“One more thing,” says Magnus. “I need Alexander.”
Jace, on his way out of the warlock’s loft, stops in his tracks. “Uh, why do you need Alec?”
Damn, why does his voice sound like he’s just swallowed a frog?
Magnus looks at him with a hint of a smile that makes him uncomfortable. “Virgin Shadowhunter energy.”
Is he serious?
“That explains so much,” Simon scoffs.
That’s such an old joke. Isabelle pesters her big brother every other day with vague and not-so-vague insinuations about how he would be so much happier and easier to deal with if only he got laid. Jace usually laughs at those comments and at Alec’s deepening frown when he hears them. Sometimes Jace even joked about it himself, because teasing his ever-so-serious parabatai is just so much fun.
Coming from Simon, though, the remark doesn’t carry the same affectionate sense of humor. It’s just crude mockery.
Magnus is still gazing at Jace with an expectant look… and that smile.
“Alec, yeah…” Fuck. “I can’t.” Not now. Not after what happened at the Jade Wolf.
‘I’ll be fine on my own.’ Words you should never, never say to your parabatai. Jace was upset with Alec for failing to protect Clary and then for insisting on putting the Clave’s protocols above the obvious, urgent need to save the life of Clary’s werewolf friend. If Alec refused to help him, then Jace would do the right thing on his own. That was all he had meant. But the way it came out…
He saw the way Alec reacted. Like he had been slapped in the face.
But Jace was too angry to go back on it, so he focused on Clary, on helping her, soothing her, reassuring her.
Because on that moment, saving a werewolf from dying from an alpha’s bite seemed much easier than fixing whatever is broken between him and his parabatai.
‘I’ll be fine on my own.’ Bullshit. So much bullshit. How could he be fine without his soulmate? They have had countless arguments over the years, of course, but none that had lasted longer than a day. Every time they got mad at each other, the bond would start nagging at him, pulling him back in his parabatai’s direction, encouraging him to end the fight with muttered apologies, poor attempts at humor, and a sincerely relieved hug.
He felt the pull fiercely as he entered the car after helping Luke inside. Don’t close the door, the bond seemed to be yelling at him. Go to him. Run to him. Hug him tight. Tell him you didn’t mean it. Tell him you could never be fine without him.
Jace gritted his teeth and closed the door.
His heart has been beating hard since then, hard and weird, as if it were trying to reach out to Alec’s and sync with it, but somehow failing to connect.
Clary rushes to him with begging eyes. “Jace, just ask, please. You guys need to talk.”
Hah. Talk. Unfortunately, if there is something Jace and Alec have always been pretty terrible at is talking.
Maybe they have been relying too much on their bond to inform them of each other’s moods and feelings. Knowing that Alec has been exceedingly cranky since Jace took Clary to the Institute doesn’t really explain why he’s feeling that way. There’s only so much that can be blamed on Alec’s mistrustful nature.
Magnus approaches him and practically whispers in his ear, “Trouble in paradise?”
It’s hard to tell if the warlock is concerned, amused, or gleeful. Regardless, he still looks way too interested in the two parabatai’s relationship for Jace’s taste.
With an irritated sigh, Jace grabs Simon by the collar of his jacket and pulls him towards the door. “Just don’t speak to me.”
Stupid mundane never stops talking, of course. However, it’s quite possible that he hasn’t been talking to Jace, but to himself—it’s not like Jace has been paying any attention. He’s too focused on coming up with the right words to convince Alec to help.
‘Hey, Alec. It’s me. Jace. Your parabatai. You know, the guy who told you he doesn’t need you, like, twenty minutes ago? Well, guess what. I kinda need you now.’
That’s just asking for Alec to hang up on him.
‘Alec, listen. I know you’re pissed. I said some stupid shit today that I shouldn’t have said. I’m sorry. You forgive me? Awesome. Anyway, I kinda need you now. Like, right now. Meet me at Magnus’s?’
Yeah, that doesn’t sound manipulative at all…
‘Alec, could you please go to the warlock’s loft to help him save the werewolf’s life? Even though you’ve made your opinions on interfering in Downworlder business abundantly clear? I’ll owe you one!’
Come on, there must be a way. It can’t be that hard.
‘Alec, Magnus needs a virgin Shadowhunter, and you’re the only one whose virginity I’m sure of.’
Okay, that one is an absolute no.
In fact, mentioning Alec’s virginity is probably something to be avoided altogether under the circumstances.
For that matter, what did Magnus even mean? What is the threshold for virginity when it comes to warlock magic? Does mutual masturbation count as loss of virginity? Not that Alec… Well. Jace doesn’t actually know for a fact how far Alec has gone, but the guy has never dated anyone, and in all the years since their bonding ritual, Jace has never sensed from his parabatai the kind of bliss he would expect if Alec had done something… well… bliss-worthy.
It wasn’t really impossible, however, that Alec had actually had some experience that turned out to be thoroughly un-blissful and that he chose, perhaps for that very reason, never to mention at all.
Jace pushes that train of thought away from his mind. It’s too upsetting.
Anyway. Alec most likely is a virgin, or at least virgin enough for whatever Magnus Bane has in mind for him.
Okay, that’s another train of thought I really don’t need in my head.
What can he say? What can he tell Alec to get his help without making things even weirder between them?
‘Alec, you’re a good, charitable man. This guy will die if you don’t help him. Please. I know you’re mad at me, but don’t let someone else pay for the stupid things I’ve done.’
Okay, that might work. It’s honest, non-demanding, and it appeals to Alec’s sense of honor and justice.
He takes his phone out of his pocket and speeds up his pace, putting some distance between him and the mundane. He really doesn’t need the background noise, and Alec is less likely to be receptive to Jace’s plea if he overhears that moron’s annoying voice.
Jace takes a deep breath, bracing himself to make the call…
…when the screen lights up and Alec’s name appear on it.
A chill runs down Jace’s spine. It’s happened so many times: both of them deciding to call each other practically at the same time. This time feels different, though. It’s not the convergence of their minds in harmony. No, Jace can sense that it’s just more trouble bubbling beneath the surface, preparing another explosion.
He takes another deep breath and taps the green button. “Hey. I was about to…”
“Dad is here. And he is not happy.”
Fuck. That’s really bad timing. An angry Robert means Alec will be even more frantic to appease him. There couldn’t be a worse moment to ask Alec to go against his own by-the-book tendencies and the threat of his father’s disapproval.
“He impressed on me the colossal security risk that Clary Fairchild running loose in the Shadow World represents,” Alec goes on. “Which is something he really didn’t have to do. And something I really shouldn’t have to impress on you.”
“She’s safe at Magnus’s…”
“She’s not safe anywhere but here. You two need to get back to the Institute.”
“You need to help me first.”
“No, I’m not messing around!” Alec retorts, his voice getting higher as his patience grows thinner.
“Me either,” Jace replies, making sure to keep his tone even. “I need your help.”
And suddenly Alec’s attitude changes entirely. “You okay?”
He’s worried about me.
No matter how incensed Alec might be with him, he’s always ready to put it all aside to come to Jace’s rescue whenever needed. As he has proved time and time again.
That realization never fails to floor Jace.
I could tell him that I’m in trouble. He would come for sure.
It’s an idea he contemplates for a tiny fraction of a second. Deceiving his parabatai like that… Nope. No way. He can’t. Besides, Alec would figure out the truth as soon as he arrived at Magnus’s, and that would only make things worse between them.
“I’m fine,” Jace assures him. “It’s Magnus. He needs your…” Fuck, he can’t say that! “…powerful Shadowhunter energy, or something like that.”
“Magnus?” Alec sounds confused and… flustered? “Why does Magnus need me?”
“To help save Luke’s life.”
The exasperated tone comes back with a vengeance. “No, I told you at the wolf den. No more Downworlder business. We can’t be seen as interfering with a pack alpha dispute. How can you even ask me…?”
“I shouldn’t have to ask you, Alec,” Jace snaps. “We’re parabatai.”
“That’s exactly my point!” Alec exclaims.
But Jace can’t give him any chance to get his point across, no matter what his point is. He can’t open the door for Alec to convince him. Clary’s friend will die. And Jace promised her that he wouldn’t let it happen. “Alec, you’re a man of honor, and the only person in the world I would trust with something like this,” he blurts out, his voice coming out much harsher than he had intended. “I’m counting on you to do the right thing.”
There’s silence on the other end of the line.
And so much sadness on the other end of their bond.
That so did not come out the way I rehearsed it…
It’s like he doesn’t know how to talk to Alec anymore. He’s just somehow managed to make every praiseful word about his parabatai sound like a reproach.
