The lights of the rooftop garden first appeared on Nas' sixteenth birthday, and they shone up there for twenty days, while life went on below.
Day One: CreationEdit
"Okay, not yet, just wait, not yet, don't open your eyes, move, go on, take two more steps, hang on..."
Nas stifled a laugh as she shuffled forwards, Jon's hands soft on her shoulders. He pushed her slightly further, his knee bumping the back of her thigh, and she squirmed, reaching her hands up to tug down the blindfold.
"Can I open my eyes now?"
"Nearly, nearly," the boy mumbled, and she wanted to laugh again at the concentration in his tone. She felt his cheek brush hers as he leaned forwards to see whatever this surprise was from her perspective. "Okay, it's perfect," he decided. "Open your eyes, Nas, and see what I made for you."
She blinked open her eyes, long dark lashes framing startlingly silver irises, and drew in a sharp breath. "Oh my God," she exclaimed. "Jon, it's perfect, it's beautiful, it's amazing, you're amazing." Nas turned around and flung her arms around his neck, pressing her face into his shoulder. She brushed a kiss against the stubble of his chin and then turned around again, absorbing the image before her, dancing on her tiptoes with the thrill. She felt Jon's laugh rather than hearing it - his chest rumbled against her back as he pulled her close, wrapping his arms around her waist, plastering himself to her possessively.
The tree that spread over the rooftop garden was covered in twinkling lights. The overwhelming effect was a mass of glittery white, but when Nas focused, she could pick out individual colours here and there - a flash of blue, a glint of green, the briefest flash of red in the tallest branches. She tipped her head back, resting it against Jon's shoulder, and bathed in the glow of her own personal light show. The greenhouse was behind them, but this outdoor part had been cultivated since before they were born, and the golden oak tree in the middle was massive now, branches reaching over most of the roof. The trunk gleamed with the strands of filigree gold that always became visible in the moonlight, and Nas darted forward, untangling herself from her boyfriend so that she could skip to the middle of the garden, whirl around with her arms spread and her head tossed back, laughing. She slowed to a dizzy stop, felt her hair stop a few moments after her and fall back, reaching almost to her waist in long dark swathes that stood out against the stark white of her tank top.
"Happy birthday," Jon said softly. He stretched a hand out for her, but let it fall back to his side before they touched. Nas hardly noticed. She was engrossed in the wonder of the moment, the gleaming of the garden - brighter than witchlight, brighter than stars. It was brilliant.
Day Two: ConversationEdit
It was only half-past five in the afternoon when Nas and Layla emerged onto the rooftop garden, but already the sun had set and the lights on the tree were all that shone. It was freezing, and Nas rubbed her arms briskly through the black sleeves of her leather jacket.
Layla pulled the hood of her sheepskin jacket over her head and glanced at her friend. "Well?" she questioned. "What was it you wanted to talk about?"
"You know me," Nas grinned. "I'm happy to talk to you about anything."
Layla brushed the frost from a bench and sat down. "Yes, but I also know that you wouldn't want to talk to me up here in the freezing cold if it wasn't important and private."
The dark-haired girl sighed and sat beside her friend, tucking her legs into her chest. "You got me," she said. "Ok, listen. It's about Karen."
"Oh. Karen," Layla said, in the same tone of voice she might use to say look, a cockroach. "I'm listening. Is it a conspiracy theory about how she's a traitor? Because I agree."
"No, you great nong. But it is a conspiracy theory. She's been... sneaking out, lately. I keep hearing her creep past my room in the middle of the night, and once I went to look and I found her climbing out the window at the end of the hall."
"Did you follow her?" Layla asked instantly, and Nas sighed, rolling her eyes.
"Of course not! She's a werewolf, her uncle's a vampire, and between them they could probably decide to make my life a living hell. Especially if someone told my mother what I'd been doing."
"So... you want me to follow her?"
Nas wondered if her intentions had really been that transparent. Maybe it was just Layla, one of her closest friends, who knew her that well. She could have asked Merry, her parabatai, but since she'd started dating Merry's twin brother things had been... awkward... between them.
