didn't fit there - and Tessa usually fell asleep in the process. But that was all over now and despite all the times he'd doubted himself and Tessa had picked him back up, he'd battled through. All for whatever lay in that little brown packet.
"I'll seal it back up," she continued, prepared to beg if she had to. "He doesn't have to know."
"I'm sorry, Tessa. My hands are tied." Sophie shook her head. "You can't read it before publication. Will would kill me."
"He never follows through on those threats."
"Still, I'd rather not be the anomaly."
Tessa groaned as Sophie got back to work, then swivelled back to her own desk before Elphas could catch her slacking. She was usually one of the editorial director's favourite new recruits and so he had overlooked her shortcomings of late, but if he knew she hadn't even made it past the first sentence of her latest manuscript then there was a good chance her career at the Spiral Labyrinth Publishing House could come to an abrupt end.
Luckily, he barely glanced down as he walked past her workspace and she let out a breath. Safe for now.
"Sophie, I'll give you anything," she whispered, careful not to turn around.
"The answer is still no."
"I'll proof-read your next ten manuscripts."
"Tempting, but, here it is again: no."
"Collins," Tessa whined, glaring at the back of her friend's head. "You're meant to be loyal to me, not him. We shared a flat together. We built a home."
"A home which you're now sharing with him," Sophie replied, turning to raise an eyebrow at her. "Where was the loyalty when I asked if you guys were together and you told me you weren't?"
"Well…" Tessa thought back to that night almost a year ago, when Will had taken Tessa out for a coffee and they'd ended up on Sophie's porch. It was the first time she'd realised she actually enjoyed being around him and Sophie had misinterpreted whatever was between them. At least, Tessa had claimed she'd misinterpreted it. Perhaps her friend had been far more observant than she gave her credit for, having guessed at something that Tessa could never have predicted so early on. "In all fairness, we actually weren't together then. I told you the moment we were official."
"Yes." Sophie pursed her lips. "I suppose you did."
It had been an amusing conversation, to say the least. Since Clary was already well aware of what had been going on with the Herondales, Sophie was the only person that Tessa was dying to tell after Will moved in. She'd invited her old flatmate over to dinner, preferring to break the news in person, and for once, Sophie hadn't been quite as quick to the mark.
"I don't believe you," she'd said, narrowing her eyes. Will had been out with Jace at the time so Tessa didn't exactly have a huge amount of evidence. Not that she'd expected to have to provide any.
"What do you mean, you don't believe me? Why would I lie about this?"
"Who knows?" Sophie shrugged. "A joke. An experiment. Anything would make more sense than the prospect of you living with a man, especially Will Freaking Herondale."
"Sophie, we're together!"
"Of course you are."
"You thought so yourself last time."
"Yes, I did. Until you pointed out how ridiculous it was and I agreed with you. You and Will would never work. You're like chalk and cheese - Will being the cheese."
"Why is Will the cheese?" Tessa started, then shook her head. "It doesn't matter. Sophie, I'm not lying to you. I swear to you, Will is my boyfriend and he lives with me. He lives right here."
"If you say so." Sophie laughed, eating another mouthful of her spaghetti. "This is really good, Tessa."
"Thank you!" She smiled. "It's the home-grown basil. It really makes a difference, I think."
"I completely agree. You'll have to lend me some."
"Of course." Then Tessa shook herself again. "Oh my goodness, stop changing the subject. How can I get you to believe we're together?"
"You can't. You forget that I lived with you Tessa. I know how you are with men and cohabiting with one, out of wedlock anyhow and maybe not even then, is completely unlike you."
"Yes." Tessa conceded. "It is unlike me and if you'd told me a couple of months ago that I was going to fall in love with someone like Will Herondale, I wouldn't have believed it either. But it happened. Somehow, it happened, and now we're together and I asked him to move in with me and he did."
"Okay." Sophie kept eating.
"You still don't believe me?" Tessa was aghast. She'd admitted that she was in love with him and that hadn't been enough. Sophie was even more stubborn than her. "What it's going to take then? Do you want me to wave a pair of his dirty boxers in front of your face? I'm sure there's plenty in the laundry basket."
"I'd rather you didn't and that still doesn't prove anything. The guys live just downstairs and I wouldn't be surprised if they got you to do their laundry for them."
In the end, Tessa had to phone Will and ask him to come over and it was only after she'd stared Sophie in the eye, then pulled him in for a long, exaggerated kiss, that her friend finally started choking on her spaghetti. The rest of the evening had been spent trying to calm her down and convincing her that this was a fairly recent development, so they hadn't lied to her just weeks before.
It sufficed to say that Sophie hadn't lost any of that stubbornness since, because she declined Tessa's request to see Will's book one last time and even insisted on delivering it to him personally after work.
"It pains me to say this," she said, walking towards the townhouse with Tessa grumbling at her side. "But you can no longer be trusted. At least, not where he's concerned."
"I resent that." Tessa knocked on the front door and stepped back, glaring at Sophie. It inched open a minute or so later to reveal a rather dishevelled Jessamine, cradling her four-month-old. "Jess!"
"Shh…" Jessamine placed a finger to her lips. "I only just got George to sleep."
"Sorry," Tessa whispered, leaning forward to grin at her sleeping nephew. Though his looks definitely came from his mother, he'd inherited his paternal grandmother's brown wisps of hair. Tessa's hair.
"Come in." Jessamine ushered the girls into her house and slowly clicked the door back into place, careful not to jostle George. "I did start to make you some tea but then…" She glanced down at the bundle in her arms, setting him down in his crib.
"Not a problem," Sophie smiled, heading straight towards the kitchen. "I've got it."
Jessamine slumped down onto the sofa beside Tessa and laid her head back.
"God, Tessa, I'm exhausted. What is it with the men in your family and never shutting up?"
Tessa nodded along sympathetically, thinking it best not to mention that Jessamine rarely paused for breath on a good day.
"At least these last couple of days have been quieter though, right?"
"I suppose. Nate has this magical way of managing to wake up George at all times of the day. I thought it would be hard without him here to help out but perhaps it's been more of a blessing than I realised."
"How long left of the blessing?"
"Twenty minutes," Jessamine said, glancing at the clock on the wall.
Tessa's brother had gone up to Yorkshire see their great-grandfather, Aloysius, for the first time since they'd stopped talking all those years ago. Jessamine and the baby were initially meant to travel with him, but Tessa thought it might be best for Nathaniel to face this initial meeting alone. Nate wasn't always the most diplomatic of people and she knew only too well how awkward the visit would be. It had been less than nine months since she'd reunited with her older brother herself. She would have waited longer had it not been for Jessamine's insistence on getting married as quickly as possible. He'd proposed to her back in April, the wedding had taken place by May and Tessa had seen him for the first time just a week before.
The meeting itself wasn't something she liked to dwell upon. Despite having spoken to him on the phone a few times, Tessa hadn't really prepared herself for seeing Nate face to face after all those years and her emotions had bested her. They'd hugged, then argued, then cried, then argued some more. In the end, Tessa had just collapsed beside him and sobbed until the ten years of heartbreak started to hurt a little less. After that, they'd finally begun the process of getting to know each other and at the root of it, she knew that she was just glad to have one more person back in her life. He hadn't been much of a big brother, but he was the only one she had.
