**The characters of The Mortal Instruments are owned by Cassandra Clare. The original content, ideas and intellectual property of this story are owned by ddpjclaf, 2010. Please do not copy, reproduce, or translate without express written permission.**

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Alternate Chapter 12: Jace POV

Smack. Smack. Smack. Jace clenched his fists at his sides in irritation, wishing to God he was deaf at the moment. Looking up at the clock, he sighed. Thirty minutes to go. Thirty minutes. That was it and then he'd be free. Smack. Smack. Smack. He repeated the supposedly soothing words to himself. Thirty minutes. Thirty minutes. You can do this, Wayland. Just a measly thirty minutes. But, holy mother of God if she didn't stop with the damn gum he may just pierce his own eardrums with the first sharp object he found. Yes, he knew he was being melodramatic, but at that moment he just didn't care.

Apparently, everything Kaelie did annoyed him. Her voice, her laugh, the way she would not stop running her nails up and down his arm, how rude she acted toward Clary at the house, and now with the incessant smacking of her gum—he was pretty much at his wits end. Though, he couldn't entirely blame his assy mood on her. Ever since he'd seen Clary at the house, all white and perfect and—just . . . there were no words, he couldn't stop the anxious bubble swelling in his chest.

He'd tried his hardest all afternoon to avoid both her and Isabelle, not wanting to have to force himself not to look. But, as his rotten luck would have it, she stood right before him as he exited his room. He could not control his eyes from raking over her form, taking in the stunning innocence before him.

And then damn Isabelle. She just had to ask him what he thought of Clary's look. What was he going to say? Lie? Say she looked all right? Act like her standing before him in all her silkiness and creamy skin didn't affect him? How the hell could he manage that when just the sight of her like that practically had him panting like a dog?

Instead, he'd gone with a combination of both—not intentionally by any means. He just couldn't look away. Couldn't make his eyes leave hers. So, he stared like an idiot and mumbled something about her looking nice. He couldn't even remember. All he knew was that the amount of skin she showed distracted him from his normal cool and aptly linguistic demeanor. There was too much.

The tiny spaghetti straps and low cut front accentuated her narrow shoulders, perfect neck, and collar bones in a way that should have been outlawed. Especially when it came to hormonal teenage douchebags like himself. And then his thoughts shifted to the fact that other hormonal teenage douchebags would be seeing that same sexy expanse of skin and—well, he just couldn't have that.

As much as he knew he shouldn't touch her, that it would only make staying away from her all that much more difficult, he had to cover up some of that skin. Just the thought of some other guy eyeing her up made his whole body tense with possessive jealousy.

His hand trembled slightly as he raised it to the back of her head, being careful not to brush against her at all, and clamped his fingers around the plastic clip securing her hair up. Squeezing gently, he pulled it away, freeing the curly red locks. As they fell free, tumbling in a jumbled mess to her shoulders and swaying lightly as they brushed the top of her shoulders, her scent billowed out toward him, flooding his senses and nearly making him lose his focus and grab her right there in front of Isabelle. In an effort to dispel the enticing aroma, he blew out a breath. And as if he didn't already feel enough like a total ass, the cosmos decided to play with him a little more and his breath came out all weak and shaky.

Her eyes stayed on him, never wavering in the slightest bit. Part of him wanted to look away, to be free from the overwhelming need to reach out and touch her, to find out for himself if she really was as soft as she looked. The only thing that saved both of them from what served to be a very awkward situation was the arrival of his date from hell.

Smack. Smack. Smack. The annoying sound brought him out of his thoughts. With a sigh, he turned away from the group of Kaelie's friends he'd had to hang around all evening, and let his eyes roam the room. It was like any other dance he'd ever been to. Kids dressed up, trying to appear older than they were. Couples clung to each other and smashed their faces together, as if public displays made them cool or something. Even if Jace had been there with someone he wanted to kiss and dance with, he wasn't a big fan of PDA. He preferred things a little more private. Which was a big reason for his predicament that evening.

Kaelie had definitely caught him off guard in the lunch room Tuesday. She was lucky he'd been preoccupied fuming over his childish jealousies because that stunt may have landed her on her ass under normal circumstances. It was a reflex more than anything—not that she wouldn't have deserved it for pushing herself on him. But it wasn't like he wanted to freak out whenever someone tried to touch him unexpectantly. He hated it, in fact.

