Jocelyn had warned him. Despite her other failings, Alec has to give her that much. She had warned him and so had Izzy, and he hadn’t meant to go against their instructions no matter how desperate he is to get to Jace.
Jace. Jocelyn had mentioned how ancient the tracking method’s supposed to be – old enough to be less precise than anything they use today, but it still doesn’t prepare him for how violent it is; how quickly it pulls him under before he gets the chance to stop it.
Not that he would have. Alec is honest enough with himself to know that if he had known what would happen, he would have still gone through with it without hesitation.
As he falls farther and farther away from reality, Alec realises that this might have been a mistake. He'd been feeling helpless and Jocelyn had given him the perfect excuse to act; given everything she'd done so far, he knows that he should have never trusted her. But it's too late now, and when he opens his eyes again, he can't find it in himself to be angry.
He can't move. It's both a lie and a fact; he can feel his body moving, but he's not the one calling the shots. And it's not just that - his body doesn't feel proportionate any longer and in theory, he knows where he is - the main training hall of the Institute is spread in front of him, but nothing about it looks right.
When he sees Jace for the first time, he's a hair's breadth away from death. Valentine's nowhere to be seen, but Alec's own arrow is as close to his face as it can be without drawing blood and by the time Alec hears his surprised exclamation, he already remembers how this conversation had gone.
This isn't how it's supposed to be. He'd been looking for Jace, for any trace of him that could still be found, but what's the use of finding him in his own head? He can't help him from the past. He can't even speak to this Jace; can't warn him about anything that's about to happen because he's lost what little control he'd had over the situation - instead of being trapped in his own mind, he's trapped in his body, too - on two different levels.
And to think he'd thought that things couldn't possibly get any worse.
Somewhere from far away, he can hear Isabelle's voice, heavy with fear as she speaks to someone else. I'll talk to Aldertree, but you have to come, Magnus. I don't know what I'm supposed to do.
He has to go back. It sounds simple when he thinks about it like this; as if he can just swim back to the surface, pull away from a memory he doesn't need. But he can't. The more he tries, the more his body resists. His body, that is, the one he's left behind in the present. The body he's currently inhabiting can't possibly feel any of it, because he doesn't have the bond to hold him back. Because that's what it is - the parabatai bond is what's keeping him here, as if to point him in what it thinks is the right direction. Here he is, it sings to him, your parabatai, and Alec can suddenly understand why this method of tracking has been forbidden for centuries. It awakes something in his soul that's hell bent to reach Jace no matter where and how; desperate to knit their souls back together no matter what it costs either of them.
No, he tries to tell himself. That's not what I need. Show me something else.
The world around him is instantly plunged into darkness and the relief is overwhelming; it almost allows him to think he's got his control back. Almost, because when he hears Jace's voice again, he can already tell that he's arrived in the wrong place.
"...and you know it's the best thing we can do. You can't tell me you haven't thought about it." Jace's smile, ever so confident, widens a little bit more. Even here and so early on, there’s not even a shadow of doubt that he can figure Alec out easier than anyone else. That's the reason they're sitting in the most secluded corner of the library and having this discussion in the first place, Alec remembers; because Jace is sure that they're a perfect fit. "We're already great, but together? We'd be amazing."
Without Alec's consent, his past self fidgets in his place, suddenly restless. He looks away from Jace’s expecting eyes and down at his hands where they rest in his lap. "I- Can you give me until tomorrow? I need time to think. That's not a no," he continues when Jace's face falls, his expression changing from excitement to acceptance in a shift subtle enough that Alec thinks he might be the only one able to catch it. "But it's an important decision. We can't just jump into it. And we’ve still got time."
"No rush," Jace says, but his smile is forced now and Alec can't feel his fifteen year old self's emotions, but he can remember them; can remember how torn he'd felt between the painful yearning to do what Jace wants and bind their souls together and the desire to tell him something entirely different before he's had the chance to say an oath he can never take back.
From above, he can feel some sort of pressure again, magic tugging at his senses. Izzy must have called Magnus. But he's not ready to go - not just yet - and this memory fades away just like the last one had, taking Jace away from him yet again.
Whatever's happening to his own body is too distracting for him to focus at first; he can hear doors being opened and closed in the distance, and then voices that should be familiar but aren't. It's as if he's underwater, anchored in the sand and the more he tries to get closer to the light, the deeper he sinks and the weaker he gets. It's frustrating, but he can't give up now. This has got to be leading up to something, he thinks; he would wake up or he would find Jace, or both, and he would know that it hadn't been in vain.
