Alec Lightwood dies on a Saturday, two weeks before summer, at 2:48 AM.
Nobody knows where, or how, or why.
But there is no doubt whatsoever about when.
And everyone surrounding Jace knows exactly what when he suddenly drops to his knees, screaming in agony, clutching at his bleeding parabatai rune.
The official search for Alec’s body lasts three weeks, until the Clave decides that it is a vain waste of their resources.
Maryse and Robert keep on looking for five months more.
Magnus does everything he can to help. But when he exhausts his entire repertoire of tracking spells, he caves in to Catarina’s pleas for him to stop and start taking better care of himself. He understands the Lightwoods’ urge to make sure that Alec receives the proper funeral rites, but for Magnus… there really is nothing left to be recovered. He comprehends the meaning of death and loss, maybe better than anyone. Alexander is gone.
Isabelle is the last to give up. On the anniversary of Alec’s death, she dresses up in white and builds up a small funeral pyre at the Institute’s backyard, where she burns one of Alec’s ugly, worn-out sweaters. She feels like she’s spent a whole year in tears, and promises herself not to cry anymore. But then Max, wearing one of Alec’s jackets—still much too big for him—joins her and takes her hand, and her promise is instantly broken in devastated sobs.
Jace searches frantically for less than three hours.
That is how long his hope lasts—his hope that Alec’s heart has merely stopped for a while, and that if they find him fast enough, they can get it to start beating again before his brain is irreparably damaged. Before all the things that make him Alec are lost for good.
After that, he just sits under the shadow of Worthless Boulder at Central Park, the spot where Alec’s scent simply disappears, according to Luke. Jace sits there, blankly staring at his own hands, still covered by the dry blood that had gushed from his flank.
The parabatai rune is completely numb now.
He wishes he were numb inside, too. He had assumed that was how it would feel, whenever people told him stories about Nephilim that had to endure the loss of their parabatai. Hollowness was the term they often used. It always gave Jace a sense of passive pain.
This is nothing like that. It’s like having blazing-hot knives carving at his soul to make sure there’s not a speck of Alec’s left inside him.
He is vaguely aware of Clary sitting beside him, holding his hand, and mumbling words that are probably meant to be comforting and sympathizing. He zones out after she starts talking about how she felt when she lost Simon. He has no doubt that she means well… but he can practically see Alec’s exasperated eye-roll and hear Alec’s contemptuous voice saying, “Losing your parabatai is nothing like losing your childhood bestie, little girl. Besides, didn’t you get the pest back only twenty-four hours later anyway?”
The crater broadens inside Jace. He wants to cry, but it’s like everything in him has dried out.
“Clary… please go, okay?” he pleads weakly.
“I don’t think you should be alone right now.”
He lets out a humorless chuckle. “There’s nothing anyone can do about that anymore.”
Jace is as disgusted by the scar on his flank now as he was once proud of the mark that preceded it.
Alec’s penmanship had been atrocious, but no one could dispute his precision at rune-drawing. He had practiced the parabatai rune every day, from five minutes after he accepted Jace’s proposal to five minutes before their bonding ceremony began. He had filled countless sheets of paper with the carefully-measured lines, and had repeatedly painted the mark with ink on Jace’s skin, because he wanted to be absolutely sure that he would get the proportions correct when the time came for the permanent rune.
Jace had practiced, but… not as much. At the ceremony, he placed the top line of the rune too low, and, as a result, Alec had to pull down the waist of his pants a little so Jace could finish the drawing on Alec’s hips. It was all a little embarrassing at the time, but Alec never complained.
Most of the runes on Jace’s skin had been drawn by Alec, and looked like almost flawless replicas of those in the Gray Book. But the parabatai rune… Alec had put his soul into it, both literally and metaphorically. It was perfect in every way.
Now, all that is left of its beauty is a white jagged scar, as if Jace’s flesh had been slashed with a dagger.
He does his best not to look at it. He starts wearing tank tops for workout and combat training. He showers with his eyes closed. He never looks in the mirror.
He’s always aware of it. Like phantom pain. But it’s slightly better if he doesn’t see it.
When Jace saw his father be killed in front of him, he was consumed by fury and thoughts of revenge. There was no space in his heart for any other feeling besides murderous rage.
Valentine could boast as much as he wanted about shaping Jace into a warrior, but it was Alec who truly shaped him into a person. By being there, no matter what. By not taking any of Jace’s bullshit. By taking care of Jace, and allowing Jace to do the same for him. By being his pillar, his anchor, his shelter, his home.
