Their first warning should have been the tracking.
The mission had been a routine one; at least until the Shadowhunter they'd been trying to track down had disappeared on a ship somewhere in East River. No one had been able to find him after that and the Clave was desperate enough to try just about anything.
No one's tracking had worked so far. Alec and Jace had tried, Magnus had tried, at least two other parabatai pairs from the New York Institute had tried their hand at it and it had been futile. That hadn't stopped anyone, of course - the man was one of the many leftovers from Valentine's newly ascended Shadowhunters and chasing them down was the Clave's priority, so more and more attempts had been made and finally, something cracked.
Alec flinched away from Jace as the image flashed in front of him, fading away as soon as their hands separated. It was gone, but it didn't matter; he recognised the place.
"What?" Isabelle - who hadn't looked away from the city camera monitors for a good while - swirled around to look at them. "Did he show up?"
"Yes." Jace sounded about as confused as Alec felt, but he'd pulled himself together sooner. "He's still on a ship, but he's not too far." He gave her the address and Isabelle wrote it down, too busy with her investigation to note the obvious. Alec wasn't as lucky; he chanced a look in Jace's direction and his parabatai shrugged in return. There was no explanation. It hadn't worked before and technically, it shouldn't have worked now, but he wasn't about to complain. After the war had ended, their little group had earned themselves the respect that people usually gave to war heroes - that was what they were, after all - but the additional helpful deed was never unwelcome for someone trying to re-establish himself as Head of the Institute. Alec knew that he still had a long way to go, but he wasn't about to let that stop him.
"I'll go tell Lydia the news," Isabelle said, jumping out of her station and leaving the control room before Alec had had the chance to say anything else. Not that she needed his permission; she ran things here about as much as he did, even if she did so unofficially.
He still couldn't quite believe that he'd restored his position, even if he shared it with Lydia now. It was more or less the ideal situation - they both got the Institute they'd wanted to have control of without getting married and they'd had few disagreements along the way. Things were running as smoothly as they possibly could given the circumstances and New York had slowly started to shake off the remnants of the Mortal War off of itself and cases such as this one were the only remaining ghosts they had to take care of.
Of course, a lot had changed. Alec was reminded of one of the most obvious changes - the one he could never quite stop thinking about - when Jace turned to him.
"What was that?"
"I don't know." Alec still felt the static on his fingers; a side effect of tracking that he hadn't experienced before. It filled him with unease and Alec did his best to push it away. They'd got the job done. That was all that mattered. "Maybe we've just got stronger."
It was a feeble explanation and Jace's expression said as much. "It felt like-"
"Magic," Alec finished for him. "I know."
Parabatai tracking didn't work quite like the one done by Warlocks. It was angelic power fuelled by their bond instead of demon heritage and on a normal day, it felt nothing like magic. But he'd seen it too; the small, hesitant bright blue spark that had hovered over their joined hands just as the tracking had finally worked.
The parabatai bond and its inner workings had been explained to both of them in detail before they'd stepped into the ritual, but a lot had been left out. There were rules that had to be followed; laws that they had to take heed of and no one had bothered to explain what would happen if they didn't. There were just whispers; half-forgotten legends of the parabatai who'd had their runes taken away from them for their sins, but not one of them mentioned why. When Alec had brought it up, Jace had waved his concern off.
"The Clave needs to stay in control," he'd said, relaxed and carefree as he'd run his fingers through Alec's hair. "Everyone knows how strong parabatai bonds are; what happens if they get even stronger?"
"That's exactly what I asked." Alec had snapped. It was unfathomable to him how his parabatai could take everything in stride so easily, but he was just a bit jealous of that ability. "What if there are side effects; what if-"
"Like what? The two of us becoming even better in battle? I don't know about you, but I don't see anything bad about that." Jace had laughed and, when Alec hadn't followed his example, his expression had darkened. "If you're really that worried, we can call this off. I understand; I wouldn't want my runes removed either and if you think we could get caught-"
Alec had kissed him then, the thought of separating himself from Jace voluntarily ridiculous enough to put an end to any fear that he might have had.