Smack. Smack. Smack. Jesus! Enough with the gum!

Finally, Jace spied Isabelle and Simon near the food table. He removed Kaelie's arm from his and stepped away from her.

Kaelie turned her big blue eyes to him and batted her mascara encrusted lashes. "Where are you going?" She reached out to him.

He shoved his hands deeper into his pockets in an effort to keep her from grabbing onto him again. "I need to go ask my sister something."

Kaelie glanced in Isabelle's direction and frowned. "Oh. Do you want me to come with you?"

He fought back the urge to roll his eyes. "No."

"But, they're going to be playing the last songs and I want to dance," she whined.

"So, go dance." He pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger, trying not to say something rude. "You don't need to hang on me every second." Oh. Too late.

She pouted and walked over to him, placing her palms against his chest and leaning in. "But you're my date. I want to dance with you." Glancing up from under her lashes, she ran a blood-red fingernail down the buttons of his shirt.

Jace grabbed her hand just before she reached his belt buckle and pushed it away. "We've been standing here for the last twenty minutes talking to your friends. You could at least give me a few to talk to my sister."

"Fine." She scowled. "But don't take too long. I don't want to miss the last dance." She winked.

"Whatever." He mumbled as he turned and rolled his eyes, letting out a slow breath of relief as the feet between them grew further. Jace knew he was being a complete and utter ass of the highest order, but he just couldn't take it anymore. At the beginning of the evening, he tried his hardest to act like a proper date. He'd danced with her, talked to her friends, let her cling to his arm. It wasn't Kaelie's fault he hadn't been paying attention when she'd asked him. Though he was pretty suspicious that she'd known he wasn't listening and used that as her opportunity to rope him into going.

But as the night wore on, she became much more aggressive in her advances on him and he just wasn't interested. Not in the least. Short of actually saying the words, he'd done everything he could not to lead her on. He kept her from leaning into his body during dances and his hands stayed firmly on her waist, never straying north or south. Whenever she tried to steal another kiss, he found a way to avert his face. He never allowed her to hold his hand, or gave any other indication that might be construed as interest on his part. She still didn't get it.

When he reached the refreshment table, he moved next to Isabelle, grabbed a cup of punch and downed it in three seconds. Crushing the cup in his palm, he tossed it in the nearby trashcan and crossed his arms over his chest.

Isabelle popped a piece of pineapple in her mouth and eyed Jace with amusement. "Having fun?"

"Loads," he replied.

She chuckled. "Well, I am."

"That's great Isabelle. Why don't you rub it in a little more, I think you missed a spot."

"You're crabby."

He turned to her and narrowed his eyes. "I'm not crabby, I'm—irritated."

"Same difference, Jace."

He sighed. "So, where are your friends?" More specifically, Clary.

"Simon went to 'the little boys' room." She rolled her eyes and tweaked her fingers in the air when she said "little boys room." "God, he's such a geek." She laughed. "And, Clary is—" Craning her neck, she searched the crowd and then pointed. "There. With Mr. Hotstuff."

Jace turned in the direction Isabelle pointed, knowing whatever he saw would probably piss him off. He saw her near the edge of the crowd, her hands on Sebastian's shoulders, and his clutching her waist. The same possessive anger flared up inside him as he watched her with him. He didn't know if the anger was because it was Sebastian, or if he just wished it was himself instead. At that moment, her gaze locked with his and her brows pinched together in the middle.

"Your date is coming over here," Isabelle said.

Jace tore his eyes away from Clary and looked behind him. With a groan, he swore under his breath.

Isabelle laughed. "Okay, well, you'll owe me, but I'll stall her if you wanna make a fast get away."

He turned to her and quirked one brow.

She shrugged. "I'm feeling generous in a sisterly way tonight."

His mouth lifted into a small grin.

"Better go, she's gaining on you."

Jace leaned over and pecked Isabelle on the cheek as he passed.

"Ew, Jace!" She swiped at her face. "Now you owe me double!"