Of course, she couldn't have moved on so quickly without Will. He was her rock throughout it all, being as involved as he was with Nate and Jessamine's situation, and Nate seemed to have a grudging respect for him. In fact, that was the reason why Sophie and Tessa had come to Jessamine's tonight. Will had offered to accompany Nate to Yorkshire, claiming that he had a few bridges to build with the elder Starkweather himself, so the two of them would be returning together.
Exactly twenty minutes after Jessamine had spoken, a car's headlights flashed through the window.
"They're here!" Tessa beamed, setting down her tea and jumping up. She smoothed down her clothes, trying to compose herself so Will wouldn't see just how much she'd missed him. It had only been a couple of days but waking up without him by her side had affected her more than she liked. She walked to the door, waiting a few seconds after the bell had rung to open it and looked up at her brother.
"Tessie!" Nate exclaimed, using the same nickname he'd called her by as a child, and engulfed her in a hug.
"Hey, Nate," she laughed, leaning back to look at him. "Good to see you're still alive."
"It was close," came Will's voice from behind him. "But he survived."
Tessa stepped around her brother and despite her intentions on holding back, barrelled straight into her boyfriend. Will stumbled back, laughing, then caught her up in his arms.
"I take it you didn't miss me, then?"
"Not at all," she said, pulling his head down to hers. She kissed him deeply, forgetting the audience behind her. He still smelt like Yorkshire, like the Starkweather library and the books that Tessa had spent so many hours with as a child, and Tessa breathed it all in. She'd always said that being with Will was finally being home and that had never rung more true. It was only when she heard Nate's cough that she finally pulled away.
Will's answering smile was blinding, his blue eyes glimmering in the porch light.
"I didn't miss you either."
"Of course he didn't," Nate said, his voice disappearing down the hallway as he went to greet his wife. "He had me for company."
Tessa pulled Will inside and they watched Nate dip his head to peck Jessamine on the cheek. She was still passed out on the sofa, but she lifted her hand feebly to pat him on the head.
"Our little monster been tiring you out, has he?"
"Mmhmm," she murmured, then pressed a finger to her lips.
"Right, sorry," Nate whispered, turning to his son. An adoring smile broke out across his features at the sight of George and Tessa felt her heart clench, thinking that their own father must have looked the same way when he'd gazed at them as children. For all his shortcomings as a brother, Nathaniel seemed to be taking to fatherhood very well and despite how much Jessamine complained about him, Tessa noticed in the faint smile on her friend's lips that she could see it too. The Lovelace-Grays were a dysfunctional family if ever she'd seen one, but in that moment, Tessa couldn't imagine anything more perfect.
Sophie appeared by her side then, brown packet in hand.
"Untouched," she said, giving Tessa a meaningful look as she passed it to Will. "As promised."
"Brilliant," he grinned, testing the weight of the book in his hands as if he couldn't quite believe it was real. "I can't thank you enough for all your help, Sophie."
"Don't mention it," she said. "I just hope it goes well for you. You've waiting long enough for this."
"I suppose I have," he said, turning to Tessa. "Shall we get home and open it?"
"I thought I wasn't allowed to read it before publication," she said, narrowing her eyes at Sophie.
"I only said that because Will told me to. He wanted to wait until he could read it with you."
"Really?" She turned her gaze on Will.
He nodded. "Really. You can read it the second we step through the door."
Tessa felt that surge of excitement return. So he hadn't been intentionally keeping it from her. Well, he had, but it wasn't so she could read it at the same time as the masses. He wanted to be with her.
She bid Nate and Jessamine a quick farewell, cringing as George's wails started up the second that Nate stepped too close to the crib, as per usual, and practically flew to Will's car. They offered to give Sophie a lift but she said she'd stay a little longer to help out Jessamine, so the two of them drove straight home and didn't even pause to say a quick hello to Jace and Clary before heading to their top floor flat.
By the time they'd made it through the front door and dived towards the nearest sofa, the two of them were completely out of breath. Will had barely spoken about the book on the ride there, but now he was just as eager to rip the packet open and see what all those months of sleepless nights and barely avoiding carpal tunnel had accomplished. He held it out in front of him, then passed it to Tessa.
"You first," he said, a nervous edge lacing his voice.
Tessa gaped at him. "Are you sure? I mean, it's your book. You should open it."
"It's as much yours as it is mine. Go ahead." He nudged her shoulder and she took the packet from his hands, placing it gently on her lap.
"It's much bigger than I thought it would be."
"That's what she said," he laughed, winking at her.
"Never mind, love."
"Okay," Tessa said slowly, turning the packet over. She ripped along the seam, peeling off the brown paper to reveal the hardback cover below. "Oh, Will."
She gasped, running her fingers across the book. The cover was a deep, midnight blue and the edges were gilded in silver. There were only two words inscribed on it: William Herondale.
Will started rambling almost immediately.
"Obviously, this isn't the version that will be going out," he said, misinterpreting her silence. "I haven't decided on the title yet so I was hoping that once you read it you might help me find one and I'm going to work with Clary to come up with the artwork and-"
Tessa flipped it open to the first page and her face lit up.
"You're smiling. Why are you smiling?"
"It's your book, Will." Tessa looked up and beamed at him. "I don't care what it looks like or if it doesn't have a name. I wouldn't even mind if this one page was all there is to it. It's your book and I'll love it no matter what."
"Really?" He arched an eyebrow. "Even if it was hard-core erotica?"
"Oh my gosh, is it?"
"No," he snorted.
"Thank god. But yes, probably. I can't guarantee I would have read very much of it, but I'd be proud you managed to get the Spiral Labyrinth to take it on for you."
"Sophie's tastes are far more diverse than you might think. The things Gideon has told me…"
"Okay, please stop." She held a hand up and returned her attention to the book. Flicking through the pages, she noticed names that Will had mentioned before. There was Ren, the teenager that Will had asked Tessa for advice about when he'd first waltzed into her bookstore almost a year ago; there was her sister, Georgina and of course, Tamara. Will persisted in arguing that she wasn't based off Tessa at all, but her suspicions had never completely died down.
Beside her, Will suddenly yawned.
"Oh goodness," she said, turning to him. "You just drove all the way from Yorkshire and I haven't given you a moment's rest. This can wait till tomorrow morning. You should get some sleep."
"It's fine," he said, in the midst of another gaping yawn. "I wanted to see it too and Nate drove half the way."
"Well, we've seen it." She closed the book. "And it's wonderful, but I want you to be conscious when we read it through for the first time."
"I would like that too," he admitted. "But there is one part I do want you to read."
He took the book and held it away from her as he selected the right page. Handing it back, he almost looked more nervous than before.
"It's my acknowledgments," Will explained. "Don't worry, there's no spoilers."
Tessa glanced down and started reading.
