Opening my eyes should be effortless, but it isn't. Raising a thrashing vampire over my head would be easier than raising my eyelids. Come to think of it . . . did a vampire lift me over its head and throw me? My brain feels like a chunk of lead, and every muscle aches like I’ve been clenching for hours.
I grit my teeth against the strain to part my lids; they obey and I immediately wish they hadn't. My retinas are assaulted by light, but it’s not a soft angelic light. It’s like hellfire — a blazing flash that skewers my eyeballs like a neon rod. I try to raise my hands but my limbs won't comply. Fuck. I’m tied-up by both wrists and ankles. I’m sitting upright in a chair and my hands are bound so tightly behind my back that my fingertips are tingling.
I blink like I'm staring at the sun, commanding my vision to ‘man up’.
Where the hell am I?
The last thing I remember is being in bed with Clary at the institute. We were celebrating. The dresscode-naked-private-party-for-two kind of celebration. We were reveling because she's finally regained the memories of her life as a Shadowhunter — and more importantly— of her feelings for me. After a year of 'angel-induced amnesia' Clary had finally seen me at her art show. That was one month ago; and every day thereafter the angels have graced her with a flood of memories. But now it appears that the angels have plucked a few of my own. I can’t remember anything beyond collapsing into my sheets with Clary. Despite how eager I was for the intimacy, I don’t recall if we even had sex. A shame as I’ve been celibate for a year as I pined for her. I’d hoped sex would make me feel closer to her again . . . like how I use to feel. But if I can’t even remember it, then . . . that was a fail.
Being without Clary for an entire year has been like functioning without a critical limb. But her return did not grant me an instant, painless re-attachment. Without realizing it I’d learned to adapt without this limb. I learned to live without Clary. Was it easy? No. Did I enjoy it? No. Every day was a struggle to readjust. We all had to re-adjust. Our friends and family continued onward with their lives. Izzy, Simon, Luke — heck, even Magnus and Alec literally moved on. They packed up and relocated their lives to Alicante.
It was when Alec left that losing my 'Clary limb' dulled to an inconvenience, for my parabatai took a critical organ with him. Alec abandoned me with a gaping hole in my torso; a wound that I could not rehab or recover from. He left me alone to labor — to sort out why I feel so incomplete. Which of my ‘emotional innards’ had Alec carved from my flesh? I don’t know. It’s been seven months since his departure — since I’ve even seen his face— and my understanding remains as helpless as my body is now.
Get it together, Jace! The ‘confused look’ isn’t your best look. I berate myself into concentrating. My chunk-of-lead-brain needs a smith to craft out some sensibilities. Really, Jace? Did you just wish a blacksmith would forge your brain? Wow, sad and scary . . . how long have I been strapped to this chair? I don’t feel thirsty. I don’t feel hungry. I don’t even have the urge to piss. I only feel . . . weak.
Weakness is a familiar sensation for me. Familiar like being stabbed or burned or bitten by demons. I’d gladly welcome being stabbed, burned and bitten over feeling weak. I endured the incessant battery of weakness while dominated by the owl. I killed people— my own grandmother for one— and almost killed everyone else who I love, including Clary and Alec.
The memories induce a surge of nausea and I beg my chuck-of-lead for mercy. For a moment I’m actually glad that my hands are bound behind my back. My hands deserve to be restrained — they deserve to be stabbed, bitten and burned by demons.
These hands nearly murdered my parabatai.
The sickening-snap of Alec’s wrist-bone . . . his agonized wail . . . my boot striking full-force against his ribs . . . I can still feel his ribcage cracking on impact . . . I can still see him sprawled out, utterly defenseless upon his back. The owl never even considered mercy, and I just leaned over Alec and drove his own arrow into his chest. He was as helpless as a wingless, wounded bird and he knew it. Alec accepted that his mortality was ending, he never begged for his life. And the owl was so eager to end him that it wouldn’t have matter if he had. In that moment Alec should have used whatever-scant-energy he had left to fight me! Instead he fucking apologized to me! He tried to comfort me — he could barely breathe! His lung was being punctured — I heard the organ collapsing. I remember seizing him by the back of the neck and jerking him upward. I pulled him close — forcing him to feel death’s embrace —then I pushed that arrow in. The owl wanted me to have a front row view to my parabatai’s end. The owl wanted me to see the unwavering loyalty abandon Alec’s eyes. The owl wanted me to feel Alec’s life-force slip away between my fingers. And yet, despite all of my heinous actions, Alec’s final breaths were pleas for me to forgive him.
