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                Beneath the vaulted arches of the Council’s ancient meeting chamber, Alec Lightwood stood shoulder to shoulder with his parabatai, bound in chains. In the cavernous room, the ticking of a distant clock sounded nearly explosive. Alec cast a sideways glance at his parabatai. Dried blood still caked Jace’s skin beneath his broken nose, though it had been days since their violent arrest. The amphitheatre seating of the Council hall was filled with Nephilim young and old, all of them warily silent. It had been centuries since the last trial of this kind. Alec almost wished they would whisper behind their hands, or shout profanities as the men who arrested them had. He ground his teeth in agitation. That clock had to be broken, its ticking too loud and the pulse of time between each second too long. He listened distantly, distractedly, as the Inquisitor read their charges.

                “Mr. Lightwood… Mr. Morgenstern.”

                Jace’s shackles rattled with the force of the tremor that passed through him. Alec itched to reach out to him, to soothe him as Alec had soothed him through his nightmares every night since his return from the Morning Star. Jace didn’t sleep well; there were things that haunted him. Alec couldn’t watch someone he loved fall apart, no more than he could say no when Jace came to him at night, shaking. He had curled into Alec’s arms as a frightened child might a parent’s, and Alec comforted him in the way that only Alec could, through the bond stretching between them, vibrant and sure. And so Jace had slept, innocent of the feelings he stood trial for now, oblivious of Alec’s. No matter how fiercely Alec had stifled the desires he knew to be wrong, he had still somehow found himself down the path to this moment: slow hands ticking, and Alec maddeningly certain that each moment brought them closer to exile.

“How do you plead?”

                They spoke the same way they breathed, battled, and someday would meet death: as one.

                Not guilty.


 

                There was a poet whose words Alec had found in an old, faded book sitting forgotten on a library shelf. Who ever loved that loved not at first sight? The first time Alec saw Jace, the investigators were still looking for his father’s body, still believing they would catch the men who left Jonathan Wayland parentless and alone. Jace stood like an animal in a trap, wary and trembling. Alec’s parents had told him Jace watched the brutal murder, through the slats of a closet door, that he was broken by it. Alec didn’t think so. Something in the way Jace held himself made Alec think Jace had been carrying his burdens for longer than that.

                Alec’s little sister said that he had always been like an old man, shouldering responsibilities no one else wanted. Jace looked like a boy who had never been loved, and in that moment Alec decided that he would the one to do it. He didn’t know if that counted as loving at first sight, but he swore to. He swore many things over the years: that he would shelter Jace’s soul next to his own, that he would protect him and die for him. Alec kept all the vows he made to Jace, but the first was the easiest: loving Jace had been a steady march forward with his gaze fixed in the distance, so that he woke up one day and realized that falling in love was a point far behind him, and he hadn’t noticed its passing.

                 (Alec also swore his honesty before the Council, but that went against the oath he’d sworn to protect Jace. So he lied.)

Madame Inquisitor, my parabatai means more to me than you… or anyone on this Council could understand. I would never violate the sacred bond. Besides that, Jace and I were raised together. He is like my brother.

                When it was Jace’s turn on the stand, he recounted, haltingly, what he had endured while in his father’s captivity. I relive it in my dreams, Madame Inquisitor. Not only the torture, but… the emptiness, of being kept apart for so long. My parabatai—his presence calms me. Alec helps me sleep. That’s all Mr. Majumder saw.

                Between first laying his eyes on Jace and deciding he would love him, Alec couldn’t have passed more than two minutes. The Council deliberated twenty minutes. It took them ten times the span that Alec began falling for Jace, for the Council to decide he had never done so at all.