"Hello? Nas? Do you want me to follow her or not?"
Nas hesitated, then took a breath and made up her mind. "Yes. Please? Your parents aren't here and I'm sure... I mean I think it would be a good idea to see what Karen is doing. But it's up to you."
"Aw, you know I'd do anything for you," Layla said, leaning against her friend and shoving at her arm. She tossed blond curls over her shoulder and gave Nas a flirty pout as she stood up and made to leave the garden. "You're welcome in advance."
"Thank you," Nas said, heartfelt and determined. "You're the best."
"I know," Layla said, and she flounced back into the greenhouse and through to the Institute.
Nas remained for a moment, leaning back on her arms, watching her breath puff out in front of her like smoke from a dragon and bathing in the glow of the lights. She really hoped this would turn out to be nothing - nothing significant, that was - but better safe than sorry. At least now she'd done her part. From here, it was up to Layla.
Day Three: InterruptionEdit
They burst through the door together, laughing, with their clasped hands up at shoulder level. Nas looked down at her fingers and Jon's entertwined. Her skin was a shade paler than his. He smiled down at her, that quirk pulling the corner of his mouth sideways like it always did. When he was amused, he only lifted one side of his mouth. Nas nestled her head in against his shoulder.
"You know I love you?" she said, and somehow it came out as more of a question than she'd meant it to be.
"I know," Jon smiled. He pressed his lips to her hair, moved them down to the shell of her ear. She lifted her head again, barely had to stretch to touch their lips together. She was taller than average for a woman, and Jon was slightly below average for a man, meaning they were practically the same height.
Jon moved her lips apart, deepening the kiss. The two of them stumbled backwards, until Nas could feel the lights of the garden on her upturned face, see them shining through her closed eyelids. Tonight was warmer than it had been for a long time, and when Jon bent his knees to sit on the stone floor, pulling her with him, it was barely cold. Maybe, Nas thought, that was because she was hovering above it. Kissing Jon always made her feel like floating.
There was still a picnic rug up here. It had been here since early this morning, when she and Jon had come out to watch the sunrise. It was a good way to begin a day. Good way to end it, too, Nas thought as her boyfriend lowered her down, their lips still locked together, until she was lying on her back on the rug and he was leaning over her, propped up on one hand, the other tangling in her hair. He shifted, settling between her legs, and she parted them to make room for him, wrapping her feet around his waist. Jon moved closer, kissed her eyelids, her forehead, her nose and back to her mouth. She ran her palms down his biceps and across his chest, and one of his hands crept below the hem of her jumper, slid beneath her t-shirt, stroked over the dip just below her ribcage. Nas leaned into his touch.
"You know I love you too," Jon whispered, breaking this kiss, and Nas nodded, breathless and boneless beneath him.
"Of course I know."
He kissed her again, passionately, getting more frantic now. One of her hands ducked beneath the collar of his coat, slid down the hard muscles and warm skin of his back. Her other hands twined in the shaggy blond strands of his hair, tugging gently. Jon's hand slid up further, grazing the wire of her bra, sliding up to rest against her collarbone. His hand caressed the swell of her breast, sliding just beneath the bra.
The greenhouse door banged back against the wall, and the two of them jumped. Nas tilted her head up where she lay on the ground, and caught an upside-down glimpse of Clary standing in the entrance to the rooftop garden, her hand pressed to her mouth. Jon pulled his hand out of Nas' shirt and rocked back, sitting on his knees and taking a deep, rueful breath, rubbing a hand through his hair. Nas sat up and turned to face her redheaded aunt.
"Sorry," Clary said, raising her eyebrows. "That was awkward." She was trying to be mild, and stay cool about it, but she was staring stony-faced at her son. "So, Jon. Was this your dad's idea?"
"I don't know what you mean," Jon said. He was a bad liar.
"The whole 'take the girl up to the roof and dazzle her with beautiful lights' move," Clary said. "It seems like the sort of thing he would encourage." She spoke lovingly, but disapprovingly too, although the latter emotion seemed aimed at her son more than her husband. "You good, Nas?"