He chuckled as he made his way to the dark corner of the gym. Just a few minutes away from Kaelie's relentless whining, that's all he needed. Then he could go back, dance with her one more time, and then finally be able to take her home. He shuddered at the thought of what he knew she'd try when he dropped her off. Leaning up against the wall, cloaked in shadows, he closed his eyes and took a few relaxing breaths. His patience was nearly depleted. He didn't even know if he could last one more dance.

When he opened his eyes, he found he was no longer alone. Clary stood at the edge of the darkness, facing the dancing crowd. He took a moment to just look at her. Having been occupied all evening, he hadn't really had the chance. She looked just as beautiful after two hours of dancing as she had that afternoon. The soft, white silk of her dress hugged her body perfectly. Not too clingy and not too loose. Her hair still hung in large, soft curls, just touching the top of her back. She swayed slightly to the music.

With a grin, he slipped his hand into his pocket, feeling the cool metal of the tiny bell she'd given him. He'd taken to carrying it with him whenever he knew he'd see her. Even though she meant it as a joke, he thought the gesture was pretty damn cute and he was determined to actually use it one day. He didn't care if it was cheesy. It was the only way he could express to her that she was special to him, that he acknowledged the fact that she'd made something especially for him. He knew he wasn't allowed to say it, or even really feel it, but he couldn't help it. If this small gesture could say that for him, he'd take it. Cheese be damned.

Pushing off the wall with his foot, he crossed through the darkness until he stood just behind her. He noticed her eyes were closed. Pulling the bell from his pocket, he lifted it carefully to her ear and jiggled it lightly. She turned and opened her eyes, a smile spreading across her lips at the realization of what it was. He couldn't help smiling at her reaction. Reaching up, she wrapped her fingers around the bell, and he released it into her hand, stepping up beside her.

"You brought this?" She looked up at him, curiosity and a little bit of disbelief in her eyes.

He stared out at the crowd for a moment, trying to rein in his thudding heart before shrugging and glancing down at her with a smile. "I always have it with me. I never know when I'll need to not surprise you."

He heard her breath catch as she lowered her gaze once more, closing her fist around the tiny silver bell. "So, what are you doing over here?"

"Hiding." He smiled.

"From who?"

"My date."

Clary whipped around to face him. "What? Why?"

He scrunched his nose and shrugged. "She's getting on my nerves."

Clary laughed. "That's not very nice. If she annoys you so much why'd you ask her?"

He raised his brows and looked at her, figuring Isabelle would have told her about what happened at lunch. Apparently not. "I didn't ask her. She asked me and I accidentally said yes."

"How can you 'accidentally say yes' to someone?"

"Well, it's actually quite easy when you can't stand the sound of their voice and aren't listening to a word they're saying." In his periphery, he spied a flash of red and an abundance of blonde hair. "Oh hell," he said and slipped behind the heavy performance curtains behind him, feeling pretty stupid but really not wanting to dance with Kaelie anymore.

"Jace? What the—" Clary started and he reached out, grabbing her arm and tugging her behind the curtain with him, his finger covering her lips. He wasn't ready to let her go yet.

"Shh," he said.

"I could have sworn I saw him over here, Kaelie." A voice on the other side of the curtain said. "He's around here somewhere. Let's check over by the bathrooms."

Kaelie's frustrated sigh came through the curtain.

"Well hurry up, then. God! I want to dance," Kaelie said.

Jace chuckled. He couldn't help it. After being annoyed by her all night, her irritation amused him. It wasn't until Clary pulled away that Jace realized he'd been hugging her tight against him.

"So, you're hiding from a girl? Real mature, Jace."

"I know, what can I say, she's kinda scary and I'm not really into scary women." He held back a shudder.

Clary laughed. "I could have told you that."

They were silent for a few minutes. Neither of them feeling the need to speak. Jace felt her close proximity and itched to pull her back against him again. Even though he'd only realized it just before she pulled away, the feel of her against him was unlike anything he'd ever felt. And he wanted it again. Wanted her in his arms, just this once. Who would know? No one. It was just them. No Isabelle. No Parents. Barely even any light. Just them. Alone. In the dark, hidden behind a heavy curtain. But as much as he wanted it, he couldn't have it. Couldn't have her. He knew that.

After a few minutes, with reluctance, he spoke again. "You probably want to get back out there."

"Nope. I'm good." She paused. "Why? Do you want to go back out there?"

