Because it’s Bitter
The scene that takes place during pages 170-174 of City of Ashes, in the chapter The Seelie Court, here from Jace’s point of view. I even gave it a name — “Because It Is Bitter.” Because boy, is Jace bitter here.
“I know that I will not leave my sister here in your Court,” said Jace, “and since there is nothing to be learned from either her or myself, perhaps you could do us the favor of releasing her?”
The Queen smiled. It was a beautiful, terrible smile. The Queen was a lovely woman; she had that inhuman loveliness that faeries did, that was more like the loveliness of hard crystal than the beauty of a human. The Queen did not look any particular age: she could have been sixteen or forty-five. Jace supposed there were those who would have found her attractive — people had died for love of the Queen — but she gave him a cold feeling in his chest, as if he’d swallowed ice water too fast. “What if I told you she could be freed by a kiss?”
It was Clary who replied, bewildered: “You want Jace to kiss you?”
As the Queen and Court laughed, the icy feeling in Jace’s chest intensified. Clary didn’t understand faeries, he thought. He’d tried to explain, but there was no explaining, not really. Whatever the Queen wanted from them, it wasn’t a kiss from him; she could have demanded that without all this show and nonsense. What she wanted was to see them pinned and struggling like butterflies. It was something immortality did to you, he’d often thought: dulled your senses, your emotions; the sharp, uncontrollable, pitiable responses of human beings were to faeries like fresh blood to a vampire. Something living. Something they didn’t have themselves.
“Despite his charms,” the Queen said, flicking a glance toward Jace — her eyes were green, like Clary’s, but not like Clary’s at all — “that kiss will not free the girl.”
“I could kiss Meliorn,” suggested Isabelle, shrugging.
The Queen shook her head slowly. “Nor that. Nor any one of my Court.”
Isabelle threw up her hands; Jace wanted to ask her what she’d expected — kissing Meliorn wouldn’t have bothered her, so obviously the Queen wouldn’t care about it. He supposed it had been nice of her to offer, but Iz, at least, ought to know better. She’d had dealings with faeries before.
Maybe it wasn’t just knowing the way the Fair Folk thought, Jace wondered. Maybe it was knowing how people who enjoyed cruelty for the sake of cruelty thought. Isabelle was thoughtless, and sometimes vain, but she wasn’t cruel. She tossed her dark hair back and scowled. “I’m not kissing any of you,” she said firmly. “Just so it’s official.”
“That hardly seems necessary,” said Simon, stepped forward. “If a kiss is all . . .”
He took a step toward Clary, who didn’t move away. The ice in Jace’s chest turned into liquid fire; he clenched his hands at his sides as Simon took Clary gently by the arms and looked down into her face. She rested her hands on Simon’s waist, as if she’d done it a million times before. Maybe she had, for all he knew. He knew Simon loved her; he’d known it since he’d seen them together in that stupid coffee shop, the other boy practically choking on getting the words “I love you” out of his mouth while Clary looked around the room, restlessly alive, her green eyes darting everywhere. She’s not interested in you, mundane boy, he’d thought with satisfaction. Get lost. And then been surprised he’d thought it. What difference did it make to him what this girl he barely knew thought?
That seemed like a lifetime ago. She wasn’t some girl he barely knew anymore: she was Clary. She was the one thing in his life that mattered more than anything else, and watching Simon put his hands on her, wherever he wanted to, made him feel at once sick and faint and murderously angry. The urge to stalk up and rip the two of them apart was so strong he could barely breathe.
Clary glanced back at him, her red hair slipping over her shoulder. She looked concerned, which was bad enough. He couldn’t stand the thought that she might feel sorry for him. He looked away fast, and caught the eye of the Seelie Queen, glimmering with delight: now this was what she was after. Their pain, their agony.
“No,” said the Queen, to Simon, in a voice like the soft slice of a knife. “That is not what I want either.”