'Where do I begin?' it read. 'The process of getting this book from my scrambled thoughts to that dashing package in your hands was a long, arduous one and a journey I could never have managed alone. It all began on a rainy evening in Wales, when the people who were about to become my parents had to cancel their barbeque plans and find another way to entertain themselves. Nine months later, a star was born.'
"William!" Tessa blushed, shaking her head. It was a good thing Edmund and Linette had a sense of humour.
"Keep reading," he murmured, the faintest smile on his lips.
'In the twenty-odd years since, I've met people who have helped shape me in their own unique ways, for better or for worse, and they're worth a mention. I'd like to thank my good friend Jem Carstairs for taking a chance on that scrawny welsh boy and helping him find his place in the world. In the worse category, here's a shout out to Gabriel Lightwood, a man I have shared my home with and unwittingly my family too. Let's keep your title as just 'friend' for now, yes? We don't want to make any other hasty connections. Gideon, however, is a stand-up fellow and one who is also lucky enough to spend his life with the eminent Sophie Collins. Sophie, I definitely couldn't have done this without you and everyone else from the Spiral Labyrinth.'
The next paragraph listed various other people who had helped with the business side of things, including Magnus Bane who had become his agent somewhere along the way. Tessa skimmed over the names she didn't recognise and moved onto the penultimate paragraph.
'This next part is for my family. For Mum and Dad and Gran for keeping me on my toes. For Ella, Jace and Cecily - I know it couldn't have been easy growing up with a brother who outshines you in every possible way, but you managed it fairly gracefully. Apart from Cecy.
'And finally, it's you, Tess.'
Tessa gave Will a questioning look, but he just nodded his head towards the page.
'Yes, I'm speaking to you. Tessa Gray. Love of my life. Pancake extraordinaire. You're the one person I never could have done this without. Admittedly, it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows. Throwing me out of your bookstore when all I did was ask an innocent question about my main character, Ren, probably didn't help with the book that much.'
"Hey! I did not throw you out because of your question," Tessa cried. "It was because of that stupid shirt that said…well, you know what it said."
"Suck my Dickens," Will said, grinning.
She glowered at him and forced herself to keep reading.
'But,' he continued. 'It set in motion a series of events that neither of us could have predicted, and neither of us could have done without. I remember thinking you were the most magnificent woman I'd ever met. Okay, so initially I was just pissed that my looks weren't enough to butter you up, but eventually I admired you for that. Unfortunately, you just seemed to hate me even more. And then I liked you even more. And then there was more hating by which point, being ever the masochist, I was head over heels for you. But then (and this was nothing short of a miracle) you started liking me too. I think I noticed it before you did. Right, so I definitely noticed it before you did. It started off slowly, just those occasional smiles when you thought I wasn't looking and that blush of yours. God, that still kills me.'
Tessa felt the blood rush to her cheeks even as she read the words, but her eyes stayed focussed on his words.
'And yet, though I knew what was happening, I never dared to dream that anything would become of it. You had too much self-control and I had too little. Until you didn't. That night in your room, everything changed. I finally dared. I dreamed. You know what happened next and as much as I'd like to wipe out those next few days, it's still a part of our story and we couldn't make it to the end without it. I showed you just how bad I could be. I showed you the darkest, most cowardly parts of me and almost destroyed us in the process. What I hadn't realised, is that I'd underestimated you yet again. I was pathetic and weak, but you were strong enough for the both of us and somehow, you saved me. You've been saving me ever since.'
A drop of water splashed onto the words and Tessa inconspicuously dabbed at her eyes. She hadn't even realised she'd started crying.
'I haven't made it easy for us, I know that. When we finished fighting one battle, it was straight onto the next and this book was perhaps the biggest one yet. While this story may have ended, I'd like to think ours is only just getting started. All that's left to ask, is whether you'd like to write it with me.'
Tessa turned the page and her heart stopped.
She swallowed the lump in her throat and turned to find that Will was knelt down beside her. In the palm of his hand, was a diamond ring.
"I love you, Tess," he said, echoing the words she'd read on that last page. "I love you more than I ever thought it was possible to love anything and if you'll let me, I'll spend the rest of my life proving that to you. Theresa Starkweather Gray, will you marry me?"
Tessa didn't bother to wipe away the tears this time.
"Bless Sophie for not letting me near that book," she said, her words strangled by her sobs.
Will just watched her expectantly, his eyes wide and breaths shallow.
"Yes," she finally choked out. "Yes, of course I'll marry you."
"Really?" His eyebrows shot to his hairline.
"Yes, you idiot." Tessa dropped down to her knees beside him and took his hands. "I love you so much, Will. Yes, you've done stupid things but so have I. I'm stubborn and I let my temper get the best of me far too often. I wouldn't let anyone see me for who I truly was, but you changed all that. You said it yourself, I acted as if I hated you, even if you knew better than that and you still loved me. I was my worst self with you but over time, I became my best and every day I spend with you, I feel better. Why would I want anything but to make that forever?"
Will had stilled before her, his mouth partly open in shock. Tessa leaned forward and pressed her lips gently to his once, then again, until he came back to life. His eyes glistened with unshed tears.
"The ring," Tessa said, changing the subject before he started crying. She'd only just stopped herself and she knew that if he started, they'd be going all night. After spending so long with him, she'd come to realise that for two people who were very good at keeping their emotions in check, they were very bad at salvaging them if those floodgates were ever opened. "Show me the ring again."
"Right, yes." Will cleared his throat and smiled, slipping the ring onto her finger. It was simple and understated, but Tessa knew better than to think that meant it had come cheap. A single diamond sat atop a silver band, but there were words engraved onto it.
Suck my Dickens.
"William," she groaned, laughing despite herself. Had she really expected anything different from him?
"The wedding bands will be more respectable, I promise."
She rolled her eyes and flung her arms over his shoulders, needing to feel the warmth of him around her. Will wrapped her arms around her waist and held her close.
"And there was a point to it," he murmured.
"Yeah. Today's the 16th, which means it's been exactly one year since the day we first met. Exactly one year since you saw me wearing that t-shirt."
Tessa pulled back so she could look at him. Her mouth fell open.
"You kept track?"
"Of course I did. I've been planning this for a while. All I was waiting on was the book, the date and oh, your great-grandfather."
"Wait, that's why you went to Yorkshire with Nate?"
"Yeah." Will bit his lip. "It was partially for moral support, but given how traditional you Starkweathers are, I figured I should probably ask for his blessing."
"What did he say?"
"That you'd be lucky to have someone as handsome as me."
"Okay, what did he really say?"
"Are you saying you wouldn't be lucky to have someone as handsome as me?" Will pouted. "So he was surprised I'd waited this long, but I explained that I wanted to let you graduate and give you time to find a job. Then there was the matter of getting my own book deal sorted so we would both be financially stable. He thought it was all very sensible."