Jace opens his mouth to apologize…
…and closes it a second later.
If he apologizes, Alec won’t come.
He needs Alec to feel like he’s in the wrong, so he will do what Jace has asked him to do, in spite of his own misgivings and in spite of any reprimands he might get from Robert and Maryse.
This is wrong.
It’s also life or death for Clary’s werewolf friend.
Jace remains silent.
“I’ll think about it,” Alec mutters at last and hangs up before Jace can say anything else.
The bond radiates nothing but dejection and disappointment.
I let him down.
That’s why Clary’s notion that they should talk is so ridiculous. Talking has only made things increasingly worse lately.
He so desperately wants to go back to the time when he and Alec only needed a glance between them to perfectly understand each other.
The time before Clary. Jace can practically hear Alec’s voice in his head making that little addendum.
‘Are you so blinded by your feelings for Clary that you’ve lost sight of us?’
No, no. He can’t think of that conversation right now. He can’t think of the words he threw at Alec to cause him to respond with that. Seriously, he cannot be thinking about Alec now. He has an important errand to run. A life-or-death errand. Focus!
“Keep up, mundane,” he grunts.
“Would you stop calling me that? I have a name!”
Oh, for Raziel’s sake… He knows Simon’s name. Stupid name for a stupid guy. “Learning it would mean I care, so… no.”
“Yeah, and God forbid you care about anyone but yourself.”
Why did he even let this guy come with him? It’s not like he can be remotely useful. Unless Jace offers him in exchange for the ingredients Magnus needs for his potion. Sadly, using mundanes as currency is against the law. “I care about a bunch of people,” he retorts. “Just don’t care about you.”
“Me, or what... what’s it called, your... your parabatai?”
Jace halts abruptly and turns on his heels to face the mundane. “Watch your mouth,” Jace tells him, staring coldly into his eyes. “You don’t know a thing about me and Alec. We clear?”
Simon snorts and keeps on walking. “Twenty bucks says he leaves you hanging tonight.”
Jace follows him. “Not a chance,” he says, struggling to convey a confidence he doesn’t really feel.
“Really? ‘Come! Fetch! Roll over! Lie down!’ You treat him like a lap dog.”
“I guess it takes one to know one,” Jace replies unthinkingly. “You… with Clary… you’re just like…”
“Oh, so you don’t deny it, huh?” Simon interrupts him. He stops and turns to Jace with a triumphant look in his face. “You do think of him as your lap dog. He’s like this huge Newfoundland dog following you around and nipping at your heels, begging for your attention. And when he doesn’t do as he’s told, you hit him with a metaphorical rolled-up newspaper.”
That caricature of his relationship with Alec offends Jace to the core of his being. “This just shows how ignorant you are. Parabatai is a concept your mundane mind can’t even begin to comprehend. What Alec and I have can’t be compared to any of the ephemeral bonds that connect ordinary humans.”
“Yeah? Well, I call it bullshit. I’ve seen it all before in high school, okay? Fancy nicknames, fancy handshakes, fancy matching tattoos... Over-glorified bros. Means nothing if your heart is not in it.”
“My heart?” Jace steps into Simon’s personal space. “Alec and I are soulmates. Literally. Our souls are attached to each other for the rest of our lives. Have you seen that in high school?”
“I have that.”
Raziel, the nerve of this guy… “You don’t even know how utterly absurd what you’ve just said is.”
“You think so? Well, Clary and I have been best friends our whole lives. Through thick and thin, we’ve always had each other’s backs. We genuinely care about each other. And you know what? She’s never used that against me. She’s never played the best-friend card to manipulate me into doing things I didn’t want to do.”
Jace feels a chill in his stomach. “What are you talking about?”
“‘We’re parabatai,’” Simon parrots. “‘I shouldn’t have to ask you.’”
The words sound even worse now than when Jace had spat them out. “You were listening into my conversation?!”
“You were yelling at your phone! Which also tells me a lot about how deeply you care about that guy.”
Jace grunts in dismay. Had he really yelled at Alec? He hadn’t meant to…
“Not that I can blame you on that department,” Simon continues. “He’s a fucking asshole. Looking down at everything from his tower of gloom and contempt. Snooty, scornful, selfish… Luke is dying, and the guy doesn’t give a damn.”
“You do not get to talk about Alec, mundane!” Jace roars, shoving him backwards. If the twerp says another word against his parabatai, Jace’s going to beat him to a pulp, and there’s no Nephilim Law that will stop him.
Simon glares at him. “You know what? You two deserve each other.”
He walks by Jace and keeps on walking, never looking back.
Jace suppresses the impulse to punch the wall beside him. The mundane is an idiot. He understands nothing. What he overheard of Jace’s conversation with Alec… he got it all wrong. He would never treat his parabatai like that.
Oh, Angel, I hope Alec knows that as well…
He runs after Simon. The stupid mundane is about to turn in the wrong direction.
The errand itself was relatively uneventful. Thankfully, Rufus had all the ingredients on Magnus’s list. The phoenix eye cost more than he was expecting, but Jace had enough funds. And the appearance of that Shax demon as he was about to leave wouldn’t even have been much of an issue if Jace hadn’t left his Seraph blade outside, stuck in the sidewalk, in an attempt to keep Simon from following him inside.
By the Angel, what an idiotic thing to do. What was he thinking? If Alec ever finds out, Jace will be hearing about it for the rest of his days.
Simon proved to be as unhelpful as Jace had suspected he would be. In fact, he was a complete nuisance. Jace could have run back to the loft a lot faster if he were alone, and if he didn’t have to make sure that no demons would devour Clary’s mundane buddy. At least Simon was a fast runner, by mundie standards.
When they get to Magnus Bane’s loft, it seems like the place has become the epicenter of a minor earthquake. The floor feels unsteady under their feet, every piece of furniture is vibrating, the books are falling off the shelves, the pictures are banging against the walls, and every object on the dinner table is shaking and sliding on the smooth surface.
Simon shouts Clary’s name, and she comes running. “Do you have it?”
“Yeah,” says Jace, handing her the bag with the ingredients.
She takes it and hurries to the cauldron on the table, closely followed by Simon.
Jace walks into the living room, attracted by the bluish glow of magic emanating from there.
Alec is here.
Jace is vaguely aware that there is a lot more going on right in front of him, but frankly, that is the only thing that truly registers in his mind on that moment: Alec has come.
No matter how upset he might be with his parabatai, Alec still answered to his call for help.
Alec is kneeling on the floor, with his back to Jace. His face is not visible, but Jace pictures it in his mind, focused and strained by the effort of fueling Magnus’s magic with his angelic energy… as well as holding up the warlock, whose body is tilting dangerously sideways, like he might keel over at any second. Alec has his left arm around Magnus’s waist, and his right hand is tightly linked with Magnus’s, a faint cyan glimmer surrounding their fingers.
And yeah, there’s a black couch in front of them, where a shirtless, bandaged werewolf lies hollering in agony, his body shaken by spasms so violent that it almost seems like he is the source of all the tremors rattling the room. And while Jace has spent the last hour working to help save his life, now that he’s done everything that he could have done, all he can focus on is Alec.
Alec sharing his life energy… with somebody else.
Jace can’t help but wonder what that feels like. Is it just like a drain of his strength, like one gets from long physical exertion? Or is there an actual connection with the warlock? Can Magnus sense Alec’s essence through it? Does it go both ways?
It bothers Jace that he doesn’t know. That he can’t tell. He is aware of Alec’s growing weariness as Magnus feeds on his angelic powers, but whatever connection the warlock has created between the two of them, Jace is not really privy to it.
He can’t be touching Alec’s soul, can he? I would know if he were… right?
Jace is mortified at the realization that there’s a part of him that wants to grab Alec, pull him away from Magnus, and yell, ‘Mine!’
He’s being an idiot. Alec is just lending the guy a bit of his strength. That transitory contact can’t possibly compare to the intimacy of the parabatai bond.
Clary is taking long to finish the potion, Luke’s pain seems to have gone beyond the point where he can even scream, and Magnus is leaning more and more heavily on Alec’s arms. Jace wonders if he should step up and volunteer his own energy to help the warlock…
Except… Jace is not a virgin. Not by any standards.
Why the hell does that matter? How does sex experience alter the value or nature of a Shadowhunter’s strength? It makes no sense!
Finally, Clary arrives with a small steel cup and pours a sip of thick, milky liquid into Luke’s mouth.
The reaction is instantaneous. The floor stops shaking. The blue glow of Magnus’s magic disappears. Luke quiets down, opens his eyes, and smiles.
In Alec’s waiting arms.