Jace probably should care about obtaining justice for Alec’s death. He can tell by the way people look at him that they’re expecting him to hunt down whoever is responsible and exact the most viciously creative punishment his mind can conceive.
He’s paralyzed by grief, though. It’s like he’s been emptied of all his other emotions, and robbed of any wish to move, or talk, or think.
Nothing matters anymore.
“I failed him,” he admits out loud one day.
He’s talking to himself, really, but Clary just happens to be close enough to hear him. “It wasn’t your fault. We don’t even know what happened. How could you have prevented…?”
“He was my parabatai,” he snaps, his voice cracking at the verb. It’s the first time he refers to Alec in the past tense.
“That doesn’t mean…”
“You don’t know what it means,” he snarls. “I should have been with him. I should have died with him.”
“Survivor’s guilt is a natural response to…”
“‘Where thou diest, will I die.’ Those aren’t just pretty words, Clary. That was my vow to him. A vow that meant more to me than anything else. ‘Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried.’” Jace shakes his head and clenches his fists. “And I don’t even know where that is…”
Eventually, he’s dragged back into missions. He doesn’t feel any better—or any more—but his training kicks in when necessary, and he goes through the motions of hunting, fighting, killing, returning to the Institute and cleaning his gear.
There is no thrill.
There is no fear.
He gets into deep trouble much more often now. Clary accuses him of carelessness. Izzy retorts that he’s just as he has ever been, only now there aren’t precise arrows cutting through the air around him to save his ass in the nick of time. (And then she cries, and curses herself for crying. Those arrows had been there for her as well, time and time and time again.)
The two girls are the only ones willing to accompany Jace in missions now. The Clave wants him in the field because of his unparalleled skills, but the other Shadowhunters think of him as thoroughly unreliable.
As it happens, he is alone when he finds himself in a dark cellar, completely surrounded by a swarm of Shax demons that hiss malevolently at him from all sides, all corners, and from the ceiling as well.
It’s a pathetic way to die.
He doesn’t care.
He raises his seraph blade, thinking he should at least take some of them with him for appearance’s sake.
A ring of blue fire erupts around him, quickly expanding towards the walls of the cellar, burning half the demons to dust and driving off the other half.
Jace blinks. “What the…?”
“Devoured by Shax demons,” says a familiar voice from the top of the stairs. “Or worse, incapacitated and hauled to their nest, and having your still-living body serve as incubator to their eggs. Hardly what one might call ‘going down in a blaze of glory’, don’t you think?”
“I didn’t ask for your help, Magnus.”
“And I am not here for you,” the warlock ripostes. “Well, not exactly.”
“What the hell do you mean?”
“Frankly, I’ve always found you a little obnoxious,” says Magnus as he comes down the stairs. “And it’s not just the typical arrogance of the Nephilim in you. It’s also this particular brand of egotism, vanity, and idiotic bravado that you probably call your personal charm and that I’m sure you have been perfecting all your life.”
Jace rolls his eyes. “Aww, you’re hurting my feelings, warlock.”
“See?” Magnus joins Jace at the center of the room. “Exactly what I was talking about. You work so hard on being unpalatable, and you’re so proud of it.”
“And yet, here you are.”
“Because Alexander loved you.”
Jace knew it was coming, but still the air seems to be sucked out of his lungs when Magnus says that name.
“I won’t claim to know what you’re going through,” says Magnus softly. “I knew Alexander for a fraction of the time you had with him. But I know for a fact that he would not have you hurting yourself, and that he would not forgive me if I let you.”
Jace grips his sword tighter, pointing it at Magnus’s throat. “I could get rid of you. Right here. Right now.”
Magnus doesn’t even flinch. “I somehow doubt it. But more to the point… would you? Would you, really?”
Jace growls, pressing the tip of the seraph blade against the top button of Magnus’s shirt. If Alec were alive, he would be hurrying between them to force them apart.
Or not. Maybe he would only send them one of his trademark vexed glares, just waiting for the both of them to quit bickering.
If only Alec were still alive.
Jace puts the sword away. “I don’t know what you want from me.”
“How about not throwing all of Alexander’s work away?”
Magnus silences him by arching an eyebrow.
No. No, that’s not it. Magnus silences him by being right. No matter how much Jace hates him for it.
“Frankly, Alexander was insufferable whenever you gave him serious cause to worry,” says Magnus, his gaze clouded by memories. “He could drive everyone up a wall in his efforts to get to you, and he would lash out against everyone who dared not help him protect you.”