"Actually, that is very sensible." Tessa raised her eyebrows, impressed that Will had thought everything through so thoroughly. She hadn't brought up marriage since they'd gotten together because she didn't think he was ready for it and their current living situation was good enough. However, now that the prospect of being tied to him in every way possible was becoming a reality, she found that she wanted it more than she'd realised. As much as she'd let her previous conditions on relationships slide for Will, marriage was always going to be an important step for her and she couldn't deny there was a certain relief that came with the idea of making an honest man out of him.
"One year later and you continue to underestimate me," he said, pouting again.
"I've never underestimated you," she replied, brushing his hair out of his eyes. "You just have a tendency to surprise me."
"I do," he agreed, kissing her again. "Here's hoping those surprises are mostly good from now on."
"I'm sure they will be, as long as you don't turn up to the wedding wearing one of those stupid innuendo shirts."
"I thought you liked 'I'm an Edgar Allan Hoe'?"
"Only if by liked you actually mean hated."
"Not even the 'Oscar drives me Wilde' one? That's quite tame."
"The wedding's off."
30th January (Three Years After V-Day)
If you'd asked a bright-eyed fresher Clary where she saw herself after graduating from university, the last thing she would have pictured was stacking shelves and spending the afternoon sitting at a till. In fact, if you'd told that girl that she'd still be working in Luke's bookstore, she might have punched you. Except, her life was nothing like it had been three years ago. Luke's bookstore was still named as such, but after Luke Garroway had left to start work as a mechanic instead, the people who now owned it were far more familiar.
Will Herondale had bought Tessa the store as a rather extravagant wedding gift and he'd completely renovated it shortly after. He'd leased out the building next to it and opened up a café that fed straight into the bookstore, the walls adorned by various canvases that Clary had painted. After deciding to turn his original novel into a trilogy, Will divided his time between writing in the café and running his businesses and having him as her employer definitely came with its perks. As much as he annoyed her, Will gave Clary all the time she needed to concentrate on her artwork, so she was making money off commissions as well as the generous wages from the bookstore. Across the road, Jace and Jonathan's tattoo parlour was thriving as ever and they'd also decided to expand Jonathan-Squared – yes, they stuck with the awful name – into a franchise, by opening up another store in Bristol that Kaelie Whitewillow mostly took care of and were in the process of setting up a third one in the Morgensterns' home city of Canterbury. Tessa had become the new editorial director at the Spiral Labyrinth Publishing House, but she came by the bookstore whenever she could to lend a helping hand. Now that she and Will had moved out of the flat – Jonathan having occupied upstairs instead - and bought their first home, the girls had to find as many excuses as possible to meet up with each other, but it was rare for more than a day to go by where Clary wouldn't see her old flatmate. Meanwhile, Isabelle was half way through her LPC and had already secured a job at a law firm for the next year and Simon had just started his engineering placement.
All in all, Clary and her friends had settled into a comfortable routine and life was looking pretty good.
This particular day had started off much like the others, the only exception being that Clary was still a little hung-over from Magnus's twenty-eighth birthday party the night before – though he claimed it was his twenty-fifth, as he had every year since his actual twenty-fifth – and her boss was feeling just as groggy.
"You're not setting a very good example for your employees," Clary scolded, waiting until their latest customer had left. Will was slumped on the floor behind the till, his arm draped over his eyes.
"It's not my fault," he said. "I can't drink like I used to. I'm getting too old for this."
"Ah yes. I forgot that life ends at twenty-five." Magnus had told her that once.
"It really does and I'm only a couple of weeks away from turning twenty-six. I'm so past dead it's not even funny."
"Here's an idea for you – why didn't you just drink less last night?"
"Why didn't you?" He grabbed a torch from beneath the desk and shined it up at her. Clary winced and looked away. "See, you're just as bad."
"Maybe, but at least I'm trying to work."
"This is what I pay you for."
She rolled her eyes at him and turned towards the window instead, squinting through the glass. The sky was completely overcast and for once she was thankful for that.
"Making googly eyes at my brother, however, is something I do not pay you for."
"I know," Clary smiled, waving at Jace. He was perched on the end of his desk in the tattoo parlour, grinning right back at her. "I do that off my own back."
"Ugh!" Will dragged himself off the floor and came to stand beside her. "I really do not want to know about what you do with your back."
On the other side of the road, Jonathan came into view and he looked about just as happy as Will did. The two men nodded at each other and Jonathan pulled on a cord by the window, sliding the shutters into place and effectively blocking Jace from Clary's view.
"I hate it when you guys do that," she moaned.
"Your brother and I are businessmen," Will said. "And unlike you and my idiot of a sibling, we understand what needs to be done to ensure our businesses keep running. You can wave at each other as much as you want when you get home."
"As if you don't get distracted by your wife when she comes over."
"That's right," he winked, heading over to the café. "I don't."
He left Clary alone in the bookstore and she used the opportunity to rest her eyes. Emma Carstairs - Jem's younger cousin who had just started at the university Clary used to attend - would be arriving soon enough to take over her shift and then she could go home and sleep properly.
It still felt weird to think the word, let alone say it: wife.
This July, it would be two years since Tessa had married Will, but apparently that wasn't long enough for everybody to get used to the idea. Perhaps it was because so little had changed between the two of them. Aside from moving into their own house, the couple carried on about their lives as they had always done. Of course, they had a lot more going on now that Will's first two books had been published, so he was occasionally being swept away on book tours and Tessa practically lived at the Spiral Labyrinth after her promotion. But otherwise, they were the same. Will continued to mercilessly tease her and Tessa gently but firmly put him back in his place.
Despite this, Clary still envied them.
She would never have admitted it to Jace, but now that everyone else was moving on with their lives, she'd begun to wonder why she had never even had a conversation about it with her boyfriend. They were still young, she knew that, but they'd been together for three years now and it felt like the next step was well overdue. Not only was Tessa a Herondale, but Alec and Magnus had also tied the knot recently and were already looking to adopt. Caught up in the moment, Simon had proposed to Isabelle the day after Jessamine's wedding – who was now pregnant with her second child -and even though they hadn't gotten round to the wedding itself yet, he could at least call her his fiancée instead of girlfriend. Even Jonathan had finally taken the plunge and asked Seelie Queen out after all those years of insisting he wasn't dating her. Admittedly, their relationship wasn't particularly serious so far, but it was another change nonetheless.
And yet here Clary and Jace were, still working in the same buildings across the road from each other.
It wasn't that she was bored of being his girlfriend. In fact, when he'd finally gone back to university to finish his degree she'd realised just how much she'd taken his presence for granted. They'd taken it in turns so that Jonathan had spent the first year looking after the tattoo parlour while Jace studied and then the two of them had swapped over for the next. She wouldn't have minded if it weren't for the fact they had to go back to Bristol. Despite all of their grandmother's connections in London, there were too many discrepancies in the courses for the boys to transfer to Clary's university so they would stay in Bristol during the week and then travel back for weekdays and holidays. It had worked out well for Jonathan because it was the move back that had helped rekindle his romance with Seelie, but those months had put a lot of strain on Jace and Clary's relationship, especially so soon after they had gotten together. Still, they'd ploughed through and were stronger for it, and now that all three of them were graduates, it didn't seem like any imminent upheavals were expected.
