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My Favorite Face

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My Favorite Face

By Maia’s Pen

 

Chapter 1 

(Jace)

 

“I’m serious, Jace, you’re my back-up only this time. When we find the vamps you need to stay outside.” Alec’s tone is wary, and for good reason. But the source of his caution has nothing to do with our hiking through the middle-of-nowhere-Vermont after a renege vampire.

“Yeah, I know. I heard Clary threaten you.” My laughter annoys him just like the mosquitos who’ve been stalking us since we arrived. We seriously do not have bloodsuckers this big in the city, well, at least not of the insect variety. But Alec and I are far from New York City now, at least three-hundred miles north. Magnus created a portal and then dropped us off in an abandoned sugarbush farm. I speak weapons, not farming, but Alec said that ‘once upon a time’ maple trees were grown and harvested here to make syrup. 

In a nut-shell: we’re wandering through some deep-ass woods and it’s a technological miracle that we have cellphone reception. 

The full moon grants a spectacular spotlight on Alec’s ‘woe-is-me’ eye-roll. “Clary said, and I quote, ‘Jace’s perfect face needs to stay perfect for our wedding photos’. Then your charming fiancée added that she would shove a paintbrush up my ass if you come home with a scratch.”

“Sounds like somethin’ you might enjoy.”

“Ha-ha, my parabatai is hilarious.” Alec speaks with the enthusiasm of a rock. And not even like a quartz, like one of those drab-gray-generic driveway stones. “While I’m thrilled for you and Clary, I can’t wait for this wedding of yours to be over.”

“Only two more days, Alec! And then . . . get your pool floaties ready, cuz the tears of New York’s single women are gonna flood the world like Noah’s Ark 2.0.” I stroke my arms through the air like I’m swimming. 

Alec raises a skeptically-entertained eyebrow at my mime-swimming performance. “Oh, there’ll be tears alright, but they’ll be mine. Tears of relief for the wedding to be over. Magnus has been fussing over your wedding details for months now. It’s legitimately givin’ me gray hairs.” Alec clears his throat and does something very disturbing: jazz-hands. He’s impersonating his magical husband, but it looks like he’s been possessed by a puppeteer without any puppets. “Oh, Alexander, darling, do you prefer the virgin-pearl colored napkins or the mother-of-pearl colored napkins?”

I hope my expression does justice to my alarm. “Alec, are you jerking off a giraffe? Please never do that with your hands again."

“Whatever.” Alec flashes me his middle finger. “But, Jace, the wedding details are nonstop. And all the shades of white look the same! I mean, I want you to have nice napkins and chair skirts and—”

“What the hell is a chair skirt?”

“I’m not even sure! But I had to look at fifty white swatches to help pick!”

I make a face like I’ve swallowed a bug and Alec laughs, smiling my favorite smile in the whole world. It’s easier to tug a hamburger from a werwolf than a genuine grin from him, but I’ve spent most of life mastering ‘The Art of Amusing Alec’. My parabatai’s smile not only lights up his face, but lights up my entire life. 

“Sympathies, but,” I pluck a stick from the forrest floor and make a rude gesture toward my ass. “I’d rather take the paintbrush than the party planning. My hair would fall out dealing with that. Be thankful you’re only goin’ gray.” An Alec-teasing-opportunity knocks and I answer with gusto! One of my favorite pastimes is to poke Alec about his cougar husband. “But, hey, speaking of goin’ gray . . . you’ll be twenty-seven this year. You must be creepin’ up on the ‘divorce age’ for Magnus by now. Isn't it time for your beau to trade ya in for a newer model yet?”

Alec pokes back, tone drenched in sarcasm: “Whoa, Herondale, your wit is hot today. Simon better guard his position as ‘most irritating’ in our group.”

“Did you just call me ‘hot’, Lightwood?” I pucker my lips and bat my bedroom eyes. “You know, big boy, I’m still a free man for two more nights.”

“Ew.” Alec turns away so I can’t see him blush, but I know he’s redder than a demon egg. 

Although Alec is a happily married man — and has long-since fallen out of love with me—  I know that he still finds me attractive. And, I dunno, I guess my ravenous ego likes the snack. I would never have faux-flirted with Alec when he was actually into me, that would have confused my sensitive parabatai. But, hell, it’s all just harmless banter now. 

“Back to the presented topic,” Alec says in his ‘official Clave diplomat’ voice. “I do think the stress of the wedding is getting to Magnus. Last week he was massaging my head—”

“Ew.”