"Fine," Nas said, trying to keep her voice even. "How's your evening been?"
"Oh, brilliant, so far," the woman said. "Jon? A word?"
Jon sighed. He pushed himself to his feet and offered Nas his hand, helping her up too. He stepped close, into her personal space, and pecked her on the cheek, giving her that one-sided smile of his. "I'l see you later, love," he promised.
"Yeah," Nas agreed. Speech was slow in coming back to her. "Later." She dusted off her back and strolled towards the greenhouse door. As she passed Clary, the older woman gave her a nod, her expression softening. Clary had always been lenient towards Nas, although she didn't know why. She smiled back, and disappeared into the greenhouse.
Clary waited until she was sure the girl had gone. At forty-one, strands of grey were beginning to show through her flame-coloured hair, but she had the same spark in her eyes that had been there at sixteen. "What do you have to say for yourself, Jonathan?" There was an undercurrent of steel in her voice.
"Uh, I'm sorry you walked in on my make-out session? That was embarassing. I may never recover."
"Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about. I'm all for you and Nas having a casual relationship, but please try and remember that she's only sixteen. I know at your age, it seems very old, but it's not. She's still a kid, Jon. I don't want her to get hurt."
"What about me?" Jonathan asked, his eyes stormy. "What about me getting hurt? I love Nas, Mom. I would never hurt her."
"Still," Clary said, and he could see she was wavering. "There are things... she's in a fragile place right now, and it's only going to get worse as she learns the truth. If you're not there for her-"
"Well, I will be," the boy said. His face was set, his eyes determined. "I'll always be there for her. I'm going to bed now, okay? My own bed, so don't flip out. I'll see you in the morning." He stomped past her. Clary stood in the middle of the garden, waited. The crunching footsteps stopped, and then started again. Her son placed his hands on her shoulders from behind, leaned forward and brushed a kiss to her cheek. "I love you."
"I love you too, Jon," she whispered. He left. When she was certain he was out of earshot, she murmured, "but please be careful."
Day Four: RelaxationEdit
"It's a girls day," Layla said, her face sparkling gleefully. With her bright blond hair, twinkling blue eyes and cheeky grin, she looked like some kind of pixie, sprawled out across the deck in the sunlight. "A girls sunbathing beach spa day."
"None of that is right," Merry objected. She was leaning back on the towel beside Nas, propping herself up on her arms. "It's not a beach, it's not a spa, and you can't sunbathe in winter coats."
"Well you can try," Layla pointed out. She gave a sigh of contentment and pillowed her head on her hands. Merry rolled her eyes, with an expression that suddenly made her look strikingly similar to her father.
Nas glanced over her parabatai's head and made eye contact with Illyria, the fourth member of this little girl band. The fifteen-year-old was smiling, but she ducked her head shyly when she saw Nas looking at her. Illyria was always uncertain about her place with the others, and she'd confessed once that she felt 'woefully inadequate' for being a year younger. The rest of them hardly noticed, though, and Lyri was highly intelligent, alert and observant. Sometimes it felt like she was older than the rest of them.
"It's not a full girl's day out," Merry observed suddenly. "Karen and Lucy aren't here."
"Neither is Nina," Nas said quickly.
Merry snorted and flapped a hand across her face as though dislodging an irritating fly. "Well, yeah, but Nina is... Nina. Besides, she's only a kid."
"Lucy's way old," Layla said, tucking one leg beneath her flat body in an act of such extreme flexibility that Nas could hardly bear to look. "And we don't like Karen because she's a traitor and a coward and-"
"She kissed your boyfriend that one time," Merry completed. "We know."
"He wasn't my boyfriend, just some guy who I happened to be shacking up with. But she totally stole him from me. Bitch."
"Language," Nas laughed. "We don't need to hear any more about your supremely healthy love life, Lay. We came up here to talk about something far more significant."
"Right," Illyria said, speaking up as suddenly and unexpectedly as she always did. She had a habit of staying quiet until you forgot she was there, and then... bam. "You mean the exams next week."
"Well, actually no," Nas said, "but they're pretty important, I guess."