Okay, so maybe she was a tiny bit bored of being his girlfriend, but that was only because at this stage, after everything, she didn't feel like that was an accurate label anymore. They weren't the same people they'd been when they met – impatient, stubborn, hot-tempered. They were adults now with their own careers and successes, but their futures were already entwined. Clary knew she wanted to spend the rest of her life with Jace and even though they didn't need a contract to prove that, she wanted to be able to call him her husband. She wanted that ring on her finger and the Herondale at the end of her name, because in marrying Jace, she would finally have it all. She'd have the sisters she'd always wanted in Ella, Cecily and Tessa, the brother who already harassed her as much as her own but cared for her just as much and moreover, the man she loved more than anything.
Clary was ready. Just four little words were all she was now waiting on.
"Hey, Clary! I'm here."
She opened her eyes and found Emma staring back at her.
So those weren't exactly the four words she wanted to hear, but they were welcome all the same.
"Emma, you angel you." Clary yawned and stretched out her hands. "I am so ready to go home."
"I can see that," the blonde smirked. "Hopefully our Lord and Master didn't catch you sleeping on the job."
"He's probably passed out somewhere himself." She jumped off the stool and rolled her shoulders back. Handing Emma the torch Will had used earlier she said, "If you see him, shine this in his eyes for me."
"Okay." Emma flipped the torch over and raised an eyebrow. "I'll do it anyway but any reason why?"
Clary just winked and grabbed her handbag. She had half a foot out of the door when Emma suddenly piped up – "Hey, you know Will and Jace's cousin from LA?"
"Which one? They have many cousins from LA. The Blackthorns breed like rabbits."
"The one that's been over here for the last week," Emma huffed, knowing full well Clary understood what she was asking. "He's been working in the café."
"Oh yes," Clary said. "That would be Julian. What about him?"
"How long is he staying for?"
"I'm not sure, he only stayed at ours for a night before he started camping upstairs with Jonathan instead."
"Oh, okay." Emma looked away, juggling the torch and a random book she'd just picked up between her hands.
"But," Clary went on, trying to hide a smile. "My brother did mention he was asking about our Easter plans, so I have a feeling it's going to a be a while. I don't think Jon's that happy about it."
"Poor Jon," Emma said, though her lips curled up.
"Poor Julian, more like." Clary pushed the door open and began heading across the road. "Catch you later, Carstairs."
There was nothing like the stirrings of young love to brighten up her day. Apparently though, that was as much as there was going to be for now, because she found Jonathan-Squared's doorway blocked by her brother.
"Jace is busy," Jonathan said, crossing his arms over his chest. "He's been gawking at you all morning and scared off half the customers in the meantime."
"How is that even remotely scary?"
"It is to our customers. We get a lot of the hardcore masculine sort and the last thing they want to see is you two saps drooling at each other. It's bad for business."
"Yes, because you and Sebastian are the epitome of masculinity." She gave a pointed look towards the bracelet encircling his wrist.
"Seelie made it for me," Jonathan said, between gritted teeth. "It was a thoughtful gift… Okay fine, this has nothing to do with that, but he's still busy."
"When will he not be busy? I can wait."
"When he finishes work, so you might as well wait at home."
"Go home, Clary. You're drunk."
"It's a hangover. There's a difference."
"I know, but I've always wanted to say that to you." Jonathan flashed her a grin and then handed her a five-pound note. "Here, buy yourself a coffee on the way back."
She tried to stare him down as best as she could, but he was right, she needed to go home. Even standing straight was becoming an effort with the headache she could feel coming on. What she really needed was Tessa and her miracle morning hangover cures, but her bed at home would have to suffice for now. And probably a coffee.
Clary took the money from him and headed back to the flat, her feet leaden as she finally stepped through the door. She tossed her now empty cappuccino cup aside and had almost made it to the foot of her bed when she realised something wasn't right. She walked backwards out of the room and cast a suspicious glance towards the kitchen area. Nothing seemed out of place, but when she swivelled around and looked the other way, she saw Jace standing there wearing an apron and covered in blood.
Clary felt a scream bubble up in her throat until she noticed the paintbrush in his hand and the blood morphed into red paint.
"Hello, dear." Jace cleared his throat. "How was your day?"
Clary ignored him. "What are you doing?"
"Nothing," he said, stepping backwards. "Just some casual painting."
"You never casually paint." She stalked towards him and he took another step back. "Jace, what's going on?"
"Honestly, it's nothing important."
"Then you can tell me." She edged forward again and this time he went backwards into the sofa. As he tried to find his footing, Clary dodged to the side and found small canvases laid out on the floor, each with one letter neatly painted onto it.
"Mill?" She said, trying to get closer. Jace held his arm out and blocked her way. "Why does it say Mill?"
"It's a 'W'," he explained. "Upside down."
"Oh, but why do they spell out Will?"
"Because it's for him," Jace said, his left eye twitching. "I painted it for Will."
"Is this for the café?" Clary gasped, dropping her handbag. "Why didn't he ask me to do it? I always take care of the artwork for the café."
What was happening to her day? One second she was in a depressive slump, the next she was teasing Emma over her crush and now she'd found out she'd been replaced as the café artist by someone who could barely even draw. She didn't know which of her emotions was winning out right now.
"Will said it was below you. He didn't want to bother you with something as boring as his name when I could have done it instead."
"But it wouldn't have bothered me. I have so little to do these days, even something as boring as his name would have been exciting when everything else in my life is so boring!" Clary was breathing hard, the effects of the hangover playing havoc with her mind. She would never have been so careless with her words if her head hadn't been pounding as much as it was now. Okay, so she wouldn't have been that careless.
Luckily, Jace didn't pay much heed to it.
"Shall I get you some painkillers?" He said, concern inking his features. "Maybe a cold flannel? You don't look well, love."
"I'm fine," she sighed, perching on the edge of the sofa. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to say that."
"Yes, you did." Jace moved the canvases aside so he could sit next to her. "I know you're prone to your outbursts when you're tired but they always have a point behind them. What's wrong?"
Normally Clary would have said nothing. She would have insisted she was fine and changed the subject as quickly as possible. But normally, Clary didn't have a shit-ton of tequila draining out of her system.
The words were out before her sleep-deprived brain could make sense of them.
"I want to get married."
Jace fell off the sofa.
He landed butt-first onto one of the 'L's and by the time he managed to scramble off, it looked more like a 'B'.
"Sorry," she squeaked, covering her mouth. "Are you okay?"
"Fine," he said, brushing himself off. "Can't say the same for your apron, but I got a lot of paint on it earlier anyway so I doubt this will make a difference."
Jace started laughing but then cut off abruptly as he remembered what she'd said before the fall. His left eye twitched again.
"Are you serious?"
There was no point going backwards now. Clary nodded once.
Jace swallowed the lump in his throat. "Like, right now?"
"Well obviously not right now, but I'd like to be engaged soon, yes."
"How soon is soon?"
"I don't know," she admitted. "I haven't thought that far ahead."