“Not that one. He was runnin' his fingers through my hair and totally freaked out because he saw a gray one. You’d think he saw a damn spider layin’ eggs up there with how he reacted.”

“Poor Magpie, he’s gotta experience the ‘stages of grief’ for your youthful beauty, Alec. Oh, it’s tragic really! His perfect sexy-boy-toy had a gray hair! He’s probably gonna give you a magical dye-job in your sleep.”

“Alright, alright,” Alec fails to suffocate his smirk. “Forget it. Enough about my marriage. Let’s just focus on yours happening without a hitch and my dark hairs surviving until then. So remember, I handle the vamps alone and you keep your ‘perfect face’ scratch free. You’re here as my back-up only, Jace, I mean it.”

“Oh, c’mon, Alec, this mission is so vanilla I’m tempted to lick one of these trees for flavoring.” I spread my arms like the branches of one the countless tapped maple trees around us. Encased in darkness these bleeding trees are just slightly creepy. Amber syrup leaks down their trunks like a vamp took a bite and walked away. The maple’s sticky innards have bled-out all over the ground. Great, my boots are covered in this vegan-glue and are gonna look like trail-mix when I get home. I can look forward to picking through the debris for a maple leaf souvenir. 

Up ahead the forest reveals an old wooden barn. The rickety-structure looks as though it hosted a werewolf mosh-pit. Half the roof is caved in. All of the windows and doors have been boarded up. The barn is large though, and in its heyday I bet it housed dozens of livestock. 

“This has to be it,” Alec whispers ‘secret-style’ and his bow and quiver materialize. He draws an arrow and gestures toward the closest tree. “Stay here, Jace. I’m gonna sweep the perimeter. If it looks secure I’ll head in.”

I start to lean against the tree but think better of it. My jacket doesn’t need to collect woodland souvenirs too. “Okay, go get ‘em, paraba-tiger! Your hubby is gonna swoon when I tell him of your valiant efforts to reclaim his stolen treasure.”

Cue eye-roll .  . . yep, Alec never disappoints. In lieu of a goodbye wave Alec flips me his middle finger once more. And then my saucy parabatai melts into the barn’s shadow as though he were a shadow himself. 

Our target bloodsucker stole a priceless artifact from Magnus. Alec says it’s an ancient greek vase. Yes, a vase. I guess it has a naked greek dude painted on it; probably one of Magnus’ ex-lovers. 

For reasons unknown the vamp hi-tailed it north with the vase and Team Parabatai are here to save the day . . . er . . . the x-rated pottery. 

Magnus magic-tracked his vase to this general area. Apparently he has an inside source on the Down World’s antique blackmarket (yes, that is a thing). His intel reported that the vamp was making his way to Canada, but was said to be holed-up in an abandoned barn. The thief is reported to have a small band of vamp counterparts with him; the estimation was five or six. Yawn alert. Alec could have handled this on his own (and probably blindfolded), but with my wedding in two days and then a honeymoon to follow . . . well, I offered to tag along for one last single-man-manhunt-hurrah. Hell, the only thing I’ll be hunting for over the next two weeks will be beer refills in Aruba. 

Magnus-the-wedding-planner is swamped putting his sparkly-final touches our big day, otherwise he would have pursued the thief himself. And, of course ever-dutiful Alec never passes up the opportunity to be a hero for his husband (and evade looking at different shades of pearl napkins). Hence Alec volunteered to retrieve the vase. Daddy Maggy told us to call him when we’re done and he’ll come and get us. 

Talk about a boring, cushy hunt. 

Well . . . boring, cushy and the best hunt.

I’m with Alec after all. My best moments are always with him. Seeing my favorite smile makes me smile. Hearing Alec’s voice relaxes me, even when he’s being an ass. Hell, just breathing the same air as Alec makes my entire body calmer and stronger. Our relationship isn’t one of romantic attraction. Yes, he still finds me hot, and I’m secure enough with my manhood to admit he’s hot. But our attraction — our need for one another — is on cellular and spiritual level. A level that is incomprehensible to anyone who is not us. Do I ‘love’ my parabatai? Fuck yes, I love him. Somehow I love Alec more and more every single day. But my feelings for Alec transcend mere friendship and love. Those are just words. Hell, I’m struggling right now to sort it out in my own head. My body needs his presence like oxygen, no, it’s more than that. I can hold my breath and still retain focus and function, but when Alec is absent I  .  . . I can’t. I’m nothing. A Shadowhunter reduced to a shadow. 