I feel like Simon has just spun me waaaaaay too many times on an office chair; oh, and I loath myself. But, I tell my nausea and self-hatred to fuck off.
I can vomit and punch a mirror after I escape.
I apply myself to focus and a shape materializes before me. It’s like all of the shadows in the room have banned together to soften the overbearing light. This shape is a person who is strapped to a chair like me. The person is facing me and can’t be more than a few feet away. My sight stabilizes like a water reflection recovering from a ripple.
“Dammit!” Rage, frustration and fear seize me tighter than these restrains ever could. I buck back and forth as though possessed! I’m desperate to move this shitty chair forward, but the seat seems to be growing out of the floor. It won't budge!
It’s Alec. Like me his limbs are bound; but unlike me Alec is still unconscious. His head droops toward his shoulder like a wilting plant. His hair looks like ruffled raven feathers and is overdue for a cut. These dark strands tease his eyes to open, but they don’t . . . those thick lashes don't even flutter despite the commotion I’m causing.
I pause my thrashing and visually assess Alec’s condition. He looks uninjured and peaceful. Though I’m the one with pure angel blood Alec looks the part. His features have always been too pretty. Even now, as a thin layer of stubble darkens his jaw, he still looks pretty. Alec’s face could be on a billboard selling mundane beauty products; but instead his face gets incessantly battered, burned and bitten as a way of life. Alec is wearing a scarlet-colored robe that falls to his bare feet. It looks old-tymie and ceremonial. This isn't something I would imagine him buying, but maybe Magnus likes to play ‘dress-up’ with his beautiful boy toy? I glance at my own attire and I’m creeped-out. I match Alec perfectly. Simon would say we're ‘twinning’. I’m shoeless and in an antiquated scarlet robe. But given the chilly room temperature I’m relieved to have something on. These are obviously not our robes, and ‘not our robes’ means no weapons, no phones and no steles.
Despite the disturbing circumstance of our reunion, my heart swells to see my parabatai. Maybe he’ll finally return my stolen organ? Thievery isn't very delegate-like, and Alec is now a hot-shot delegate for The Clave, so, he should behave like one. What an asshole--but . . . I just love this asshole and his way-too-pretty face. I love everything about Alec. Outside him. Inside him. I would wear him like this robe if I could. And, yeah, that sounds creepier than it was supposed too, but I didn't say it out-loud, so it's cool. The point is: I love my parabatai so much that I forgive him already. He can keep whatever he stole, but he needs to keep me too. We can't be separated again. Alec knows this. He feels this. We are the sunlight warming each other's skin, and I'm tired of living in a full bodysuit-facemask-fuckin' bubble that's freezing cold! Why are we denying one another comfort and heat? Why did he leave me? WHY?
I reel my emotions in like schools of huge, flailing fish -- it's not easy, but I do it. I remind myself that Alec's departure was not personal. The newlywed Lightwood-Bane couple had to move to Idris because that’s where Alec has to work. But why doesn't he visit New York? Magnus does occasionally, but Alec stays away. He says that his new position is 'demanding' and he 'can't step away until he has a proper handle on things'. He’s such a nerdy control-freak. I respect his commitment to work . . . but he's made little effort even to call and . . .
. . . if I were to be honest with myself — which is a work in progress — neither have I.