“You okay?” That’s Alec’s worried voice. His ‘tell me how I can help and I’ll do it’ voice, which Jace knows so well.
Why does Magnus get Alec’s worried voice? They didn’t even know each other before two days ago!
With his head resting on Alec’s shoulder, Magnus smiles dreamily up at him. “Yeah.”
Jace rolls his eyes and groans under his breath. I’m sure he’s perfectly all right now…
While Clary and Simon fuss over Luke, Alec picks Magnus up—bridal style!—and sets him carefully on the red armchair that is right behind them. “You rest, okay?” Still the worried voice, but with a hint of… admiration? Fondness?
Magnus takes Alec’s hand in his—again—and squeezes it. “Thank you… Alexander.”
“I’m gonna bring you some water, okay?” says Alec. “Just stay put.”
Magnus watches intently as Alec walks away…
And Jace watches Magnus suspiciously. He has to ask. “So… how is virgin Shadowhunter energy any different from… non-virgin energy?”
Magnus grins. “It’s not.”
“You made that up just to get Alec here?”
“Can you blame me? Just look at him!”
Jace looks. What is he supposed to see? It’s Alec. Just old, dear, dependable Alec, picking up a carafe, smelling its contents, and then pouring the transparent liquid in a highball glass. Of course, he’s attractive, objectively speaking. With the chiseled face, generous lips, piercing hazel eyes that light up when he smiles, and the tall, athletic body…
Okay. Jace can see why the warlock seems so smitten. And really, it’s not like Magnus is the first to notice Alec. Jace has seen a bunch of others showing interest in his parabatai. But women don’t even register in Alec’s radar, and men… well… For Nephilim, openly dating someone of their own sex is seen as career suicide, so it’s not surprising that no male Shadowhunter has ever taken the risk of hitting on the son of the leaders of the New York Institute. Hence his never dating at all and, if Magnus is correct, his never… Hmmm…
Jace frowns. “How can you tell he’s a virgin?”
“Oh, just a guess, really. Somewhat educated by the way he acted last time he was here.” Magnus shrugs. “But really, ‘virgin energy’ was just the first thing that came to my mind when you asked me why I wanted him here. I thought you’d have found it too suspicious if I had said I needed tall, dark, and handsome Shadowhunter energy.” He winks at Jace.
“I should have known it was lie,” Jace hisses. “I don’t know why I thought someone like you would prioritize saving somebody’s life over flirting with a pretty stranger.”
“I am very good at multitasking,” Magnus says with a smirk. Then he turns serious. “Besides, it wasn’t a complete lie. I needed someone to help me, and I wanted Clary to focus on comforting Luke, and you were out fetching the missing ingredients. If Alexander hadn’t gotten here on the nick of time, Luke would most likely be dead by the time you arrived.”
“What’s with this ‘Alexander’ thing anyway? Not even his parents call him that.”
“That is a shame. Such a gorgeous name. The defender of the people. The protector who comes to save the warriors. Fitting, huh?”
It is. “You don’t even know him.”
“I know that’s exactly what he did for me when we first met at Hardtail.”
Jace had noticed the mesmerized look on Magnus’s face when Alec killed that Circle assassin, but he couldn’t have imagined his parabatai would leave such a deep impression on the ancient warlock. “You know he would have done that for anybody, right? I was there, too. So was Clary. He saved all of us. Not just you.”
Magnus arches an eyebrow, his gaze never leaving Alec. “You think that by telling me that you can make me somewhat less enthralled by him?”
Alec returns with two glasses of water, handing one to Magnus and the other to Clary, so she can help Luke drink it. Simon helps the werewolf to sit up.
“Magnus?” Luke’s voice is hoarse after all the grunting and screaming. “Thanks. But I’m afraid to ask how much this is going to cost me.”
Magnus waves his hand dismissively. “Don’t worry about it, Lucian. I feel perfectly compensated already,” he adds with a mischievous gaze at Alec.
Jace is seriously fed up with the warlock’s blatant flirting. Can’t he tell that poor Alec is not used to being chased like that? Can’t he tell Alec is not the sort that responds to that kind of persistent attention? Can’t he tell Alec is not interested?
Alec is blushing. And looking confused, but also… pleased?
That is not good. Has Alec forgotten all Hodge had told them about Magnus’s reputation? ‘Over 300 years old… has not exactly shied away from the pleasures of every century… tastes exquisite and quite excessive… never underestimate Magnus’s hedonism…’ Does any of that sound like boyfriend material?
Although… maybe Alec is not looking for a boyfriend. Maybe he’s just finally considering the possibility of… getting laid. Why the hell not, right? Since no male Nephilim would risk it and all sort of trouble could arise from hanging out with a mundane, a Downworlder might actually be the smartest choice. And who’s Jace to criticize him for it, after all his flings with Seelie girls? He certainly can vouch for the appeal of lovers whose seemingly young, beautiful bodies shelter old souls with long-acquired knowledge and experience. Magnus Bane certainly could offer that.
Still, Alec is romantic and sensitive and knows way too many Shakespearean sonnets by heart than what is probably healthy. What if he starts liking Magnus for real? What if he falls in love? What if he doesn’t realize that the warlock is only looking for a one-night stand, a short-term fling at best? What if Magnus breaks his heart?
It’s my job to protect my parabatai from that.
“So much blood…” Simon mumbles. He’s staring at the stains on the couch with a weird look. Jace hopes the mundane is not about to pass out.
“We should get you cleaned up and set down on a more comfortable surface, my friend,” says Magnus, leaning over in order to get up.
Alec immediately offers him a hand to help him up, which Magnus takes with an enchanted smile.
Jace rolls his eyes. It’s like watching a courtship scene from an eighteenth-century romance.
“Come, I think I have a guest room somewhere over there.” Magnus points to a corridor beyond a door at the back of the living room. “Trouble with using magic to move from house to house is that I sometimes take days to figure out where I put everything…”
Clary and Simon rush to flank Luke, each one taking one of his arms to pass it around their shoulders. They slowly escort the werewolf through the door, with Magnus guiding the procession. Jace moves to follow them…
Alec stops him, cupping his cheek gently. “What happened to your face?”
“Huh?” Jace rubs his upper lip then examines his fingertips, noticing some residue of clotted blood. “Oh. I crashed Luke’s car against a pole. No big deal, I’m fine.”
Alec’s eyes widen, and his hand falls to his side. “Why were you even driving? If you want to impress the little girl, you should stick to things you’re actually good at.”
“That’s not…” Jace shakes his head. “I was going to help Clary bring Luke up to the loft while Simon found a parking space, but then Simon insisted that he had to be the one to bring Luke up, because apparently it’s his thing to insist that he has to be a part of everything.” He runs his fingers through his hair, all his irritation at the mundane returning in full force. “I’m just looking forward to the moment someone asks for volunteers to jump into a volcano, really.”
“How long ago was that?” Alec pulls out his stele and lifts the front of Jace’s shirt and vest. “Why didn’t you activate your iratze yet?”
Jace shrugs. “Busy, I guess. I forgot.”
The rune beside his bellybutton lights up in response to Alec’s stele, spreading warmth throughout his body, even though it’s just his lip that needs mending and the bruise is ridiculously minor. Having his runes activated by his parabatai always feels different from when he or anybody else does it. Not only because they react faster and more vigorously, but… it’s like their souls take the opportunity to get even closer through that contact, as if they weren’t bound together already. Like they’re stealing a little kiss…
Where did that thought come from?
Alec pockets his stele and adjusts the front of Jace’s shirt. “Just be more careful, okay?”
“Thanks,” Jace murmurs. “And thanks for coming.”
Alec lets out a long sigh. “We might end up paying dearly for this, you know.”
“It’ll talk to Maryse and Robert. I’ll tell them I was the one who…”
“This isn’t about me being scolded by Mom and Dad!” Alec retorts. “I know Clary thinks all I worry about is… how did she put it?... ‘looking bad in front of my bosses’. But I thought you knew me better than that.”
“I do know you, Alec. And I know how much you care about doing the right thing.”
“Right and wrong…” Alec shakes his head. “It’s not as black and white as you make it sound.”
“Surely it is when you’re talking about saving someone’s life.”
“Not when saving one life can snowball into the deaths of hundreds of others.”
“What are you even talking about?”
“Come on, Jace, think. What do we know about this… Luke, is it? Besides the fact that Clary cares about him?” Alec snorts. “I suppose that’s the only motivation you need nowadays…”
“I know he was mortally wounded. I know he would have died if we hadn’t brought him here and helped him. Shouldn’t that be enough? Alec, you’re not a cold-hearted man who leaves a dying person to their fate.”