Looking back, Alec was never sure how they'd ended up like this. The war had been long and messy and devastating and no one had came out of it the same but - despite having a very clear memory of their first kiss; the first time Jace had slept in his bed once they'd came home; the first time Alec had realised that whatever they had was bound to last - he still couldn't wrap his mind around the fact that their weakened bond followed by forced separation had somehow ended up with this; with Jace in his arms the first time they'd been allowed to talk to each other after he'd been brought back to the Institute. There had been so much desperation and so much relief in his eyes (and love, Alec had realised, even if it had taken him a while to recognise it) that even remembering it hurt.
But that was all it was now - phantom pain from a suffering that had passed. Jace was here now and, what was even more important, he was safe. From Valentine, from the Clave, from anyone that might have tried to hurt him. It made Alec's worries even more prominent - even if his relationship with Jace was the best thing that had happened to him after the war (or at all, if he was honest with himself), he knew that he would give it up in a heartbeat if it meant not risking any damage on their bond.
Still, he allowed himself to be pulled away from his thoughts as soon as Jace reached nudged his shoulder.
"If you stay here a bit longer, you'll be late to your report for the Inquisitor and I don't think you want to miss out on getting all the credit again."
"Look who's talking." Alec returned Jace's teasing. He'd seen through his attempt at distracting him and he was letting it work, too happy to dwell on the what-ifs. "Come on; you have to come too. You're not getting out of the meeting so easily."
Alec was in the middle of a battle when he felt it for the first time.
He was used to feeling Jace’s presence, especially when they were fighting. It wasn’t something he could explain to anyone else; it was like Jace’s own movements were somehow echoed in his own and it was always reassuring to know that he was there. But that was all it was; a subtle confirmation that he was okay.
Alec obeyed, mostly out of instinct, and heard the quiet hiss of demon blood over Jace’s seraph blade. He turned around, stabbing the next one coming their way in a movement so familiar that he could afford letting his thoughts stray.
Jace’s voice hadn’t sounded like it usually did. Or rather, it hadn’t sounded at all.
This is new. The thought was intrusive and very clearly not his and Alec focused on killing the last remaining demon before he let himself listen again. Can you hear me?
Yes. Alec tried to mimic whatever it was that Jace had done and imagined pushing the word in his direction. It worked; he could hear a much more physical gasp from Jace.
“How does this work?” Jace cleared his throat as he cleaned his blade. “No one’s told us about that.”
“That’s because it’s not supposed to happen.” Silence stretched on both levels of the conversation and Alec looked up from his own weapon. “You know it isn’t.”
“I don’t know anything,” Jace persisted. “And neither do you. Maybe we’re just- unique. My blood-”
“If your blood had anything to do with this, it would have started when we swore the oath.” When Alec had first heard about Jace’s additional angel blood, he’d spent some time thinking about that – of what could have possibly happened with their bond – but he hadn’t come up with anything out of the ordinary. It wasn’t like he could be sure, though; Jace was right – they’d only been given the basics and no parabatai bond was the same. Everyone said that.
And yet, telepathy was just a bit out of the ordinary.
“Alec, look at me.” Alec had been lost enough in his thoughts to not notice that Jace had backed him into the nearest wall. They were in a dark alley and it looked like it was about to rain soon, but he obliged nevertheless. Jace was looking up at him with enough intensity to make him forget about anything else. “We’ll be fine. Even if there really are side effects to this, it’s only making things better for us, right? And even if they didn’t, I wouldn’t let that stop me.” His hands were splayed over Alec’s chest, smoothing down his jacket. “I love you.”
“Me too.” It felt as if he’d lost a battle; one with himself, Alec thought bitterly.
Jace's fingers curled into his jacket and he pressed himself closer for a kiss. Alec leant forward, letting him in as the fight went out of him. Not that he'd fought very hard; every moment apart from Jace seemed to get more and more unbearable with every passing day and Alec felt the sentiment returned through their bond as Jace bit down on his lower lip hard enough to break the skin. Alec's arms curled around his waist and he pressed his parabatai against his body, eager to feel his warmth; to be allowed to taste more.
We're together, aren't we? The thought didn't feel quite so foreign this time around. Whatever happens, we can deal with it.
Of course. It was easy, so easy to talk to him like this, without uncomfortable silences and unsaid doubts. Together.
They got used to it after that. Distances didn't seem to matter and talking without actually talking was more convenient than Alec had expected, so they kept it up. It didn't extent to anyone else, but that didn't stop Jace from applying the newly discovered ability to its limits until Alec could feel the connection between their minds as physically as the one between their souls. It was fascinating enough for Alec not to notice when it had started becoming obvious to everyone else. Isabelle was the one to bring his attention to it - not because she'd been the first to notice, she suspected, but because she was the only one who always told him everything to his face.