His chest clenched slightly. She wanted to stay with him. "Um, no. Not even in the littlest bit."

"Well, don't you want to dance? That's what you're supposed to do at one of these things, after all."

He paused for a moment and spoke his sincerest thoughts quietly. "There's no one out there I want to dance with."


He sucked in a breath, knowing what he was about to do and trying his hardest to talk himself out of it. His conscience warred inside him. One side telling him to just go for it. No one would know. But the other telling him to think of Isabelle and what she'd been through before. She was finally starting to stop hating him so much. Could he really afford to risk that again? But this was Clary and she was so close. He just wanted to touch her, just for a moment. To feel her wrapped up in his arms. If he could have that one moment, he swore to himself, to Isabelle, to whatever higher being wanted to listen, that that would be enough. That after that he could live with that one memory and it would sustain him.

"But," he moved his arm closer to her, brushing against her lightly, "I wouldn't mind dancing with you." His heart sped at the admission. The sensation new and vaguely pleasant. He never felt nervous around girls, but as he already knew, Clary was different.

His fingers twitched and he moved them slowly over to her, grazing her knuckles, and wrapping her tiny hand with his. He fought like crazy to keep it from shaking.

After what seemed like an eternity, she looked up, meeting his eyes. "Okay."

He glanced down at their clasped hands and hesitantly pulled her to him. She took a step forward and raised her other hand, laying it lightly on his arm. His breathing caught at her touch and accelerated the closer she got. Electricity popped and sparked between them, almost setting him ablaze as he slid his arm around her tiny waist, fanning his fingers out across the small of her back. The cool silk under his palm warmed almost immediately as her body heat leaked through to him. God, she was little. His hand nearly stretched the expanse of her lower back. He felt her shiver lightly. Her hand slid up his arm before resting comfortably at his shoulder. She leaned into him, allowing her body to fit flush against his.

Jace raised their hands to his chest, held them against it, and pulled her tighter, noticing how perfectly she felt next to him. She touched her forehead to him as they moved together.

After a moment, he loosened his grip on her hand, trailed down her side, and around to her back, needing to hold her closer. She didn't protest and opened her palm against his chest, trailing it up slightly to the open portion of his shirt, grasping it in her fist. Sucking in a sharp breath, he closed his eyes and lowered his face to her head, touching his lips to her hair, wanting more than anything to be able to kiss her. Neither of them spoke, neither pulled away.

Jace heard the music slow to an end, but he didn't want to let go. He couldn't. He didn't know if he'd ever have a chance to hold her like this again and he hadn't had enough. She felt so warm and soft and just like she belonged right there.

Involuntarily, his arms squeezed her lightly. She tightened her hold on his shirt and shoulder. He didn't move to release her even when the music stopped entirely. It wasn't until the DJ announced the dance over and the lights snapped on over their heads that either of them stirred.

With an inaudible sigh he said, "Clary."


"The dance is over. It's time to go."

"What?" Looking up, she met his gaze. "Oh." She pulled back. "Sorry."

"It's all right." He smiled and then looked down at his shirt. "Though I will say this shirt has seen better days." Glancing back up at her, he noticed the slightly embarrassed expression on her face. "Come on. Isabelle is probably looking for you."

"And your date for you," Clary said.

He grimaced. "Oh yeah." Hell. He still had to drive Kaelie home.

"You're a horrible date, Jace Wayland."

He turned back and flashed a smile before holding the curtain aside and gesturing for her to exit before him. You have no idea. She ducked under his arm and flashed him a grin. He released a slow breath and watched her walk away from him, the white silk fluttering around her as she moved. Closing his eyes briefly, he held his breath and stepped out from behind the curtain, his heart a little heavier and his arms a whole lot emptier.


Not even the taut strings of his guitar under his calloused fingers could keep Jace's mind off from what happened at the dance. Usually when he played, he was able to push everything else away and just let the music take over. Not that night.

No matter what he did, he still felt her in his arms, still smelled the scent of her lingering on his body. It didn't help matters any that she slept just across the hall. He'd told himself over and over and over again he could not have her. It was a simple truth that his heart just couldn't seem to grasp.