Jace winces. Alec had little time to develop his relationship with the warlock, and having a parabatai constantly in need of his support and assistance played a major part in it.
“No one could possibly replace him,” Magnus concludes wearily. “Not in your life, not in this world. That is just a simple fact. But in honor of his memory, I will do my best to keep you from being an idiot, as he would if he were here.”
Sleep eludes Jace most nights. Even when exhaustion gets the upper hand on him, soon he’s awoken by nightmares about drowning, or being buried alive or choked to death. He merely lies on his bed, then, fighting to catch his breath, his skin clammy with sweat.
That is how Max finds him one night. The youngest Lightwood doesn’t knock, but he hesitates at the door until Jace invites him inside.
“What’s up, Max?” he asks gently, his voice hoarse and alien. “Nightmare?”
“Did he know I loved him?”
Jace’s eyes widen at the unexpected question. “Of course he did, Max.”
“I don’t remember ever telling him,” Max whispers. “And I am always getting in trouble, and then he would have to ground me, and sometimes I got him in trouble with Mom and Dad, too.”
Jace sighs. Alec had not enjoyed the role of disciplinarian, but he took it nonetheless, believing it to be his duty as the oldest brother. “I got him in trouble, all kinds of trouble, more than anybody else in the world. So take it from someone who knows: he might have been grumpy as hell, but he never stopped loving you. Not for one second.”
“But did he know I loved him?” the boy insists.
“Yes,” Jace replies immediately, because that’s what Max needs to hear, and the entire truth of Alec’s self-esteem issues is too complicated for the kid’s age and for that hour of the night.
“I called him boring,” Max confesses, his eyes glistening. “To his face. More than once.”
And I told him he wasn’t good enough, Jace remembers bitterly. Harsh, foolish words said in the heat of the moment, but Jace saw the virulence of their impact in his parabatai’s face.
Jace pulls the covers up and gestures Max to climb into the bed. He thinks back of the nights Alec had welcomed him in the same way, when Jace was just slightly older than Max, and he and Alec weren’t even quite friends yet.
“He was the wise one among us,” Jace reminds Max while tucking him in. “Izzy is the smarts, I am the looks, and Alec was wisdom. Everybody knows that.”
“And me? What am I?”
Jace ruffles the boy’s hair and smiles through the grief. “You are whatever you want to be. Promise me you’ll remember that? No one gets to tell you who you are. If there’s one lesson Alec would want to make sure you got right, it’s that.”
Max nods. “I promise,” he adds solemnly.
Jace still doesn’t get to sleep that night, but he feels slightly better.
Jace often returns to the North Woods after the park is closed to the mundanes just to sit by that boulder and… remember.
He expects to be haunted by the big moments—meeting Alec for the first time, their bonding ceremony, the many perils and wounds Alec faced while protecting him, their violent fight at the gates of the City of Bones, their reunion after that awful period when Valentine and the Clave had kept them apart.
Left to its own devices, though, his mind tends to focus on the small things.
The way Alec rubbed his left hand when he was nervous.
The long-suffering sighs when he gave into yet another of Jace’s reckless schemes.
The deadpan look and the acidity in his voice when he was Truly Not Pleased.
The millimetric curve of his lips when he pretended not to be amused by Jace’s antics.
His ridiculous tallness that forced Jace on his tip-toes just to hug him.
The way Alec practically melted in his arms when they hugged.
Alec’s stupid hair, and how crazy soft it felt to the touch.
His lips, relaxed and slightly open, when he allowed himself to fall into deep sleep.
His warmth. The warmth in his eyes, the warmth of his touch, the warmth of his soul.
Summer turns into fall, fall turns into winter, winter turns into spring, spring turns into summer again. But Jace is always cold.
Jace saves a Seelie in one of his strolls in the park. Mostly by accident. She just happens to be there, seconds away from being eviscerated by a demon, when Jace shows up to cut the hideous creature down with his seraph blade.
Unexpectedly, she doesn’t seem particularly happy about it. “I did not ask for your help, Shadowhunter.”
Her words inevitably remind Jace of his encounter with Magnus in the Shax-infested cellar, and he snorts. “If you are that eager to die, I’m sure there are nicer ways to accomplish that.”
“You interfere in businesses you know nothing about.”
“I’m doing my job,” Jace counters. “Fighting the demonic forces. Keeping the peace in the Shadow World. Of which you are part.”