Still, it's difficult to think about that since when another memory takes shape around him, it's hours before his parabatai ceremony and his past self's body is in almost as bad a state as his current one - he's struggling with his breathing and his room feels too small; the walls are closing in around him and he has nowhere to go.
Izzy had been right. Alec vividly remembers that last conversation before the ceremony; the way he'd left without telling her whether he would actually go through with it or not. Looking back at it now, he feels almost guilty that it had taken him so long to come to the hall. Jace can be very good at hiding what he’s feeling, but he hadn’t been able to hide how ridiculously relieved he had been when Alec had showed up. It seems silly, now, that he’s even thought about not doing it. He quite literally can’t imagine what his world would have turned into otherwise, even if he knows that he would have never been in this situation in the first place if that’s what he had chosen to do. He’s always been all about self preservation, but Jace has been an exception to that rule since day one.
With that in mind, Alec watches himself make the decision and leave his room, heading for the ceremony with the air of someone going into battle.
Just like all the other times before, he knows what happens next. His own body, somewhere far away from here, is being moved and he can feel himself being led through a portal, the usual disturbance of his systems apparent even when he’s almost fully disconnected from it. He can feel something happening and it’s much easier to distinguish voices and sounds now. Soon. Someone’s going to wake him up soon, and he has to get to the present by then, he has to, because that’s the only place – and time – in which he can find Jace. He isn’t really sure what’s going on with his body, but he hopes that he’ll be strong enough to at least let them know where his parabatai is. Someone – Magnus and Izzy, likely – can take it from there.
His heart – the one from years ago – is beating almost too quickly and it’s getting even harder to breathe, but the tension in everyone in the room suddenly vanishes. Thank the Angel he’s here. That’s what the expression of everyone says, except Jace’s. His expression speaks more of I knew you wouldn’t let me down and Alec does his best to breathe. Or at least he guesses he does – he’s nothing but a presence in his own mind and it’s getting more and more irritating by the second.
Alec feels himself go through the first part of the bonding, but he’s distracted – there’s some kind of disturbance in the present that’s getting harder and harder to ignore. He tunes in again when the runes under their feet light up and the ones they’d drawn on each other follow them. Jace takes a deep breath.
“Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee.”
This isn’t how Alec remembers it. It’s another paradox – this is all in his memories, so how could it be different from what he remembers? But Jace’s voice sounds deeper than it should and it feels as if it’s coming from miles away and even if Alec doesn’t want to think about it, it’s starting to sound more and more like his Jace.
His other self doesn’t particularly care, as it seems, but he can’t blame him – he can’t feel any of it. He’s too busy with his own worries; namely, trying to get through his part of the vow as smoothly as he can. It’s a lost cause, if Alec remembers it correctly – and he’s sure he does – because he gets halfway through it before his voice dies.
“For whither thou goest, I will go, and where thou lodgest...”
I will lodge. That’s what Izzy is mouthing at him from behind Jace’s back, thinking he’d just forgotten the words. It’s still endearing, years later, that she has enough faith in him to think he isn’t suddenly backing down, but not enough to think he hasn’t forgotten the oath.
“...I will lodge.” The bond surges up, both in the past and the present, and Alec can feel himself suffocating from the power of it. It’s been days since he’s felt it this strongly and a lifetime without a parabatai for his other self, and it’s overwhelming; the scene before Alec’s eyes keeps flickering between Jace who’s still reciting their oath and Jace on his end doing the same, albeit with much more desperation in his voice. It’s strange – Alec can’t really see him, but the image plants itself in his mind nevertheless and he’s trying to wake up, he really is, but it all feels too far away. He barely remembers what he’s supposed to do.
“...If aught but death part thee and me.”
It’s never a finished sentence; not on Jace’s side, because it’s not supposed to be. Even in the present, he makes it sound like a question; Alec is the one who has to repeat it back at him. They’d trained for this for weeks just to get it right – they have to take turns with the vows, but the end of it is what requires both of them as it’s the line that seals the bond.
The bond is what drags him away from the ceremony and closer to where he can hear Jace’s voice wrecked with sobs he can’t quite keep in. Even thinking of being back in his body sounds like more than he can handle, but that’s where Jace is; the tracking stone had achieved its purpose one way or another and it’s time for him to see the results. If there’s one thing Alec’s sure of, it’s that he can hear Jace’s voice calling for him and that he has to answer. He’d made a vow, after all.
Alec gathers whatever’s left of his strength and opens his eyes.