The humid post-rain air that hung outside Taki's curled the shorter locks of Isabelle's hair against her temples as she swung through the door and scanned the place, her eyes skipping over a cluster of werewolves and what looked like a stood-up djinn waiting for a date that would never come, until she found Simon Lewis, staring intently at the milky crimson swirls in his cocoa-and-blood. Her chest felt tight, pulsating, and she knew that it was nerves, not the ruby Sensor necklace, pumping through her as she took her seat in the booth bench across from Simon.
"Hi," she said, forcing an air of cheeriness into her greeting so as to avoid revealing the clamor of panic that gripped her. And over what, she wondered. Why should she be worried? She'd felt this way since she'd woken up this morning and, for the first time since the battle at the Burren, her immediate thoughts had not flown to Sebastian and the impending war he symbolized, but to this infuriating, geeky, ridiculous, wonderful vampire.
"Hey," Simon responded, pleasant enough, and took a sip of his drink. "Sorry, I didn't order anything for you, didn't know what you'd want."
"That's fine," she said, knowing full well that the snakes in her stomach prevented her from even a nibble. "I'm not really that hungry, I just needed to talk to you."
"Then talk," he shrugged, gesturing to the empty table as if to point out that they were alone together.
"Okay," she said, wishing she felt more put together, wishing she felt more in control, "okay. The thing is… here's what the thing is." Simon just watched her, patiently, waiting for her to say what she wasn't even sure was true. If she were being honest with herself, she didn't even know what she was going to say. "Over the past couple of years, I've come to really hate keeping secrets."
"Understandable," said Simon, taking another sip.
"I kept the secret about Alec being gay for years," she said. "And I kept the secret about Dad's affair for longer than that." Her pulse thrummed against her eardrums. Dammit, keep yourself together, she told herself. Hell, she'd faced demons ten times her size and strength. She could handle talking to an inexperienced vampire.
"So what are you saying?"
"I don't want to keep any more secrets," she said. Then- "I love you, Simon." And there it was, in a rush of breath, and the words were thickening up the air and suddenly it was so quiet, so much more quiet than it had been and the air was stickier and he wasn't looking at her and he wasn't talking, he was just looking down into his mug and he still wasn't saying anything and what the hell did she think she was going to accomplish anyway? "Well," she somehow managed to eke out, "that's it. Bye."
"Isabelle-" but whatever he said next, she didn't hear, because she was swinging the door shut behind her and hurling herself out into the sticky New York afternoon.
When Jace heard the rattling around usually associated with cooking a meal emanating out of the kitchen, he assumed Robert or Maryse was making dinner, which was why he was so surprised to walk in and find Isabelle, going at a zucchini with a knife like it was Jonathan Morgenstern. A bowl beside her was filled with already-slaughtered carrots and tomatoes.
"You're attacking those vegetables with some voracity," he said, hopping onto the counter behind her. "And I approve."
"Hi." If she'd tried again, she couldn't have spat out with such vexation and frustration such an innocuous word, and it was then that Jace realized the last time he'd seen her cooking like her life depended on it. It'd been the first night back at the Institute after Max's death.
"What happened?" said Jace, staring at the back of her head, where she'd haphazardly pinned up her hair with two thin daggers. She turned, her eyes narrowing and darting to him.
"Nothing," she said, not at all convincingly. "Nothing's happened." And she resumed hacking at the zucchini.
"You should tell me," said Jace. "I've been looking for an excuse to spritz Lewis with holy water."
"It's not his fault," she said, and stiffened. She didn't need to turn around to see the grin on her adoptive brother's face.
"Ha," he said. "So you admit it's about him." Isabelle set down her kitchen knife carefully beside the cutting tray and spun to face him.
"You…" she started, color flaring up in her cheeks, "you are the most aggravating person on the face of the planet, Jace Lightwood." His grin widened.
"I know." He hopped down and edged around her to the other side of the counter, taking the knife with him just in case she happened to slam her hand down on it- she definitely didn't look as composed as she normally did. "So what happened? Should I be raiding a church to go beat him up?"
"No," she said, rolling her eyes and sinking into the barstool beside her. "I sort of… kind of told him I loved him." She said it in a rush, and at the end it turned up like a question, as if she were doubting the mortifying experience earlier today had even occurred.
"Wow," said Jace, and for once he honestly looked shocked. "What is it with that guy? You, Maia, even Clary at one point… he must be one hell of a good kisser."