"But can you wait a little bit?"
He narrowed his eyes at her and Clary narrowed her eyes back.
"Depends on how little the bit is."
Jace looked at his watch and then back at her. "Say, half an hour?"
"Wait, what?" She stood up, feeling very awake all of a sudden. She was expecting him to say something like half a year and that would have been a very reasonable request.
"Half an hour," he said again. "Can you wait?"
"Okay, thanks." He ushered her back to the bedroom. "You'll need to stay in here though."
"Right," she nodded again, utterly confused. Jace began to close the door on her.
"I mean it, no peeking. Do you promise?"
Jace grinned and shut the door, leaving a completely befuddled Clary sat on the bed. What had just happened? The biggest thing had been on her mind all morning was the throbbing headache from her hangover. All she'd wanted was for Emma to arrive so she could go home and sleep. At most, she might have expected her new sketching pencils to arrive in the post, but otherwise, this day should have been no different from the rest. She'd been saying she wanted change, but now that it was upon her, Clary suddenly wasn't so sure.
Jace was about to propose to her.
After all these years of watching the people around her make the sorts of decisions that would change their lives forever, it was her turn. She was going to get engaged.
And in true Clarissa Fray fashion, she started to panic.
Clary flopped back on the bed and gaped up at the ceiling, willing it to swallow her up. What if she wasn't ready for this? Hell, what if Jace wasn't ready? He probably hadn't though about this at all and now because of her stupid outburst, he was about to commit himself to her. She was only twenty-two after all. So what if they'd been together for three years? They'd had more ups and downs in that time than some couples ever faced and what was to say they would survive the next one?
She shook her head.
That wasn't it. She trusted Jace and she trusted their love. Whatever was to come, she knew they'd be able to handle it as long as they were together. Jace was her soul mate. He was her perfect other half; the organised, efficient and assertive complement to her messy, chaotic and scatter-brained self. She needed him and he needed her just as much. After all, she'd been the one to bring up the subject. She was the one who had watched Will and Tessa all this time and wanted what they had.
So why couldn't she shake the feeling that something was missing?
Clary reached for her pocket and pulled out her mobile phone, pressing '2' on the speed dial.
After the fifth ring, her best friend finally picked up.
"Oh my gosh," Clary breathed, her heart pounding. "Tessa, I'm freaking out."
"Why? What's wrong?" Tessa's voice instantly switched to danger mode. "Do you need me to come and get you? Where are you?"
"I'm at home," she said. "And it's not like that, I'm fine. I just think I've done something really stupid."
"I told Jace I wanted to get married."
Tessa gasped. "You proposed to him?"
"No!" Clary groaned. "No. Maybe that's what I actually should have done. But, no. I told him I wanted to get married and now he's going to propose to me in a half an hour." She glanced at the clock on the wall. "Oh god, make that twenty minutes."
"He's going to propose?" Tessa squealed and Clary had to move the phone away from her ear. "Clary, that's amazing! What's the problem with that?"
"I…I don't know. That's what I'm trying to figure out. I was the one that said I wanted it but I can't shake the feeling that I've done something wrong. Tessa, what if he's not ready? What if he's only doing this to make me happy?"
"Wait, that's what you're worried about?"
"Well, yes." Clary closed her eyes. "I mean, I told him I wanted it to be soon but I had no idea he'd make it this soon. I just thought that by mentioning it, he'd start seeing it as an option if he hadn't already. I wanted to get the ball rolling, that's all. I didn't think he'd take it so literally."
Tessa was silent for a little while as she considered this. "Are you sure Jace is the problem and it's not you who isn't ready?"
"I suppose it could be that too," she admitted. "Maybe we're both the problem."
"Or maybe the actual problem is that you can't handle suspense and you're freaking out because you have to spend thirty minutes in a room by yourself while he's doing goodness knows what."
Clary was about to argue back, then stopped herself.
What was Jace actually doing?
She'd been too preoccupied with her panicking to notice that she hadn't heard much noise from the living room, but now that she really thought about it, Jace hadn't seemed nervous or unsure at all. He'd been very certain about the time frame he needed to sort out whatever he wanted to do, so unless he was just sitting there rocking back and forth or he'd made a run for it and wanted a decent head start, he must have had a plan. Perhaps this wasn't as impromptu as she'd assumed.
"Clary? Are you still there?"
"Yeah," she whispered. "Yeah, I'm just thinking."
"Okay then, as you were."
Tessa waited as Clary collected herself. It took some effort, but she eventually managed to slow her heart rate.
"Listen, Clary," Tessa said. "If Jace didn't want to marry you, he would have said so. You know what the Herondales are like. If they have a problem they'll come right out with it, and if he didn't want to hurt your feelings then he would have just been more tactful in his rejection instead of barrelling on with the proposal. Before Will proposed to me, I had no idea that it had even been on his mind. I didn't mention it to him either because I didn't think he was ready, but he surprised me. I think Jace might surprise you too."
"I think so too," Clary said, nodding. She glanced at the clock again. Ten minutes to go. "Thanks, Tessa."
"Anytime." She could hear the smile in her friend's voice. "How are you feeling now?"
"Better." And that was the truth. Now that she was calmer and no longer convinced that her boyfriend was going to hate her forever, Clary actually felt the first shivers of excitement run through her. This was really it.
"Good. Do you want me to distract you for the last few minutes?"
So Tessa went on to tell her about how George had managed to tip an entire bowl of porridge over Nate's head last night and then laughed her way through another story of Will's encounter with a duck at Hyde Park. It had happened when the pair had visited Winter Wonderland a couple of weeks beforehand, thinking that the pesky creatures wouldn't be around at night. But of course, Will being Will had managed to walk straight into a group of them by the pond. He was still recovering from the trauma.
Before she knew it, the time was up.
"You're going to be fine," Tessa said, preparing to hang up. "Both of you."
"And Clary? Congratulations. I can't wait for you to officially join the family."
"Thank you," she grinned, the excitement fully taking hold. Clary put the phone aside and dusted herself off. Outside in the corridor, she could hear footsteps approaching. Jace peered through the doorway, noticeably more dishevelled than before.
Seriously, what had he been up to?
"Ready?" He asked her.
She took a deep breath and steadied herself. "Ready."
Jace beckoned her forward and moved her in front so his hands were on her shoulders.
"Right, you've got to close your eyes. I'll make sure you don't trip over anything."
"How gracious." Clary did as he said and let him lead her towards the living room, every sense suddenly heightened. With the excitement now came nerves and she felt as if she was about to jump right out of her skin. Jace stopped when they'd reached the middle of the living room and then he stepped away from her.
"Okay, now you can look."
Clary prolonged the moment for as long as possible, but there was only so much suspense her poor little heart could take. She opened her eyes slowly and the room came into focus around her. With it, came an onslaught of colour.
The canvases that Jace had been working on earlier were hung across the walls along with an extra ten. His painting had gotten sloppier closer to the end, but the question was legible enough.
"The sign," she breathed. "It wasn't for Will."
She looked over at Jace and he stood beside the door sheepishly, his hands stuffed in his pockets.
