Jace stifled yet another coughing fit into his fist, desperately praying that he hadn’t attracted any attention. It was never easy to tell down here because it was nothing like the world he was used to. Any technology for demonic activity he could have used was going haywire and he’d left it all behind a long time ago with the hope that it would be enough to distract any potentially hostile locals.
If he’d had the energy left to do it, Jace would have laughed. Every local was hostile. There weren’t a lot of things he could be sure of in the world he’d found himself in, but this was one of them.
The Seelie Queen had warned him. She seemed to have developed a liking for him despite his involvement in Meliorn’s insubordination and she had told him of all the dangers that could wait for him once he left his own dimension.
But she hadn’t warned him about the smoke.
It was everywhere. It made sense with all the smoking craters he could see in the distance, but that didn’t make it any easier to bear. The clouds were seeping into his very being until he felt like he was constantly suffocating. That wasn’t the case; Magnus had equipped him with several objects soaked with magic just before he’d left in exchange for the promise that Jace would come to him first when – if – he came back.
Jace had agreed, of course. After everything, it was the least that he could do.
New York, six months ago
The attack had been so sudden that Jace didn’t even notice the lack of blood at first.
He doubled over, clutching at his side but still managing to strike as the demon he was fighting took its chance to swipe at him again. Now that he was able to give his body his undivided attention, Jace realised that the pain had – rather quickly – become much duller, leaving no physical trace behind.
Comprehension hit so suddenly that Jace lost track of time; frozen in shock in one moment and kneeling by Alec’s side the next, propping him up in an effort to steady him.
“No,” he mumbled and even his own voice sounded foreign, like it belonged to someone else; someone far more terrified than he could allow himself to be. “Izzy, he needs an iratze. My stele-” But she’d activated his iratze already; the rune was shimmering against Alec’s skin. It was lessening the pain, but not the damage – Jace could feel it growing unseen under his parabatai’s skin, far too close to his heart to be stopped.
“Jace.” Alec’s voice was weaker than he’d ever heard it. It was clear that the effort was draining whatever was left of his strength, but he reached out anyway, clutching Jace’s hand in a grip too tight for someone in his position. “Jace, you have to-”
“It’s okay.” It hurt to hear him talk; every word twisting in Jace’s heart as Alec struggled to draw in a breath. “I know.”
He didn’t. For all he knew, Alec had too much to say for Jace to be sure of even a fraction of it. But the words seemed to calm him down and Alec loosened his hold slightly, eyes focusing on Jace’s with so much certainty that guilt coursed through him anew. The last thing he wanted was to lie to Alec now, but he didn’t have a choice. He’d already known that when he’d realised how bad the wound was; how quickly the poison had spread.
Alec’s lips twisted into a smile – pained, but present – and without looking away, he raised his free hand, sighing in relief when Isabelle met him halfway. It was reassurance he was after, Jace realised; not for himself, but for them, and Izzy must have seen it too. She didn’t say anything, but Jace could see her in his peripheral vision, frozen in the same disbelief that had taken over him.
Jace could feel the echo of Alec’s heartbeat differently now; a heavy, slow rhythm to the frantic beating of his own heart. He felt it stutter painfully in his chest for an instant, and then there was silence.
With a distant sort of horror, Jace waited. Waited for the inevitable severing of the bond; for the mind-numbing agony that he had heard so much about. There were so many tales about people who had lost their parabatai and while Jace had never expected to experience it – Alec was too good a hunter for that – he’d been prepared for all of it.
It never came.
“We need to get him to Magnus’s place,” he heard himself saying as he cleared his throat. The suggestion sounded far too even, far too calm and he supposed that that was what made Isabelle look up from Alec’s wrist – she was checking his pulse, Jace guessed; she didn’t have the same connection to him, so there was no way for her to know. “If the iratzes aren’t working, maybe magic can help.”
“It can’t.” And here it was, the reaction Jace had expected from himself; Isabelle’s voice was heavy with the tears that she couldn’t suppress any longer. “He’s not breathing.”
