Any Other Name- Chapter 4
Smoke unfurled from the end of the cigarette hanging from James’s mouth as he rested his forearms on the bordering wall that lined the rooftop across the street from the London Institute where he used to call home. Ashes flickered in the placid breeze that drifted in from the North and mixed with the dusting of snow the gray sky had finally decided to release upon the wasteland that was SoHo.
The cold bit at his fingertips, exposed by his fingerless gloves as he took the last drag and then stamped the stub out on the bricks.
It was nearly five in the afternoon when they arrived; he’d been waiting on the roof across the street for nearly an hour when he finally saw the flash of red hair standing out like a beacon in the otherwise gray and dismal world. She stepped out from the cab with a black duffle bag in her hand, in an oversized jumper and bicycle shorts.
She had to be freezing, he thought, as he released the smoke from his lungs. The last time she came to London it was summertime. He remembered the time well. He’d just been expelled from the Academy and kept home from the summer trip to Egypt his friends and sister went on to see the infamous pyramid Institute there. It wasn’t his parent’s intention to keep him behind, but since a number of his academy peers would be attending the trip as well, it wasn’t advised that he be amongst them after the recent series of unfortunate events that led to his unjust expulsion. He wasn’t entirely convinced he wouldn’t purposefully release a demon in the same room as Augustus Pounceby and Alastair Carstairs and their cadre of idiotic sycophants if given even the slightest chance.
Besides, he didn’t mind being left behind. He got to spend the summer catching up on his reading and training in the Institute’s gym. He’d nearly perfected throwing his blade directly into the target without looking when the Carstairs arrived for official Clave business. Their daughter, who was around the same age as Lucie, arrived with them. Cordelia wasn’t able to go on the Egypt trip either because of a training injury that left Cordelia on crutches and in a cast that wouldn’t be healed for several weeks. He couldn’t recall what happened, but he did remember that her ankle snapped in three different places and the Silent Brothers couldn’t mend it fully without her taking some time off of it. So, like him, she had been left behind. While his mother entertained Cordelia’s mother, she volunteered James to entertain Cordelia.
They spent the entire week she was there reading together while Cordelia rested her foot, sharing their favorite stories until hours into the night. She read to him passages of Layla and Majnun and he showed her all of his favorite parts of London from the top of a Mundane tourist bus. When the days would come to their end and they’d go off to their separate rooms, he found himself staying up at night craving the sound of her voice, the pitch of her laugh, the way her smile transformed her whole face and made his insides unfurl. He couldn’t stop his thoughts from finding their way back to her. One moment he would be reading Hemingway and the next he would be highlighting a passage to share with Cordelia. He’d be eating breakfast with his parents and find himself comparing the color to her hair. Each moment he was with her, it became more and more of a challenge not to give in to the overwhelming desire to kiss her.
He cursed himself for the better part of five years for not saying something to her before she left to go back to Tehran.
It may have been nothing more than a childhood crush at the time, but it flickered somewhere deep in his chest at the sight of her loose hair tumbling in the breeze as she looked up at the Institute.
“Daisy,” he whispered, the word curled in white smoke from his lips.
She turned to look over her shoulder towards him as if she’d heard his voice. He resisted the instinct to duck and instead held her gaze. From where he stood on the roof, he couldn’t make out her profile or even see if her lips were moving. There was no possible way that even if she did see a figure on the adjacent roof a few yards away, that she would recognize him. Still, he found himself holding his breath until she looked away again.
He watched as the Carstairs moved their things into his home with help by the very same Shadowhunters that voted him and his family out. Boxes filled with items his parents didn’t have time to collect before they were evicted from the estate were thrown out like trash to the curb.
“I don’t know why you choose to torture yourself in this way, Jamie boy,” said Matthew as he came up behind James and leaned his back against the railing. “It’s fucking freezing up here.”
James hadn’t heard Matthew come in through the roof door. He was still growing accustomed to the absence of intrinsically knowing when Matthew was near since their Parabatai runes had been destroyed.
“What can I say?” said James, leaning onto his forearms. “I’m a glutton for punishment.”
“And what have you done this time to deserve this self-assigned penance?” asked Matthew, kicking an empty beer can across the gravel. “And why was I not involved in the crime?”