“But we’re not talking about some random person we came across on the streets during patrol, are we? We saw him challenge the alpha leader and win. If you hadn’t interfered, one out of two things would have happened. Either the pack would have taken the initiative to take him to a warlock and save him, therefore accepting him fully as their leader, or one of them would have seized the opportunity to finish him off and become the new alpha. When you took Luke away from them, you robbed them from the decision of who should rule them. And that’s as huge an interference as it could possibly get.”
“That’s…” Jace gasps. “Come on, Alec, we can’t let people die just out of fear that some werewolves might get upset…”
“Jace, please, just try to be objective here. Yes, it’d certainly be a lot easier for us if werewolves held democratic elections or had their leaders crowned by monarchic inheritance. But they have their own laws and customs, sanguinary as they might be, and the last thing they want is for us Nephilim to try to impose our will upon them. We can’t keep the peace in the Shadow World if we start meddling in their ruling system.”
Jace wants to argue Alec’s logic, but he fears his parabatai might have a point. They saw the pack kneel and salute Luke when he emerged victorious after challenging the alpha, but that doesn’t mean one of them wouldn’t have chosen to challenge Luke for the position before he had healed properly. Now they have to hope that Luke is popular within the pack—and that their previous leader didn’t leave someone eager to avenge his death—so his return safe and sound will be celebrated, and their interference will be answered with gratitude. “For whatever it’s worth, I don’t think we have to worry about this snowballing into hundreds of deaths.”
“Yeah? How so?”
“We were acting on our own. Clary didn’t have permission to leave the Institute, and we took the initiative to rescue her. None of our actions were officially sanctioned. In fact, the leaders of the Institute had ordered us to return, and we chose to ignore that order. So if the werewolves decide to riot against the Shadowhunters, all the Clave has to do is blame it all on us and hang us out to dry.”
“So… what? We get de-runed, and everyone lives happily ever after?”
“Something like that.”
Alec arches an eyebrow. “That’s comforting.”
“We could go to the West Coast. Open a gym together. Teach the mundanes how to wrestle Nephilim-style.”
“If we get de-runed, we’re not parabatai anymore. That’s the perfect opportunity for me to get rid of you.”
Jace’s heart constricts at that comment… until he sees the twinkle in Alec’s eyes. “You’re never getting rid of me.”
Alec smirks in response.
And that’s it. A little bit of banter, and Jace knows he’s been forgiven for all the bullshit he had said earlier. No need to have an awkward conversation or even apologize. Just their usual tactic of ‘you let it go and I let it go and let’s both forget about it’ for solving conflicts between them.
Tonight, it doesn’t feel like it’s enough. “You came anyway,” Jace says hesitantly.
“In spite of all the reasons not to.” The logical, pragmatic ones, plus any resentment for the way how Jace had phrased his request, plus the accusations Jace had thrown in his face when Clary was abducted.
Alec gives him a tired look. “You always seem to find that so surprising nowadays.”
‘Why did you help us tonight?’ It’s what Jace asked him after they rescued Simon from the vampires. A ridiculous, offensive question he regretted asking as soon as it was out of his mouth. They are parabatai. Whither thou goest, I will go.
‘A huge Newfoundland dog following you around and nipping at your heels, begging for your attention.’
No, that’s not who they are. That’s not what they are supposed to be.
With a sigh, Alec drops onto the armchair Magnus has just unoccupied. “I’m afraid I took a page off your book and jumped off the cliff head-first without thinking.”
Jace clears up a spot on the coffee table and sits in front of Alec. “What happened?”
“I… I got mad. Izzy told me something, and…” Alec rubs the back of his neck, as he always does when he’s stressed. “I don’t know. It was too much. I wasn’t really thinking. I was upset with Mom and Dad, and I wanted to get back at them somehow, so I did something that will surely upset them. Which means I’ve just proved their point about what a huge disappointment I am. It was childish, and I’m going to pay for it. These things always come back to bite me in the ass.”
“Wait, wait… Just calm down and start from the beginning. Izzy told you… what?”
“She was put in charge of the diplomatic talks with the Seelies. And I’m not talking about her romps with Meliorn being used as a backchannel. I mean, officially.”
“Alec…” Jace tries to measure his words carefully. “I get it. It was part of your job. But that doesn’t mean Robert and Maryse thought you couldn’t do it. It’s just… Izzy has her personal contacts. She might get results faster that way. And with the Seelies cutting communication with the Clave, this is kind of an urgent situation. I’m sure that once things settle down…”
“Oh, by then, I will be married.”
Jace blinks. About a dozen times. “…what?”
“Married. I am getting married, Jace.”
“I have no idea. Some woman from one of the old, traditional families, I bet. Someone with an attractive last name. Probably in her fertile age, because… you know… I should sire the next generation of Lightwood heirs. More than that, I really don’t know. I’m not sure if I’ll be allowed any input on choosing my bride.”
At first, Jace makes no sense of what Alec is saying. When the sentences finally start to form a picture in his mind, he takes it as a joke delivered in Alec’s trademark deadpan tone. However, there’s nothing amusing in the angst he’s sensing from his parabatai. “They’re arranging a marriage for you?” he whispers.
Alec just nods, his gaze lost and fatigued.
“Why? And why now? With everything that’s going on…”
“Yeah, I bet everything that’s been going on has actually played a big part in it. The Clave isn’t happy with all the missions I authorized without their sanction since the day you brought Clary to the Institute.”
Jace rolls his eyes. “The Clave is never happy. That never stopped us before. The very mission when we first met Clary? We didn’t wait for the Clave’s blessing.”
“Sure, every now and then we didn’t follow the correct procedure, because you or Izzy—usually you—didn’t want to wait for the Clave’s official seal of approval to do something the Clave would have wanted to be done anyway. And then we almost invariably produced positive results, so they would be content to send me a fire message cautioning me against my over-eagerness and lack of discipline, and Mom and Dad would call me in their office to discuss my shortcomings at length. Not pleasant, but I was used to it.”
Jace cringes. He hates being reminded of the fact that Alec, being the oldest and the one in charge, usually gets the short end of the stick when reprimands and punishments are distributed among the two of them and Isabelle.
“But now it feels like we’re breaking fifteen rules at every couple of hours, often to do things the Clave would not have approved at all, and what have we accomplished?” Alec goes on. “Since Clary has joined us, there hasn’t been one day where I could claim, ‘Yeah, we didn’t follow procedure, but hey, we got the job done!’ Even when we managed to save people, it was from trouble they found themselves in thanks to our actions. I don’t really know which straw broke the camel’s back, but… it’s broken. The Clave has lost faith in the Lightwoods.”
“And setting a marriage for you helps how, exactly?”
“Well, I got the news from Isabelle, so I can only guess at Mom and Dad’s reasoning. We have to prove that we can do our jobs, that the Institute is in good hands and will remain in good hands. If our name doesn’t command the same respect it used to, then we combine it to some other name that does. The chance to co-lead the New York Institute in the future might be enough to lure some of the old families. Maybe one of them will be willing to offer one of their women in sacrifice for that opportunity.”
Jace snorts. “More likely, all the single women will jump at the news that you’re in the market for a bride,” he says, surprised at the bitterness in his own voice. “Some not-single women might even get rid of their partners for the chance of an upgrade.”
“I don’t really know how desirable the Lightwood name still is at this point,” Alec says skeptically.
“I’m not talking about your name. I’m talking about you.” It’s not just all the physical attributes that Jace is now so strongly aware of, thanks to Magnus’s remarks. He knows Alec’s soul like no one else does, and he can decidedly attest that there’s no better man in the world than his parabatai.
Alec lets out a humorless chuckle. “Believe me, I’m the least desirable groom any Nephilim woman might get.”
Jace bites his lower lip. Sadly, if Alec’s hypothetical bride comes to desire more from him than friendship and loyal partnership in the Institute’s administration—which is very likely—then he’s probably right.
“I just can’t stand the irony. I’ve given up everything for this damn job, while Izzy had fun with her Seelie lover. Now her experience makes her a poor potential for a political marriage, but it counts as a plus for diplomatic missions to negotiate with Downworlders.” Alec looks at Jace, his irritation turning into contrition. “I’m not saying Iz won’t do a good job. I know she will. I worry that the Seelies might use her admiration for them against them, but she definitely understands the Seelies better than I do. It’s just that…” He shakes his head in sadness. “I feel like… between everything I’ve done… and everything I’ve chosen not to do… nothing mattered at all. All my work… but most of all, all the years… pretending… Raziel, I wasted my entire life trying not to feel…” He trails off.