"Have you and Jace been fighting again?" she asked him in the training hall one day. There was no one else but them, but she kept her voice low anyway. "Because if you have, you might want to sort it out and tone down the soulful gazing over the conference table. It's starting to get a bit obvious."
Panic clutched at Alec's lungs, robbing him of his breath before he could answer. All he managed was a snort that was meant to sound amused but instead came out a bit as if he was suffocating. "It's nothing. It's just something we're trying to figure out." A beat. "Is it really that obvious?"
"Not really," Isabelle shrugged, taking off her gloves to sit down on the nearest bench. "Clary noticed, but she notices everything. She asked me if it's just another Parabatai thing. Had to tell her that it isn't, but I felt like she knows something I don't, so I pushed a bit and she told me something that Jace's told her and that, for some reason, you haven't told me."
The panic was swiftly replaced by guilt and Alec sat down next to his sister with a deep sigh. "I trust you, Iz," he started. It was true, and the easiest way to get on Isabelle's good side after hiding something from her was to tell her the truth. "But telling one more person felt- It felt like too much. And I was right. If Clary told you-"
"Come on, it's Clary," Isabelle interrupted him. "And it's not like she's spreading the news around the Institute. And she only told me because I was the one asking."
That would have made enough sense all on its own, but it made Alec falter. "You've been getting close, haven't you?"
"We've been close ever since she arrived." It wasn't like Isabelle to evade anyone's questions, especially his - in fact, Alec was sure that over the years she'd shared with him more than he'd strictly wanted to know - and it made him suspicious now.
"Closer than that," he persisted. "If you want her to be your parabatai, you should hurry up."
"I would have asked her already if that's what I wanted," Isabelle pointed out. "I don't want to wait until the last possible moment. But no. That's not what it is."
"It's not?" It took Alec a moment longer to let the thought sink in and then he smiled. "When did that happen?"
She raised an eyebrow, clearly surprised by the unusual interest. "Suddenly you want me to talk about my love life?"
Alec nodded. The idea of his sister and Clary wasn't as surprising as he'd expected it to be and it made him realise how absorbed he'd been with the twists in his own life in the last few months - the Institute suddenly back in his hands, Jace, the changes in their parabatai bond; all of the things that had made him forget to pay attention to anything else. He didn't want to let it happen again. The Angel only knew how long they had left; he had to make every moment count. The war had made that more than clear and Alec was sure that he wouldn't forget it any time soon. "Tell me all about it."
The knowledge that their little group of friends were all aware of his and Jace's relationship was more comforting than Alec had expected it to be. Both Clary and Isabelle knew, and he'd told Magnus about it since day one. Or, rather, Magnus had figured it out on his own. He knew Alec well enough to be able to tell - they'd got closer during the war and had remained so afterwards, even if their attempt at a relationship hadn't survived the stress of it. Alec hadn't wanted to lose him and, to his surprise, Magnus had felt the same way. It drew him closer to the Institute and even his mother had started warming up to the Warlock. Alec suspected that it was mainly because he'd made it clear that they were just friends and cringed at the thought. If only she knew how much worse it is now.
But she didn't, and neither did his father. Lydia didn't, either; Alec trusted her as co-Head of the Institute, but he'd never trust her with something like this. He didn't feel too bad about it; he tried to stay out of her private life as much as possible and preferred if she did the same, no matter how much he liked her.
It lulled him into a false sense of security, as having control over things usually did. Alec always tried to make sure that everything in his life was in order, and it was now; just enough for him to become too sure that nothing could possibly go wrong.
The words came out in a hushed whisper as soon as Jace closed the door of Alec's office behind his back, but Alec didn't look up from his report. He'd been writing it for an hour already and was determined to finish it before dealing with anything else, no matter how urgent. "Jonathan who knows what?"
"Carstairs." The name was common enough for Shadowhunters for Alec to have to think for a moment before remembering the man in question. "He knows."
Suddenly, the report wasn't all that interesting. "How?"