                Jace wept, alone now, during the night, and Alec’s parabatai rune burned. Forbidden to go him, Alec would lie awake in his own bed, listening. Though found innocent, Alec and Jace’s intimacy disturbed the Clave; they had been directed to sleep apart at night and forbidden from going on missions together for three months. A little distance would do them well, they had been told. Every morning Alec thought Jace looked just a little paler, like he was fading by degrees during the night and Alec could only survey the results the next day, unable to stop it… But stop it he had to, didn’t he? It was his fault… his perversion—no, his love, that had forced the Clave’s hand in separating them. A Shadowhunter comforting his parabatai never would have raised suspicion if it weren’t for the way Alec was.

                 Two weeks after their conditional release, Jace was carried in from a mission screaming like he was back from hell, blood streaming from a gash that opened him up waist to shoulder. Alec had seen his hands shaking as he hefted his Seraph blade before they left. It was part of his duty as acting Head to know if his teams were ready, and Alec knew Jace was not. Still, arguing with Jace meant additional strain on a relationship that already felt close to breaking, so he hadn’t stopped him.

                 Instead, Alec had paced back and forth beneath the archways near the entrance to the war room, his feet mapping a familiar path on the floor. The hours passed, with each one feeling longer than the last. Alec threw back his head, eyes squeezed shut, and groaned when he realized Jace, Izzy, and Clary had been gone three full hours. He knew Izzy—and Clary, for that matter—would be with Jace every step of the way, but the knowledge didn’t soothe him. As his eyelids fluttered open he caught side of a rust-coloured splatter on the ceiling. Blood. Jace’s blood, Alec realized. This is where we were, when Jace broke free… He remembered the night of their arrest with painful clarity, despite the confusion of having been dragged from his bed half-asleep. Jace had fought, desperate and savage, like part of his mind was still stuck in the place he went to in dreams. It had taken five men to subdue him, but only one to lead Alec, head bowed, to the holding cells in the basement.

                 Alec was shaken out of his reminiscence by Jace’s arrival, unconscious and being carried on either side by Izzy and Clary. With Jace settled in his bed, Alec gathered field reports from the girls. Their stories were similar enough that someone who didn’t know them would think it a matter of perspective, but different enough in the details that Alec knew he was being lied to. Jace had botched the mission, and the girls were covering for him. He found out the next morning that confronting Jace would only turn out exactly as he’d expected: a vicious row, Jace too defensive to listen to anything Alec had to say.

                 I’m fine, Alec, Jace had said. I’m not a child, Alec. I can take care of myself, Alec.

He’d said other things, too, things that wounded far deeper and that Alec was trying to forget. This was how Alec found himself on the rooftop, pacing back and forth, mindless of the brisk night air biting his skin.  There was no doubt in his mind that Jace had changed during his stay aboard the Morning Star, but not entirely: he was as headstrong as ever. There was no way Jace would be content with sitting back while war raged on around him. Jace couldn’t sit on his hands, inactive, especially not when the cause was so personal for him. But exhausted and unfocused, Jace wasn’t an asset on missions… He was a liability, and Alec had the others’ safety to think of as well as Jace’s. Then again, Jace knew more about Valentine, his strategies, and his movements than anyone else, and there was no better fighter amongst the Nephilim.

Alec let out a howl of rage and tossed a discarded scrap of metal over the roof’s edge.

“What am I supposed to do? What am I supposed to do?” he screamed into the darkness. In answer, it carried the sounds of the city back to him.

Alec dropped to a crouch, burying his face in his hands. Alec didn’t know what path was the right one. He didn’t even know what he wanted. Jace, his mind supplied, instinctive and resolute. He pushed the thought away, but a phantom whisper filled the space it left behind, his own voice ringing through the Council chamber: not guilty. Alec felt a twinge deep in his gut and scrubbed his hands over his forehead, and then through his hair, pulling until the pain distracted him. Jace’s safety, he amended fervently. That’s what I want. Jace’s safety… Jace’s safety. Jace’s safety.

“Alec?”

Alec stood, spinning around to face the speaker. Jace stood at the open doorway, one hand lingering on the stair rail and the other fisted at his side. His jaw was tense and he regarded Alec with his chin dipped low. Alec felt his heart ache. Jace’s happiness, a voice inside him whispered, and Alec knew there was nothing else he could ever wish for that would be more important.