"Pretty important? Pretty important?" Merry said incredulously. "They're only the exam which decides if you're competent as a Shadowhunter and lays your whole future before your feet, that's all. I passed with flying colours, in case you were wondering."
Sometimes, Nas reflected, having her parabatai and best friend be two years older than her was a real pain.
"Why are you so worried, Penhallow?" Layla questioned the youngest girl. "Your exams aren't for another year."
Illyria shook her head mutely. "They bumped me up," she explained. "I guess they thought I was ready... or something." She blushed, and Nas hastened to jump in, knowing how much the girl hated to talk about herself. She had some kind of modesty kick.
"Cos Lyri's a genius, that's why," she said quickly. "But we love her anyway. As for the important topic I was addressing - it was actually the question of the Gala. Anyone gonna go?"
"It's being held at the Institute, we could hardly miss it."
"Sure we could, Merry. We could hide in our rooms studying for exams. Nope, wait, you're the only one who'll be doing that." Layla grinned, pleased with herself. "And you've already passed them."
"Shut up." The redhead threw a pillow at her friend. Layla shrieked and ducked and it struck the bench behind her.
The blond drew her eyebrows together into an angry frown. "Oh, it is on!" she challenged, practically snarling the words. "It is so on. This means war."
Illyria jumped to her feet and dodged around Layla, heading for the bench. She grabbed three pillows on her way, including the one Merry had tossed there, and hunkered down, curling into a ball to present a smaller target. Nas leaned forward, tugged the pillow from her back and held it in two hands, like a shield, prepared to defend herself from the fluffy flying missiles.
Layla scrambled off her towel with an angry flounce, picked it up and threw it at Merry's head. The older girl rolled sideways with the ease that spoke of years of training and hurled another pillow. It rebounded off Layla's head and struck the bench, where Illyria snatched it up to add to her defensive wall. Layla made a tutting sound.
"Hoarding all the good stuff," she said, and dived down to join Illyria beneath the bench, wrestling a pillow out of the girl's hand. While she was distracted, Merry seized the chance to belabour her with the end of a towel, using it like a whip. The blond girl spun around abruptly and a purple pillow hurtled into Merry's face.
Nas saw her moment and took it, flinging her shield pillow and a handy nearby spare at Illyria's wall, which crumbled and dissolved into a mass of pillows that were instantly grabbed by the feuding warriors to be reused in battle. Illyria crawled out from under the bench and grabbed the single remaining towel, tossing it in a high throw that spread it wide, like a parachute, encompassing both Layla and Merry. The two girls ducked in sync, probably the first and last time they would ever do something together, and the towel hurtled over their heads and off the edge of the roof.
The four girls exchanged glances. "Uh oh," Illyria said in a small voice, and they all lunged for the wall, leaning over it to stare down at the brightly patterned towel floating towards the stranger walking towards the front door.
It flopped down over his head and shoulders, and from beneath it they heard a faint "Ouch," followed by an "Aha. I see. A towel!" The towel in question was orange and pink, with brightly pattered starfish and seashells splashed across it. The man reached up a long slim hand and tugged the towel away, revealing possibly the most handsome face Nas had ever seen. She let out her breath in a whoosh. The man had tanned skin the colour of milky coffee. His dark brown hair fell loosely over his face, and stubble of the same colour dotted his chin. He had full, slightly parted lips, and his eyes were wide with surprise. Staring at them, Nas was shocked to see that they were black - a real, deep black, as black as pitch. He held the towel up and away from him by a single corner, as though afraid it might be contaminated, and stared at it with a truly puzzled face.
All four girls ducked as he turned his head upwards to see where the towel might have come from. Nas exchanged glances with her friends and felt an almost overwhelming urge to giggle. She clamped a hand over her own mouth. Cautiously, they all poked their heads back up above the wall, to see the man draping the towel over his shoulders like a cape. He looked down at himself, nodded, looked pleased, and strode towards the front door with a cheerful underwater pattern hanging across his broad shoulders and down his back. He was followed by pealing laughter from the rooftop garden.