“In other words, interfering in other people’s businesses.”
Jace rolls his eyes. “Right, right. What was I expecting, really? Gratitude? Nah.” He snickers, kicking the ashes that are all that remain from the demon. “I can see how my interference was totally unnecessary. Well, have a nice life. Let’s hope I’m never put in the position of interfering in your business again.”
He turns to leave, but only manages a couple of steps before hearing the Seelie’s voice again. “Wait.”
Jace turns back, ironically feeling more cautious now than when dealing with the demon.
The Seelie studies him for a silent moment, then sighs in resignation. “I do not care for being in debt. Especially to a Shadowhunter.” She reaches inside her belt, and produces a thick, large coin from a hidden pocket, offering it to Jace.
“What is that?” he asks suspiciously.
“What the demon wanted from me.”
“Why did he want it?”
“It used to be his, until he misplaced it.”
“You just… found it? Lying around?”
The Seelie tilts her head and readjusts her posture in that typical dissimulated way of her kind. “It was indeed lying on the ground.”
Jace takes the coin, examining it with little enthusiasm. It is only vaguely circular in shape, made of age-old copper, with cracked edges and deep scratches blemishing the inscriptions on both faces. “Is this how much your life is worth?” he asks sardonically.
Her face transforms into a feral grin. “You should know, little Shadowhunter, that many things that some call worthless, others will treasure as sacred.”
She disappears among the trees, towards the safety of the Seelie Glade, before Jace can say another word.
His feet take him quickly to the North Woods before his brain has truly processed the Seelie’s admonition. Do not trust faeries, dictated common wisdom. They cannot outright lie, but they slyly weave falsehoods in almost everything they say. With fairies, there’s always a catch. Any gift from a fairy is likely to hide devious intents.
The coin was not a gift, though. It was payment. Payment for a life saved. And Jace is mostly convinced that the reluctance and irritation he saw in the Seelie’s face as she handed him the object was genuine. She had not planned to give it to him.
He doesn’t want to give into hope. After so much pain and misery, he can’t imagine how it might feel having his hopes crushed once more.
Hope is all he has, though, when he reaches the boulder.
The gigantic piece of chalk-stained rock the mundanes call Worthless.
Magnus was there dozens of times, trying countless spells to track Alec from the spot where his trail had run cold. He reported finding nothing remarkable: no lingering signs of recent magic, no portal residue, no traces of ichor or blood. Just some evidence of mundane littering, and the general otherworldly aura that surrounds the whole park, brought on by the proximity to the Seelie Glade.
Magnus did not have that coin, though. A coin that, frankly speaking, looked like it had been minted over a thousand years before the High Warlock was even born.
Jace walks around the boulder, examining its knobby surface, searching for… something. A hole where the coin would fit perfectly, like a keyhole waiting for its key. He soon realizes there’s nothing of the sort, and if such a thing ever existed, time, weather, and the mundane climbers would probably have ruined the spot.
He examines the coin closer. It’s hard to make out the engraved images, but one face seems to portray a wide-open mouth full of razor-sharp fangs, while the other shows what appears to be that same nasty mouth, but with clenched teeth.
Uncharacteristically unsure of himself, Jace chooses the highest end of the boulder, and presses the side of the coin with the open mouth against the face of the rock. He waits for a few moments, listening carefully for any kind of response, but nothing happens.
He flips the coin, then, and does the same.
That entire face of the boulder promptly lights up with a cold, greenish glow, and liquefies, swallowing the coin. Jace steps back and witnesses in awe as the melted stone slowly takes the shape of the clenched mouth depicted on the copper.
The mouth opens with a low-pitched growl, fangs sparkling in the dark.
And it literally spits Alec Lightwood out on the ground.
Jace is completely unprepared for the scorching pain that hits his left flank, like the sudden lashing of a whip cutting into his flesh. He doesn’t look down—he can’t take his eyes off Alec—but he instinctively knows his parabatai rune is now the same angry-red it was back when Alec marked him with it. Jace welcomes the pain wholeheartedly, not only for its obvious meaning, but because it asserts that this is not a dream.
Alec is down on his knees and elbows, covered from top to bottom in fine rock dust, shaking like a leaf, coughing and wheezing and gasping for air.
The coin reappears, glowing bloody red for a moment, before falling to the ground, inert. The boulder’s surface solidifies once more, leaving no signs of ever being anything but ordinary stone.
Jace kneels down right next to Alec and pulls him up by his shoulders, bringing their foreheads together. He can’t tell which of them is trembling more violently.