“Alec,” Jace said again, stepping forward. “I’m sorry… about earlier.”

“No,” Alec cut him off, panic bubbling inside him. “No need. It’s… it’s fine, Jace. I was just worried, and I—I was a jerk.”

Jace shook his head. “You never come up here unless you’re upset… The things I said,” he went on, and licked his lips, hesitating, but Alec interrupted again. The thought that the misery he could see in Jace’s eyes had anything to do with him horrified Alec. Jace had enough on his plate. He didn’t need to worry about Alec.

“It’s not you,” Alec lied, mind racing to come up with an excuse. “It’s… it’s just… it’s Magnus.”

Jace regarded him a moment, in silence. His expression was still guarded, and Alec pulled in a stuttering breath, thinking he should say something more.

“I haven’t seen him around, since I got back,” Jace finally ventured.

Alec shrugged.

“Yeah, I… I guess I fucked it up… pretty bad.” That part wasn’t a lie, at least. The blossoming relationship between him and Magnus, so sweet at first, had gone sour in the face of Alec’s misery, Magnus driven away by the frenzy Alec had fallen into in his search for his lost parabatai. “When you were gone, I… Well, you know, what it was like… to be apart. I was so anxious. So angry. I can’t really blame him for not wanting anything from me, after the way I acted.”

The last hint of tension left Jace’s shoulders as Alec spoke, and he came to stand across from him, laying one hand on Alec’s shoulder and tilting his head so that he stared directly into Alec’s eyes.

“You want my advice?”

Alec swallowed hard against a twinge in his throat as he met Jace’s gaze.

“What am I supposed to do, Jace?” he whispered.

Talk to him, Alec. Hm? Stop hiding in that head of yours… And I’m not talking about blurting out the first comeback that pops into your mind. Try opening up a little.”

Jace squeezed Alec’s shoulder and smiled at him, small and encouraging. Alec felt his mouth go dry, barely managing a feeble twitch of his lips in response. They stayed that way for some time, Alec’s mind blissfully quiet as he examined Jace’s face. He had missed just being able to see him.

“Well, I’ll leave you to your thoughts,” Jace said, and patted Alec on the neck in that way he had, one that annoyed Alec endlessly when anyone else did it but caused warmth to spread through him when Jace did.

Jace left him alone on the rooftop, and Alec stood there staring up at the sky for what felt like ages, squinting to see the stars through the city light and smog. He thought of Jace’s advice, but not of Magnus. Talk to him. Raziel knew Alec had never been good with words, not like Jace was. When Jace woke from nightmares, they hadn’t spoken. Alec had held him, and Jace had cried, but Jace had never told him, not about whatever it was he dreamed of and not about his time with his father. And Alec hadn’t asked. Perhaps that had been his first mistake.


 

Alec gasped into wakefulness lying in a pool of cold sweat, as if emerging from a terrible dream. The clock on his dresser, and the complete darkness of the room, told him it was the dead of night. He heard the door to Jace’s room creaking open, and bare feet padding down the hall. Alec threw off the covers of his bed and followed the sound of Jace’s footsteps, flinching at the feeling of the cold floor tiles on his skin, hand unconsciously wandering to his parabatai rune, stinging like skin exposed to ice on a hot day. He saw light streaming out from the kitchen, and peered in to see Jace standing at the sink, drinking deeply from a glass of water.

“Hey,” Alec whispered after he’d set the glass down, and Jace spun around, caught by surprise. He said nothing, turning back to brace his hands on either side of the sink as Alec came up behind him, laying his palm between Jace’s shoulder blades. He remembered what Jace had said to him the other night. “Everything okay?” he asked, and then cursed inwardly at his own idiocy. Of course it wasn’t. Not only was Jace out of bed in the middle of the night, his back shaking minutely beneath Alec’s hand, but he had frozen up on yet another mission that evening. This time, it nearly cost a team member her life. Lindsay was okay, though, resting in the infirmary, and Jace was up, restless.