I get that my dependency on Alec is creepy, unhealthy and stalker-ish to everyone except Alec himself. Thankfully the ‘parabatai addiction’ is very mutual. And — as I’m alone under the moonlight feeling reflective — I know that the honeymoon is going to be . . . ‘challenging’ for me. Challenging like trying to arm-wrestle god with my pinky. I’ll be drinking and fucking. A lot. I can distract my physical body to a degree, it’s my soul that can’t get drunk or laid. Alec and I have never gone two whole weeks apart from one another before. But, if I’m feeling ‘clingy’ — a nice word for ‘like I’m going to die’— I can always get a portal home early. Though, I think Clary will shove her entire paintbrush collection up my ass if I do. 

My future-wife ‘gets’ our parabatai bond and . . . she doesn’t. Like Magnus, Clary has simply accepted that my parabatai will always be my everything, and everyone else is simply everything else. 

Maybe Alec wants to go to Aruba too? He could use a tan . . . 

Yeah, Jace, and you’ll be divorced in two weeks if you ask him.

Clary will cram her charcoal pencils up my rectum and use paint as the lube. I’ll be shitting modern art for months. 

I rub my hands together as though the friction can rub away my sentimental brooding. Well, that and I’m chilly. Springtime in Vermont is a lot cooler than springtime in New York City. Oh well, we’ll probably be heading back home in a few minutes. ‘Light-speed Lightwood’ must be close to snagging that vase by now. Hmmm, it’s well-past dinner time . . . maybe Alec wants to grab a pizza —

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Adrenaline ambushes me! A flaming-sucker-punch igniting my bloodstream and urging me into action! But it’s not my adrenaline rush I’m experiencing, it’s Alec’s. My parabatai rune beats like the wings of a drowning bird, the frantic pulses matching Alec’s heartbeat. 

My legs are compelled to run! My lungs are fire! My soul reaches for Alec to save us both from damnation!

I have to find him!

I have to save him!

I have to save us! 

I’m at the boarded-up barn door. I draw my seraph blade and hack the wooden-fucker to bits lumberjack-style! 

Half the roof is missing but the scraps that remain are a visual cock-block for moonlight. I can hear commotion — grunting, gagging— but I can’t pinpoint which direction to head. I pull out my stele and draw the rune of Nyx on my arm. My vision heightens and I can see the busted barn’s interior.

“Shit!” My feet are already catapulting me forward. “Alec!”

My parabatai is on his on his back, ground-fighting with a vampire built like a linebacker. But this linebacker-sized-bloodsucker isn’t the only barn squatter . . . there are at least . . . I look up . . . oh fuck . . .

Magnus’ source said there would only be five or six, but I’m seeing at least fifty or sixty undead. The corpses crawl over the walls like ants swarming a gingerbread house. The vampires notice me, of course, and start hissing — fuck— I’m about to go deaf via snake-pit acoustics! But I don’t dare drop my blade to shield my eardrums.  

The vampire wrestling Alec has gained the upper-hand, he’s maneuvered him into a chokehold and his fangs are bared. 

My parabatai is no vamp’s nightcap!

“Eat this!” I thrust my blade into his nasty-sharp-toothed maw. The monster implodes — dusty, bloody confetti decorating Alec and the floor. 

The barn falls silent as a graveyard. 

“Ambush-ed me-e,” Alec pants, but wastes no time regaining his footing and weapons. 

“We need to go,” I grab his wrist and yank him with me toward the exit. I’m cocky, but not stupid. “We can’t take this many on our own.”

The roar of hissing revives and I know Alec and I are both cursing, we just can’t hear each other. 

“We might not have a choice,” Alec shouts over the insanity-inducing sounds. 

Is it raining snakes?! It’s so loud! 

Oh shit . . . it’s raining alright, and I only wish it was a serpent downpour. Vampire after vampire after vampire after vampire lands on the flooring, splintering the antiquated wood beneath their weight. The monsters are dropping like undead flies — flies that are bigger, faster, and stronger than us, oh and famished for our blood.

Alec’s back presses against mine, pressing reassurance into our bond. We inhale, we exhale, our breathing and heartbeats naturally align. Our parabatai runes blaze like embers beneath our shirts; the heat heightens our instincts and sharpens our reflexes. Then, a force strong enough to fuck over gravity, demands that we protect one another with our lives.