Alec’s attempt at saying his parabatai’s name dissolves into what sounds like an alarming fit of whooping cough. His hands pull at the collar of his shirt, as if fighting invisible hands that were trying to choke him.
A shiver runs down Jace’s spine. He has never seen Alec have a panic attack before.
“Alec, you need to breathe. Calm down. Breathe with me.” Jace takes his parabatai’s hands and presses one against Alec’s chest, and the other against his own. “Just breathe. In and out. In… Out… In… Yeah, that’s it… With me. Always with me.”
It takes a long time for Alec to start to calm down. His nails are clawing at Jace’s chest, but Jace doesn’t mind, only squeezes Alec’s hand tighter. Eventually, the coughs cease, and Alec is able to take long, slow gulps of air into his lungs.
“It’s okay. It’s okay. You’re breathing.” Jace lets out a burst of laughter as he fully realizes the significance of his own words. “You’re breathing, Alec. Sweet Angel, you’re breathing.”
Still wheezing a little, Alec manages a smile, infected by Jace’s joy.
Jace tries to focus on that little smile, but his sight is blurred with tears. He holds Alec’s head between his hands and kisses his parabatai’s brow. It’s not enough, though, so he plants quick kisses all over Alec’s dirty face—his cheeks, temples, eyelids, nose, chin, lips.
Their hearts beat fast and erratically, but they beat as one.
He needs to take Alec back to the Institute. He needs to call Izzy and give her the news. He needs to send a message to Idris, and tell Robert and Maryse that their oldest son is alive.
But right now he can’t even conceive the notion of sharing Alec with anyone, not even their family. So he allows himself a moment of absolute selfishness, and takes his parabatai in the opposite direction, to a mundane hotel on Broadway.
Alec is a little unsteady on his feet, instinctively leaning on Jace for support, so the journey is slow. It’s past 1 AM on a week day, but there is still a lot of people on the streets, so Jace activates their invisibility runes.
“I don’t mind carrying you, you know,” Jace offers for the fourth time.
“I can walk.”
“I wouldn’t think less of you if you couldn’t, after being trapped in stone for so long.”
“I don’t want to look weak.”
“We are invisible,” Jace reminds him.
“The glamour only works for mundanes.”
“Still. Why would you even care about what anyone thinks of you?”
“Weakness attracts predators, and you know it.”
“Anyone who attacks us now will die too fast to even bother you,” Jace snarls.
Alec grimaces. “If I don’t slow you down.”
“You make me faster,” Jace counters. “And stronger, nimbler, and just overall better. That’s the whole point, parabatai.”
Alec’s only response is a poorly disguised smile.
The hotel looks tacky and pretentious to Jace, every little corner of the lobby decorated in gaudy colors, but he couldn’t care less. All he’s hoping for is a decent shower and a comfy bed.
There’s a tired-looking girl at the reception desk, but Jace chooses to stealthily jump over it and simply pick a random key from the shelves at the back of the counter.
Alec makes no comment. He values honesty and prefers paying for the goods and services he consumes, but even when feeling perfectly fine, dealing with mundanes is something he does his best to avoid.
When they reach the room, Jace quickly checks inside to make sure there are no bags, clothes, or other evidence of it being currently occupied. He places a ‘don’t disturb’ sign on the doorknob outside, and a locking rune on the inside. “We’re good. Now, let’s get you cleaned up.”
“Oh, shut up, you idiot,” says Jace, his fond tone dulling the sharpness of his words. He leads Alec into the bathroom. “Just let me do my job and take care of you for once.”
Jace is careful in removing Alec’s gear, but the clothes are a lost cause, so encrusted with rock dust that it is impossible to guess their original color. (Of course, Jace knows they are black. It’s Alec, after all.) “I’ll have to find you some new clothes before we go home.”
“Why aren’t we home?” asks Alec, looking around at the white-tiled walls as if finally noticing his surroundings.
“Oh, you know. They’ll want a report as soon as you get in. I wanna make sure you’re up to it.”
Alec accepts the explanation without any further questions.
Jace strips them both naked, and leads Alec into the shower. “Let’s wash your face first, okay? I don’t know how you can see a thing with so much dirt in your lashes.”
“I see… some things. And they’re all gray and blurry.” Alec shrugs. “I’ve been following your lead since the park.”
Jace feels like laughing out loud. He had almost forgotten what it’s like, having a parabatai who instinctively matches his own movements to his.