Jace sighed. “Just a bad dream, Alec. Don’t worry about it.”

“But I do worry,” Alec said, pushing his palm more firmly into Jace’s skin, wanting Jace to feel him, to notice him, to be sure of his presence. He pushed forward, not knowing if the words were right but just knowing that he had to try. Talk to him. “Your dream was about… the ship? Do you want to talk about it?”

“The ship?” Jace asked. “Or the dream?”

Something in his tone made Alec pause.

“Either. Both. Whatever… you want. I’m here to listen.”

In the end, Jace didn’t want to talk at all, except to tell Alec that his dreams weren’t about the ship, but they made him feel the same way, without elaboration or explanation. The old Jace would have told Alec, opened up to him. This Jace went to bed and left Alec behind to watch him go, shoulders hunched. While Jace was gone, Alec had learned true fear, had nearly driven himself into the ground knowing there was nothing he could do for him. He’d thought he was isolated then, unable to see Jace, to touch him or smell him. Now that Jace was back, he had never felt so alone. He wondered if Jace felt the same.

Alec didn’t sleep that night, no more than Jace did, anyway. He tried to picture life with Valentine, and found that he didn’t like the images he came up with.


 

Alec watched Jace sleep at night. He tossed, and muttered. After a mission gone wrong, Alec heard him cry out, “not again, not the chains. Please Dad.”

He hadn’t heard Jace call Valentine dad since they’d discovered his true identity. Alec wondered at the nightmare  Jace was having, and at his own obliviousness. How long had he failed, as a friend, a parabatai? How long had Jace suffered without his knowing?


 

Alec stopped assigning Jace combat missions, quietly. He briefed Izzy on assignments in private, and had her bring Clary, distracting Jace with diplomatic meetings and by taking him out for lunch.

“Shouldn’t you take Izzy?” Jace asked one day as they were preparing to meet with a council of Downworlder representatives. Izzy was surveying a location thought to be frequented by Valentine’s army.

“Izzy would try to butt in on my love life and spend the whole meeting flirting with Magnus on my behalf,” Alec muttered, hyper aware of Jace’s shoulder brushing against his as they walked, side by side, down the empty sidewalk.

“What makes you think I won’t?” Jace asked, grinning. The sight of it warmed Alec’s heart, but he did his best to make himself sound firm.

“For the love of Raziel, don’t.” He sighed. “I don’t have time for dating, Jace,” he added.

He didn’t add that coming out had made him an ineffective leader, that people didn’t respect him the way they had before, that he knew Raj wouldn’t have jumped to conclusions when he saw them together if Alec wasn’t the way he was. That in a way, everything had been easier back when he’d allowed himself to pine for Jace without any real expectation of happiness. Alec liked the thought of freedom, freedom to just be Alec, truly and openly, but he hated the corner he had backed himself into. He couldn’t help but think that Jace had gone from being chained by Valentine to being chained by the Clave, all because something in Alec wasn’t right. He took selfish, carefully guarded solace in the knowledge that Jace and Clary could never be together now that they knew they were siblings: being alone wasn’t so awful with Jace, and he had never shown much interest in women beyond sex before she came along.

The meeting was exactly as awkward as expected, and Alec left with his shoulders hunched and head bowed, Jace’s hand on his back guiding him. Jace continued to comfort him up until the moment they returned to the Institute to find Clary in the infirmary, pale and unconscious, and Jace realized why he, and not Izzy, had been taken to the meeting. It resulted in another fight, this one just as vicious as the first.

“I don’t need your protection, Alec!” Jace had shouted, and Alec, stressed and lashing out had responded: “It’s everyone else that needs protection from you. You’re a liability on the field, Jace!”

He kept the stricken look on Jace’s face with him throughout the day.