He used the excuse of Isabelle as more of a blanket reason, but the truth was, he knew he was not good for her. She'd already had enough grief and pain. She didn't need his on top of that. It didn't matter what he wanted, he had nothing to offer anyone. His past damaged him beyond repair, a broken shell with the inability to give anything to anyone. Case in point, the Lightwoods.

Maryse and Robert had taken him in at twelve years of age, treated him like one of their own since day one. They'd given him everything they could. At least everything he would allow. They continued with his music lessons, let him play soccer, and gave him food, shelter, and love. But still he kept them at an arm's length. Something inside of him wouldn't allow anyone to get close enough. Not even he understood exactly what that was. He just couldn't.

The prospect of therapy had been discussed at length, but Jace refused. He didn't want some stranger poking around in his head. But most of all, he didn't want to relive it all. Didn't want to think about any of it. At least that's what he'd thought before. Now, he wasn't so sure. He knew he didn't want to discuss all his crap with someone who couldn't care less, but he couldn't talk about it with his family. He needed someone who understood pain. Who understood grief.

He'd noticed those qualities in Clary immediately. Even before she'd said a word, he saw it in the set of her posture, the look in her eyes. For those that lived in that same world it was obvious. And she'd seen it in him too. She didn't look at him like he was a damaged child needing to be fixed. She saw him as an equal, as someone who just needed someone else to understand, to be there, to be silent, to just be. And she was.

Setting his guitar back down on the floor, he breathed out and rubbed his hands over his face. He hated the constant struggle inside of him. The one that told him to be smart, stay away, let her heal without unloading his own baggage onto her. The other told him to pull her closer, hold her, kiss her, let her know she's not alone, use his own pain to comfort her and if possible, absorb hers into himself and free her from it forever. But the simple fact remained, he was scared. Afraid of letting anyone really see him. She'd gotten the best glimpse so far, but what would she say when she saw it all? Would she look at him with pity? Or worse yet, fear? As tough as he pretended to be, he didn't know if he could handle her looking at him like everyone else.

A small grumble from his stomach alerted him to the fact that he was hungry. Getting up and placing his pick on the nightstand, he quietly made his way out to the dark hall and down the stairs. After glancing at the clock and seeing it was after one in the morning he decided an apple would have to do. He didn't feel like taking the time to put anything together.

Grabbing a green one from the fruit bowl on the counter, he started back up the stairs. Just as he reached the top, someone exited the bathroom, running right into him. From the surprised gasp and the tremor of warmth that shot through him, he knew it was Clary.

Reaching out, he steadied her by extending his arm across her back and silenced her by cupping his hand over her mouth. "Shh, Clary. It's just me."

Her hand flew to her chest. "Jace. Where's your bell? You almost gave me a heart attack!"

He couldn't help but laugh. Why would he carry it around in the middle of the night? "Well, I didn't expect to have to use it this late."

She stared at him for a moment, her breathing finally starting to settle.

"What are you doing up anyway?" he asked, though he was more than a little happy to see her.

"Couldn't sleep. You?"

"Same. Actually, I was playing but then I got hungry." He held up the apple in his hand.

"Oh." She frowned. "Don't your parents get mad at you playing so late?"

He shrugged, not having really thought about it before. He supposed that was probably rude, but they'd never said anything about it and it was a nightly ritual for him. "They're used to it. Plus, I try to block the sound as much as I can."

She glanced up at him. "Are you going to play some more?"


"Oh." She looked down at her feet. "Do you—do you mind if I, you know, listen?"

For a split second, he considered her question, realizing almost immediately that he didn't. "No. I don't mind." He stepped across the hall to his room, nodding toward the opening. "Come on."

Clary bit her lip and moved past him, crossing the threshold into his room. He held his breath as she walked by, trying to remain at least partially in control because a very large portion of himself wanted to reach out and touch her again. Knowing that would be a ginormous mistake, he clenched his fists at his sides as she stopped in the center of his room and looked around. He took the moment to look her over, noticing she wore only a pair of very short gray boyshorts and a tight black tanktop. Really not good for his fragile male hormones and self control. Even worse for him was the fact that she had her Pippi Longstocking braids again. God, how he loved those braids. It was a sickness, he knew, but he couldn't help it. She looked so damn cute with them.

"Where are your trophies?" she asked unexpectedly.