Alec is endlessly patient while Jace removes every single speck of dust from his face with lukewarm water and gentle fingers.
Once that’s done, Jace holds Alec’s head between his hands to contemplate his work. “There you are,” he whispers.
Alec beams, sleepily pressing his cheek against Jace’s palm.
“How tired are you?” Jace asks. “I can activate your stamina rune, but that’ll only make it harder for you to sleep later.”
“Not all that tired. Lightheaded, mostly.”
Jace suspects a lie, but lets it go. “Turn around, and lean on the wall while I wash your hair.”
Alec complies at once, and fails to suppress a grunt of relief as he places his arms against the tiles and lets the wall support most of his weight.
The water runs dark and thick down Alec’s back, pooling around their feet. After all the time Jace spent remembering the softness of Alec’s glossy black hair, he feels personally offended by the gray filthy mess he finds instead. Patience is not one of his main virtues, but he can’t stand the thought of causing Alec even the slightest pain by pulling at his scalp. So he favors gentleness over haste.
He is just as tender and meticulous when he finally gets to turn his attention to Alec’s body. They had showered together often enough in the past, although at the moment he can’t remember the last time it happened. It was usually the case of one of them being wounded and requiring assistance with washing without getting the bandages wet.
It was a simple act in which Jace had never put much thought before. It was necessary. He trusted Alec with his body completely. He trusted nobody better than himself to take care of Alec’s.
This, now? It isn’t any different.
And yet… it is.
Jace is aware of Alec now in a way he never was before.
To him, Alec had always meant safety. Comfort. Intimacy.
Now, he is also beauty.
His treasure, literally dug out of stone.
That is how Jace finds himself touching him now. Like an archeologist gingerly handling a precious relic, brushing away the dirt, examining it with immense reverence.
However, there’s also an undercurrent of proprietorship. His hands roam by Alec’s body, and his heart sings, “This is mine. It belongs to me.” It isn’t entirely a new notion—he had always been somewhat territorial when it came to his parabatai—but he had never felt it so strongly.
“I’m sorry,” Alec mumbles suddenly.
But Alec merely shakes his head, pressing his brow against the tiles, eyes tightly closed.
“Alec?” Jace tenses in an echo of his parabatai’s distress, and closes his arms around Alec’s waist.
Alec whimpers in response.
Alarmed, Jace lets go and shifts so he can examine Alec’s front, looking for any wounds he might have missed or… “Oh.”
Blushing up to his ears, Alec is practically burying his head in the wall at this point. “I’m sorry,” he repeats. “It’s just… Feels good.”
Jace grins. “It’s okay.”
“I promise you that it’s okay.”
“It most definitely is not okay, Jace.”
“Alec, I give you my word, the only problem here is that you’re about to fall from exhaustion, and I’m too keyed up to make it good for either of us. Rain check?”
Alec turns his head to stare at Jace, shocked. His face darkens into a bitter frown. “Don’t mock me.”
“I’m not.” Jace carefully presses his body against Alec’s, kissing his shoulder, caressing his arms. “You are a part of me. Your flesh and skin literally shelter a part of my soul. Why would touching you be any more wrong than touching myself?”
Alec considers that reasoning for a long, silent moment. Then, he snorts. “Are you saying that having sex with me would basically feel the same as scratching your own ass?”
Jace bursts into hysterical laughter. His parabatai is truly back, in all his acerbic glory.
Alec hums a lazy affirmative. “More than you, I bet.”
Jace grins dreamily. “I’m good.” He’s sitting on the bed, his back against the headboard. Alec is sitting between Jace’s legs, his back lying on Jace’s stomach, his head resting on Jace’s shoulder, his fingers drawing circles on Jace’s knees. Alec’s sense of modesty required that he covered his crotch with a pillow—something that Jace finds adorable—but they are both otherwise naked. “Can you tell me what happened?”
Alec hesitates. “In the shower?”
“Oh, I know what happened in the shower. That part requires no explanation whatsoever.” Jace nibbles at Alec’s ear and fondles his chest.
“Jerk,” Alec grumbles, slapping Jace’s hands away.
“You wouldn’t have me any other way,” says Jace smugly. Then, he adds with a more serious voice, “How did you get turned into stone?”
“I thought you wanted me to rest before submitting my report.”
“I need to know, Alec. Please?”
Alec sighs. “I spotted a shapeshifter on 96th and Lexington. I followed it into Central Park.”
“How did you know it was a shifter?”