“Izzy,” Alec asked later, “Do you think Jace is field ready?”

“Oh, Alec,” she said, her tone pitying. “Nobody thinks Jace is field-ready. I know it’s hard to have him angry at you, but it’s for the best. People were talking, you know. About how he kept fucking things up. About how you kept letting him fuck things up. It’s making everyone doubt you. They think Lydia should come back from Idris and retake full control.”

“I thought it was because of everything with Magnus,” Alec murmured, “because I’m…”

Izzy shook her head. “It’s not you, Alec, it’s how you’re dealing with Jace.”

Alec stayed up well into the night, doing his own paperwork and double checking field reports that were probably beneath the Acting Head’s attention. Hours past the time when Jace normally would have turned in, he crept to his parabatai’s door to look in on him. It wasn’t as if Jace hadn’t made it clear, several times, that he didn’t want Alecs overbearing protectiveness. Still, Alec couldn’t help the need to check on him, guilt at their earlier argument eating at him.

                Jace was still awake, staring at the ceiling, when Alec gently pushed the door open.

                “Oh,” Alec whispered. “I’m sorry, I thought you’d be asleep. I just… wanted… I’m sorry.”

                He made to close the door again but Jace called out to him.

                “Come here,” he said, and Alec obeyed despite the hardness of Jace’s tone, taking his usual seat on the edge of Jace’s bed.

“I’m a good Shadowhunter,” Jace said, staring at the wall.

“Sure,” Alec agreed.

“I’m not a liability, and I should’ve been there today.”

Alec shook his head, remembering Izzy’s words. “You’re a good Shadowhunter, Jace, or you were, but you nearly got Lindsay killed. And Clary wouldn’t have been any safer with you tagging along. Besides,” he added, reaching out to brush his fingers against the back of Jace’s hand. “I needed you with me, today.”

“You didn’t need me,” Jace snapped, “You were just trying to distract me, Alec. I’m not an idiot.”

Alec recoiled at Jace’s hostility.

“No,” he said, bitterness on his tongue, “Maybe I didn’t need you. Maybe I needed the old Jace, the Jace who would have actually supported me and wanted to see me do well as the Head, rather than wanting to pull me down so he could have what he wants.”

“The old Jace is dead, Alec,” Jace all but shouted at him. “And you should stop waiting for him to come back because I am right here. I’m sorry if I’m not how you want me to be anymore but I don’t want to sit on the sidelines while Valentine tears the world apart around us!”

Alec didn’t respond, but left. The old Jace is dead. Why couldn’t he see that this was exactly why Alec couldn’t put him on the field? Once he had been brave, and sure. Now he was a broken shell of the man Alec had known and loved. If Alec had been a better parabatai, would Jace have left with Valentine that day? If Alec hadn’t been—guilty—if he had helped Jace instead of being blinded by his jealousness over Clary, could all this have been avoided? Alec lie awake that night, listening to the clock’s hands ticking his life slowly away, every second preoccupied with what he had lost—Jace, his Jace—and what he had to cling on to still--…. Jace. His Jace. Still here.


Alec had never felt the need to knock on Jace’s door before entering, not for years anyway, but he did so the next night. They still hadn’t spoken, and Alec couldn’t bear the distance. Jace was already in bed, and Alec shuffled across the room and sat on the edge, feeling warmth radiating from Jace’s thighs. Though he had spent the last 24 hours trying to come up with the right words, he still didn’t know what to say, and they sat in silence, as if underwater, until Alec couldn’t anymore, the quietness between them as unnatural as a forest without insects, or animals.

“I just wanted… I just wanted to say good night,” Alec whispered, reaching out to touch Jace’s cheekbone. “I’m just next door, you know. If you need me.”

Jace’s smile was small, but it didn’t go unnoticed. Jace sighed before settling back down into his pillows.

“Good night, Alec,” he said, voice laden with some emotion Alec couldn’t place. He told himself that, whatever it was, it didn’t mean he was unwanted.