"I don't know." Jace sank in the chair on the other side of the desk, face buried in his hands. "But I'm sure. The way he was looking at me during training... maybe he heard us talking, or saw me coming into your room, or maybe- I don't know, but I don't know what to do, Alec, it's-"
"Hey." Alec stood up from his place, rounding the desk to spin Jace's chair around and pry his hands away from his face. "It's going to be fine. I can fix this." Jace's eyes were wide and he looked more panicked than Alec had ever seen him. It mirrored the storm raging in Alec's mind at the mere thought of the consequences of being discovered, but he tried not to let it show. "Maybe we can be more careful, but I can handle it this time."
Lying to one's parabatai wasn't a good idea even under usual circumstances and with a bond as intense as theirs had become, it was completely pointless. Jace knew that there were very few things he could do to make things right, but he was trying to believe him regardless and the amount of trust that required felt like a shot to the heart. I won't let you down. I promise, Jace.
"I'll figure something out," he added out loud for good measure and started thinking.
As if the current issue wasn't enough for Alec to lose sleep over, the parabatai bond kept changing in ways they could never see coming; magic showing up in spikes they couldn't predict. It was what led him to Magnus's flat one night in the midst of winter, freezing and desperate for answers he wasn't sure he was going to get.
"Alexander!" The front door opened and Magnus appeared behind it, only to freeze a moment later. "What's wrong?"
"Why would anything be wrong?"
"You just look- different."
Alec hadn't seen the Warlock in a while and supposed that it was natural for him to see a change that the rest of the habitants of the Institute didn't - after all, they saw him every day. Still, the comment made him a little defensive for reasons Alec preferred not to dwell into. "Different how?"
"Tired." Magnus had never been one to hold back when he had something to say and Alec liked seeing him being true to himself, even if it was on his expense. "Would you like something to drink?"
It wasn't a very good idea, Alec supposed, but, "Yes. Thank you."
He hadn't come for small talk and he was sure that Magnus could tell that much, but neither of them spoke as he watched the Warlock make their cocktails. Alec let himself space out for a moment. He hadn't realised how refreshing it was to not be surrounded by the Institute with its countless cameras and glass walls; how good it felt to not be constantly watched. Or constantly afraid, his mind supplied, but Alec pushed the thought down.
"You didn't call." Magnus was the first one to speak, voice so careful that Alec had to ask himself if he really looked as wrecked as he felt. "Did something unexpected happen? Not that I mind the company," he added. "But I have a client in half an hour and Shadowhunters tend to make Vampires nervous."
"I can go if you want me to," Alec suggested. All of a sudden he wasn't sure he wanted an answer to any of his questions, let alone the most pressing one. Magnus just shook his head and handed him the glass. Alec downed half of it in one gulp, wincing at the trail of fire that the alcohol burned down his throat, but grateful for the effect it had nevertheless. He'd needed something to shock him into speaking and if that was it, then so be it.
"What do you know about parabatai magic?"
"As much as you do, I suppose," Magnus said after a moment of silence. "It's relatively limited. It's mostly used for tracking, isn't it?"
"It is, but-" Alec's voice faltered. "It's been different recently. I've heard that a High Warlock can recognise the magic in someone else when he sees it, and I was wondering, can you feel it? Now?"
"From you? No." Magnus's voice suggested that the idea was ridiculous, but Alec could see the confusion he was trying to cover up. "Even if you did have magic, it would be quite different from a Warlock's. But I can still check if you want."
"I'd like that." Alec stood up, linking his hands with Magnus's the way he had when he'd first given him his strength. The feeling was different now; instead of letting his own power mix with the magic, Alec could feel it slipping into the essence of his being, looking for something he'd desperately been trying to hide for weeks now.
"There is something," Magnus said, his eyes still closed. "I'm not sure I'd call it magic, but it's there. And it probably shouldn't be. Do you feel anything out of order?"
I think it's burning me up inside, Alec wanted to tell him, and I don't know how to stop it. But he didn't have the strength to say the words out loud. He didn't even have the strength to think them loud enough for Jace to hear, so he just nodded.
"No," he shook his head, avoiding the Warlock's questioning gaze. "Nothing."
Alec's mind was so occupied with Jonathan Carstairs and trying to confirm Jace's theory over the next week that he barely noticed when things started slipping out of control. He could feel the changes - they were faster in battle, and more efficient, but there was a feverish edge to it, as if both he and Jace were standing on a precipice ready to fall off at any second. It had put a strain on their bond that hadn't appeared since Valentine's meddling with it and sometimes Alec was sure that that was the only thing that kept them above water. The memory of all the times they'd almost lost one another only made things more intense and Alec wasn't sure how long they were going to be able to take it.