“Maybe it’s just a spell,” he said, squeezing Alec’s hand gently, unwilling to let go even as he searched through his pockets for his phone. “We don’t know how this venom works. Maybe he’s paralysed; we need to act quickly.”
“Jace.” Stop. It was more a plea than a command, but it was beyond him how she could give up so easily.
“He’s alive,” Jace insisted. “You don’t understand. The bond hasn’t broken; I can still feel him, so we just have to call-”
“And I can’t feel anything!” Isabelle finally snapped from her stupor and turned to face him, the anger in her eyes so vicious that Jace flinched. “I can’t feel anything, Jace, so just stop it.”
In the end, they called Magnus anyway, shortly after Isabelle had called the Institute. Jace had been the one to talk to him, hoping that telling him that Alec needed help would make him react faster. He’d been right; the Warlock had arrived through a portal moments later, running to Jace’s side only to stop a few feet away.
“You should have told me.” There was so much grief in that sentence alone that a part of Jace felt guilty for presenting things the way he had. It wasn’t a big part – Alec could still be helped, and if Magnus could be shocked into coming more quickly, then so be it.
“Told you what?” Jace hadn’t moved from his position by Alec’s side, although he’d drawn him closer. “He was attacked and runes aren’t working. It might be a trick, or an illusion, or-” He gestured helplessly. “-I don’t know. But maybe you can figure it out.”
Magnus still looked dazed, but he snapped his fingers anyway, the bluish glow of his magic covering Alec like a blanket. He was already shaking his head as he drew his hand away, sinking to his knees next to Jace. “There’s no spell,” he said, and Jace could see that he was trying to keep his expression as neutral as possible – they could both see that the building was suddenly flooded with Shadowhunters, gasps and exclamations echoing under the high ceiling as they took in the scene in front of them.
“That’s not possible.” Jace’s voice was laced with desperation and he tightened his hold around Alec reflexively, unwilling to let go. And they would make him let go, he was sure of it now, because no one could understand. “Magnus, you have to do something.”
“There’s nothing I can do.” The confession sounded dull, as if Magnus had only just accepted it himself. Jace made to protest, but felt the Warlock’s hand over his own and the words died in his throat, his world narrowing down to his immediate surroundings; the voices around them fading in the background. “He’s dead, Jace.”
It was accepted as the absolute, undeniable truth. Alec is dead. They’d brought the news back to Clary and she had been as shaken as everyone else had been, even if they hadn’t been given long to process it. Before long, Jace was swept up into the whirlwind of events surrounding the consequences that needed to be addressed. He suspected that Maryse had made sure that he had something to do rather than dwell upon the loss they had all endured – drowning herself in every task available definitely seemed to be her answer to what had happened and he could understand if she’d decided that the same would work for him – and Jace couldn’t tell her that this wasn’t what he needed. What he needed were answers.
He had nowhere to receive them from, though. Isabelle had locked herself in her room shortly after they had come back and Jace had barely caught a glimpse of her in the days after that. She had only let Clary in on a few occasions and Jace didn’t want to intrude on whatever it was that Clary was doing to console her. He was even less eager to seek out Magnus’s help – he had sent him a firemessage about the rite of mourning and he still wasn’t sure if the Warlock was going to show up in the first place. He hadn’t responded yet, and Jace hadn’t expected him to – he had closed himself off to anything coming from the Institute completely after the day of Alec’s death and Jace couldn’t imagine digging deeper into the wound by going to ask if he knew why to him, Alec was still right there.
Because that was the main problem. It was what had forced him to keep himself together during the rite of mourning; it was what had earned him quite a few questioning gazes already. The entire Institute was shrouded in disbelief, but it didn’t seem to be the same kind as Jace’s. It was the circumstances that puzzled them; the fact that their leader – a war hero, someone who had survived too many battles to count – had died in a routine mission. But they’d got used to the thought eventually – after all, casualties weren’t all that unusual even in times of peace – and had started looking towards the future and all the unanswered questions that it held. Alec had been the one to pick the Institute up after the war. He’d taken full control over things and now that he was gone, everyone relied on his family to pick up the pieces. More specifically, they had turned to Maryse and Isabelle; they were the only ones that had made any effort to take control. For the most part, Jace was just there.