Day Five: ResignationEdit
"Tell us exactly what he said," Layla begged, gripping her left leg at the knee and lifting it into the air at an angle that made Jon wince. Nas felt it from where she sat between his legs, leaning back against his chest, and she laughed softly.
"I don't understand why it's such a big deal," Lucy said. Fair-skinned, with wavy white-blond hair and deep, gleaming blue eyes, she was destined to make girls despair and guys drool. Apparently incredible attractiveness ran in her family - something to do with faerie blood somewhere down the line, which would also explain the way her ears tapered to delicate points. Nas put a hand instinctively to her own ears at the thought, but her fingers brushed thick black hair instead and she dropped her arm to her side.
"Did you not see the man?" Lay gasped, switching legs. "Was he not the most gorgeous creature in the history of ever?" She looked to the others for encouragement.
"He was pretty attractive," Nas admitted. Jon flicked her ear. "Hey, ouch! Not as attractive as you, of course."
"Naturally," he said, looking adorably smug, and leant down for a kiss. Out of the corner of her eye, Nas saw Merry turning away, and she sighed into Jon's mouth. The quicker her parabatai got to grips with this relationship, the sooner things could get back to normal.
"Okay," Lucy interrupted. "Here's how it went down."
The bell rang.
Not the most exciting start to a story, but at the New York Institute, a rare occurrence. Five different people immediately rushed from three rooms and collided at the front door. Clary stood on her toes, bouncing as though she was twelve instead of forty-one, and took stock of the situation.
"Karen, hon, we actually need those weapons sharpened by tonight, so please get back to it. Rye, Nina, I don't know what you two were doing in that broom cupboard but please don't get back to it ever. Nina, find your father, please, tell him I need him." She glanced around. "Lucy, sweetie, you stay as well. I might need another adult Shadowhunter around."
Clary tended to stick terms of endearment onto everyone. She'd been doing it since they were small, and none of them had realised it at the time, but it was her way of making them feel comfortable and secure, this group of abandoned children who were now under her charge. The habit had just never dropped. Now, as the redheaded woman swept towards the door, Lucy squared her shoulders and waited, one part hoping for excitement, the other praying for safety. Clary tugged the door open...
If they'd been expecting demon hordes, problematic vampires or dying werewolves, this was absoutely the furthest thing they could get. A well-dressed, possibly slightly handsome (although really Lucy didn't notice and wasn't looking at all) young man stood on the doorstep. He wore a long black coat over a pale white shirt which was partially unbuttoned. His trousers were black and neatly pressed, his shoes were sparkly and his near-shoulder-length hair was neatly brushed. Strangest of all, there was what looked like a bright beach towel across his shoulders. His head was tilted back, and he was gazing at the sky with some puzzlement, so it took him a moment to realise the door had been opened at all. When he did, he smiled, and, holding out his hand palm up, went down on one knee.
"Wolfgang Verniziem, at your service, madam," he said gallantly, and Clary hesitantly placed her slim white hand in his black-gloved one. He kissed it.
"What are you doing here?" Clary asked, a little confused. Wolfgang raised his head and his eyes were black like coal, or night, or the feathers of the raven as it flew north across a storm-crowded sky.
"This isn't a bloody poetry contest, Lucy. Get to the point."
"I was under the impression that I had been summoned," Wolfgang said, looking almost as puzzled as Clary. "Did you or did you not require the services of a personage such as myself at this establishment?"
"I... don't think so," Clary stammered. "Uh... what sort of a personage might that be, exactly?"
"I'd rather not say," said Wolfgang, looking embarrassed. "It's not a word suitable for a lady's delicate ears, let alone two." He eyed Lucy over Clary's shoulder.
"Oh, I promise you, our ears aren't particularly delicate," Clary muttered. At that moment, Jace dashed up, his hair rumpled, his face shinin with sweat and his breathing fast.
"Sorry," he said to Clary. "I was training." He brushed a finger along her waist - not possessive, just as if he was checking in, making sure she was really there - and then turned his attention to the man on the doorstep. "Good evening."