“Because it shifted twice right before my eyes?” Alec’s tone is of professional indignation. “Not my first hunt, Jace.”
“Okay, go on.”
“It’s so dumb, anyway. They would make it a lot harder for us if they actually stuck to one single shape.” Alec shrugs. “It changed into its natural form when it got to the North Woods. Six feet tall, olive scaled skin, three-fingered claws, shark’s eyes, flat nose, enormous four-lipped mouth.”
Jace nods, recognizing the description of the demon he vanquished earlier to save the Seelie.
“It went straight to Worthless Boulder, like it knew what it’d find there.”
“Two Seelies, a male and a female, arguing.”
“As in sibling bickering?”
“As in mortal enemies exchanging threats.”
“Hmm. Then what?”
“The female Seelie ordered the demon to get rid of the male Seelie.”
Jace blinks. “You weren’t kidding about them being mortal enemies. Any idea what the fight was about?”
Alec shakes his head. “I was more surprised that one decided to call for a demon to settle it.”
“So what happened?”
“I came out of hiding, tried to stop the demon, but I was too slow. It devoured the guy’s head with one bite, and ripped off his arms for good measure.”
“The woman was not happy about it, though.”
“Because the demon allowed itself to be followed by a Shadowhunter?”
“That, too, I suppose. But mostly because the demon was supposed to bring the Medallion of… Something Unpronounceable… and use that against the guy, not just rip him to pieces. I don’t think she wanted to have to deal with a body afterwards.” Alec lets out a morose sigh. “I mishandled the entire situation. I should have vanquished the demon as soon as it was out of the mundanes’ sight, but I got curious about its plans. I should have either acted faster to save that Seelie, or not acted at all, stayed out of Downworlder business as Nephilim are supposed to. And then I was so perplexed at what was going on… I focused on the woman because she appeared to be calling the shots, and I trusted that I could kill the demon before it could come close enough to kill me…”
Jace hugs Alec a little tighter. “Hey, stop beating yourself up.”
“The demon held something up. I didn’t get a good look at it, but it was small and brown and metallic, so maybe it was that medallion thingie? Anyway, the demon threw it at me, and I dodged, so the thing hit the boulder behind me. Next thing I know, I was being sucked into the stone and… and… I couldn’t…”
Alec nods in confirmation.
“No, I mean, breathe, Alec. Come on, big breath. In. And out.”
Alec obeys, apparently only now realizing he was starting to hyperventilate again.
Thankfully, it only takes a few moments for him to calm down this time. As Alec’s breathing regains its normal rhythm, Jace thinks back of his own frequent nightmares of the past year, all of them involving some form of suffocation. It was like his parabatai had been calling for him, even though their bond was blocked.
Jace reaches out to the bedside table to pick up the coin he had placed there. “Are we talking about this?”
Alec takes the coin with hesitant fingers and examines it. “Where did you get it?”
Jace tells him the whole story about the Seelie, the coin, and extracting Alec from the boulder.
“So… what? She took the medallion with her after I was encased in the boulder?” Alec speculates.
“And tonight the demon came back for it. Or maybe the demon has been trying to get it back all this time, and only found the Seelie again tonight?” Jace wonders, putting the coin aside. “Either way, it was pure luck I was there at the right time to save her. Or else, I’d have never gotten you back.”
“Hmmm. Or maybe luck had nothing to do with it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Maybe she wanted to give you the medallion but keep the appearance of doing so merely out of obligation?”
“Why? Wouldn’t it have been smarter to pretend she wanted to be helpful?”
“If she wanted to deceive you, yes. But what if this is not about you, or us, or the Clave? We’re talking about Seelies killing Seelies.”
“You think this is all domestic politics?”
“Seelies are very secretive of their inner affairs. Who knows what we may have stumbled on?” Alec shakes his head in dismay. “Things may get really messy after I report to the Clave.”
“I don’t care. Whatever happens, I’m gonna kill that damn Seelie.”
“Even though she pretty much told you where to find me? How to free me?”
“Sure she did. Took her sweet, sweet time to do it, though.”
Alec frowns. “How long?”
“Four hundred and seventeen days,” Jace promptly replies. He gulps, his throat dry as if full of gravel. “Twenty-two hours, and thirty-six minutes.”
Jace feels Alec’s entire body freeze in his arms, almost like he has been turned into stone once more.