"No." He shook his head. "That was just brilliant quick thinking on my part. I managed to hide the 'Y' for the next part when you walked past me, but I was too slow to get to the rest."
Clary couldn't believe what she was seeing. He'd been planning this all along. How ironic it was that the one day she decided she couldn't wait anymore, Jace had already been painting the words out for her.
"There's more," he said, and this time he pointed to some spread across the kitchen counter. On the far left was a solitary packet of Haribo sweets, a slice of pizza sat in the middle and on the right was…a Deal Or No Deal box?
"What's all this?"
Jace bit his lip and looked down. "The times I failed."
"The times you failed what?"
"Well, actually, it was really the times you failed. It's not my fault you're not that observant."
Her heart stopped.
"You mean you tried to propose to me before?!"
"Wha…how?" Clary was flabbergasted. How had she managed to miss three proposals? An hour ago, she didn't even think marriage had ever crossed his mind. "When?"
Jace walked up to the Haribo packet and held it up to her.
"The first time was pretty subtle, so I'll forgive you for that. It was a spur of the moment thing. Do you remember that night at the hospital, when you first came to Salisbury?"
How could she forget? Clary's first meeting with the Herondale elders had definitely left an impression, but it had absolutely nothing to do with her or Jace. In fact, Edmund and Linette had adored her from the very beginning and Imogen was forever grateful to her for helping Jace stay in the art class; she didn't have the heart to admit it had nothing to do with her and everything to do with their grandmother's terms. Instead, it was Gabriel Lightwood who had dominated the events of that evening.
That day did not only mark Tessa and Clary meeting their future in-laws, but it was also the first time Will and Jace found out that Gabriel had been dating their little sister, Cecily, and it would have been an understatement to say that it hadn't gone well. It had actually gone so badly that Gabriel had ended up in hospital later that night, though despite what everyone had suspected, Will hadn't been the one to put him there. At least, not directly.
Linette was prepared to set up a guest bed for Gabriel in Will's room, but the Herondale had been stubborn as always and had insisted that Gabriel share with him so he could know for sure if he tried to sneak out in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, Will's bed hadn't been prepared for the two of them and somehow – Will continued to insist that Cecily had tampered with it – it came apart beneath them. That was the thud that Jace and Clary had heard shortly after settling into bed themselves. Will had managed to land directly on top of Gabriel and he ended up breaking a wrist.
The next thing Clary knew, she was being roused from bed by a furious Tessa and Jace was forced to drive them all straight to the hospital.
But when had Jace proposed?
"It was a long night," Jace went on. "I bought you this packet of Haribo from the shop and maybe it was the lack of sleep that had lowered my inhibitions or Gabriel's near-death experience, but I pulled out one of the gummy rings and asked you to marry me."
"You did what?" Clary's eyebrows shot up. "But I don't remember that!"
"Yeah, there was one slight problem." Jace scratched the back of his head. "By the time I'd turned to face you, you were already snoring. You never heard me."
"Then how is that my fault?" That night at the hospital was almost three years ago. How could it be possible that Jace had wanted to propose for so long?
"I did say I was being subtle."
"There is a different between being subtle and proposing to someone who is asleep."
"Okay, fine." He rolled his eyes. "That one was definitely my fault. But the next one was yours."
His gaze landed on the slice of pizza and she crossed her arms over her chest, waiting for him to explain.
"This was from that year when I went back to Bristol. Being away from you for the majority of the week, I realised how much I needed you. Those were honestly some of the hardest months of my life." Jace paused and Clary couldn't help but bob her head. She'd hated those months apart too. "So one of the days that I came back, I decided I would propose again. We ordered pizza and I slipped the ring into the crust."
A giggle suddenly escaped her.
"Pizza crust?! In what world is that romantic?"
"Shut up!" Jace protested, but he couldn't hide his own smile. "I thought you would appreciate it."
"So where did it go wrong?"
"You and your ridiculous fads," he huffed. "Isabelle had convinced you to try some low-carb diet for a couple of weeks and you decided you weren't going to eat the crust."
The memory came back to her. She wasn't even sure why she'd started the diet in the first place, but Isabelle had apparently been very persuasive. Clary also now remembered how offended Jace had been when she told him. At the time she'd chalked it up to some unreasonable love for crust, but if he'd placed her ring in it…
"Yeah," he smirked. "You remember. I was this close to marching over to Isabelle's and strangling her when I found out. Who cuts out crust in a low-carb diet but decides to eat an entire pizza anyway? Where were you two getting these ideas from?"
Clary just shrugged, wanting to move on as swiftly as possible.
"So why didn't you try with something else?"
"I was going to, until my brother wrecked it as usual. Coincidentally, that was the same night he proposed to Tessa, so as much as I wanted to, I couldn't just go and steal their thunder. Of course, there was also the way he proposed which complicated things. How could I beat writing a book? I couldn't let him outdo me in this too, so I realised I had to up my game and rethink how I was going to pop the question." Jace walked over to the bright red box and tapped it. "So just as Will had gone with something that meant a lot to Tessa, I decided to try something that meant a lot to you."
"Deal Or No Deal?" Clary grinned.
"Yep. I ordered the board game for your twenty-first birthday and I thought that I'd switch the final box for one of my own. How was I to know that when it arrived, it would all be digital?"
Clary had been disappointed at that too, but she remembered how ecstatic she'd been when Jace had invited everyone to their flat for a game. It had been a very good birthday and she'd won lots of hypothetical cash.
"And then everyone decided they were going to stay the night," Jace continued. "So not only did I miss my moment alone with you, but your brother got in the way."
"What did Jonathan do?"
"He found the box and he sort of…blew his top."
"Really?" She didn't think he would care that much. Aside from their rocky beginning and occasional run-ins at work, Jonathan had been fairly supportive of the two of them.
"He wasn't angry himself, but he said your father would be and that Jon would get the blame for it. Apparently the Morgensterns are just as traditional as the Starkweathers when it comes to these things and Valentine fully expected me to come and ask for his permission. So the next weekend, when Jon and I told you we were scouting out places for the Canterbury branch of Jonathan-Squared, we actually went to visit your parents. Unfortunately, your father wasn't quite as forthcoming as Tessa's great-grandfather, probably because he already knew our relationship wasn't exactly chaste."
The two of them cringed in unison at the memory.
"So he told me that I wasn't allowed to propose to you until you'd gotten your degree and even then, I had to wait until you'd given me a clear signal that you were ready."
"You mean if I'd had this outburst just a few months earlier, we'd be engaged by now?"
"Yep," he sighed. "If I'd known that all it would take was a bad hangover, I'd have gotten you drunk more often."
"Oh, charming," she laughed, but Clary's world was spinning. How had so much happened without her noticing? She knew she had her head in the clouds at the best of times, but she was sure Jace must have been hinting at this for a while now and she'd still managed to miss it.