It was the stress. That was what Clary had told him when he had confessed everything to her; about the fact that the bond had never really broken and how he could still feel a part of Alec’s soul next to his own, constant as ever. It was a normal part of the grieving process and he was going to accept it gradually- and somewhere around that point, Jace had stopped listening because he knew where the topic was headed. He knew that she meant well – they all did – but even when he told them what it felt like in the most straightforward way possible, he was mostly met with pity and it was getting more and more unbearable by the day.
There was no way for him not to feel the severing of the bond, he was sure of it. When he didn’t think about it, it felt like Alec was just around the corner. Jace could still feel his unwavering presence through their rune – his rune now – and even when he tried to hide that, it still showed. He had only realised that he kept referring to Alec in present tense when he had felt the almost palpable discomfort in every conversation that inevitably ended up being about him and soon enough, the frustration from it all started getting too much for him to handle.
The expressions of sympathy, sometimes mixed with a healthy dose of horror, followed him everywhere. Having a parabatai was an honour many Shadowhunters strove to have, but it was the people who had lost their parabatai that made everyone wary. Everyone in the Clave had grown up with the stories about how glorious the bond was, but the encouragement always went hand in hand with the warnings. Losing one’s parabatai was like nothing else. Many Shadowhunters never recovered. Even the purest, most ancient example of it they had – Jonathan and David – had ended in tragedy and Jace hated it all; the understanding looks that people sent his way, the whispers behind his back and most of all, the angel blood that had led him to this.
It was the only explanation he could find. No matter how many books he had looked through – and he had checked everywhere – he hadn’t been able to find any parabatai bond that had ended up like theirs and he couldn’t afford to ask around because that would arouse the kind of attention he definitely could do without, especially when Robert brought up the situation with Alec’s will.
Writing your will was a privilege Shadowhunters earned on their eighteenth birthday; the moment they were officially allowed to go on missions. Alec, ever so diligent, had done it the moment he’d been given the chance, but Jace soon realised that he had to have changed it recently – when everyone had gathered to hear what Robert had to say, Magnus had been called too.
It was a short affair. Shadowhunters didn’t have a lot that belonged specifically to them and that was worthy of passing on to anyone, and Alec was no different. He had stressed several times about his bow and about his desire for it to stay in the family and eventually everyone decided that it would be best if they gave it to Max – he hadn’t decided what his weapon of choice would be yet and the bow took a long time to properly get used to. Magnus was handed an envelope that he picked up without a word, clutching it as if it was a lifeline and Jace couldn’t look away, the Warlock’s expression a much bigger proof of how final this was than anything else. Alec was dead. It didn’t matter what he had written in his letter; Alec’s last words to Magnus were there because he was gone and he was never coming back. Magnus was doing his best to keep a straight face, but it was obvious that he understood the weight of it all. So why couldn’t he?
He was the last one to be addressed and Robert’s expression alone was telling – whatever Alec had left for him, it wouldn’t be easy to swallow.
Of course it wouldn’t be. Had he ever expected anything else?
Robert didn’t bother with the official document this time. “In the case of Alec dying while having the position Head of the Institute, he asked for you to inherit it.”
Jace’s breath stuck in his throat. He suddenly realised that he had expected it to a degree; he had just preferred not to think about it. Because really, what else would it be? Alec would only trust him with the Institute if he were given the choice and while that had made Jace proud once, it had been in a different time.
And there it was again; the wave of helpless anger that he had become so accustomed to after Alec's death. He had expected his parabatai to leave that particular responsibility to him, but that didn't mean that he had to accept it. He remembered Max, with tears still streaming down his face as he was being handed Alec's bow and for the first time realised how he must have felt; as if someone was trying to fill the gap left from his loss with something too big for him to handle. He hated Alec for it, suddenly - for leaving them all, for leaving him, and assuming that they could just go on with their lives.