“Everybody is okay, Alec,” Jace assures him, knowing that that would be his parabatai’s first concern. “We’re all hanging in there.” The statement isn’t a blatant lie, but not truthful enough that a Seelie would have managed to say it either. There have been many casualties, some of whom the former head of the New York Institute will mourn for certain, but thankfully none that were personally close to him.
“That’s a really… really long time,” Alec murmurs.
Jace cuddles Alec tighter. “Yeah… It really, really was.”
“I suppose I must have missed a lot.”
“Not that much. Well, I don’t know. Can’t say I have been paying much attention to the world lately,” Jace admits.
“I guess that explains why you’re suddenly so…”
“You know. Touching me. Teasing me. Being all… affectionate and… flirtatious. You’ve missed me. That’s all.”
“Missed you?” Jaces sputters. “You were dead, Alec. You understand that? Your heart stopped. I felt you being ripped away from me, like I was being torn in two. My rune bled and turned into this horrible scar, and just looking at it made me feel sick.” He rests his left palm on Alec’s parabatai rune, seeking comfort in its warmth. “You were just gone, and you took the best piece of me with you. For over a year, for all intents and purposes, you… were… dead. And so was I.”
Alec shifts a little so he can look back at Jace. “Don’t say that…”
“It’s the truth. We were apart before, and it was excruciating. But this? Nothing made sense without you. And I hated myself for being alive.”
“And now you’re here. You’re back. And this…” Jace entwines his fingers with Alec’s, and kisses the back of his parabatai’s hand. “This just feels natural, like nothing ever before.”
“You’re serious,” Alec murmurs, stunned at the realization. “What you said in the shower…”
“I’d never joke about this. Not about this.”
Alec looks positively overwhelmed. “We shouldn’t. You know that.”
Jace smiles. He knows Alec. He knows the significance of Alec saying ‘we shouldn’t’ instead of ‘we can’t’. “You want things to be exactly as they were before? Would that make you happy? Were you happy then?”
“It was… enough,” Alec replies in measured words.
“Was it? Was it really?”
Alec squeezes his eyes shut, laying his head on Jace’s shoulder again. “Of all your terrible ideas…” he groans.
“My idea? Sure, let’s pretend you weren’t the one who thought about it first.”
“It was never an idea,” Alec protests. “It was a stupid fantasy.”
“Was, past tense? Just a fantasy?”
“I would never have…”
“I know, I know. Because you’re an honest, honorable, virtuous, law-abiding man who has always put duty above personal dreams. The thing is,” Jace whispers in Alec’s ear, “I want to make your dreams come true.”
Alec shivers and curses under his breath.
“I’ve always loved you, Alec. I just want to love you more. I want to love you better. I want to love every little bit of you. Will you let me?”
Alec stares at their entwined hands in silence for several minutes before managing a response. “This is insane.”
“Probably. When did that ever stop us from doing anything?”
“I don’t… I mean, what…” Alec lets out a helpless sigh. “I don’t know how… to do this, Jace. I spent half my life trying not to look at you this way… and hating myself when I did anyway. Now you want to turn everything upside down? How do we even do that? How do we begin?”
“I’m thinking we begin with a kiss,” Jace suggests. “A nice, long, soft kiss. Not too hot, because you need rest. Then we lie down, like this, with you as my little spoon. We get some sleep. When we wake up, I’ll kiss you again. Then I’ll go fetch us some breakfast and find you some clothes. We can kiss some more after we ate. And then I’ll have to take you home and let everyone see you, and I’ll do my best to keep my hands off you, because there are other people who miss you like crazy. But I promise I’ll find some opportunities to sneak in some kisses without anybody noticing it.” He nuzzles Alec’s hair over his ear. “And when things quiet down, we’ll find a nice, private place… like a hotel, but probably not this one… and I’m going to seduce you.”
Alec arches an eyebrow. “Seduce me?” The word sounds ludicrous coming out of his mouth.
“Hmmmmm… yeah. I’m kinda looking forward to seducing you. Will you let me?”
Alec turns his head to look into Jace’s eyes. “I should be the big spoon. I’m taller and older than you.”
Jace’s smile grows from ear to ear. “We can take turns. You give the best hugs anyway. But tonight you’re the little spoon, because hordes of demons couldn’t get me to let go of you right now.”
“Is that right?”
Alec shifts his gaze down to Jace’s lips. “And all begins with a kiss?”
“So… what are you waiting for?”
“You haven’t said ‘yes’ yet.”
Alec rolls his eyes at Jace… and kisses him.
A nice, long, soft kiss.
Not a bad way to begin.