The next morning Alec roused Jace awake by shaking his shoulder with gentle, slow hands.

“Good morning,” he whispered as Jace blinked up at him. “I’m going to make breakfast, if you’re hungry.”

Jace seemed confused, the first couple of nights. Still, Alec persisted, making a point of saying good night and doing whatever he could to make sure he was the first thing Jace saw in the morning. He wanted Jace to know he was there. He wanted Jace to know he was safe. More than anything, he wanted Jace to know how much he loved him, without saying the words. That, he’d mess up.


 

It’s over lunch one day that Jace brings up their new routine.

“I don’t need to be tucked in, Alec. I’m not gonna break,” he said.

Aren’t you?

“I know that,” Alec muttered, pushing his food around his plate with his fork.

“Then stop,” Jace shot back, and Alec could hear the annoyance in his voice.

                “Maybe it’s not for you.”

Alec didn’t dare look up into Jace’s face, unsure if he was lying or telling the truth. He wanted Jace to feel safe, and it was true that had been his original motivation for starting his bizarre nighttime ritual. But he had found, somewhere along the way, that the image of Jace, safe in bed, made it easier for him to sleep at night. He had spent months imagining where Jace might be as he laid his head down, wondering if Jace was okay. Now he could know for sure. At last he looked up and found Jace staring at him, his expression infuriatingly neutral.

“I missed you, Jace,” Alec told him. “I missed you and I couldn’t know if you were ever gonna come back and I just feel better, you know, if I… make sure. And once upon a time I don’t think you would have protested so much. You’ve always been stubborn, but never so desperate to shut me out.”

If I keep this up, Alec thought, will you come back to me?

Jace sighed and got up from his seat, as if to leave. Alec’s heart hammered in his chest as he averted his attention to his hardly touched meal. Jace walked around the table and grasped Alec’s nape, crowding into his personal space. His other hand found Alec’s chin and pulled it upward so that Alec had no choice but to look into his eyes. Alec thought that he might say something, and perhaps he had meant to originally, but Jace was silent as he brushed his thumb against Alec’s jaw. Alec fought to keep down a shiver as he reveled in the touch. Unthinkingly, he fisted his hands into Jace’s shirt, wanting but not sure what. He had always cherished physical intimacy from Jace, but now he wished for just a fraction of the trust that had been between them.

“It was so much easier before,” Alec said, still gazing up into Jace’s face until Jace at last broke away from him and left the room without speaking. Before Jace left with Valentine, yes, but more so before Jace had changed. And before Raj caught Jace in Alec’s bed. At least Alec thought so. Once he’d thought that he’d know, for certain, if Jace felt the same way. Now, it was harder to say.


 

A week later, Alec broke up a fight between Izzy and Jace, of all people. Jace had been offended that Izzy didn’t take him along on a mission (one Alec had tried to keep from him).

“I expect this from Alec, Iz, but you, too? I can do this. Just give me a chance”

“No you can’t, Jace!” Izzy had all but screamed. “We gave you chances, and it wasn’t good enough.”

The words hit Alec hard: he’d remembered Jace saying something similar to him once, and it turned Alec’s perspective on its head. Alec had worked his whole life for the position he had now, and he knew he had issues… but he was a Shadowhunter, and a good one, and resented being dismissed. Jace had always been perfect, unattainable, but for once, perhaps, Alec could truly relate.


 

The truth is, you can’t keep a good man down forever, no matter how hard one might try. Jace found his way onto the field despite Alec’s resistance, as he’d found his way into Alec’s weak spot years before.

                It wasn’t hard: Valentine found his way into the Institute, and no one could stop Jace from fighting then. If it weren’t for a cavalry of Downworlders, the Soul Sword very well could have killed hundreds of them. Jace fought, Alec by his side, as they’d trained and vowed to do. He was like a god, passionate and unstoppable. Until Valentine had entered the room and Jace was shaking, shaking, shaking. Alec stood over Jace, arrows whipping away from him so fast he lost his own sense of aim, shooting into the wall of enemies coming at them, praying to Raziel that each arrow found its’ mark and none of his enemies’ weapons found Jace.