He had never imagined that he would end up having to take over. It was, in the end, the root of all his problems: he had never tried to accept the idea that one day, Alec would be gone.
He had to be close now. One of the few Seelies who had gone into this particular dimension for one reason or another had told him what to look for and he had been surprised: most of the legends insisted that the Fair Folk didn’t have souls and therefore disappeared after their death. The fact that some of them had tried their luck regardless was telling; the fact that a few had even lived to tell the tale was what had given Jace enough hope to follow their instructions in the first place.
The Queen had been magnanimous. She had inherited the position after her mother had gone into hiding after the war and the fragile peace said war had brought had forced her into subordination where Shadowhunters were concerned; still, she wasn’t clueless. She had known perfectly well that Jace’s trip into her domain was unauthorised and she had let him in anyway, taking pity of him once she’d heard the whole story.
It was pity that had taken him this far; Jace was honest enough with himself to admit that. Seelies were as far from humans as they could get and yet the Queen had understood; she had let him do what everyone else had advised him against and if Jace ever managed to make his way back into the world as he knew it, he dreaded to think what the price for his presence here would be. She had made it sound as if he’d already paid with his services as a Shadowhunter, but he had worked with Seelies often enough to know that it wouldn’t be that simple.
Not that it mattered, he thought desperately; if he could get to Alec, he would never manage to pay her back anyway. It was the only thing he had to focus on – finding Alec – as he remembered that his goal wasn’t exactly what she had promised him.
The Seelie Realm, three months ago
“Are you trying to trick me?” The Queen’s icy stare wandered between Jace and Magnus, intent on getting answers. Neither of them looked away – the Seelies always took it as a sure sign of lying and distrust was the last thing they needed. “I would expect this from a Warlock, but a Nephilim? You know the rules. You created them. You have to know that it isn’t possible.”
“Your Majesty,” Magnus started, voice pacifying in a way Jace could have never achieved. “You have to understand. We’re only looking for answers. We wouldn’t imagine asking for your assistance.”
Despite knowing that Magnus had been around for quite a while, Jace was surprised at how far the Warlock's skills had taken them into the Court. He had protested at the idea of doing anything like this at first when Jace had told him the truth about the parabatai bond, but he had come around eventually and things had changed drastically somewhere around that point. It turned out that the position of a High Warlock granted him access to resources that even Jace couldn't imagine. The visit in the Seelie Court had been his idea and the Queen had surprised them by agreeing to the message they'd sent. They had still known just how difficult it would be, but Jace still found it in himself to be grateful that they hadn't has to resort to the Unseelie Court.
“I just need you to show me the way,” he clarified, impatience getting the better of him. He tried to follow Magnus’s example – maintain eye contact, don’t move too much, bow when needed, just like he’d been instructed before they had entered the throne room – and the Queen pursed her lips in something between interest and displeasure. “You won’t have to see me again, and if someone comes to ask-”
“They won’t,” Magnus said, alarm slipping into his otherwise official tone. “I can make sure of that. Your Majesty,” he continued, turning his eyes to the Queen again, “if there is something we can give you in return-”
“You can,” the Queen interrupted, leaving her place in the middle of the room to approach them. For the first time since their arrival, she smiled. Unsurprisingly, it did nothing to dissipate the tension in the room. “A Nephilim in a hell dimension,” she added, mostly to herself, and Jace had to stop himself from taking an instinctive step back. “We can figure out a price. You can have your entrance, Shadowhunter.”
No matter how hard he tried, Jace could never get used to the City of Bones.
The memories of his short-lived exile weren’t the only ones to blame; it was just that despite all the glory from the generations before his own had never seemed quite as glorious up close and he had always done his best to avoid thinking about the walls and what they were made of.