Wolfgang bowed. "Sir," he began, "I was summoned to this place in the wee hours of yesterday's morn. I am afraid it took me longer to respond to the summons than usual, as I was caught up in an inter-dimensional rift, but I am here now and would like to get to work as soon as possible, so that my summons may be dissmissed." He leaned forward, and added confidentially, "I have business to tend to at home, sir. My begonias will need watering soon. Do you understand?"
Jace put on his vaguest expression and said, "I haven't the foggiest. Sorry. If you want to come in, we could probably discuss this further?"
"Very well," Wolfgang said with a long-suffering sigh, and he stepped inside. At that point, he was escorted to the dining room, Lucy was dissmissed and he vanished into thin air for the remainder of the day. The next morning, Lucy was ambushed and dragged to the rooftop garden by a group of irritating children...
"All right, you can stop there," Nas interrupted. "We were there for that bit."
"I am not a child," Jon said. "I am a man. I am a manly man who sleeps with a teddy bear in a manly fashion. My teddy is manly also. His name is Achilles."
"He sounds mysterious," Layla said with relish. "I adore mysterious men. They're always so much better in the sack."
"You don't have to sleep with every man who crossed through the doors, Layla," Merry said snappily. She had been in a bad mood since the kiss, and sulked through Lucy's story.
"I don't," the blond protested. "I haven't slept with Simon yet."
"Oh gross," Nas groaned. "That is foul, Lay. Take it back, you disgusting, horrible girl." She reached over Jon's chest and slapped at her friend's arm.
"I guess we'll have to wait," Illyria mused silently. They all jumped, because, as usual, they'd forgotten she was there.
"Wait for what?" Jon asked.
"To find out who he is... or maybe what he is. If he was summoned here, he can't exactly be a mundane, now can he?"
Silence reigned on the rooftop.
Day Six: RealisationEdit
Layla was sprawled out across one of the benches when the boy appeared. She had her coat balled up and stuck under her head as a pillow, and she was wearing a thick knitted jumper, jeans and boots. There was frost spread across the branches of the tree and over the other benches - not surprising, really, given it was 6 AM. What was surprising was for Jamie Midwinter to be up here so early. Layla struggled to a sitting position and stared at him.
"Jamie," she said, raking her eyes up and down his form, taking in the dark shaggy hair and brown eyes. "What are you doing up here?"
"I could ask you the same thing," he said. His voice was deep, rich and pleasant, and he crossed to the bench opposite hers and sat down, leaning forward to prop his elbows on his knees. "It's early, cold, and devoid of human company." He ticked them off on his fingers. "Aren't those the three things that you hate the most?"
"I love the cold," Layla retorted. "Guess you don't know me as well as you think you do." She narrowed her eyes, hoping that a violent glare would discourage Jamie from any more conversation. She didn't feel like talking.
Jamie apparently wasn't discouraged. He leant back on the bench with a satisfied sigh and stretched his legs out in front of him, smacking his lips. "I know plenty," he said confidently.
Something about his voice made Layla scared. She fought to steady her reply. "Whatever. Why don't you get lost? Or maybe I will." She huffed out a breath that she hoped sounded annoyed rather than nervous and rose to her feet.
In a second, Jamie was standing in front of her, right up in her personal space. She stared at his eyes - they were so dark they looked almost black, even this close - and then shifted left, trying to dodge around him. Jamie shifted with her. She frowned, and skirted right, and this time he reached out and grabbed her wrist. She pulled back furiously, but he had a tight grip.
"Hey, let go! Jerk." She twisted her shoulder sharply, pulling it up and around further than most humans could. Jamie let go, startled by the maneuvre, and Layla flounced past him in a flurry. The greenhouse door slammed behind her as she disappeared.
Jamie sat back down on a bench and sighed. This wasn't the first time he'd tried to talk to Layla - nor, he suspected, would it be the last. She refused to admit what they had in common, and believed that if something wasn't spoken about, it didn't exist. Jamie tipped his head back and stared at the lights strung through the branches of the tree, barely visible in the early morning light. "At least I tried," he said to no one in particular, but it didn't make him feel better. He sighed, rose to his feet, and padded silently away from the garden.