“Thoughts of murder,” said James, “and revenge.”
“Nothing a few hail Angels and hours of demon hunting can’t forgive.” Matthew spun around and leaned on the railing beside James. “Ah, it’s move-in day. I should’ve known you be stalking the Institute like a starving crow.”
“Have you talked to her?”
James nodded towards the Institute.
“The Carstairs girl?” Matthew pulled a cigarette out of his coat pocket and stuck it between his lips. After a moment of fighting with his lighter, smoke drifted from the corner of his mouth. “Considering she’s only been here for all of seven minutes, no, I haven’t talked to her. Is she cute?”
James turned to glare at his friend. “How would I know?”
Matthew shrugged. “I just figure if you’re willing to freeze your balls off on the roof of this mundane hotel to watch her move into your old place then she must be cute. Didn’t the two of you have a short fling a few years back?”
“It wasn’t a fling.”
“Sorry,” said Matthew around a puff of smoke. “A relationship.”
“It wasn’t a fling nor was it a relationship,” said James laced with annoyance. “We spent a short summer together when you abandoned me to go to Egypt. We read books and I showed her around London.”
Matthew clutched his chest, right over his heart. “Please, James, spare me the intimate details.”
James gave his shoulder a hard shove. “Come off it. I haven’t seen her since we were children, I was just curious if you spoke to her and could tell me how she... seemed.”
Matthew’s pale eyebrows raised. “How she seemed?”
“Forget I asked.”
“No,” laughed Matthew. “Genuinely, I’m happy to see you pining after someone other than Grace Blackthorn.”
A flash of betrayal coursed through James at the mention of his ex-girlfriend’s name. He’d been in a fairly serious relationship with Grace (serious on his part, but rather noncommittal on her end) that ended abruptly when the Clave sided with Inquisitor Bridgestock in exiling the Herondale family. That very night Grace approached him outside the Institute in Idris and while hugging him, told him that her mother no longer thought it would be appropriate if they saw each other and then left.
He indeed pined for her for some time afterward. He got roaring drunk and sent her a series of fire messages that went unreciprocated and progressively turned to beg until Matthew took away his stele and paper until he was sober and could control himself. Not even a month later, Matthew told him that she started seeing Charles, Matthew’s brother from time to time. James went out and got himself so drunk that he passed out underneath a bridge like a deranged troll.
Grace had been his first real relationship. He’d taken other girls out before, and it was on a date that Grace approached him—or rather stole him—from his date and started snogging him in the back alley of the Devil’s Tavern. That was Grace’s way with him: stolen, secret moments that left him reeling and in desperate need of a cold shower.
But when he tried to hold her hand in public, she’d find a reason to move away from him. If she spoke to her within a group, she barely made eye contact with him. When they attended parties or went out, she insisted they arrive and leave separately. He never asked her why she wanted it that way; perhaps he knew the answer and didn’t want to hear it.
He stayed with her because of tender moments when he felt the real Grace, his Grace, show herself. Like when they snuck out to Richmond Park and spent the night together lying on the grass, looking up at the stars, and talking about plans for their future. It hadn’t occurred to him then that none of her plans included him.
No, he’d long since stopped pining after Grace Blackthorn and wished for her demise with as much sincerity as he wished for the rest of those who exiled his family.
Matthew could be relentless in his teasing, so James made a quick attempt at changing the subject. “Did you bring what I asked for?”
Matthew shoved his hand into his light blue corduroy jacket pocket and brought out a three-toothed brass key about the length of his pinkie finger and handed it over to James. “I need that back before my mother realizes it’s missing which shouldn’t be until Monday morning when she returns to her office, so make sure that you get whatever it is that you need done with it finished by tomorrow night.”
James clutched the key in his fist. “Shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Shouldn’t?” Matthew blanched. “No, no, it won’t be a problem, because if it is a problem then my mother will take the blame for it. James, I need that key back by tomorrow night.”
James placed a hand on Matthew’s shoulder. “I understand, Math. I will leave the key at your flat tomorrow morning underneath the ceramic dog on your porch.”
Matthew’s mouth flattened into a straight line. “I have your word?”