He shut the door and stood in front of it, wanting to go to her, but knowing that would be a bad idea until he got himself under control. "In the closet. I don't put them out."

"Why not?"

"I don't like clutter."

She snorted. "Then you better not ever come in my room. It's a total pigsty."

He smiled, wondering if he ever might have the chance to see her room. Dismissing that thought, he walked past her toward the bed where his guitar lay. She moved across the room with him.

"So what were you going to play?"

"I don't know." He reached up and scratched the back of his head, peering over at her. "Any requests?" He'd never played for anyone before—not really. Sure, he'd let her listen from afar, but to actually have her there with him, well, that was entirely different and he didn't really know what to expect.

She raised her brows. "Really?"

He nodded, gestured to the CD's he'd laid out earlier, and sat on the edge of the bed. "Pick one." His nightly ritual was to go through his CD's, pick out a few and play whatever songs called to him from them.

Clary knelt down next to the cases and fingered them carefully. "Do you know all of these?"

"Most of them."

"You don't use sheet music?"

"No, I play by ear."

She glanced up at him, amazement clouding her eyes. "I wish I could do that."

Jace shrugged and looked down. He wasn't used to talking to anyone about his musical ability. It had always come easily for him. He'd never had to really work for it. Even during piano lessons as a kid, he'd always been way above any of his teacher's other students, surpassing her quite quickly as well. The day she'd told Maryse she couldn't teach him anymore, he'd felt rejected at first until she explained that she just had nothing more to offer him. That was when he'd picked up the guitar and taught himself how to play. After taking piano for all those years, guitar was a cakewalk. It took only a few weeks to learn all the cords and then all he had to do was listen to a song and he could play it, just like with piano. He had a "photographic memory" of sorts with music. Too bad that talent couldn't stretch to his schoolwork.

Clary shuffled through the cases and finally picked one, holding it up to him. "I like this one."

Jace reached out and plucked it from her fingers. "Hmm." He rubbed his jaw. "Which song?" he asked, though he had a pretty good idea which she might choose.

Clary smiled and got to her feet, made her way over to the bed, and sat next to him, leaning into his shoulder to look at the titles on the back, causing him to tense slightly at her proximity. Reaching out, she pointed. "That one."

He chuckled. "How did I know you'd pick that one?"

"What? What's wrong with it?"

He shook his head, still smiling. "Nothing. It's just such a girl song." And there was really nothing wrong with it. He just tended to play and sing more depressing songs, not love songs. But for her, he'd play it. In all honesty, he liked the song, too. He'd just never had a reason to play it before. Maybe now he did.

"No it's—!" She shoved his shoulder with both hands. "Shut up and just play."

He laughed again, and righted himself from her push. "All right, All right." Reaching down he grabbed his guitar, holding the neck in his right hand and the pick in his left. Before starting, he met her eyes once more, feeling a strange swell of energy build between them.

"Does it make you feel weird playing with me sitting right here?" she asked.

He studied her face for a moment before answering. "No."

"Why not?"

"Because I'm comfortable with you." He couldn't help but smile at that fact, because it was utterly true. "Now, are you going to be quiet and let me play or are you going to keep jabbering all night?"

She scowled and then smiled, twisting her fingers in front of her lips as if to lock them.

He smiled wider and lowered his head, strumming the guitar a few times before looking up again. "Ready?"

She nodded and moved away from him a little, giving him more room to play.

He took in a deep breath, glanced down once more, and started strumming. As soon as the notes hit the air, his mind cleared of everything around him. He wasn't oblivious to the fact that Clary was there, but when he played, a soothing calm came over him, covering everything else and shielding him from it. Almost like he lived alone with it. Or that it protected him from everything else outside of himself. Before he sang the first lyrics, he closed his eyes.

The words poured from his mouth, almost without effort. Their meaning not lost on him, and the fact that he sang them all for her was evident in the accelerated beating of his heart. He may have hidden it from everyone else, including Clary, but he knew, deep inside himself that he wanted to be the one. The one to make her smile, to hold her when she was sad, the one to tell her everything would be okay, the one to make everything right again. Despite his own issues, he wanted to be that for her. And even though he knew he never could be, not in the way he wished, he sank every bit of emotion he could into the words. She would never know that it was more than just a song, just a pretty tune. That it was his confession, his plea, his promise. His promise to be there, even if it was only in the shadows. It killed him to know he could never be more.