The first actual display of magic had happened one night when they'd been together. Alec had been the one to sneak into Jace's room for a change and he would have been too busy kissing down his parabatai's neck to notice that something had changed if it hadn't been for Jace's gasp, sharp and shocked.
"What is it?" he asked immediately, looking up only to see Jace looking down at his hand where it was gripping his shoulder. "Did I hurt you?"
"No." Jace cleared his throat and sat up. "No, it's fine. I just- I thought I felt-"
Alec surveyed him carefully, frowning at the red fingerprints over Jace's skin where he'd held him just a moment ago. No matter how he looked at it, they looked like burn marks and the thought made him draw away. Jace didn't let him get very far; instead, he reached out and took Alec's hand in his.
"Alec, look. Look."
Alec stared down at his palm, fascinated by the way blue flashes ran through his fingers. Magic. There was no other word for it; not one that he could think of, anyway.
"That's not possible," he said, but he couldn't look away. He could feel the magic, running like liquid lightning through his veins and he willed it to stop. It did - or at least it wasn't visible anymore - but that wasn't enough to lessen the shock of it. "I asked Magnus; he said that it couldn't be like this."
"You've talked to Magnus about this?" Jace had tensed, suddenly; Alec could feel it in every muscle in his body. "If you were worried, you could have told me."
"And you would have done what exactly?" Maybe it was Jace's mood affecting him, but Alec felt himself getting agitated as well. "Neither of us knows that much about magic, because it shouldn't be happening. I thought you trusted me to make things right."
"I trust you," Jace insisted. Almost out of habit, Alec reached through their bond and realised that he was being honest. "I'm not sure I trust your judgement."
"When do you ever trust my judgement?" The words stung enough for Alec to feel it on his end too, but he couldn't stop. He could tell that they were just feeding each other's anger, but the tension that had been piling up in his body was enough for him to feel himself snapping.
"You really want to start this now?" Jace replied, standing up from the bed to point an accusing finger in Alec's direction. "After everything we've gone through, Alec, don't you think-"
The rest of the sentence was lost as Jace doubled over and clutched at his side.
"Jace?" Argument already forgotten, Alec rushed to him, trying to steady him before he fell. "Jace!"
"It's nothing," Jace mumbled, but didn't look up. Alec followed his eyes to their rune, burning bright red and he lifted his shirt to see that his own rune was in similar condition.
"It's not nothing." Alec's voice sounded flat to his own ears, but he didn't make the effort of masking how shaken he felt. "It's late. I should go."
"We'll talk tomorrow," he added, slipping out of Jace's room and into his own as soon as he made sure that the corridor was deserted.
Whatever had happened had felt like a warning. Even if he tried to deny it, Alec knew that they'd been seconds away from physical violence and their bond had felt it too, as if it had gained sentience somewhere in the last five minutes.
It was just the stress, he told himself. They were both on edge; that was all. And it wouldn't last long. It didn't matter how; he'd end it tomorrow.
One of the upsides of regaining his position was the fact that Alec was allowed to pick his own missions. Usually that meant teaming himself up with either Jace or Isabelle and Clary - or all of them at once - but he'd made an exception today. He and Jonathan were on their own. The threat wasn't big enough to require more than two of them and plus, he hadn't wanted Jace to be here for this.
They'd just found the demon's nest in an abandoned warehouse and Alec tried to stay in the shadows as they looked for the demon itself. There were many things he could have done before they'd even arrived here. Contrary to popular belief, Alec could be subtle when he wanted to be. He could have talked to Jonathan and convinced him that he had misunderstood whatever it was that he'd seen. He could have asked Magnus for a memory spell; he'd visited him the other day anyway. He could have made himself seem sympathetic enough for Jonathan and hope that even if he'd wanted to report his suspicions, he'd change his mind. He could have done just about anything, even if the feeling of unease would have remained. None of his solutions felt sure enough and Alec had thought about it enough to know that none of them would put his worries to rest, so he'd barely said a word on their way here. Instead, he kept his bow at the ready as he saw the demon approaching behind Jonathan's back and he lingered for a moment, releasing the arrow just a second after it was too late.