“Of course,” said James and pocketed the key. “Do you not trust me?”
“Yes, of course, I trust you,” insisted Matthew. “My family has just been under a fucking microscope since everything happened. I had to tell the Penhallow boy that I was going to the shops to pick out new underwear and the bastard trailed me all the way to the strip mall and only left when I started picking out briefs. I would be insulted by his assuming that I am lying if I weren’t so goddamn irritated.”
James tensed. “Are you sure no one tracked you here?”
“Yes,” said Matthew as he took another long drag of his cigarette, “I’m sure. In fact, I tracked Penhallow to the Institute where he is one of the volunteers helping to move the Carstairs family in.”
“You didn’t volunteer?” asked James.
A stream of smoke flowed from Matthew's nostrils. “God no, I may have mentioned assisting my mother on official Clave business regarding a demon possessed artifact in an abandoned warehouse on Bleeker Street, so that is where they all expect me to be. Thomas, I believe, volunteered or perhaps he was wrangled into the job by his parents. The boy hasn’t stopped growing since he turned thirteen and his voice dropped. He looks like a linebacker on one of those American football teams. He will come more in handy than I ever could.”
Nearly a month has gone by with no word from Thomas or Christopher since the exile. As hard as James tried to understand the position his closest friends were put in, he couldn’t stop the sharp pang of abandonment, no matter how desperately he tried to convince himself that it was not like that for them. If the tables were reversed and he had to decide whether to risk seeing his friends or protecting his own life and the life of his family, then he could understand the hesitation.
Still, the anger ripped at his logic. He missed his friends— more than anything else he’d been forced to leave behind, he missed his friends.
“Is there really a demon possessed artifact in a warehouse on Bleeker Street?”
Matthew flicked the ashes off the end of his cigarette. “Yes, but it’s being dealt with by Anna and a few others. I told my mother I volunteered to help the Carstairs move. Everyone believes me to be in one place, when in fact, I’m actually here with you. As long as no one speaks to each other about my elegid whereabouts then they’ll all be none the wiser.”
“Clever,” said James, fiddling with the key in his pocket. “Thank you, for risking what you have to bring me what I needed. I know it’s a lot to ask.”
Matthew shook his head and stepped away from the bordering wall. His trainers crunched against the gravel as he spun on his heels to face James. “I may have to appear to be obeying their rules, but that doesn’t mean that I agree with them and it doesn’t mean that I will allow them to win. My life is still very much my own and I still choose to have you in it. You’re more than my friend, you’re my brother, more than my own even. I’ve told you before Jamie, they can erase my rune, but they cannot erase my promise, I will honor our vows as parabatai until I meet my end and not before.”
James embraced his oldest friend, clutching him tight around the shoulders. “I feel the same.”
Matthew returned the embrace. “You’ll take care of yourself, yeah? You haven’t told me yet what you intend to do with that key and I’ve been trying to give you your space and not ask, but if I’m invited to your trial after they catch you, I will deny ever being involved.”
James released him. “But you just said…”
“No where in the vows does it say that I have to stand by you when you do something stupid that I clearly warned you against!”
“It’s implied,” said James.
“I only follow explicit instructions, not implied instructions,” said Matthew throwing his cigarette onto the ground and crushed it under his trainer before glancing at the watch around his wrist. “Shite, I’m going to be late. The Inquisitor saw fit to put a curfew on those of us who were affiliated with you. If I’m home even a minute after seven then I am forced into a meeting with both Bridgestock, Pounceby, and a witness to verify that I am being truthful about my whereabouts. Also, I’m supposed to pick up Christopher to help my father with one of his experiments on weapons infused with holy water.” Matthew’s eyes widened. “That doesn’t effect your demony issue, does it?”
James rolled his eyes. “No more than it effects yours.”
Matthew grinned as he slowly walked back towards the roof door. “My demons have far more expensive taste in poison, I’m afraid.” With that, he opened the roof door and disappeared leaving James staring over the edge as his life once again shifted into something he couldn’t recognize.
Whispers of the exiled Shadowhunters crawled through the streets of Hackney, one of London’s most dangerous boroughs and home to most Downworlders that had effectively been pushed out of the bigger, better boroughs by the Clave. Lined with crowded pubs and coffeehouses, and veined with dark and minacious alleys fraught with all manner of salacious activities, the whispers followed James around like his own shadow.