Simon stepped away from Clary, reluctantly. Relief pounded through Jace’s veins like blood, drowning out what his friends were saying. For a moment all he cared about was that he wasn’t going to have to watch Clary kiss Simon. Then Clary seemed to swim into focus: she was very pale, and he couldn’t help wondering what she was thinking. Was she disappointed not to be kissed by Simon? Relieved as he was? He thought of Simon kissing her hand earlier than day and shoved the memory away viciously, still staring at his sister. Look up, he thought. Look at me. If you love me, you’ll look at me.
She crossed her arms over her chest, the way she did when she was cold or upset. But she didn’t look up. The conversation went on around them: who was going to kiss who, what was going to happen. Hopeless rage rose up in Jace’s chest, and as usual, found its escape in a sarcastic comment.
“Well, I’m not kissing the mundane,” he said. “I’d rather stay down here and rot.”
“Forever?” said Simon. His eyes were big and dark and serious. “Forever’s an awfully long time.”
Jace looked back at those eyes. Simon was probably a good person, he thought. He loved Clary and he wanted to take care of her and make her happy. He’d probably make a spectacular boyfriend. Logically, Jace knew, it was exactly what he ought to want for his sister. But he couldn’t look at Simon without wanting to kill someone. “I knew it,” he said nastily. “You want to kiss me, don’t you?”
“Of course not. But if—”
“I guess it’s true what they say. There are no straight men in the trenches.”
“That’s atheists, jackass.” Simon was bright red. “There are no atheists in the trenches.”
It was the Queen who interrupted them, leaning forward so that her white neck and breasts were displayed above the neckline of her low-cut gown. “While this is all very amusing, the kiss that will free the girl is the kiss that she most desires,” she said. “Only that and nothing more.”
Simon went from red to white. If the kiss that Clary most desired wasn’t Simon’s, then . . .the way she was looking at Jace, from Jace to Clary, answered that.
Jace’s heart started to pound. He met the Queen’s eyes with his own. “Why are you doing this?”
“I rather thought I was offering you a boon,” she said. “Desire is not always lessened by disgust. Nor can it be bestowed, like a favor, to those most deserving of it. And as my words bind my magic, so you can know the truth. If she doesn’t desire your kiss, she won’t be free.”
Jace felt blood flood into his face. He was vaguely aware of Simon arguing that Jace and Clary were brother and sister, that it wasn’t right, but he ignored him. The Seelie Queen was looking at him, and her eyes were like the sea before a deadly storm, and he wanted to say thank you. Thank you.
And that was the most dangerous thing of all, he thought, as around him his companions argued about whether Clary and Jace had to do this, or what any of them would be willing to do to escape the Court. To allow the Queen to give you something you wanted — truly, truly wanted — was to put yourself in her power. How had she looked at him and known, he wondered? That this was what he thought about, wanted, woke from dreams of, gasping and sweating? That when he thought, really thought, about the fact that he might never get to kiss Clary again, he wanted to die or hurt or bleed so badly he’d go up to the attic and train alone for hours until he was so exhausted he had no choice but to pass out, exhausted. He’d have bruises in the morning, bruises and cuts and scraped skin and if he could have named all his injuries they would have had the same name: Clary, Clary, Clary.
Simon was still talking, saying something, angry again. “You don’t have to do this, Clary, it’s a trick—”
“Not a trick,” said Jace. The calmness in his own voice surprised him. “A test.” He looked at Clary. She was biting her lip, her hand wound in a curl of her hair; the gestures so characteristic, so very much a part of her, they shattered his heart. Simon was arguing with Isabelle now as the Seelie Queen lounged back and watched them like a sleek, amused cat.
Isabelle sounded exasperated. ‘Who cares, anyway? It’s just a kiss.”
“That’s right,” Jace said.
Clary looked up, then finally, and her wide green eyes rested on him. He moved toward her, and as it always did, the rest of the world fell away until it was just them, as if they stood on a spotlighted stage in an empty auditorium. He put his hand on her shoulder, turning her to face him. She had stopped biting her lip, and her cheeks were flushed, her eyes a brilliant green. He could feel the tension in his own body, the effort of holding back, of not pulling her against him and taking this once chance, however dangerous and stupid and unwise, and kissing her the way he had thought he would never, in his life, be able to kiss her again.