Alec lets loose a barrage of arrows; his own activated Nyx rune ensures that is aim will be spot on. At least three vampires are blasted to bits. I’m not gonna let him out-bodycount me, so I propel forward and impale a vamp to the right, then hack off a forearm to my left. My boot kicks one beast away as my hand jerks another forward and into my blade. Alec and I maintain our practiced battle position the entire time; moving as one honed — extremely handsome — hunting force. 

Though we’re totally surrounded — two frantically flapping birds in a sea of sharks — we’re making headway toward the exit. Plus, c’mon, we’re birds with sharp-ass beaks. 

The moon teases me . . .  rolling out a carpet of safety light. If we can just make it outside we can run, find cover, power-up with runes, survive! 

We are so close to the door, maybe fifteen more steps . . .

I think a piano has dropped on my head. 

My backside is forced to meet the floor, and the floor decides it likes me and fucks me on the spot. SHIT-DAMN-FUCK! The floorboards splinter like an imploding porcupine, stabbing the shit out of my legs and ass.

It isn’t a piano. It’s a huge-hulkuva-vampire. Did someone decide to turn an entire football team into the undead?! This beast and his pot-belly loom over me, and one of his thunder-thighs comes crashing down! I roll outta the way in time to avoid becoming a golden-Jace-pancake. The irony isn’t lost on me that I’d at least have quick access to maple syrup. If it wasn’t so loud in here I’d tell Alec my joke; but I’ll save this witty-ditty up in my ‘Alec-eye-roll-bank’ for later. 

Jumbo Dracula invites his ugly twin, Dumbo Dracula, to wedge between me and Alec. Jumbo shoves me toward Dumbo and the power behind the shove is enough to knock the actual breath from my lungs. My legs buckle. My knees are about to join my ass in getting splinter-fucked when a hand grabs my shoulder and hoists me upward. I look north, grinning appreciatively at my —

“FUCK!”

It’s not Alec. Not unless he’s gotten really, really ugly, really, really fast. Jumbo Drac not only has ahold of me, but he raises his sasquatch-sized boot and stomps down on my right foot. 

The entire universe shatters around me along with every bone in my foot. 

“JACE!” Alec screams as terror and panic double-team him! 

I collapse like a ball of crumpled paper and a sickening-parade of fluids marches outta my body. Sweat trudges down my brow, my back, my legs; tears slip from my eyes; sour bile surges from my stomach, scalding my trachea and mouth with a grand ‘F-U’ on its way. I’m impressed I haven’t pissed myself, but the night is young. My foot could actually be a morbid upside-down parade float now. It’s a sack of flesh filled with blood instead of helium, and attached by raw nerve-endings in lieu of rope. 

Oh shit . . . vision blurring . . . very . . . very bad  . . .

I know Jumbo and Dumbo are leering over me. My instincts warn me that one of them is about to pulverize my face . . .  Clary and her paintbrush are gonna be so pissed . . .

But Alec has protected me (and his own backside). His arrows hit their marks and the explosion of blood-dust rains down. I open my eyes and all that’s left of Jumbo and Dumbo are Alec’s red-fletching arrows. 

Alec grabs me and tosses me into a nearby horse stall like I’m a bag of feed. Oh great, the stall comes complete with actual horse bones. 

I’m on my ass again and Alec’s ass is in my face. He’s standing guard in front of me. Even though I just vomited everything I’ve ever eaten, I can still appreciate that my parabatai does a lot of squats. 

Alec is a work of fitness-and-archery-art. He’s firing off arrows in pace with our heartbeats. His speed and accuracy are otherworldly; he must have runed-up before entering the barn. At least one of us did. But no time like the present . . .  I reach for my stele. Shit! I don’t have it. It must’ve fell outta my pocket during the Jumbo-Dumbo fight. 

“Jace!” Alec calls back; somehow he’s coordinated enough to toss me his stele and not delay his next shot. “You okay? Your face isn’t scratched, is it? Don’t want that paintbrush in my butt.”

“F-face remains perfec-tion, thanks. B-But my foot is bad, Alec. Really bad. Bro-k-e.” My words are broken too. I pull up my shirt to draw an iratze rune near my heart; and then hike up my right pant leg to draw another on my shin, as close to the injury as possible. I don’t dare try and remove the boot because my foot might go with it. My skin literally feels like wet dough. That is if the wet dough was being impaled on a spitfire while scorpions devoured it. My foot is going to need professional medical attention; but the rune’s effect dulls the pain and fortifies my flesh so it’s at least like baked dough. I can speak clearly again. “I don't know how I’m gonna walk down the aisle.”