It’d taken him not even a week to develop a reputation in Hackney that allowed him to wander the streets unbothered, though it did involve a significant amount of blood on his hands and a few scars that couldn’t be healed fully with an iratze. Afterward, the whispers turned to warnings and rumors of his ruthlessness; those standing on the streets as he walked back averted their attention or moved out of his path. There were the occasional few that stepped out to challenge him from time to time, but he’d simply have to fling a blade within an inch of their skin and they’d let him pass.
James flipped one of his throwing knives between his fingers as he walked: a silent reminder to those around him of who he was and what he was capable of doing. It was an unnecessary safety measure, but a comfort all the same. The knives were the last remnants of being a Shadowhunter that he has left; now he lived amongst of the shadows he once hunted.
As he approached the great stone arch that marked the entrance to The Hell Ruelle, Hepatia Vex’s nightclub, without uttering a word, the burly guard stepped out his way and allowed James entry.
The place was packed with a mixture of mundanes gifted with the sight, Fae, Warlocks, Witches, Vampires, and Werewolves dancing in the strobing lights that swayed in the exposed rafters to the electronic music that pulsed throughout the building. James dodged dancing bodies until he reached one of the many ladders that went to the second level. The steel bars were warm underneath his palms and littered with glitter amongst other unmentionable things. Once on the second level, he went straight, passed the NO ACCESS signs that flickered above the doorway, and pushed aside the heavy curtain that kept patrons out. Once the curtain closed again, the music went nearly silent except he could still feel the beat of the dancers and music underneath his trainers.
He slipped silently down the hallway, scanning the shadows in the rafters above for any of Hepatia’s spies until he reached the rouge door at the end and knocked three times.
“Who is it?” asked a deep feminine voice.
“James Herondale,” he said and crossed his arms. “I’ve brought what you asked for and I’m ready to trade, that is if you still want to do business with—“
The door swung open and standing on the other side was not Hepatia Vex, as he has expected, but a half-naked girl with star-shaped nipple covers and a skirt that was nothing more than a belt with two long strips of fabric covering her front and back. Long, tanned hips and legs that James had a difficult time ignoring were laid bare and glistening in the dull lamplight. Her opulent eyes reflected like those of a cat as she smiled lasciviously at James.
“Come in, Herondale,” said a voice from within the darkroom.
James shouldered past the courtesan that may or may not have smelled him as he passed and walked towards the plush green sofa where Hepatia stretched out in a black leather skirt and white bralette that nearly glowed against her deep, rich skin tone. The room smelt heavy with magic laced with weed and sex.
Hypatia's eyes wandered lazily over James as she uncurled her hand towards him. “Where is it? Give it to me.”
“No until you give me what I asked for,” answered James and glanced over his shoulder at the courtesan. “And she needs to leave.”
Vex started at James for a moment, the corners of her full, sensuous mouth turned up at the corners until she swung her body into a seated position and crossed one leg over the other knee. “Why the secrecy? Afraid to tarnish your reputation… but wait, hasn’t that been done already?”
“I don’t need all of the boroughs to know my business,” said James, staring at Vex around the ends of the curls that had fallen into his face. He’d been told on countless occasions that a look from him set people on edge. Perhaps it was the color of his eyes or the intensity within them.
Whatever it was, it worked. “Leave us, Femi. Bring us back some refreshments.”
Without a word or much of a sound, Femi left out the door.
Vex bounced the foot resting in the air and drummed her long red-painted fingernails on the couch cushion as she continued to look James up and down. “You look thin. Life in the dirty Hub not treating you so nicely, little angel.”
“Don’t call me that,” snapped James.
“Why not?” grinned Vex, satisfied to have found a wound for which she could press. “Oh, is that not accurate anymore? Should I refer to you as, little demon, instead?”
“Do you want to make the trade or not?” James’s voice dropped into a low, miserable timber. “I have other business to attend to.”