As the last note hung in the air, both of them remained completely still. Jace dropped his head, trying desperately to clear his mind and his heart of the nearly unbearable ache. As he drew in a shaky breath, he heard Clary sniff.

He looked up, his brows rising and his mouth dropping open as he placed the guitar on the floor, propping it against the bed. "Are you crying?"

Clary wiped her eyes. "No."

He got off the bed and dropped to his knees in front of her. "Yes you are. Why are you crying?" He wished he could touch her, hug her, the draw to do so was almost intolerable.

She sniffed again. "Because I'm a girl, and you're right, that's a girly song and girls cry at girly songs." She glanced up at him and a moment later a quiet sob escaped from her throat and she raised her hands to cover her face.

Jace's breath caught and his chest clenched, not having a clue as to what was wrong. Was it him? Did he do something to make her upset? Had something else happened?

After a moment, he couldn't stand not being able to see her any longer. He lifted his hands slowly and started to pry her fingers away from her face. She resisted for a second, but gave up with his persistence.

"Tell me what's wrong, Clary," he said, quietly.

She squeezed her lids shut and shook her head before opening them again. "I can't."

"Why can't you?" He hated seeing her face stained with tears so he brushed his thumbs across her cheeks, removing them as gently as he could.

"Because," she whispered. Letting out a sigh, she leaned forward and touched her forehead to his. "Because telling you will ruin everything."

"Ruin what?" He pulled back, her proximity immediately causing the carefully constructed lines he'd drawn between them to blur.

She breathed out, her breath fanning over him and causing his control to waver even more. Without warning, she raised her hands to his face, tentatively cupping his cheeks in her palms. He held back a tremor as her fingers brushed over his chin and her eyes stared unwaveringly into his. He barely noticed the fact that he didn't react to her surprise contact. The only thing he could focus on was the way she held his face in her tiny hands and the look in her eyes as she gazed at him. No one had ever looked at him that way before.

"Do you really not know?" she whispered. "Can you really not feel it?"

His eyes widened slightly before they closed and he let out a deep breath. Was she saying what he thought she was saying? No, she couldn't be. She shouldn't be. As much as he wanted it, she shouldn't even entertain the idea. "Clary." He shook his head, his voice soft and pleading. Begging her not to tempt him because his resolve was nearly gone. He knew if she went any further he wouldn't be able to resist.

"I'm sorry," she said, her voice barely audible and sounding almost ashamed. "I didn't—I just—I know it's—I know it's not the—same for—"

He felt his walls tumbling down all around him. Brick by brick they slowly became nonexistent, crashing to the ground, crumbling into sand and dust, leaving his heart unprotected and his brain unable to contain it any longer. His hands closed over her cheeks, mimicking her hold on his. "That's not it," he said, quietly.

As much as his mind was telling him this was wrong, he couldn't let her believe he didn't care, that he didn't feel anything. In the grand scheme of things, that probably would have been the smartest thing to do, but he couldn't. The way she looked at him, her eyes wide and pleading, her courage to even say the words, was more than he could take and remain impassive. This girl made him weak, but not in a way that was necessarily bad.

"It's not?" she asked.

He shook his head.

"Then what is it?"

"It's—a lot of things. Your mom, my sister . . . me . . ." he trailed off. "I'm not—I'm not—" Good enough. Strong enough. Just . . . enough.

She leaned forward, leaving only centimeters between them. "Yes, you are."

"Clary, please, don't," he begged her because his mind was no longer in control.

"Why? If we both want to then . . ."

"Because—because once we go there, we can't come back."

She moved even closer, the heat from her mouth nearly searing his. "I think, maybe, we already can't."

He closed his eyes for a brief moment, trying his hardest to resist the draw she held over him. To refuse to give in to the overwhelming urge to press his lips to hers. To give what he knew she wanted and take what he needed. To feel her so much closer than he ever thought he'd get to her. No matter what he did at that point, everything between them would change, he knew that already and so did she. There was no way they could go back now. Not now that they both knew. How could they? But still, he couldn't make that move. He didn't want to be the one to make that final decision.