“I’ll carry you.” Alec says, and he fully intends to do just that. 

“How emasculating.” 

The vampires have paused their assault, probably strategizing on how to avoid Alec’s freakishly-good aim. My parabatai leans against the stall and indulges in oxygen and just being close to me. 

“It can be a piggy-back ride.” Alec offers, a smirk riding his lips. 

“Acceptable since you'd be the piggy. Just not ‘princess parabatai’ style.”

The vamps are scurrying about again. Alec surveys our stall bunker, it’s going to be our tomb if we don’t move. I can tell he’s weighting the pros and cons of a door dash verses trying to break through the wall.

“Wall.” I vote. “This structure is old as shit. The wall will crack if you hit it hard enough.” I gesture behind us to where slivers of moonlight seep through the wooden cracks.  Alec nods, but vamps approach and he's back to throwing big-boy-death-darts. 

“I’ll always carry you, parabatai, even when we’re both old, fat and bald.”

“Old? Fat? Bald?” Each word is a shit-stain on my tongue. “Have you seen your father lately? I think you’re listin’ off your future-self there, buddy. And what makes ya think my legs’ll give out first? You’re older.”

“I’m also faster and smarter. Count Fatula didn’t stomp on my foot, did he?”

I can’t help but laugh, though the act feels like hornets are having an orgy inside my parade-float-dough-foot. 

The vamps stop attacking again, but we hear their voices. They are strategizing. Oh this is bad. 

Alec turns, kicking the wall like it’s his training bag and he’s moody. The wood groans, fracturing like thin ice, and so Alec wails on it again. He strikes until he’s successfully shattered the barrier between us and the woods. Alec hauls me to my left foot, the act shakes my right one like a literal bloody martini. For Alec’s sake I choke down a mouth-full-o-puke — it’s about as pleasant as swallowing a hornet who’s pissed to be missing out on the orgy.

My parabatai wraps an arm around me and I lean against him like a tall-dark-and-handsome crutch. We take off running as fast as a two-headed-three-legged Shadowhunter can run. Unfortunately, our pace of travel would fail to impress a sloth. We aren’t hobble-running in any particular direction, just away from Blood Barn. 

“Sorry about the-the v-vase.” I pant the apology; nausea threatening to overpower me again. Alec knows that every unavoidable jostle whacks my stomach like a pinata.  

“Forget the vase. I’ve got you. Just breathe, Jace.” 

That incessant hissing rumbles from behind us, the vamps are coming! We’re trying to out-limp a raging stormcloud of teeth. 

“Alec, leave me. Please, just run away.” Of course my plea garners no reaction from Alec. I already know that my parabatai will never entertain my self-sacrificing words. He would sooner rip out his own heart for Jumbo and Dumbo to play football with in hell.

Alec inhales deeply, like he’s about to sprint up a mountain, but it’s a conclusive breath. He’s made a tactical decision. My parabatai lowers me down beside the trunk of a large maple. I’m able to scramble to my knees and I reach for my blade — oh, damn-it-all-to-hell . . .  it’s still inside the barn with my own stele! 

I don’t need to ask, Alec tosses me his own seraph blade and I toss him back his own stele. Alec has time to activate his stamina and strength runes, and then, even time runs for its life. 

Alec takes aim with his bow. “Jace, I’m gonna take out as many as possible. You call Magnus. He can track my exact location and bail us out.”

Angel’s mercy, thankfully I still have my phone!

I call Magnus.

It doesn’t even ring . . .

Please leave a message after the tone.’ 

. . . right to voicemail. 

“Alec, it . . . went to . . . voicemail.” The words lodge in my throat like I swallowed dirt. Alec doesn’t flinch, at least not outwardly, he begins releasing arrow after arrow after arrow. My parabatai’s efforts are like throwing twigs into a tidal wave, he can’t stop the vampires from coming. 

“Call him again.” 

I do. 

I’ve choked down the dirt, this word I shout: “Voicemail!”

“What?!” Now Alec’s alarm causes our rune to sear like a sunburn. “He-he said he would be waiting for my . . . just try again. Call him again! He’ll come!”

I call Magnus again. 

I call him three times. 

Then I call Clary. Voicemail. I try Izzy. Voicemail. Out of desperation I scroll through for Simon’s number, but  . . . I don’t get to push ‘call’. 