Everyone – Magnus included, and Jace was slightly more willing to trust him, given that the Warlock was aware of his intentions in their entirety – had warned him that the trip would be fruitless, but he had arranged the visit anyway. It was a big step, trying to look for the Underworld through the Seelie realm, and he had wanted to exhaust all his other options before that, no matter how small the sliver of hope was.
He missed him. There was no other excuse Jace could find for what he was doing, and he hadn’t really tried very hard. Everything in New York – from his own position to the streets outside – reminded him of Alec in countless of ways and no matter how much he tried, Jace couldn’t distance himself from the memories. The bond didn’t help much – sometimes when he delved particularly deep into his soul (which happened way more often than he would have liked to admit), Jace could still feel Alec’s feelings and reactions, a distant imitation of what his parabatai had been like when he had still been alive. It was frustrating to say the least – in his worst days, Jace found it maddening – and it was exactly what had brought him here.
Being Head of the Institute had its merits, Jace thought as he descended even further down the stairs - this deep into the City of Bones, even the more important members of the Clave had trouble with their clearance - but this time, it didn’t feel like his position had got him what he’d wanted. It was the place where the bones of some of the most powerful Shadowhunters were kept, forming the essence of the City, and Brother Zachariah had let him in almost without a second thought - more out of sympathy than anything else, he suspected. You will not find him here, he’d said, the voice in Jace’s head full of too much understanding for his comfort, but you may try if you wish.
And try he did. Alec had been adamant about ending up in the City of Bones after his death rather than in the family crypt in Idris and Maryse and Robert had followed his wishes, albeit reluctantly. And here Jace was now, trailing his fingers over the carved name – Lightwood, Alec, followed by the Lightwood flame right under it – trying to find any connection to his parabatai; anything that he could still reach.
“I haven’t given up on you.” His voice was nothing more than a whisper, but it still managed to echo under the impossibly high ceiling. “I want you to know that. I’m going to do everything I can to find you, Alec.”
Nothing. The stone was cold and unresponsive under his touch; just as far away as he’d expected it to be. He had hoped, though; given the bond still thriving inside him, he had hoped for the slightest trace of contact.
But Brother Zachariah had been right. If Alec had ever been here, he was long gone.
“Thank you,” Jace said for what felt like the thousandth time as Magnus handed him yet another enchanted weapon. It was very unlikely that the Seraph Blades would work properly in the hell dimension and Jace welcomed any help that came his way. Magnus had volunteered to contribute and while Jace was grateful, he could feel guilt settling in, making his heart constrict every time Magnus offered his help.
He couldn’t make any promises. He’d told Magnus that enough times; he couldn’t be sure that he would get to Alec at all, and bringing him back was a whole different matter. They both knew that the consequences of toying with life and death were always severe, but they had still admitted – to themselves and to each other – early on that they were determined enough to try and Jace couldn’t quite shake off the idea that he was responsible for that.
Magnus had accepted things as they were. If he hadn’t pressed Jace for answers, he might have moved on much more easily, but he had and Jace had been the one to tell him that he could still feel Alec’s soul as if nothing had happened at all; that there was still a chance for him to come back.
It had never occurred to him that he might have been lying subconsciously at the time, but now it seemed as clear as day. He’d been grief-stricken and desperate and Magnus had offered him the perfect solution, as if he’d already forgotten what had happened the last time he’d listened to Jace where Alec was concerned.
Jace hadn’t forgotten, though. He was painfully aware that he was most likely giving Magnus false hopes. It was the reason why he hadn’t talked to anyone else about this; it wouldn’t achieve anything except for them fearing for him and looking forward to getting Alec back. He couldn’t promise anything about his own safety and he couldn’t promise them Alec, so what would be the point?
“Remember what the Queen said,” Magnus warned, pulling Jace out of his thoughts. “A living person in the Underworld is incredibly fragile matter. If Alec agrees to come with you, once you locate the portal, you can’t look at him anymore. Tell him to follow you, but don’t – under any circumstances – face him. A soul coming back to the land of the living isn’t something any of us can be allowed to see.”