"But today I decided it was finally time. I figured that if I painted the words for you, I could tell Valentine that I hadn't actually said them so he couldn't murder me for it. It's also the three-year anniversary of our first kiss, as in the one you actually remembered, so there was that. Jonathan was meant to take you for a coffee after work to give me time to finish, but apparently he's still a fan of making things difficult for me – too much Morgenstern blood in that one. So, you ended up walking in while I was still on 'you' and the rest is history."
Clary definitely felt like she could do with that nap now. This was so much to take in after a hard day at work. Okay, so it wasn't that hard and she hadn't really worked, but Jace's words still left her reeling. Yes, she'd need a long lie in after this, but first, she had a question to answer. Enough time had been wasted already. She wasn't prepared to spend one more minute without being Jace's in every way possible.
"Alright then," she said, steeling herself. "Let's do this. Ask me."
"Which way?" Jace looked about himself, trying to choose between his props.
"All of them. You wanted to beat Will, right? You can't beat four proposals."
"No," Jace smiled, flashing his teeth. "You can't."
He went back to the Haribo packet and fished out a ring.
"Clary Fray," he said, holding it out to her. "Will you marry me?"
Not so long ago, her mind had been riddled with doubts. But now, looking at Jace, she couldn't remember why she'd ever questioned him at all.
"Of course I will," she replied, grinning as he slid it onto the right finger but the wrong hand. She trusted there was a reason for that.
"I wouldn't recommend eating it," he said, moving onto the pizza. "That's the original packet. You can eat this pizza though. I just put it in the oven fifteen minutes ago." Jace held a slice out to her and Clary took a bite out of it. "That's two done. Okay, proposal number three." They stood by the box and Jace cleared his throat. "You've made it to the final box," he said, in his best Noel Edmonds impression. Then he ripped off the blue seal and lifted the lid. The words 'Jace Herondale' with a question mark were written across it.
"It's not quite the quarter of a million," Clary smirked. "But deal."
"I'm better than the quarter of a million, how dare you?!" Jace tried to look offended but it didn't work quite so well given the ever-widening smile across his face. "Right, number four." He gestured to the canvases across the wall and while Clary was busy reading them again, he pulled out an even smaller red box from his pocket.
This time, he got down on one knee and pulled her close. Holding out her real ring – the one thankfully not made of jelly – he raised his eyebrows.
"It's probably too late for me to back out now, isn't it?" Clary whispered.
"Then do your worst, Herondale." She raised her left hand and barely had time to appreciate how the diamond looked on it before Jace had her in his arms, his mouth pressed to hers.
That night, the current and former residents gathered in Hodge Starkweather's Victorian block of flats to celebrate the engagement of Clarissa Fray and Jace Herondale. Clary had awoken fresh from her nap and proceeded to show her ring off to her friends, while Jace recounted the tale of his four proposals to all who would listen. Jonathan stood by the door to his old bedroom, Seelie on his arm. Across the room, Isabelle and Simon were engaged in a deep conversation with Alec and Magnus, the primary subject being the girl that they were about to adopt. Alec had received the call just that morning and now had the job of convincing Magnus not to call her something completely ridiculous.
George Lovelace-Gray squealed as he waddled past them, his hands full of scones, while Nate and Gideon struggled to keep up with him. Meanwhile, their wives watched from the sofa, Jessamine complaining about the morning sickness that baby number two was subjecting her to. Sophie nodded along sympathetically and joked to Cecily that this was just another reason as to why she should delay committing to Gabriel for as long as possible.
Tessa paid closed attention, however. She stood by the kitchen and, just as she had done several times the previous night, slipped her glass of champagne to Will so that he could down it before anyone noticed she wasn't drinking. They would reveal the truth soon enough, but for now, the news that George would not only have a sibling this time next year but a cousin too, was something they wanted to keep to themselves. Tonight belonged to Jace and Clary.
The girls' eyes met across the room and they smiled at each other. So much had changed in just a few years and in a lot of ways, it felt like the life they had once known in Flat Four was nothing more than a distant memory. But as the saying went, all good things must come to an end, and in this case it was to make way for something far greater.
The tale of those two girls who would cry late into the night watching Nick Cage films and were prone to making melodramatic pacts had ended, but the story of these two women, stronger than either of them could ever have known, were only just getting started.
So this epilogue is called beginnings and as you've seen, that's exactly what it means for these two characters, but this particular story did have to come to an end. A Tale Of Two has been over a year in the making now and I've become so attached to these guys that it's definitely going to take a while for me to process it's over, but I can't deny I'm relieved. Writing a story as long as this probably wasn't the best idea for a final year university student (and I definitely wouldn't recommend it to those of you who are in a similar position, especially if you actually care about your degree) but I managed it, and a lot of that is down to you guys.
I said at the beginning that this story is dedicated to all of the readers who joined me during Battle Of The Bands and that still holds, but I didn't expect how many more of you I would meet along the way and now this story is just as much yours. So whether you've been there since July 2013 or are reading this long after it's finished, thank you. Thank you for giving my writing a chance and for supporting me along the way. As some of you may know, I joined fanfiction again so that I could build my confidence enough to make a start on my original novels. And now two years later, that's happening. I did say that I would start a third full-length and I still intend to do that, but over the last few weeks I've finally started working on my own book and I can't begin to tell you how excited I am to share this story with you. I've had these characters kicking around in my head for around eight years, some for longer, so it's about time I got them down on paper. That means that I won't be committing to anything more on fanfiction until I've made a bit of progress with that, but I will be back. I love Wessa and Clace and Jonathan and Valentine too much to be done with them just yet and when I do get around to it, I think my third full-length will interest a lot of you.
I think this is also a good time to mention my flatmates, because this story would not have existed without them and all of the crazy times we had living in that creaky Victorian flat for two years, and for our initial neighbours for being the ones who saved us from multiple power cuts and screwdriver emergencies. Thank you guys, and Fallout fans, don't forget to check out my (ex)-roommate snazzydragon's story on ff. You will always be the roommate of my soul 3
Before I do say goodbye though, I have one more piece of news. Partly one of the reasons why I delayed this last epilogue is because I had something else in the works and that's T-SHIRTS! I'm still finalising the literary innuendo ones, but Mallard Massacre finally have their merch online and you can find it by searching for 'smimordor' on redbubble. Massive thanks to the brilliant Jadejake for the artwork! Unfortunately, I don't have the time or resources to print and ship them myself so I had to use another platform, but there's a lot more choice on redbubble in that they also offer mugs and stickers and posters, so if you don't want a t-shirt, there's lots of other cool things to check out. That does mean prices aren't as low as they could have been because the site sets a base rate, but if you do buy something, send me a message on any one of my social media links and depending on how many of you there are, I'll try to thank you with a personalised one-shot/drabble. Alternatively, if you're not interested in the MM merch but still want a literary innuendo shirt, you can follow me on redbubble so you'll get a notification whenever I do get round to uploading the new designs. I'll also post about it on tumblr/facebook.
I think that's everything for now. Like I said, I will be back at some point, but that's all for A Tale Of Two. I hope you've enjoyed reading it as much as I have writing it and as always, your comments are much appreciated. Thank you again!
Till the next time...