                Afterward, when someone else was securing the institute as was part of Alec’s job, he wrapped Jace in his arms from behind  while he kneeled on the floor and whispered in his ear, “I’m here, I’m here, you’re safe.”

              He didn’t care how they looked, or how the other Shadowhuters looked at them. If comforting his parabatai was to be a crime, Alec would be content to spend life in the City of Bones.

                Jace apologized as he cried, but Alec shook his head, lips brushing Jace’s neck.

                “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I just get so scared, Alec, and I can’t—I can’t.”

                “It doesn’t matter,” Alec whispered. He heard Jace’s words again: the old Jace is dead, but I’m right here. “It doesn’t matter… Jace.. Every soldier has his weakness. Achilles had his heel. It’s ok to let Valentine be yours. You still took out more Circle members than anyone else here…” Until he came in the room.

                Jace didn’t stop shaking, but he turned in Alec’s arms and buried his head in Alec’s shoulder, and for the first time in awhile, Alec thought that the burning in his rune subsided, if only a little.


 

Jace slipped into Alec’s bedroom that evening and settled down on top of the covers beside Alec, long after Alec had already bid him good night.

“You can’t,” Alec reminded him, still wide awake.

“I won’t stay long.” Jace sighed and rested his head on Alec’s shoulder. “I can’t stand the thought of you lying here, worrying about me. It’s a waste of your time.”

“You’re my parabatai.” And I love you. I love you! “Whither thou goest… I will hover nearby, fretting.”

Jace hummed. “I don’t remember that part.”

“You’ve got a bad memory,” Alec whispered.

“I guess so,” Jace whispered back. He had said he wouldn’t stay long, but he was still there when Alec began drifting off to sleep.

                “What was it,” Jace asked at length, “That you loved about me?”

                “Hmm?” Alec shifted, looking up into Jace’s face, overwhelmed by the sadness he saw there. “Jace, what?”

                “You loved me once,” Jace said. “Like you love Magnus. What was it?”

                “I don’t love Magnus,” Alec said, tiredly. But I could have. And I wanted to... It’s you, Jace. It’s always been you. “Guilty,” a voice in his head whispered, the one that would never have the chance to speak out loud, or to hear Jace respond in kind. He laid down again, resting his cheek against Jace’s chest, and considered the question. Your bravery, he thought, Your unwavering resolve. But he remembered Jace’s words the other night: the old Jace is dead, and I am right here. It wasn’t as if Valentine had stolen all the good parts of Jace. And it wasn’t as if Alec had ever stopped loving him, no matter how he plead during the trial.

                “I love how kind you are,” Alec told him. He picked at his fingernail before going on. “I love that you’re so good, despite everything you’ve been through. And even when it annoys me, I love… I envy that you have this innate sense of the right thing to do. So often, I… I feel like I don’t know.”

                Alec buried his face in Jace’s side.

                “And I love that you believe in me, when no one else does. Do you remember, when you asked me to be your parabatai, and I said I needed time to think about it?”

                Jace let out a sharp laugh and breathed in sharply, and Alec realized he was crying.

                “It was the longest day of my life,” Jace told him. “I was so scared you’d say no.”

                “I wanted to,” Alec told him. “Partly because I had already started to realize I loved you, and I knew once we were parabatai that I would never have you, not in the way I wanted anyway.” Jace’s grip on Alec’s waist tightened. “But partly because… I was so scared, what everyone would think. Me, Jace Wayland’s parabatai. But then I realized that there was one person who didn’t think I was unworthy, who thought I deserved to be your parabatai and trusted that I was good enough. You.

