He recognized her the instant the door closed behind her.
Clary didn’t break step getting into line behind him. She glanced up at the giant menu boards above the counter like she was considering changing her order. Then she looked back down at her phone with a soft smile and either changed her music or played a game.
It was a game.
He pretended not to notice her, she wouldn’t notice him. It was becoming all too familiar and friendly. Alec almost hated it.
He averted his eyes to study the board himself, though he knew what he was going to order, and he wasn’t going to mess it up this time.
Alec could hear the soft murmuring of music through Clary’s headphones, even standing steps away from her. It used to annoy him to no end that he could never have her attention when he needed it. Jace would take her by the arm, then she would take them off with a small innocent smile. They’d exchange a few words, she’d turn to him and exchange even less.
He knew that Clary had been sure that he hated her. Alec knew that he hadn’t done much to say or prove otherwise.
He tried not to think about how much he missed her.
Despite all of her flaws-- loud, annoying, demanding, dramatic-- she made up for it in taking care of his family in every way she could.
Clary and Izzy had become an unstoppable force. He had been the one to tell Izzy to ask Clary to be her parabatai. He had seen them train from the Ops Center, the way they teased each other with heavy quarterstaffs and laughed about tripping over their own two feet.
For so long he had hated Clary. She had been everything he was afraid to be. Clary was Clary, undiluted personality with a quick wit and quicker instincts. He had always admired her courage, or rather her lack of reasoning. There were times where he wanted to be so sure of himself, just like she had been, though he couldn’t even imagine pulling off half of the things she had done.
He thought about how Clary had saved them all with the gift the Angel had given her, and how the Angel had taken it back. It felt like a cheap ploy, something for them to try to solve without her, a puzzle with no solution. It was never-ending grief.
Alec ran a hand through his hair and further ignored the buzzing of the phone in his hand. He wasn’t going to mess up the order this time-- Magnus just wanted a sweetened americano.
Still, he supposed it was steadying to see that Clary was doing well for herself. She had jumped back into school flawlessly-- torn up blue jeans, messy red hair, every inch of her covered in speckles of colorful paint. She had a stripe of blue underneath her cheekbone.
The man in front of him stepped off to the side to wait for his own order and Alec stepped forward to give his own. The cashier wrote it all on the side of the cups, then asked for his name, which he gave her. She smiled a little and Alec handed her too much cash.
“I’d like to pay for the girl behind me,” he said quickly and quietly. Alec placed a few more dollars into the tip jar.
She smiled and gave a small nod. The girl knew already.
“Do you want me to tell her?”
Just like he had done the past few times, he shook his head and stepped aside to wait.
He could feel when Clary looked up at him. She was confused, but grateful nonetheless. He tried to look busy like he cared about reading through the past seventy-something text messages that Simon and Izzy had exchanged in the group chat.
Part of him wanted to tell them that he had seen her, that she was happy. Another part of him considered texting Magnus or Jace, that if either one of them was nearby, they might be able to catch a glimpse of her before she disappeared to finish her latest masterpiece. He knew that they all watched her, that every one of them sought Clary out in their own little ways.
“Thanks,” Clary said, breaking his thoughts with a single word. She stood beside him, inches between them. “You don’t have to keep buying me drinks, you know, you can just--”
He held up a hand out of habit, silencing her. Alec felt himself tense up. “It’s not that, it’s just… you remind me of someone.” He tried his best not to come off as cold.
Her eyes lit up like he had told her something far more interesting. “Oh? Who?”
“My sister.” Alec supplied a little too quickly.
It wasn’t a lie.
Clary had almost been his sister. Jace had already purchased a set of rings for her made to look like the Fairchild and Morgenstern family rings. He had planned on giving them to her once things had settled down, but he had never had the chance.
“Oh,” Clary relaxed. “Still, it’s just really kind of you, and you don’t have to keep doing it. I--”
The barista placed the cups on the counter and Alec knew without them having to call his name that it was his. He walked forward and accepted the two warm cups, thanking the girl.
“You look like you need the caffeine anyway.” He told her.
She chuckled a little. If it had been the Clary Fray that he knew, she would’ve made a comment about him needing it more.
“Thanks again, Alec.”
His heart nearly stopped in his chest, but he couldn’t stop himself from saying it before he parted through the sea of customers. “Anytime, Fray.”
Alec was relieved when Clary didn’t follow him seconds afterward. He started down the street towards the loft with the hope of catching Magnus in between clients. He took a small sip of his coffee and grimaced at the bitterness.
Of course, he’d do it again.
It was what he needed.