Jace nodded hastily. He didn’t need to ask what would happen if he did look back; the Queen hadn’t spared him the details on that either. He would be trapped in the Underworld forever and while it wasn’t too cruel as a punishment – he would end up there eventually, after all – it would mean that he would never manage to make his way back to his own dimension.
“I know,” Jace said, squeezing the Warlock’s hand in reassurance just before he started opening the portal. “You don’t have to worry about me. We can find our way back. Both of us,” he stressed, studiously avoiding Magnus’s gaze as he stepped through the border between the worlds.
Jace had never expected the doors to the Underworld to be quite so literal.
He had expected some kind of border between the worlds, of course. Considering that the Underworld was surrounded by the hellish landscape he’d just had to go through, it was a given that it would be protected in one way or another. But the gates in front of him looked like something out of the heavily illustrated text books Jace had had as a child. It felt like a dream; something temporary and easy to overcome.
There didn’t seem to be a way around them, if the walls that reached as far as he could see were any indication, and Jace felt doubt starting to creep in. Perhaps the Queen had lied, after all; maybe this was as far as he was allowed to get and she had only sent him to do his dirty work for her. But no; the gate started opening and Jace took a step back, the reaction almost automatic, only to freeze where he was. The light from inside was blinding – he could make out a scenery on the other side; a field and a distant city, both bathed in sunlight – before his eyes, accustomed to the darkness of the hell dimension, managed to distinguish a silhouette as the doors closed. Jace would have been almost convinced that his senses were deceiving him – because really, what were the chances? – if the newcomer hadn’t spoken.
“You shouldn’t be here.”
Alec’s voice was far too even for the current circumstances and Jace found himself focusing on that. The rest of his mind had shut off, it seemed; there was only so much he could take at once.
“Did you hear me?” Alec insisted and Jace realised that he wasn’t quite as unaffected as he seemed; his tone taking on a frantic edge. “They’ve let you come this far, but it’s time to go.”
They? Jace smothered the question; with everything else he was going through, this could wait.
Alec was right there. Months of grief and frustration melted away as he looked at him and Jace couldn’t quite catch up. Their bond surged up between them and he realised just how muted it had been for so long. He had never felt it break and he had focused on that; he’d considered it unchanged for months and now that it was overflowing with both their souls, it was almost impossible to bear. He stumbled forward, an almost hysterical laugh bubbling from his lips as Alec met him halfway, arms wrapping around him to hold him up as Jace sank into the embrace. He had imagined Alec’s presence so many times over the last six months, had tried to preserve every detail of it in his mind but his memory couldn’t compare to this. Nothing could compare to Alec, real and solid and here and Jace almost choked on his breath as he fought the urge to cry.
“Jace.” There was enough gentleness in that one word to make Jace forget everything about the where and when of their meeting. Until Alec spoke again, that was. “You should have never come here.”
Jace pulled away, disoriented and disbelieving, to take a good look at his parabatai. “It’s fine,” he assured him, almost hesitant to maintain the contact between them. Alec didn’t move away and as much as Jace tried to consider that a good sign, he was still wary. “I came into this dimension though the Seelie Realm. Magnus left the portal open for us.”
“For us?” Alec repeated, already shaking his head even as he spoke. “Magnus is involved in this? He should have known better. And you,” he pressed on, voice raising enough for the words to echo around them. “Don’t you remember what happened when Clary brought you back to life?”
“This is different.” He hadn’t come all this way for Alec to back out on him, even though he had suspected that it might come to this. Somewhere deep down, he had been aware of just how mindful Alec was of the rules – both the Clave’s and the ones of the universe – and that he would deem the idea itself unnatural. “The Angel brought me back, but if you come with me out of your own free will-”
“I can’t do that.” Jace could detect it again; Alec was trying to be tactful for once in his existence and every word still hurt. “The Angel is the reason I even know you’re here. I can’t see what’s happening- back home. I was sent here to tell you how to get home. It’s not right, Jace,” he added, desperation lacing the words as he got no reaction. “You know it’s not.”