Jace rests his hand on Alec’s wrist. “What?”
Alec recoils out of a sudden, as if he has just realized where his words were taking him.
“What, Alec?” Jace insists, trying to sound reassuring. “You can tell me.”
Alec turns his gaze down to the point where Jace’s skin touches his. “Some things should never be said out loud, Jace.”
Jace feels a lump in his throat. “Not even between parabatai?”
“Especially between parabatai.”
The way Alec is not looking at him right now… it reminds Jace of their conversation from earlier that morning, when Alec apologized to him for what happened when they summoned the memory demon.
When Alec apologized for the revelation that Jace is the one he loves the most.
At the time, the apology made no sense whatsoever in Jace’s mind.
Now… the pieces finally start falling into place.
And they reveal a picture of Jace Wayland as a complete, irredeemable idiot.
Jace stops there, though. He has no idea of what to say. His brain seems to be short-circuiting and sending sparks to every one of his memories that include Alec. And by the Angel, there are a lot of them.
Alec pulls his hand from under Jace’s and crosses his arms. “Anyway.” He cleans his throat and keeps his gaze down. “That’s the story of how I ended up here. I just got so mad that every logical reason I had to stay away was superseded by a sense of ‘screw all this, I’m done, for once I’m gonna do something for myself’.”
Jace’s heart is racing. He knows Alec’s is, too. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t know how much time I have before I’m betrothed. But my window for ‘youthful rebellion’ is closing. If I’m doomed to look back at this time with regrets, maybe it’s better to regret the things I had and lost than the things I never dared to try.”
“I never heard you talk like this before,” Jace mumbles. His hands are shaking. Why are his hands shaking?
“You should be proud, though.” Alec’s smirk is filled with self-contemp. “You and Izzy have been nagging me to be less of a stick in the mud for our entire lives.”
Jace licks his lips. Swallows. Takes a deep breath. “Alec… What are you planning to do?”
At last, Alec raises his eyes again.
And looks straight at the door behind Jace.
“I’m gonna check on Magnus,” he murmurs. “This spell really took a toll on him.”
And then, he gets up and makes his way to the corridor, leaving Jace alone in the living room with a hurricane of jumbled thoughts and poorly understood emotions blowing through his mind.
Alec is enjoying Magnus’s attentions.
Alec has feelings for Jace.
Alec will soon get married to someone who is neither of them.
It’s too much to absorb in fifteen minutes. It’s like the floor under Jace’s feet is shaking again, and there’s nothing he can hold on to for support.
He’s not alone for long, though. Simon returns, looking pale and nauseous… or maybe hungry? The guy certainly missed dinner tonight. From what Jace knows, that can be really hard on mundanes.
“Uh… I’m going home,” says Simon. “I gotta study Financial Analysis… make up for the class I missed. I already explained to Clary…”
What makes you think I care? Jace wants to yell. But antagonizing Simon has only led to more confusing, unpleasant thoughts earlier, and Jace fears his brain is about to turn into mush and leak out through his ears.
“Anyway. Here.” Simon takes a crumpled twenty-dollar bill from his pocket, smoothes it carefully, and places it on the armchair in front of Jace.
‘Twenty bucks says he leaves you hanging tonight.’
Jace had forgotten about that entirely.
Considering the actual reasons that motivated Alec to come, it really doesn’t feel right to keep the money. However, Simon practically runs out of the loft before Jace can return it.
Jace stares at Andrew Jackson’s face, which somehow looks more melancholy now than it ever did before. Maybe it’s the angle and the wrinkles on the paper, but Jace sees a tired, disappointed expression, as if the guy were about to break down in sobs.
I feel drunk. Why do I feel drunk? I haven’t drunk anything today. Or yesterday. But my head is swimming, the room is spinning, my stomach is twisting and turning. Has Alec been drinking? Would I feel it if he had? He says he’s only aware of it when I’m tipsy… or plastered… He never mentioned this feeling of being two seconds away from tossing my cookies. But maybe that’s exactly how it works, and that’s why Alec doesn’t drink, because he already has to endure my hangovers vicariously. Perhaps now, with all that’s been happening, he decided this was a good day to raid Robert’s liquor bar…
With a groan, Jace pockets the money and gets up. He needs to stop thinking about Alec.
Clary. He should check on Clary. And her werewolf friend. This whole thing was about saving him, after all. And then hopefully the guy can help her fill in the blanks of her missing memories so they can find the Mortal Cup.
Jace steps through the door and into a corridor he doesn’t really remember from last night. He turns right and treads cautiously, as if he were walking into enemy territory.
Clary’s voice leads him to the correct room. “I know Mom swore you to secrecy, but I’ve seen you stand up to her before,” she’s saying, her frustration clear in her tone. “Why didn’t you tell me about any of this?”
Jace stops behind the open door, unsure about interrupting the conversation.
“Because I was afraid you’d hate us,” Luke replies.
‘You have every right to be mad at me.’ Alec’s words return to Jace’s mind, distracting him from what’s going on inside the room. Jace didn’t understand then what Alec was talking about, but now… He thought I knew how he felt. And he thought I’d hate him for it.
Sweet Angel, where did that stupid notion come from? Has he ever given Alec reason to think that Jace would be upset about this?
Well, it is upsetting, but only in the sense that poor Alec deserves better than having romantic feelings for someone who can’t return them. The last thing Jace wants is to be the source of Alec’s grief.
‘Maybe your mother is right and your best isn’t good enough!’
‘I’ll be fine on my own.”
‘I shouldn’t have to ask you, Alec! We’re parabatai.’
Ugh. Okay, so he hasn’t been doing very well in that department lately.
The point is… Jace can’t be that person for him. Not only because of the Law. To love is to destroy. He will not harm Alec like that. He would rather die.
“…you need to know everything,” Luke says as Jace’s attention returns to the present moment. “It’ll help you find the Mortal Cup.”
“How?” asks Clary.
“You’re just gonna have to trust me!”
“I do. More than anything,” Clary asserts firmly. “Nothing you say is ever gonna change that.”
Jace grimaces. ‘More than anything’? Wow. Quick reversal of opinion there. Less than two hours ago, she had been sure the guy was a backstabbing bastard who was only interested in the Mortal Cup.
Apparently, now that she knows that this isn’t the case, Luke automatically goes back to his original role and level of importance in Clary’s life.
And the guy is family.
Jace steps away from the door and walks further down the corridor. He remembers how he explained his determination to help Clary find her mother and her way into the Shadow World. ‘She’s lost everything, Alec. I know exactly what that feels like.’ She had no one. She was alone and desperate, and she relied on Jace. And Jace… felt good about that. Not about her loneliness and despair, but about the way she looked at him with hope and faith. About being someone’s rock and shelter, as Alec had been for him when Jace’s father died.
Things ought to be different now. Clary has known Luke all her life. She won’t need Jace as much anymore, or in the same way. Sure, he can still help her embrace her legacy and learn the ways of the Shadowhunters—there are limitations to what a werewolf can provide in that department. But it won’t be the same.
Jace checks the remaining rooms in that corridor, finding them all either empty or locked. Where the hell is Alec?
After four left curves, Jace spots the door to the living room again. He hears a phone ring, and then Alec’s voice. “Hey. Hi, Mother.”
Again, Jace stops by the door without entering. He doesn’t feel ready to talk to Alec again. He has no idea of what to say to his parabatai at this point.
But he can admit he’s curious. Which is why he stealthily positions himself so he can watch what is going on inside through the gap between the hinges.
“Of course,” Alec mutters before hanging up. He turns to Magnus and places the cocktail glass he’s holding—Is he drinking?!—on the table by the door to the balcony. “Duty calls.”
“Oh, the furrowed brow,” Magnus notes with a smirk. “Maryse must be recruiting you for something...” He arches his eyebrows. “…unseemly.”
She might, actually, Jaces muses somberly. Maybe she’s already found Alec a bride.
“Listen, Magnus, I...” Alec stammers. “I wish I could... I just... I don't know what...”
Magnus hushes him with a raised finger that comes an inch from touching Alec’s lips. “I understand.”
Jace’s eyes widen. Who the hell does the warlock think he is to…?
And it’s the cutest smile Jace has ever seen on him.
“Stay for just one more drink?” Magnus suggests, handing him back the cocktail glass, which seems to contain a blue flame ball swimming inside the transparent liquid. ”And then decide.”
Jace sees Alec accept the drink and follow Magnus into the balcony. They sit close together on a bench, talking in soft tones. Jace can’t hear what they’re saying… unless he activates the runes that enhances his hearing…
Nope. Not going there. All this snooping around is creepy enough already.