"Is he better than me?"
"I've never kissed you."
"And whose fault is that?"
"Jace!" At that point she did slam her hand down on the counter to get his attention, and he was glad he'd kept her from slicing her hand open. "Congratulations, you got me to open up. I said, 'I love you,' he said nothing. Are you going to help me or not?"
"I offered to kick his ass," he reminded her.
"I meant advice," she said. "Actual help. You and Clary seem happy, how does that work?" He squinted at her.
"Well," said Jace slowly, "we spent a few months convinced we were blood relatives, at the end of which I died, she brought me back to life, and I was hers." Isabelle just stared at him.
"Yeah, that's not going to work for me," she said.
"No, it won't," he agreed, the wry smile fading from his face. "Iz, when you went to tell Lewis how you felt, did you know what you were going to do?" He was serious now, serious in a way she hadn't really seen much at all before Clary and Valentine and the wars came around. She sighed.
"Not even a little bit."
"Then imagine how much he was expecting it," Jace pointed out. "He was probably just surprised."
"So what are you saying, I should just act like it never happened?" said Isabelle, her arms folded. Jace shook his head.
"I think you should give him some time," he said. "Give him a chance. Not just for him, for you." He ran his thumb over the dull edge of the knife, thinking. "Isabelle, I don't like the guy personally, but I've seen you with him, and he makes you happy." She bit her lip, surprised he'd noticed. "He makes you happy like Meliorn and all those others never did, and you deserve to be happy." However surreptitious it was, his glance at the scar hidden on his chest did not go unnoticed by her. "You might be running out of time to be."
"Fine," said Isabelle, sliding the sliced remains of the zucchini away from her. "But you might want to keep that holy water ready."
"Always," he said, and came around the counter to kiss her on the forehead. "Alright, I gotta go, I have to reply to Clary's letter."
"You guys are writing letters to each other?" she said as he made his way out of the kitchen. He looked back.
"Yeah, we're pretending we're a couple separated by the Atlantic Ocean in the 1800s, and we can only correspond through letters."
"Oh," said Isabelle. "Does that help with the burning-hands sexless-relationship thing?" Jace grinned back at her, but his eyes were disappointed.
"Not even a little bit."
When she heard the third knock on the Institute door, Isabelle realized that no one else was going to get it. Dumping the rest of the vegetables into a pot of boiling water, she wiped her hands on a dishtowel and jogged through the corridor to the front door. She wasn't quite sure who would be knocking on the door instead of coming right in- Luke, maybe Jordan or Maia- but then, of course, she should have known.
Opening the door, Isabelle found herself looking down the front steps at Simon. He was holding a rock, poised as if to throw it in her direction, and when she saw the three others at her feet she realized he hadn't quite been knocking. In fact, she doubted he would be able to touch the door without burning his hand.
"Hey," said Simon, dropping the rock.
"Hey." Instinctively, she folded her arms around herself, suddenly unsure of what she wanted to do. She could scream at him for leaving her hanging like he did, but that would make her seem out-of-control, which she might have been, but there was still no need for him to know about it. She could take Jace's advice and give him a chance. "If you came to- to break up with me or something," she said, though they had never technically been together again, "consider it done."
"I can't break up with you," said Simon, injecting so much incredibility into those words as if it were the absurdist idea in the universe. "Come down here."
"Fine," said Simon, putting a foot on the first step. The air tensed- she could feel it- as if the Institute somehow knew that a vampire was approaching, and before Simon could reach the landing she rushed down the steps toward him. Gripping his shoulders, Isabelle pushed him down the two steps he'd climbed, down to the ground, and they stood together.
"You can't go up there," Isabelle hissed at him. "Idiot. And what do you mean, can't break up with me? Because we weren't-"
"Because I love you," he said. "Too." Her breath caught in her chest. "I need you in my life, and you're right, I am an idiot, but when I'm with you, I feel alive and important and like somehow in this crazy, magic, sci-fi bizarro world, I actually have a shot. And I think we have a shot. And Isabelle, I love you." He took an unnecessary breath, mostly to stop himself from talking. "So there. I said it."
And even with everything she wanted to tell him back, everything she wanted to say, more secrets she couldn't stand to keep, in that moment all Isabelle could do was kiss him. "You should've said that earlier today," she murmured, breaking away.
"I should've said it earlier this year," he replied, and kissed her again.