“It was never broken,” Jace said, fingers instinctively covering his parabatai rune. It was a last resort; if Alec didn’t listen to this, he wouldn’t listen to anything. “Our bond. You can’t tell me you haven’t felt it, too.”
He tried to imagine it – Alec, countless of worlds away from him, still catch the faint trace of every little thing Jace had felt during the last half a year. There were too many questions for him to ask – was he alone? Had he met anyone he had known? Had he really seen the Angel? – but none of it mattered; not when Alec didn’t seem ready to answer the only question he really wanted to ask.
“You did feel it,” Jace whispered, one of his hands cupping Alec’s face to be able to look him in the eye. “You know what it’s like. You can’t tell me that you want to stay here when there’s so much waiting for you outside.”
“There’s no outside for me, Jace,” Alec snapped. He sounded upset – with Jace rather than with his situation, it seemed. “You can’t imagine what it’s like behind these doors. And you’re not supposed to – not for a long time.”
“You can’t know that.” The touch on Alec’s cheek turned tender without Jace really thinking about it, but he couldn’t stop himself. He had missed him so much and now that he was so close, Jace couldn’t imagine ever letting go of him, no matter what Alec thought about the laws of the world as they knew it. “And I’m not leaving without you.”
Alec had tensed under the caress but didn’t push him away and when he spoke again, the resignation in his tone was clear. “How is this supposed to work?”
“I know where the portal is,” Jace said, the words hurried in his effort to get them out before Alec changed his mind. “You just have to follow me. The Queen said that I can’t-” Even thinking about it made him uneasy, but Jace soldiered on. “I can’t look at you before we leave. Otherwise we’ll both be stuck here.” Forever. He didn’t need to say it; the determination in Alec’s eyes was enough of a sign of his understanding. “We can make it work,” he continued and received a nod in return. It wasn’t the eager agreement he had hoped for, but it was enough and Jace couldn’t resist the temptation – he stepped even closer, pressing a quick kiss against Alec’s cheek before he could change his mind and do what he had actually wanted to do; what he had been thinking about for as long as he’d had the hope of seeing Alec ever again.
If Alec could feel even a fraction of the maelstrom of emotions Jace was trying to hide despite their bond, he showed no sign of it. Not on the surface, anyway; Jace could see the hint of something in his eyes that confused him even more than before. If he didn’t know better, he would say that it looked like grief; like his own eyes in the mirror for nights on end when he had woken up only to realise that Alec was gone.
Still, “Lead the way” was all he said and Jace did, turning his back on the gates and heading for the faint shimmer between the two hills ahead of them. That was where the portal was supposed to be; Magnus had assured him that the Seelies would keep it open for as long as necessary and wouldn’t let anyone but them through.
Alec was quiet behind him and if it hadn’t been for the sound of his steps, Jace would have already assumed that he had abandoned him. He cursed himself for thinking of that in the first place; the idea only got stronger as they approached the portal. He could barely hear him anymore, among the wind and the thunderstorm somewhere in the distance. Was he allowed to talk to him? He had never asked. He had never assumed he would get this far in the first place, he realised, and his task had seemed easy; now that he was here, it had turned into torture.
He could see Alec’s shadow where the three setting suns were throwing it ahead of him. It was the only proof he had that his parabatai was there at all and it was fading away – despite keeping the same pace, Jace could see it disappear from the corner of his eye.
Alec had never meant to follow him through the portal.
It was a startling realisation, but it felt so obvious once he tried to consider it – the pain in his eyes, his unwillingness to look at Jace even as he’d agreed to his proposition. And the small gesture on Jace’s part – one that he’d considered victorious – had been a kiss goodbye. He had known that Jace wouldn’t give up, but he hadn’t been willing to give up either. He was familiar with the aftermath of bringing someone back to life and when forced to choose between himself and the world, the choice had been easy.
Jace was inclined to agree. It was easy, although maybe not in the way his parabatai had expected.
Taking one last look at the portal and the glimpse of the world that it offered, Jace braced himself, let go of his last remaining weapon, and turned around.