The drift between us is unnatural and too wide to fathom. The Lightwood-Bane log slowly floated one way and the Herondale log, well, it’s fuckin' already sunk into oblivion. There are a lot of reasons, I guess. After how I brutalized Alec as the owl, just being near him plagues me with guilt. Now that Alec spends more time sporting a suit and tie than his bow and arrows, we have few opportunities to interact and we skirt the ones we do. I had been a moping ghost, moaning over Clary for a year (not exactly fun to be around). And now that Alec is a married man, his priority is Magnus . . . it’s no . . .
. . . longer . . .
. . . me.
The admittance is like swallowing sand. Sand infested with maggots and shit. But I would rather eat an entire beach of it than allow this drift to continue to separate us anymore.
I need him.
I need Alec to be physically close to me. So, yeah, if he were a robe I would fuckin' wear him. I'm just gonna own the 'creep-factor' of that. It's fine and if I said it out-loud Alec wouldn't even be creeped-out. Magnus and Clary . . . well, a different story, but they don't have parabatais so they don't get to judge. I just need to be able to reach out and touch Alec anytime, anywhere, as easily as I can touch my own two hands together anytime, anywhere. Our emotional rune connection is not enough. Even though I still feel Alec’s feelings everyday, I need to feel his skin. I need to hear his heartbeat. I need to see his smile. Even from Idris I sense when he is happy and when he is sad, and I always know when he's suffering physical pain which -- compared to me and my active hunting escapades — is not often. Alec can feel my emotions as well, which must exhaust him. I had finally figured out how to live without my 'Clary limb' only to suddenly get her back. When Clary returned Magnus had portaled to her immediately — overjoyed to hug his ‘Biscuit’ again. But Alec? He sent a lame fire message to welcome Clary home. He said he would visit New York when he could. One month later and no visit.
Thinking of New York . . . is that where we are now? Whoever abducted us has gone to a tremendous effort to snag me from the institute and Alec from Alicante. That also means that whoever abducted us has an impressive ability to tear down magical wards. Has Magnus been abducted also? Has Clary? Or is it just ‘Team Parabatai’ alone in this . . . I survey as much of our containment space as I can. We're seated in a very small room. The dimensions can't exceed fifteen by fifteen feet. A small damp, dingy room that reeks of mildew. The floor, walls and ceiling look like cement. The room is barren aside from our chairs; which are also cement and won't be winning 'comfy chair of the year' unless the competition are pin cushions. Hanging dead-center between our heads is a single lightbulb, and a pull-cord suspends from its fixture. How the hell has this one bulb seared the shit outta my eyes? There are no windows or any other sources of light. If there is a door I can't see it, which means it could be behind me, just out of my sight. If there's a door behind me then Alec will be able to see it.
“Hey, Alec, wake up!” I toss my voice at him like a small stone -- I'm not trying to make his ears bleed, just nudge him back to reality.
My parabatai loves to sleep more than he loves pancakes or arrows or --I'd be willing to bet-- sex, but I'd have to check with Magnus on that. A 'sleeping Alec' is a 'happy Alec', and he sleeps like a literal happy, heavy log. Alec sleeps through his alarm, his mother's yelling and even Izzy slamming his door. But my happy, heavy Alec-log has always split from sleep at my faintest call.
Always . . . until right now.
"Parabatai, c'mon! Wake up!" I don't care if his ears bleed, this time I yell. I want my words to peg him like a rock to the head. "ALEC!"
Nothing. Sleeping Beauty continues to dream. I clench my jaw so hard my sinuses pop. Why isn’t he waking up? Has his desk job softened him so much that he can’t battle back from whatever-the-hell knocked us out?
An obnoxious swishing-sound assaults me-- it's like the entire room is gargling mouthwash and-- what the fuck? My body stiffens like a seraph blade. I wish to the angel that I had a seraph blade now; oh, and a free hand would be a bonus. I never did quite master the art of wielding a weapon with my teeth. Someone has magically materialized behind me and I don’t dare to hope that it’s Magnus. I strain my neck to identify whoever our abductor is. Fuck this helpless position! I can’t protect myself, and worse, I can’t protect Alec. My unconscious parabatai is even more defenseless than I am. Once again Alec is the wingless, wounded bird and I'm just the trapped spectator.