Jace drops the stealth nonsense and walks into the living room with heavy steps. He sits on the armchair, picks up a book from the coffee table, opens it at a random page and gazes at it without making any effort to decipher the letters in it.
He can’t help the occasional glance at the balcony. Alec looks shy, a little out of his depth, but more open than he usually is among strangers. And Magnus… Magnus looks positively enchanted. Like he’s just come across a precious, magical gem…
It occurs to Jace that circumstances might be just the opposite of what he had initially feared. Alec is the one who’s looking for a brief joyful physical experience with Magnus in spite of having feelings for someone else and plans to marry a third person yet to be determined... while the expression in Magnus’s face spells nothing of his reputation as a philanderer. The warlock gazes at Alec not with hunger or greed, but with adoration and what almost seems like… jitters? As if the High Warlock of Brooklyn were actually nervous about Alec’s opinion of him.
What if Magnus is the one to fall in love? Either way, it’s unlikely that this will end well. Not if Alec abides to his parents’ plans for a marriage of convenience. A less honorable man would not hesitate to play husband in the public sphere while taking lovers in secrecy, but that’s not Alec. If he makes a vow of fidelity, he will keep it, no matter what.
‘Whither thou goest, I will go…’
Jace shudders, and the book almost falls from his hands. Things are about to change here, too. He doesn’t believe for one second that Alec will forget his oath to Jace, but for over a decade, it has been the two of them against the world. Sure, Alec would check out attractive guys from a distance every now and then, but he had never really pursued anything with anyone. Jace never had to learn to share his parabatai with another person. And now… a lover? And later, a wife?
Jace leans his head back against the armchair’s top rail, lowering the book to his knees. He doesn’t know how to deal with any of this. And what is he supposed to do about Alec’s other revelation?
How long has Alec had feelings for me? It can’t be long. Right? We are parabatai. There’s no way Alec could have kept that big a secret from me for long.
And yet, it’s not like Jace has sensed any major alteration in Alec’s feelings recently.
In fact, if there has been a constant in Jace’s life, it’s the nature and intensity of Alec’s love for him since they sealed their bond.
Seven years ago.
Oh, Angel. That can’t be true.
If it is… why did Alec agree to be Jace’s parabatai? He would have known that by saying yes he was burying any hope of…
Well, that is the answer, isn’t it? Alec has never held any hope.
Or, if he had, the fact that Jace had asked him to become his platonic soulmate had certainly put an end to it.
I didn’t know…
Would it have made a difference if he had known?
The answer should be easy.
Jace only realizes he has dozed off when he wakes up with a start at Clary’s triumphant exclamation. The book has fallen from his lap, and there’s a bit of drool—irk!—on the corner of his mouth. “Hmmm… what? What did you say?”
“I know where the Cup is!” Clary repeats.
“The tarot cards!”
“What tarot cards?” asks Magnus, standing up from the bench in the balcony, where Alec is still seated.
Jace pulls up his cell phone and checks the time. He’s surprised to find out that he was asleep for almost three hours…
…and that apparently Alec and Magnus had spent that entire time sitting out there under the night sky, drinking and talking. Hadn’t Maryse called and ordered Alec to do… something?
“These tarot cards that Dot always had with her,” Clary explains. “My mom must have painted them years ago. And look at this!” She shows them a sketchbook with the drawing of a wooden box with the letters JC engraved on it.
“Isn’t that the box you wanted to get from your old place?” asks Alec, joining them in the living room. “The one you said would lead us to Valentine?”
“Yes! That box!”
“So you drew the box. How does that help us?”
“I didn’t draw it!” Clary replies excitedly. “I… I just… put it inside the paper!”
Jace frowns. “What do you mean? How?”
“I don’t know how. Luke said some Shadowhunters have unusual powers?”
“Ah.” Alec crosses his arms over his chest. “And you just happen to be one of those? Weren’t you unusual enough already?”
“Alec,” Jace rebukes gently.
“Biscuit, maybe you should explain exactly what you did,” suggests Magnus.
“I had put the box on top of the sketchbook, and my hand was on the lid… And then Luke said something about Valentine and I got upset… and then suddenly my hand was touching the paper, and the drawing showed up! Like I pushed it inside!”
“So, the tarot cards you mentioned…?” Magnus starts.
“Isn’t it obvious? Mom must have had the same power! She hid the Mortal Cup inside the Ace of Cups. The card looks exactly like it.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” says Alec. “How do you know what the Mortal Cup looks like? You’ve been with us for less than a week, and I know you haven’t exactly hit the books.”
“Jace showed it to me. The statue at the entrance of the City of Bones.”
Alec looks more suspicious than ever. “So two nights ago you saw a replica of the Cup… and you never thought to mention that the warlock you described as being like a big sister to you had a tarot card with that same image? Did it never occur to you that this might be relevant?”
Clary gapes at him. “I… No! No, Alec, it didn’t occur to me!” she fumes. “I didn’t remember the cards until a minute ago! I’m sorry, but I’ve been a little preoccupied lately, trying to find my mother!”
“If you would only listen and just try to control your emotions instead of letting them rule over you, you might have remembered that finding the Cup, finding your mother, and finding Valentine are all parts of the same quest we’ve been working on.”
“Well, if you actually were able to control your emotions instead of just preaching about it, I wouldn’t have lost my memories forever to that memory demon, thank you very much! So give me a break!”
Alec turns so pale that Jace fears he might faint.
“Okay, that’s not helping,” Jace mutters. He gets up from the armchair and holds Clary by her shoulders, turning her away from Alec. “Recapitulating. You have the power to turn actual objects into drawings.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Jace sees Alec turn his back to him and Clary, his head low and his shoulders tense.
“And you think your mother could have done the same,” Jace continues.
“That would not surprise me,” Magnus ponders. “Jocelyn’s artistry was quite extraordinary.”
“So… she hid the Mortal Cup inside a tarot card?” Jace asks.
“Yes, that’s what I’m telling you!” Clary yells impatiently.
“And where is the card?”
“Last time I saw the deck, it was in the antique shop. Dot was doing a reading on the counter when I arrived… I had just been accepted at the Brooklyn Academy of Art… and it was my birthday. She gave me this gorgeous black blouse…” Clary sighs. “It was the last normal day of my life.”
Jace sends Magnus an inquiring look.
The warlock shakes his head somberly.
Clary looks between them, confused. “What?”
“Dot is gone,” Magnus reminds her. “If she had the cards when the Circle got to her, Valentine might have them already.”
“And he has Jocelyn,” adds Jace. “So all he has to do is force her to undo whatever she did and take the Cup from inside the card.”
Clary gasps. “What if he already did that?”
“I’d say that’s very unlikely,” Magnus soothes her. “Valentine would have put the Cup to use as soon as he had his hands on it. And if he had started creating new Shadowhunters or gained control over demons, it'd be like Beyoncé riding on a dinosaur through Times Square. We would have noticed.”
“Valentine might not even realize he already has the Cup,” Alec mutters, still looking out the balcony door.
“Valentine doesn't have the cards,” says Luke as he walks into the room, looking a lot more alive than he did a few hours ago. “I do.”
Everyone turns to him with shock and anticipation.
“When Clary went missing, I went to the loft. Jocelyn had already burned almost everything down, and I took what little was left to make sure the Circle wouldn’t be able to track Clary. And there was a tarot deck.” Luke frowns. “Actually, Dot arrived while I was doing it. I’m sure she saw me get the cards.”
“Did she say anything?” asks Jace.
“Not really, not about that. I told her I’d keep that stuff safe in the precinct, and she left to look for Clary.”
“She must have felt the cards would be safe with you,” Clary murmurs.
“They’re still there, in my desk.”
Clary flashed an ecstatic smile. “It’s easy, then! We just have to go there and get them! Let’s go!” She drops the sketchbook on the coffee table and starts toward the loft’s door.
“Clary, wait,” calls Jace.
“Maybe, for a change, we could come up with a plan first?” Alec mutters. “Just a suggestion.”
“I go to the station,” says Clary. “Everybody knows me there. I tell Captain Vargas that Luke asked me to get something from his desk. No one will think anything of it. How’s that for a plan?”
“Pretty terrible,” says Alec candidly. “What’s your contingency plan?”
“You’re really one of those people that always expect the worst, aren’t you?”
Alec pretends to consider the question for a moment. “Yes.”
“Clary, Alec has a point,” Jace intervenes. “The entire Shadow World is looking for you.”
“And Valentine has spies everywhere,” Luke adds. “Including the NYPD.”
Clary sighs impatiently. “So what do we do?”
“I’ll go to work,” says Luke. “Like any other day. And I’ll get the cards.”
