Feeling their bond sputter and almost fade for the first time in their lives had been beyond painful; when it happens again, it’s excruciating.
It’s unlike anything Jace has ever felt before. Even the time when Alec had tried to track him had been different; sharper and quicker and infinitely more merciful than watching him stay lost between their souls, unresponsive and completely still. It’s like everything their bond is supposed to be – uniting and pacifying and healing – but wrong; twisted in a way usually only prompted by dark magic.
But that’s not what this is. No, it’s just Alec trying to reach him, help him, and before that, it’s Jace’s own attempt to make things better for everyone by following Valentine’s orders. It’s all them, and the thought is nearly unbearable as Jace clasps Alec’s hand in his own and the tracking stone caught between their fingers ignites. It’s all them, stupid and flawed and human as they are. It’s just like Alec had said, years ago— and suddenly, Jace is out of the here and now and sinking into his parabatai’s memories of the very same moment without having a clue how he’d managed to trigger it.
“It’s just such a big thing.” Alec is struggling with the description and Jace stares at his own sympathetic expression – both back then and now, it’s impossible to truly put the bond in words; to describe what it’s actually like. It’s too foreign and natural and unique to even try to talk about it to someone who hadn’t experienced it and it had only been more difficult before, when they hadn’t had their ceremony in the first place. “I can see why the Angel would want some of us to have it, but— well, some people can’t really handle it, can they? Sometimes it just doesn’t work like it should. Our fathers—”
“Yeah.” Jace takes Alec’s hands in his own and it’s electrifying for them both. Through Alec’s memories, Jace sees the awe and love in his own eyes, and the tension and fear of a potential refusal. It’s impossibly amplified through the bond they have now; the overwhelming affection he feels for every fibre of his parabatai’s being combined with Alec’s devotion – the one from the past and the one that led them both to where they are currently. “But we’re not our fathers, okay? We can handle it. I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t believe that.”
“I know.” The trepidation in Alec is slightly muted by the fond amusement at the sight of Jace’s fretting. “Of course I know that. I think we could make it. We’ll have to go through so many tests and they’ll determine whether we’re compatible or not, but between the two of us—”And the feelings coming from him reflect the belief that he doesn’t dare to voice just yet. It’s a belief laced with reluctant joy and something deeper; something he barely wants to think of even as he’s hanging onto the last threads left between them.
It’s okay, Jace wants to say, both to the Alec of his past and the one in his arms right now. It’s okay. I love you too. But all that happens is his past self embracing Alec as tightly as he can, enveloping him in his hold as if he’s just saved him from some indescribable horror because really, even without knowing it, he has.
“Thank you,” he says and Jace knows what follows next (a flustered laugh and a “You don’t need to thank me, Jace, I’m not doing you a favour,
I’m giving you my soul in exchange for yours”), but it all flickers in front of his eyes in an instant, because it’s Alec’s mind and his memories and Jace manages to pull himself out of the whirlwind of it all when he realises that the next thing he’ll see is their ceremony. He hears himself – his body, at least – reciting the oath they had said back then for his parabatai in the present and the awareness of it is enough to break the already frail connection they had established.
The thing is, though, the Alec of the present is still just as lost to him and it had been easier – it had felt easier – to reach him when he had been able to see what’s going on in his mind. But it’s just as easy to get wrapped up in it and that’s the last thing Alec needs from him right now; for the two of them to be stuck in the neither-here-nor-there that is their bond in its current state together.
So he keeps going. Even when Alec shudders and drops the stone, even when its light goes out and almost takes Jace’s last hope with itself, he keeps going on the off chance that somewhere, still wandering in their shared memories, he can get through to his parabatai.
That had been the purpose of the tracking, hadn’t it? Getting Jace back one way or another, no matter what it costs him and no matter how many people had tried to discourage him. And it had worked – here he is, and he’s torn between the urge to shake Alec awake (Here I am, he wants to scream, this is what your magic bought you, now come back to me) and to be as gentle with him as he can lest he hurt him even further. As if it’s even possible – he’s done enough already and it’s selfish, so selfish to expect him to respond to any of it just because it’s Jace asking. He’s done nothing to deserve it.
And still, in-between his own pleading, he can feel Alec taking a deep breath – shuddering and unsure and so alive – and it’s a miracle if Jace’s ever seen one; being able to look into his eyes, here, right in front of him instead of the vision he had been for so long now, and when Alec surges up and wraps his arms around him, all he can do is bask in the warmth of him and press himself even closer, unable to process it fully. His parabatai is back and it doesn’t matter what will come next at all when that’s enough to keep Jace going.
I love you, he wants to say; wants to repeat it a thousand times until Alec is drowning in the weight of the feeling like he is. And that’s selfish too, terribly so, because they never seem able to catch up with what the other is feeling before it’s too late, but it’s all right – if they’re going to drown, Jace thinks, it’s a good thing that just this once, they’re doing it together.