The typhoon of teeth hits us like a battering ram. There is no long-term defense for us. There are more vampires than there are leaves on this maple tree.

A vampire plows into me; she knocks away my phone so I knock out her fangs and stab her into ash. 

Alec intercepts my next would-be-assaulter and yells to me: “Get behind the tree, Jace! Keep calling Magnus!”

Dammit! My phone was crushed by the plowing-vamp and I have no long-range weapon. I feel like a helpless shit! I can’t fuckin’ stand up! All I can do is lean against the trunk and watch my parabatai protect me. 

Alec is a bad ass. He’s holding his ground against impossible odds. He frees each arrow with conviction; knowing every hit grants us one moment more, here, alive, together. When a vampire overwhelms him, knocking the bow from his hands, Alec gets back up and he fights with twin daggers. Vampire bodies are bursting around him like he’s in a minefield. He slashes until his daggers are wrestled from him. So then he punches. He kicks. He headbutts. He fucking bites one of ‘em. He no longer has an angelic weapon, his rune energy is running thin, and his mortal attacks can’t match pace with the immortals. He knows he’s going to lose, yet he doesn’t give up. Under the moonlight Alec is a blur of black leather and savage blows. A true Shadowhunter. I’m proud of him. My parabatai. My light. My everything. 

I can feel that Alec’s limbs are spent. He’s standing on raw determination. He doesn’t want me to see him fall. Not like this. But the swarm overwhelms him like an avalanche. A hulk-of-a-vamp punches Alec square in his chest; his ribs crack like thunder and, just like that, my parabatai is down. Clawing hands are everywhere; sticking into Alec like thorns until I can barely see him at all within the mass of limbs.

My turn. 

The vampires rush me. I may be on my knees, but I’m not a pussy. I cut through legs, arms and throats like a butcher gone mad! I’m a one-man-massacre until one vamp gets lucky. I’m disarmed. Rough hands seize me, I try to fight them off, but it’s like drowning and punching at the ocean waves. Alec is cursing and hurling threats, but his words are as effective as drowning and cursing and threatening the ocean waves.

I’m dragged several feet forward and then my knees collide with the moist ground. I’m either in a puddle of tree syrup or Alec’s blood. The sticky wetness bleeds through my pants and warms my knees. I’m not a botanist, but I don’t think tree syrup runs hot.

There are at least three vampires holding me on my knees. I’m secured by my wrists, ankles, and someone is bear-hugging me. Extreme overkill as I’m not strong enough to shove away even one. My foot is so beyond fucked, every bone has been crushed to powder. The swelling has exceeded the available space in my boot. Though my foot is useless the nerve-endings are stripped like live-wires. Every time I struggle against my captors my own nervous system punishes me. I feel like I’ve just slammed jugs of vodka and bleach . . .  I’m so dizzy, like my head is at the mercy of some invisible puppeteer who keeps jerking my chin up and down.

Alec flaunts his curse-word vocabulary as he’s forced onto his knees. He’s not struggling because he physically can’t. His fractured ribs have disabled him like my foot has me. He’s right in front of me. We are facing each other; close enough to reach out and hug if our arms weren’t held behind our backs. Our sights connect like powerful magnets, interlocking just like our souls.

Like me my parabatai is being excessively restrained by three vampires. One is behind him securing both of his ankles to the ground; one has her arms wrapped around his torso to restrict his own; and another has her fist in his hair. No one has their fist in my hair though. I’m not sure what their reason is for that . . .

. . . until I am. 

A fourth vampire approaches. He has a lithe build and a youthful, handsome face, for a monster anyway. His skin is paler than the moon and his hair is darker and longer than Alec’s. Unlike the others, who are wearing rags, this vampire is wearing . . . is that a . . . toga?  Who-the-fuck wears a toga, let alone in northern Vermont? This vampire moves like a stormcloud; and he’s decided to hover over Alec. He lays an oddly tender hand on my parabatai’s shoulder and then he grips. Hard. He squeezes Alec’s bicep like the very muscle has wronged him. Alec grits his teeth, too stubborn to scream.

The vamp smiles as though Alec has made him proud. But, apparently, vampires eat what they’re proud of because the monster raises his lips revealing long fangs. The fangs glisten as though freshly polished for dining at Chez Shadowhunter. 

I’ve seen vampires feed enough times to know what’s about to happen. I prepare my mind and my body for Alec to receive a mega-dose of Yin Fen. I’m praying to the angel that these vamps are only going to snack on us. If they wanted us dead I think we’d already be dead.