The battle between what he thought was right and what he wanted warred inside him, neither side pulling ahead until he saw tears form in her eyes. The fact that his indecision was making her sad angered him. Why couldn't he just do it already? She'd be happy, he'd be happy.

Steeling himself against the possibility that this one move could ruin everything, he made the decision to take the chance. Because what if it didn't ruin anything? What if it made everything better? What if they were both just what the other needed? Besides, who the hell was he to decide what she needed. She wanted him, he wanted her, and for once in his life, he was going to let himself have something good. Something real.

With resolve, his fingers tensed on her jaw, drawing her slowly to him. It felt like an eternity to close the mere centimeters between them, but he didn't want to rush. Didn't want to miss a single second of this first with her. As eager as he was to feel her lips against his, the anticipation of it was beyond pleasurable. The static between them grew, filling the air with a buzzing electricity. It tingled against his skin, making him want to move faster, but he didn't. He felt her breathing shift and become shallower. His eyes fell to her lips as she parted them and sucked in a tiny, sharp breath. Her hands shook against his cheeks which only made him want to get there sooner.

At the first brush of his lips against hers, her eyes fluttered shut and his followed. An explosion of warmth passed between them as her soft mouth pressed down on his, tentative yet eager at the same time. He didn't know how much experience she had, if any, so he took it slow at first just barely brushing against her.

He held her face between his hands as gently as he could, even though his instinct was to clutch her harder to him. After a moment, she leaned in further, sliding her hands from his face to the back of his neck, twisting her fists in his hair and pulling him tighter. With that encouragement, he strengthened his grip and decided to test her, opening his mouth slightly against hers. After only a brief hesitation, she mimicked his movements. Feeling a little more at ease, he tilted his head to the side slightly and took her bottom lip between his, sucking lightly. Again, she mimicked him except with his top lip.

Not wanting to seem like a pig but needing to taste her, he quickly ran his tongue along the top of her bottom lip which he still held between his. To his surprise, she opened further and copied him again, only sticking her tongue further into his mouth and tugging gently on his hair. Okay then.

He moved his hands from her cheeks, down her shoulders, and wrapped them around her back, pulling her flush against him. Her soft little body molded right into him. She gave no resistance at all. One of his hands snaked up her spine and gripped the back of her neck as she let her fingers mingle in his curls. She seemed to like his hair a lot, which he didn't mind because it felt really good.

After a while, as much as he didn't want to, Jace finally slowed the kiss by placing a few smaller ones to her lips, and then pulling away only far enough to press his forehead to hers. They stayed that way for a few more minutes, his fingers tracing circles on the soft skin of the back of her neck and hers still running through his hair.

With a deep breath, he drew back further, meeting her eyes and moving his gaze between them, trying to gauge how she felt. Her eyes were big and bright and she seemed—happy. No, not happy, ecstatic. He raised his hands to her temples, his fingers brushing her skin gently, hoping that would let her know that he wasn't trying to be a total ass by assaulting her mouth like that. And then, because they were there and he couldn't resist them, he ran his hand down the length of her braids before he pushed out a breath and spoke again. "Well, my sister's going to kill me."

Clary stared at him for a moment and then burst out laughing.

He chuckled with her, though not really knowing why that was so funny. He wasn't joking in the least. "I'm not kidding. And so is your mother."

Clary sucked in a few deep breaths. "I know, and that's precisely why we're not going to tell them."

He puckered his lips and tilted his head, looking up at her, his fingers trailing lightly down the side of her face once more. So, she was all right keeping things on the down low. "I'm no good for you, you know."

"I know," she said with a joking edge to her voice. "But I don't care. It's about time I rebelled a little."

He twisted her braid between his fingers. "What am I going to do with you?"

"You know, I'd really like to help you figure that out, but I just can't think of anything but this one thing right now."

"Oh?" His mouth lifted in a crooked grin. She was flirting with him. After all that, she still flirted. He liked that. "And what's that?"

"Hmm." Clary wrapped her arms around his neck. "I wonder if you can guess." Leaning in, she captured his lips with hers once more.

He smiled against her mouth and pulled her tighter against him. Damn, this girl was going to be the death of him. Especially if Isabelle had anything to say about it. But that was something he'd worry about another time, because at the moment, he had a cute girl plastered to his face and sticking her tongue in his mouth. What guy could think beyond that?