                “I’m sorry, Jace, about all that.” Alec sighed, eyelids fluttering to a close. Alec felt, in that moment, that he could sleep through the destruction of the Institute.

                “You don’t need to be sorry for the way you feel, Alec,” Jace told him, his voice whisper-soft. “In fact.. Having your support… having someone care about me as deeply as you do… has been the only thing getting me through these past few months.”

                Alec felt his head lolling to the side. “I’s just trying to do for you… what you always did for me. But I’m so bad at it, Jace. I can’t be you. It’s why I needed you… to be you, because I can’t. And someone has to hold us together.”

                He couldn’t be sure in the morning if Jace had heard him, since he could still feel words unspoken on his tongue.


 

                They didn’t defeat Valentine that day; there were many more battles to come, and Alec knew he couldn’t deny Jace his space in them, no matter how much he wanted to. He found a compromise on his own, and fought side by side with Jace as he’d sworn to, thought it meant giving up on paperwork and a future position as Head.

                Jace cut down the last demon in the crowded shop they were in. He turned to Alec, drenched in blood, and shaking. But still standing. Alec smiled, and Jace stepped across a dead body toward him, a dark look in his eyes.

                “I love you,” Jace said, and Alec grinned.

                “I lo—” He did not finish his sentence. Jace had pulled him into a kiss, fever-hot, and was dragging Alec from the room as he tried to sputter a response. In shock, Alec allowed himself to be dragged, to a motel in a part of town that Shadowhunters seldom went.

                “Jace—”

                “Shh,” Jace admonished him. “Let me show you what I want to.”

                And show he did, until Alec couldn’t doubt the message, that Jace loved him back, not just as a partner or friend, but something more: his parabatai and other half in the truest sense, bound in both life and love… Moving as one, pumping blood as one, pulling in each shuddering breath as one until Alec was shaking so hard it pulled the air from his lungs and he could breathe no longer. When he came to, Jace collapsed in a heap on top of him, he realized that in climax, too, they had been perfectly in sync. Jace flopped over onto the mattress, and they lie beside each other panting. Finally Jace pushed himself back into Alec’s space, kissing his cheeks as Alec tried to push him away.

                “Stop! We can’t…. we’re paying by the hour, Jace,” Alec reminded him between fits of laughter. “And I haven’t got any cash.”

                Jace twisted around to look at the clock on the stand behind him.

                “We’ve got twenty minutes.”

                Twenty precious, too-short minutes. Alec wiggled closer to his parabatai. He nearly wept as Jace pressed his lips to the skin behind Alec’s ear, kissing him without words: in quiet, a declaration of love as loud as if Jace had screamed it into the echoing Council chamber. Jace massaged Alec’s back, slow hands kneading him to boneless pleasure, until Alec forgot to care about the outside world, anymore. He whined when Jace pulled away to the edge of the bed, collecting his clothes from the floor.

                “You’re the one who said we couldn’t afford another hour,” Jace laughed at him.

                Alec wrestled Jace back to the bed, pinning his wrists to the mattress.

                “What do I have to do to keep you here? Chain you? Arrest you?”

                “On what charges?” Jace asked, mouth curling into a teasing grin.

                “That’s for me to know, and you to find out,” Alec murmured between pressing kisses into Jace’s chest, moving farther and farther down. “How do you plead?”

                Jace was silent for too long. Alec turned his face toward Jace’s, mid-kiss, bottom lip sticking against the sweaty skin of Jace’s abdomen. He found Jace staring at him, his eyes boring into Alec as a hawk watches its next meal, razor focused and unflinching. Alec felt suddenly unsure beneath the intensity of Jace’s gaze.

                “Jace?”

                Jace’s whole face softened at the sound of Alec’s voice, and he reached out to brush his hand, reverent and slow, through Alec’s hair.

                “Guilty,” he whispered.

                Alec swallowed, suddenly disoriented, as if time had lurched to a shuddering halt around him.

                “Me too,” he whispered back. “Guilty.”

                He had been all along.