The female vampire uses Alec’s hair like a handlebar and jerks his neck sideways even more, therefore providing clear access to his jugular vein. For a vampire: nephilim blood direct from the jugular is like drinking the fanciest wine from the holy grail and the rim’s been laced with ecstasy. For some vamps sucking nephilim is even better than fucking. Simon calls it a vampire’s ‘bloody wet-dream’.   

The toga-vampire raises a handkerchief and proceeds to clean all the sweat, blood and dirt from Alec’s neck. What the fuck? He’s fussy about the cleanliness of his flesh plate?! 

I open my mouth to curse at him! Delay him! Divert him! Insult him! Piss him off so he takes a bite outta me instead! But my parabatai knows this and distracts me first. 

“Jace! Look at me!” I do and Alec rewards me by smiling my favorite smile in the whole world. Even with his head forced sideways and dirt smeared over his lips, that smile is fucking gorgeous. “Your face is my favorite face, Jace. You’re perfect. You’re so perfect. The wedding photos, they’ll be great, okay?” Alec’s flattery has ambushed me. One of these vamps must be panting hot air onto my face— oh yea, they don’t breathe, so . . . I’m blushing. Snowmen blush easier than I do, so it must be the wooziness getting to me.

“Magnus?” Alec asks the question even though he already knows the answer, so I say nothing. “He’ll come. He will.” My parabatai’s delivery is confident, but his soul can’t lie to mine. 

The toga-clad vampire hands the handkerchief to one of his underlings, and then his long, ivory fingers find Alec’s biceps again. He grips my parabatai like the steering-wheel to a car careening off a cliff.

My turn to distract Alec: “Your ‘favorite face’ is right here, parabatai. Just indulge. Don’t look away from me. Magnus’ll be here any moment.” My delivery is confident, but my soul can’t lie to his.

The vampire looks at me now, his eyes are bloodshot, and he actually smirks. Fuck, he knows he’s about to sink his fangs into my heart. 

My brave parabatai braces himself for the bite. I sense his muscles contracting like he’s preparing to take a punch. Alec doesn’t close his eyes, he doesn’t beg or plead, he shows no outward signs of weakness. I know his bold facade is all for my sake. But I can feel panic cover him like an airtight sack. 

I inhale and exhale very slowly; reaching through our bond and trying to steady and slow his lungs. But it’s not just phycological panic I’m combating . . . shit . . . at least one of his ribs has punctured a lung. I can sense it and I can hear it as Alec's breathing becomes more labored. I have to convince these vampires to free us immediately. Alec needs an iratze and medic. And he needs them soon.

Alec’s eyes hold me the way his arms wish they could. If I could breathe for him, I would! If I could rip out my own lungs and shove them inside him, I would!

“Please, listen to me,” I channel my inner-Alec and use the calmest, most diplomatic tone I can. “My friend is injured very badly. If you want to feed, feed on me. I won’t resist. But let him go. We are Shadowhunters from the New York Institute and you don’t want to accidentally kill him. If you do you’ll have every Shadowhunter in North America after you.” 

The vampire ignores me and his mouth crashes upon Alec like a two-pronged axe. Alec lets out the most desperate, helpless little cry I’ve ever heard him make. 

The vampire is fixed to my parabatai like demonic-tick. He digs his fingers into Alec’s shoulders and has his way with his throat. The feeding is an immediate frenzy. The vampire has probably never tasted nephilim before.

Alec blinks and releases a stream of tears. I can feel his senses dulling as the Yin Fen begins to dilute his senses. He’s aware that he’s being fed on; he’s terrified; he’s frustrated that he can’t save me, but . . .  his eyes begin to change. Those brown orbs fade from alert to tired. His overpowering determination begins to weaken. It’s a sort of twisted mercy for him, but not for me. 

It only takes seconds for the Yin Fen to fully saturate Alec's bloodstream. The rapture wraps him like a death shroud. I’ve watched Alec fall asleep countless times over our lives. I remind myself that sleep is happening now. Alec is just falling asleep. That's it. The vampire wants to feed, and when he’s full he’ll let Alec go. He’ll be banged-up, need a transfusion, but he’ll be okay.

I watch as Alec flinches against it — an anesthetized insect in the spider’s web — but the pull to close his eyes is stronger than a blackhole.

Even within his Yin Fen haze Alec looks at me. Our bond is his lighthouse. He’s petrified to look away, if he does, he may loose sight of our light, of me . . . forever. I can’t look away either. My sight will not abandon my parabatai.  

