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Could've Been Me

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Clary notices the way Isabelle’s entire demeanor shifts at the sudden presence of the woman at the other end of the hallway. Where they’d been leisurely talking before with Izzy friendly and relaxed, she’s now standing with her feet together, arms pressed close to her sides, back ramrod straight. The smile is gone from her face. This isn’t the Izzy Clary’s used to seeing around Alec and Jace, and certainly not the one she’s experienced around herself and Simon the past few days.

Izzy’s stance mirrors the rigidity of the woman approaching them. She’s older and looks like Isabelle enough for Clary to put two and two together before any sort of formal introduction can be made. Clary watches the way the woman (who she can only assume is Mrs. Lightwood) marches down the hallway… because that’s precisely what her entrance into the Institute is: not a walk, but the march of a soldier, the purposeful strides of someone on a mission.

The small smile that returns to Izzy’s face when she asks about Max is gone just as quickly as it came as Mrs. Lightwood brushes away Izzy’s inquiries about her younger sibling. Apparently, Mrs. Lightwood only bothered to stop at the two of them at all so she can make disapproving comments about Izzy’s outfit then ignore her entirely in favor of seeking out Jace’s assistance in whatever she’s here for - which is obviously not her children.

Everything about Mrs. Lightwood is harsh, more so in comparison to the image of Clary’s own mother fresh in her mind from her chat with Isabelle on their way to the elevators. Izzy’s previous statement of ‘sounds more like a friend than a mom’ about Jocelyn makes a lot more sense now. Maryse is very clearly not Isabelle’s friend - she isn’t the sort of adult any child would want to be around for more than a second longer than necessary. Clary’s only met her for all of 30 seconds and she already wants to be as far away from her as possible.

“Is your mom always like that? She didn’t even hug you,” Clary says, wondering if maybe Izzy wants to talk about it.

“Shadowhunters aren’t big huggers,” Izzy dismisses the concern with a smile, and Clary doesn’t know her well enough to tell if it’s forced or not. It’s a believable statement either way - from what Clary’s seen that sort of casual affection is probably looked down on as some sort of ‘mundane weakness’. Maybe that’s part of the reason why her mom left... Clary can’t even begin to imagine her mother - a kind, gentle, creative spirit - in a rigidly structured existence like this.

Except the next thing Clary sees is Mrs. Lightwood greeting Jace with a smile and an embrace. Clary chances a glance over to see the momentary flash of hurt on Isabelle’s face before she looks down at the ground, not able to bring herself to watch the affectionate encounter she didn’t receive. Izzy’s quick to cover before she thinks anyone sees and Clary wants nothing more than to comfort her somehow, but something tells her that would only make the situation worse. After all, Mrs. Lightwood made it very clear she’s not all too impressed with Clary’s current presence here, at least not from what she’s heard about her.

Clary tries to divert the attention by bringing up Max and Idris, two new pieces of information she’s curious to hear more about, but the focus is back to the Lightwoods as Alec arrives. And it’s… well, it’s somehow worse than before, which Clary didn’t think possible.

She can practically see any hint of personality, the bits of humor and small quirks she’s caught slipping through Alec’s cracks when he’s just around his siblings (and Clary and Simon), gone in an instant. Even the sass she’s used to having aimed at her is wiped clean, overtaken by almost robotic declarations of loyal service devoid of any emotion. Alec’s hands clasp behind his back followed by more subdued words to appease his mother, a mother Clary’s getting the impression it is very difficult to please.

Every word spoken out against Isabelle and Alec makes Clary’s entire body tenser - she hates watching the way their gazes lower, the way their mother’s harsh words and judgments are obviously hurting them. Worse, Clary feels almost physically ill as she tries to imagine growing up with this sort of constant berating over the expectation to fall in line and only do exactly what you’re told. The immediate sense of claustrophobia this entire ‘conversation’ (if it can be called that, as one-sided as it is) with Mrs. Lightwood gives her, coupled with Izzy, Alec and Jace decked in their usual all-black gear, only reminds Clary that they’re soldiers who couldn’t be more different than her.

Clary looks at Mrs. Lightwood and knows that she, too, could not be more different than the mother Clary’s so desperate to find and save.

For the first time since all of this happened Clary thinks she’s starting to understand her mother’s motivations for keeping Clary out of this life a little better. She still doesn’t think her mom had to lie to her for 18 years about it... but standing here now and imagining this sort of upbringing? Yeah, she gets it a little better.

She just hopes she gets the chance to tell her mom that.