“Go to work?! Look at you! You look like something out of The Mummy movie.”
Luke snorts. “Werewolf, remember? Now that the poison is out of my system, the wounds will heal in no time.”
“Provided that you rest,” Magnus chimes in, waving emphatically at Luke with both arms, shooing him back towards the corridor that led to the guest room. “It is very rude to jeopardize my good work by jumping into the fire right after being rescued from the frying pan.”
“Fine,” Luke concedes. “My shift doesn’t start before 2 PM anyway.”
“We should all get some rest,” says Alec. “Just in case this is not the walk in the park you guys are expecting.”
“I’ll stay with Luke, in case he needs something,” says Clary. She follows the werewolf down the corridor.
Jace turns to Magnus. “You have a lot of other rooms back there,” he says, pointing to the corridor. “Any chance there’s a vacant bed somewhere?”
“As a matter of fact… Follow me.”
Jace does, after gesturing to Alec to come along.
Magnus leads the way to a small room with all four walls covered by shelves from top to bottom. On the shelves, nothing but sealed boxes of all shapes, sizes, and materials. On the very center of the room, a twin bed with a high metal headboard and a naked mattress.
With a snap of Magnus’s fingers, the bed is made with green satin sheets, a white comforter, and more pillows than any reasonable person could possibly need. “I’m a little too drained at the moment to decorate the room properly.” He turns to Jace with a smirk. “I hope it’s not too beneath your standards, Wayland.”
Jace returns the grin, resting his hand on Alec’s shoulder. “Thanks, Magnus. Alec and I appreciate it. Don’t we, Alec?”
“Huh?” Alec blinks. “I…”
Magnus’s smile turns sour. “Actually, this is such a small bed. I was thinking that…”
“No, it’s just perfect for us. Alec and I are used to sharing a bed.”
Magnus arches an eyebrow.
“We’re… we’re parabatai,” Alec splutters, looking between them with wide eyes.
“And we take care of each other,” Jace tells him pointedly.
Jace pushes Alec, making him fall on his back onto the bed. “So? Is it comfy? Awesome.” He turns back to the warlock. “That’s perfect, Magnus. Have a good night.”
He expects Magnus to be angry at his interference, and for sure the guy doesn’t look very pleased. But there’s also a spark in his eyes that leaves Jace uneasy. Like the guy is laughing at him in the inside.
“Good night,” says Magnus. He turns to Alec with a beaming smile. “If you need me, I’m two doors away on the left.”
“Thank you, Magnus,” Alec murmurs.
Frowning at the way Alec’s cheeks are reddening again, Jace unceremoniously steers Magnus to the door.
“Do keep your hands off the boxes,” says Magnus. “Some of them bite. And I’m not speaking metaphorically.” His many rings twinkle as he waves his fingers at Alec.
Jace closes the door as soon as the warlock has crossed the threshold.
“You’re being rude,” says Alec.
Jace snorts. “He’ll live.”
“You’re being rude to me.”
“What? Alec, are you really so innocent that you don’t get that that guy was planning for you to share a bed with him?”
“Jace, are you really so blind that you don’t get that I was counting on it?”
“What?!” Jace stares at his parabatai in bewilderment. “You… What?!”
“That’s very eloquent.”
“Alec… You don’t know him!”
“Well, it would be nice if I had the time to get to know him, but I really don’t. I don’t have the time to get to know anyone.”
“You’re not losing your virginity to a guy you met yesterday, while three more people sleep right next door.”
“You lost your virginity to a total stranger in a parking lot!”
“Exactly! You’re the smart and cautious one! Make better choices than I did!”
“If I’m too cautious about this, I’ll end up losing my virginity on my wedding night to only Raziel knows who.” Alec rolls out of bed and takes off his jacket, hanging it on the nearest edge of the headboard. “I thought you wanted me to get laid. You and Iz have been joking about it since forever!” He sits down with his back to Jace. His voice grows quieter. “Or are you also disappointed that I’m not waiting for a nice Nephilim girl? Or for a girl, period?”
“No! Alec, no, come on, that’s not it. You know me better than that.” Yeah, he had made a few jokes. But over the years, after realizing that Alec’s contemplative gaze focused solely on male figures, Jace made a point of dropping casual remarks, as often as he could without making it too obvious, to show that his personal views about sexuality are far from being conservative. So Alec would know that his parabatai would be there for him, if he ever chose to open up about it.
And now he did. And I’m reacting by having an aneurysm. Epic fail.
“Then what?” Alec starts untying his boots. “Is this about Clary?”
“Yeah. You’re being cockblocked by the werewolf, so you retaliate by cockblocking me?”
“That’s completely ridiculous!”
“Then what is your problem?”
“I think you’re giving up too quickly.”
Alec freezes his movements. “Giving up on what?”
For some reason, the image of Alec staring in panic at what the memory demon took from him comes instantly to Jace’s mind. But he gave up on that a long time ago. Or at least, he made a conscious choice to give it up. Obviously, the feelings still have to be there, or the demon wouldn’t have found them.
Jace sits down beside him. “What we need to do is find a way out of this marriage nonsense. So you can have all the time in the world to… to meet people… and get to know them… and do this on your own pace.”
Alec goes back to removing his boots. “What do you suggest?”
“Well, for starters, tell Maryse and Robert that you won’t do it.”
Alec grimaces. “Jace…”
“I know how much it hurts for you to disappoint them. But they have no right to ask this from you.”
“They want me to protect our family. That is what my whole life has been about.”
“By being a soldier and a leader. Not a pawn on the Clave’s political chess. And definitely not a breeder.”
“Isabelle wanted me to promise them that I’d say no.”
“And then what?” Alec shoves his boots under the bed with more force than strictly necessary. “We put our family into this situation. We need to do something to fix it. We can’t lose the Institute, Jace.”
“Can’t we just make a political alliance that does not involve you getting married? Something more like a normal business agreement?”
“Marriages among the traditional families are business agreements. Besides, if we’re bartering for trust, what can we offer in return? If we try to buy the Clave’s support by bribing the other families, we’ll only look even less honorable. And you know what Dad always says…”
“‘The honor comes from the deed,’” Jace quotes with a groan.
Alec nods. “Listen, I know you’re trying to help, but… while the circumstances are far worse than I had expected, I did expect… some… of this.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s not in the Law, but the Clave strongly prefers for Institutes to be commanded by couples. So I’ve always known that this was a possibility I’d eventually have to consider. I just thought I’d have more time. That I’d have a choice. That I’d get to… you know… become friends with some girl. Because if I have to spend the rest of my life with someone, it would be nice to know that we can tolerate each other.”
Jace remembers Alec speaking once or twice about some vaguely distant future when he would have a wife—a figure he tellingly only referred to in the haziest terms—but he hadn’t believed Alec was serious about it. Actually, Jace had imagined his parabatai had been merely trying to make up for his conspicuous lack of any girlfriends. Not for one moment he thought that Alec had meant it.
Truly a day for revelations… “Are you telling me that being lonely and unhappy all your life was part of your big plan for your future all along? Are you fucking serious?”
“My big plan was… is… to do my fucking job!” Alec snarls. “Please, don’t make it harder than it has to be.”
Jace opens his mouth to respond…
…but is distracted by Alec taking off his shirt.
He does it in one swift, angry movement, and drapes the garment carelessly over his jacket on the headboard.
He does it without a single sign of self-consciousness about Jace’s proximity.
He does it just as he has been doing it for years.
They’re parabatai. Most of their runes were drawn by each other. They train together, often wearing very little. They’ve slept together in the same bed. They’ve showered together on occasion. They’re used to seeing lots of each other’s skin.
And if Alec ever felt awkward about being naked or half-naked around Jace, he clearly doesn’t think twice about it anymore... because he knows Jace won’t be looking at him that way.
Conversely, Jace has caught Alec checking him out quite often. Surreptitious glances. Especially at his butt. Jace had never thought much about it, though. He has a great body. He definitely has a great butt. Lots of people—of all genders—notice it. Of course Alec would notice it, too. That didn’t necessarily mean anything.
Yeah, so much for that.
It’s confusing, having to look back at their interactions and realize that there was so much more than he had thought. Did Alec ever try to… show off? Get Jace to look at him? Flexed his muscles in a way that spelled more than ‘Look, I’m more ripped than you’? Which, of course, Alec isn’t. Between them, Jace has always had the better abs. The competition is tougher when it comes to their arms, with over a decade of archery serving to build beautifully defined biceps, triceps, flexors, extensors… And Alec’s back is also very impressive. Seeing a shirtless Alec shoot an arrow has always left Jace a bit fascinated at the way the archer’s muscles move under the Flexibility rune on his left shoulder blade. Jace had drawn that rune. And the ones for Calm Anger and Courage in Combat as well, on Alec’s lower back. He remembers feeling very comfortable to make them very big, because his parabatai’s tall, broad back had plenty of space to accommodate them, and his smooth skin was the perfect canvas…
“Are you okay?” asks Alec, turning to Jace with a concerned look.