Alec opens his mouth and I know he wants to call for me, but his body simply can’t. He wants to die in my arms, but my eyes will have to do. 

“. . . s . . .s-sor-ry . . .” 

Alec has been reduced to a fucking mouse. 

I can barely hear him! His fractured, pathetic word enrages me! 

NO! 

Alec’s lingering emotions beat our souls bloody. He hates himself for being unable to save me. He’s pleading for my forgiveness, he’s sorry, so so sorry that . . . that he’s about to . . . about to . . . 

Leave me.

“ALEC! ALEC, NO!” 

Blood black as tea gushes down Alec's neck, torso and legs. His blood is gushing faster than the vampire can drink it. The three vampires restraining him lap up the excess as it slides south! It’s like Alec is just some life-sized bloody popsicle! 

The pulsating of my parabatai rune fades from frenetic to faint. The drowning bird’s wings are tired.

A gong of truth bangs within my skull. 

I’m not watching a feeding, this is a killing. 

The vampire never intended to stop. 

No, no, nonononononooooo! This isn’t happening!

I need to focus. I need to activate my runes. 

C’mon, pure-angel-blood-golden-eyes-glowing-kick-ass-Jace! Come the fuck out! PLEASE! Why does Clary have to be around for this to work?! Why can’t I activate my runes now?! NOW when power is needed more than EVER before?! 

I NEED TO SAVE ALEC!  

My angelic power relies on Clary to surge; but my body, heart and soul need Alec in order to survive. 

I can’t live without him. 

Despite wanting and wishing and pleading and praying for my runes to aid me they just . . . don’t. 

Without a stele my runes are as useless as mundane tattoos. 

I can’t save Alec.

“No! No! Please! Please drink me! KILL ME! Alec! Alec! You can’t leave me!” I scream! I buck! I struggle against the vampires holding me! My efforts are pathetic and only further destroy my right foot.

My parabatai can’t die like this . . . on his knees in the dirt, helpless . . . he can’t die like this, he can’t die at all! 

Alec! Alec! ALEC!”

His facial muscles and shoulders relax now. He’s stopped fighting. I know he hears my cries, but they are so distant for him. I’m like the ghost he’s becoming. The color of his skin has changed, he looks ashen, like he hasn’t seen the sun in years. Alec’s lashes start to flutter, he’s still gazing toward me, but I don’t know if he even sees me anymore. 

The underling vampires release Alec. Toga-vampire easily holds him on his own. Alec’s own puppeteer has cut the strings supporting his limbs and his arms swing forward and slump to his sides. His body is twitching strangely, ever-so-slightly, like he’s short-circuiting. 

And now my bodily fluids don’t just march outta me, they FUCKING RUN! Fluids flee my body like the devil is chasing them out! Sweat, tears, vomit, and yes, this time I do piss myself. 

THE PAIN! 

All of my internal organs must be combusting at once! The devil has punched his fist directly through my parabatai rune! His boiling fingers have greedily seized ahold of my innards and yanked them, disemboweling me, spilling my organs like worthless coins. 

But the devil isn’t satisfied with my mortal bits, he wants my soul too. And those hellfire-claws take what they want. The devil exercises a scream from my lungs that will deafen every angel on high. Then he rips out my lungs too. But my heart and brain, nah, he leaves those. He leaves my heart a tattered, mangled mass of meat like my foot. And he arranges my brain so that all of my memories from tonight are positioned at the forefront, chained there forever. 

I long for the mercy of an agony rune. My eyelids are smoldering anvils, I blink to relieve the boiling tears, but when I re-open them I don’t see Alec behind his eyes anymore. His pupils have dilated, expanding like spilled ink on pearl-colored napkins.

I’ve seen countless lifeless eyes over my short lifetime. It’s like god has simply unplugged the brain, halted all electricity and caused a permanent power-outage. I hate seeing lifeless eyes, but they are unavoidable for a Shadowhunter. I’ve become accustomed to seeing them not seeing me. 

Until now.

Seeing Alec’s light go dark . . . feeling him go dark within me . . . I want to go dark too . . . please, angel, devil . . . someone, anyone, just end me . . . why aren’t they killing me too . . . just let me stay with my Alec . . . where thou diest, I will die . . . please let me follow him, let me follow my light . . . please . . . 

The light of my life has gone out.

My favorite smile in the whole world is gone.