“I’m sure you do,” said Vex as she stood up and walked around the couch towards the minibar at the back of the room. She waved her hand over the ceramic ice holder three times as flecks of red and magenta smoke uncurled from her fingers. The lid to the ice bucket shook until she took it off and removed what was inside.
She sauntered her way back to where James stood. Her cat-shaped eyes slid over him from brow to chest to hips and back up again. Her pupils dilated slightly. “My you’ve grown into a handsome young man, haven’t you?”
James resisted the urge to cross his arms or crumble under her stare.
“But then you’ve always been handsome.” Elongated incisors flashed as she grinned. “Something you inherited from your father.” She reached and grabbed James by the wrist-twisting his arm until his palm was flat and facing up. She dropped three bags of iridescent powder into his hand. “Now for the key.”
James pocketed the powder and retrieved the key. Hypatia snatched it from his hand and held it close to her chest. “Pleasure doing business with you, Herondale. You should go have a dance. You look like you need to unwind and there are other ways to do that without the use of those drugs. I can fall up Fima and show you one of my favorite ways.”
“Thanks for the offer, but I need to be going,” said James, but before he turned to leave he remembered his conversation with Matthew. “I’ll need that key back by tomorrow afternoon and no later. It’s important that I return it.”
Vex dropped the key into the ice bucket and replaced the lid. “That shouldn’t be a problem. I will have someone meet you at Blackfriar bridge.”
James nodded and turned to leave. As he reached for the door handle, Vex’s voice came from behind him.
“And James, if you ever find that you want a real job and not to sell magical drugs on the street, come and see me.”
James didn’t bother to turn around, he turned the handle and stepped out, with absolute surety that a business with Hypatia Vex was not one that he wanted any part in.
Walking out of The Hell Ruelle, James felt as if he could breathe freely again. The warm July night had the streets crowded with miscreants and the company of such, especially in Hackney. He skirted past couples doing more than just making out against the alley walls and avoided the gang of werewolves lighting dumpsters on fire outside of a liquor store and proceeded to howl mockingly at the moon.
He made his way down Briar Street towards the canal where his regular customers would be waiting for him to provide his recently acquired goods under the troll bridge where all manner of questionable deeds went on. He needed to be one of the first ones to get there or all of the most desperate would have bought from someone else.
As he passed an alley towards the end of the busy street, he heard the sound of a female voice coming from the alleyway. He wouldn’t have stopped if it hadn’t sounded so familiar.
He backed up several steps and looked down the alley. Three tall male Fae warriors stood in a row and over the middle one’s shoulder, James could see a flash of red hair, the curve of her face, and the golden hilt of a sword resting over her shoulder.
Something twisted in his gut as recognition overtook him. She looked different, older, beautiful.
“I don’t want to harm any of you.” There was a slight waver in her voice: fear and determination. “I’m here by accident and I’d like to leave without any unnecessary bloodshed. If you would kindly move, I will happily be on my way.”
The Fae warrior in the center removed two blades from the scabbards at his sides and glided them across each other so they made a spark. “I say we remove her clothes piece by piece and allow everyone in the Mill to look their fill of her nakedness.”
“She is a lovely thing,” said the Fae to his right. “Perhaps we could take turns with her and return her back to her people used.”
James’s blood boiled in his veins at the threat and he reached for the throwing knife tucked in his jacket pocket. He hadn’t answered the call in his blood in some time, fighting as a Shadowhunter was too painful. He preferred to get his knuckles bloody and his skin to split, but there wasn’t time for that now and it was far too kind of a punishment for the threat they made towards her.
Cordelia drew Cortana and positioned herself to fight. “You can try.”
“What will you do?” grinned the head Fae. “You’ll cut all three of us down by yourself with that little blade?”
He moved towards her again, but Cordelia stood firm. James couldn’t help but smile at her stony resolve. She would do it, he could see it in her eyes that she would not hesitate, but the bloodshed from either side would surely make waves in the water that his parents and several other Downworlders were trying to still.
James leaned his shoulder against the wall and crossed his arms. “Oh, I wouldn’t doubt her, Bevan. I’ve seen her take down men twice as skilled as you.”
As the three Fae men turned to look behind them, Cordelia lunged.
Thanks for reading! Comments, like, and reblog are my primary motivation.
Next update: Fri, 6/25
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