“What? Yeah! Why?”
“I don’t know, the bond felt weird all of a sudden. Like when you have a fever.” Alec reaches out to touch Jace’s forehead. “Your face is flushed, and you feel a little hot…”
“I’m fine.” Jace gets up and moves to the opposite side of the bed. “Just… tired. Long day.”
Alec frowns at him, but lets it go. “Yeah. With more to come tomorrow. We should get some sleep.”
While Jace starts undressing, Alec takes off his pants and gets under the covers, wearing nothing but his underwear. No hesitation about exposing his body to him.
Just his heart.
‘Some things should never be said out loud, Jace.’
And he really didn’t say anything, did he? Jace had hoped Alec would one day feel confident enough to come out to him, and he had even imagined a dozen different ways it might happen. But every scenario included Alec actually telling him about the way he felt about men. With words. Probably embarrassed, stuttering words, but words nonetheless.
Instead, Alec just made his feelings clear by saying he couldn’t speak of them, and then changing the subject to how he absolutely needs to fuck a guy—namely, one Magnus Bane—before someone finds him a bride. How had Alec put it? ‘Screw all this, I’m done, for once I’m gonna do something for myself.’
Jace never saw it coming. None of this. He carries part of Alec’s soul inside, and yet it’s like he’s uncovering facets of him to which he’s been entirely blind so far.
Speaking of uncovering… After taking his vest, shirt and boots, Jace hesitates as he touches the fly of his pants. Should he keep them on? Will Alec feel uncomfortable having him practically naked in bed beside him now that that he has—sort of—revealed how he feels? Or will Alec be hurt by thinking that Jace might feel uncomfortable being practically naked in bed with him after being told—sort of—about Alec’s sexuality?
Okay, headache incoming.
Alec isn’t even looking at him. After tossing three pillows to the floor, he’s just lying there with his head on the single pillow left on his side, staring at the ceiling with his trademark ‘I have a problem to solve’ frown.
Jace is not part of the problem. Alec probably stamped a ‘solved’ sign on Jace as soon as they became parabatai. Nothing to be done, so… bury the issue. Pretend it’s not there.
It doesn’t feel right. But what else is there to do? What can he possibly tell Alec to make him feel better about a love that can never be returned in the way he wants? What if Jace says something that just makes everything worse, disrupting their friendship and partnership?
No, what he needs to do is help Alec with his current problem. And if he can’t convince him to refuse the marriage of convenience… “What if we can find a way for you to get married and be happy?”
Alec looks at him with a skeptical gaze. “How?”
Jace pushes his pants down and steps out of them. “Propose to Aline.”
Alec’s eyes flicker down Jace’s body for the briefest second before focusing firmly on his face. “Aline? Aline Penhallow?”
“Yes. She would be perfect for you.” Jace gets into the bed, keeping two pillows for himself and tossing the rest onto the floor. He lies on his side, facing Alec.
“I do like Aline,” Alec concedes, “but she’s hardly perfect for me.”
“Yes, she is.”
“I don’t find her more attractive than any other woman.”
Jace smirks. “And she, I’m sure, doesn’t find you remotely attractive either.”
Alec looks at him with a scowl. “Is this meant to be an insult, or do you actually have a point?”
“Alec, she doesn’t find any guys attractive. Get it?”
Jace sees in his parabatai’s face the exact moment the penny drops. “Oh.”
“How do you know?”
“Uh…” Jace squirms. “That’s not really important. I’m sure of it, that’s what matters.”
“I see,” Alec scoffs. “You tried to hit on her, she didn’t want anything to do with you, and the only possible explanation for that is that she has no interest in men whatsoever.”
Jace punches his shoulder. “That’s not it, okay?”
Alec arches an eyebrow, waiting.
“Fine!” Jace exclaims. “I hit on her and on another girl who was with her. I thought I could get a threesome out of it, and they greatly enjoyed letting me know that neither of them had any interest in dick. Convincing enough for you?”
Alec bursts out laughing.
It’s a wonderful sound, even if it’s at Jace’s expense.
“Back to my point,” says Jace. “The Penhallows are well respected, they’ll probably want an advantageous marriage for their one daughter, and she’ll find the whole idea as repellent as you do. The solution? You marry her! Your parents are happy, her parents are happy, the Clave embraces the Penhallow-Lightwoods and eventually gives you two the command of the New York Institute. And behind closed doors, you remain friends, and give each other a free card to be with whomever you want. It’s perfect.”
Alec goes back to looking at the ceiling with a pensive frown. “I don’t know…”
“Come on, it’s a great plan!”
“There are some elements you’re not taking into consideration.”
“Well, for starters, the fact that I haven’t seen Aline in a couple of years. We got along fine, but we were not particularly close. Even as just friends, I don’t know if we have the potential for ‘til-death-do-us-part’.”
“Well, it’s gotta be better than marrying a stranger who might want to be more than friends.”
“We would have to maintain the lie for the rest of our lives…”
“…which apparently was your plan all along,” Jace interjects.
“…which means we would have to be extremely discreet at all times. I don’t even know how feasible that would be, but the way you’ve learned about Aline makes me think she might not take the need for secrecy very seriously.”
“Well, for whatever it’s worth, she was a bit tipsy at the time, and the next day she begged me not to tell anyone.”
“I’m not sure that’s reassuring.”
For a moment, Jace thinks of pointing out that flirting with the High Warlock of Brooklyn, of all people, can hardly be considered discreet. But he keeps his mouth shut.
“Most importantly… the Penhallows and the Lightwoods have been allies for years,” Alec continues. “Jia is one of Mom’s closest friends. I hope we haven’t lost their support. But what we need to placate the Clave is the support of at least one of the families that have lost some of their faith in us.”
“So… you’re saying that ideally your future bride would come from a family that thinks the worst of the Lightwoods?”
“That does not bode well for a happy union, you know.”
Alec sighs. “That’s why I was hoping to get a tiny bit of happiness before my future bride becomes an actual person with a name and a face.”
Jace flinches. “I do want you to be happy, Alec. I’m sorry I messed up your plans. But in all the years I’ve known you, I’ve seen you be reckless maybe half a dozen times… and you always ended up regretting it. I don’t want you to regret your first time.”
“Do you regret yours?”
“No. But I never planned for it to be a big deal. It was awkward, it was weird, it was good, it was over. I didn’t expect it to be more than that. You can’t tell me you have no expectations. Not after waiting this long.”
Alec pulls the comforter up to cover his chest. “I’ve never had any… attainable… expectations,” he murmurs. “That’s why I waited.”
Jace feels the air chill in his lungs. “Alec…”
“You know I want your happiness, too, right? I’m not picking on Clary just to be mean or whatever. If she turns out to be the great love of your life, then… I’ll support you. But you’ve just met her, and I want at least to make sure she’s trustworthy.”
“I told you, Clary is not my girlfriend. She’s…”
“…your responsibility, right,” Alec huffs. “Well, you’re mine.” He cringes. “My responsibility, I mean. So… I’m just looking out for you, okay? I don’t want you to think…” He trails off.
Alec takes a long breath. “It’s like you said. We’re parabatai. Brothers.”
Jace curses himself for his obliviousness. Only now does he realize that the words he had meant as affectionate reassurance were received as careless rejection.
“We look out for each other.” Alec lets out a sarcastic chuckle. “I guess this occasionally means cockblocking each other.”
Jace blinks. “Huh?”
“I don’t trust Clary with you. You don’t trust Magnus with me. Therefore, we end up in bed together, not having any fun, discussing plans to save our family from political ruin. And that’s what brothers are for.”
Has he ever called me brother before? Jace can’t remember a single instance. The term sounds alien in Alec’s voice somehow, as if he were uttering a foreign vocable whose pronunciation and usage he’s not entirely sure of.
Jace opens his mouth to say that he doesn’t wish to be anywhere else right now… to tell Alec that being with him and just talking, even if it’s about troubling topics, still means more to him than all the sex he’s ever had…
But he hesitates, and when Alec rolls over to lie with his back to Jace, the moment is gone. “Good night, Jace.”
It takes Jace a long time to fall asleep.
Probably because of that nap he took in the living room.
Yeah, it’s most certainly because of that.