A figure moves in front of me. This figure is tall like Alec and has a broad, muscular frame like Luke. There are no identifiable features beyond physique as this figure —whoever or whatever — is concealed by a shroud that wraps his face and body like wearable mist. The hairs prickling on the back of my neck alert me that this is something evil.
I conjure my best ‘annoyed that you have inconvenienced me’ expression and hit the figure with that; it’s not a punch, but I’ve been told my looks can kill. The figure doesn’t flinch. Instead, like a predatory bird, he tilts its head toward me and then cocks it toward Alec. I have to entertain this creature’s attention. I don’t want that thing even looking at Alec.
“Hey there, you fuckin' prick!” I yell like he's kidnapped my BFF and tied him to a chair. “Kidnapping two Shadowhunters, huh? Not your smartest life choice.”
The figure raises a long, black gloved finger to its lips, making a very mundane gesture to be silent. Okay, that’s creepy, but I eat ‘creepy’ for breakfast. This creature’s shrouded-in-mystery act will have to 'dial-up' if it wants to freak me out.
“Listen, I get you wantin' to nab us to add some eye-candy to your drab decor in here, but you’re gonna have to—”
I lose my words as the figure looses his shroud. He is in desperate need of a tan and some botox. He would make a vampire look like a swimsuit model. His complexion is whiter and his skin droopier than melting candle wax. His face is simply offensive, but his eyes . . . okay, those check a box on the ‘freaky chart’. His eyes are like the hides of two glossy beetles, soulless and black. They remind me of Jonathan. I don’t like being reminded of Jonathan. The creature’s hair is darker and longer than Izzy’s, though nowhere near as nice. I doubt that tangled mess has ever met a brush. This thing looks like a classic spooky character from one of Simon’s comic books. Black eyes aside, pretty lame compared to most of the monsters I’ve fought.
Our lame abductor flicks his dark orbs back and forth between me and Alec. He seems intrigued and opens his mouth, speaking with a voice that is distinctly masculine, and could be described as pleasant, if the words weren’t so strange.
“I have gone to great lengths to acquire you both,” the creature announces as though he were sharing good news. “I am curious about your bond.”
Okay, so his words are unexpected and take me aback, though I don’t show it. “Our bond? Do you mean because we're parabatai?”
The thing nods. He seems absolutely delighted by my question, as thought I’ve offered him a cup of tea.
“Listen, buddy, I’m feelin' generous. If you have some questions and you wanna conduct an interview, I’m game and I’ll even give you an autograph. But this whole ‘kidnapping us and dressing us in robes and tying us up thing’, well . . . it’s a stalker-move. Unnecessary.”
“Oh, no, it is quite necessary, young Shadowhunter. You see, the things I want to learn from you will be impossible for you to explain.”
“More creepily vague words.” I exhale my exasperation like it's noxious gas . “Are Alec and I the only subjects of your curiosity? Did you kidnap anyone else?” I can’t bring myself to mention Clary by name.
The creature shakes his head negatively, thank the angel. No one else is at risk.
“I am only interested in your bond. I have no need for the others, they are useless to me. Ah, but you are both so lovely. You are going to be very useful indeed . . .” his disturbing words and eyes drift away from me and fix on Alec. The creature’s large body casts my parabatai beneath a shadow so dark that Alec nearly disappears.
I don’t like the way my adrenaline is spiking! I don’t like the increase in my heart-rate! I don’t like the sweat breaking out on my brow! I don’t like the fact that my body is shifting itself into high alert! My body only does this when . . . when . . . something I don’t like is about to happen.
My attention ping-pongs between Alec’s unconscious face and that of our abductor. Something in the creature’s expression changes. But it's not a nice change like a caterpillar’s metamorphosis into a butterfly; this is like an already ugly moth decomposing into worm food. Only this creature is looking at Alec like he’s the food.