“It’s just a kiss,” he said, and heard the roughness in his own voice, and wondered if she heard it, too.
Not that it mattered—there was no way to hide it. It was too much. He had neverwanted like this before. There had always been girls. He had asked himself, in the dead of night, staring at the blank walls of his room, what made Clary so different. She was beautiful, but other girls were beautiful. She was smart, but there were other smart girls. She understood him, laughed when he laughed, saw through the defenses he put up to what was underneath. There was no Jace Wayland more real than the one he saw in her eyes when she looked at him.
But still, maybe, he could find all that somewhere else. People fell in love, and lost, and moved on. He didn’t know why he couldn’t. He didn’t know why he didn’t even want to. All he knew was that whatever he had to owe to Hell or Heaven for this chance, he was going to make it count.
He reached down and took her hands, winding his fingers with hers, and whispered in her ear. “You can close your eyes and think of England, if you like,” he said.
Her eyes fluttered shut, her lashes coppery lines against her pale, fragile skin. “I’ve never even been to England,” she said, and the softness, the anxiety in her voice almost undid him. He had never kissed a girl without knowing she wanted it too, usually more than he did, and this was Clary, and he didn’t know what she wanted. He slid his hands up hers, over the sleeves of her damply clinging shirt, to her shoulders. Her eyes were still closed, but she shivered, and leaned into him — barely, but it was permission enough.
His mouth came down on hers. And that was it. All the self-control he’d exerted over the past weeks went, like water crashing through a broken dam. Her arms came up around his neck and he pulled her against him, and she was soft and pliant but surprisingly strong like no one else he’d ever held. His hands flattened against her back, pressing her against him, and she was up on the tips of her toes, kissing him as fiercely as he was kissing her. He flicked his tongue along her lips, opening her mouth under his, and she tasted salt and sweet like faerie water. He clung to her more tightly, knotting his hands in her hair, trying to tell her, with the press of his mouth on hers, all the things he could never say out loud: I love you; I love you and I don’t care that you’re my sister; don’t be with him, don’t want him, don’t go with him. Be with me. Want me. Stay with me. I don’t know how to be without you.
His hands slid down to her waist, and he was pulling her against him, lost in the sensations that spiraled through his nerves and blood and bones, and he had no idea what he would have done or said next, if it would have been something he could never have pretended away or taken back, but he heard a soft hiss of laughter — the Faerie Queen — in his ears, and it jolted him back to reality. He pulled away from Clary before he it was too late, unlocking her hands from around his neck and stepping back. It felt like cutting his own skin open, but he did it.
Clary was staring at him. Her lips were parted, her hands still open. Her eyes were wide. Behind her, Isabelle was gaping at them; Simon looked as if he was about to throw up.
She’s my sister, Jace thought. My sister. But the words meant nothing. They might as well have been in a foreign language. If there had ever been any hope that he could have come to think of Clary as just his sister, this — what had just happened between them — had exploded it into a thousand pieces like a meteorite blasting into the surface of the earth. He tried to read Clary’s face — did she feel the same? She looked as if she wanted nothing more than to turn around and run away. I know you felt it, he said to her with his eyes, and it was half bitter triumph and half pleading. I know you felt it, too. But there was no answer on her face; she wrapped her arms around herself, the way she always did when she was upset, and hugged herself as if she were cold. She glanced away from him.
Jace felt as if his heart was being squeezed by a fist. He whirled on the Queen. “Was that good enough?” he demanded. “Did that entertain you?”The Queen gave him a look: special and secretive and shared between the two of them. You warned her about us, the look seemed to say. That we would hurt her, break her as you might break a twig between your fingers. But you, who thought you could not be touched — you are the one who has been broken. “We are quite entertained,” she said. “But not, I think, so much as the both of you.”