They had thought it to be Raziel itself, at first – an angel descended from the skies, with huge wings seemingly made of pure gold coming out of its back and whose feathers were sharper than daggers, able to cut through skin and leather alike. It barely looked human, with its golden eyes and golden runes, and its appearance was even more terrifying upon closer look: pieces of skin were gone from its face and its chest, leaving bones and golden blood visible to everyone. Scars of light gold marred its pale skin – the scars of a fighter. A torn shirt that might have been black barely covered its chest, leaving its left flank visible to all, bones and muscles included. Only its leather pants and boots seemed fit enough for fighting, but the apparition didn’t seem to care: it wielded a pure Seraph blade and was deadly with it, piercing through Shadowhunters’ rank as if it was mere butter.
On its first appearance, they had thought it here to deliver a message – or perhaps divine justice – but they couldn’t have been more wrong. It was here to destroy them, and the Angels weren’t behind his presence on the battlefield.
No, the truth behind its existence was far more horrifying.
Victor Aldertree was a preoccupied man.
His time at the New York Institute was nothing like he had expected – insubordination growing in the ranks of the Shadowhunters included – and being catapulted into the position of war leader hadn’t been a development he had enjoyed. Maryse Lightwood was eager enough to help him, but he didn’t trust her – not enough with those matters, in any case. The other Clave’s envoy was useful and ready enough to follow his orders, but she had loyalties of her own – loyalties that he was careful enough not to go against.
Not given the latest developments.
Sighing, he looked at the papers spread out on his desk, wondering what his next move was going to be. He was threading a very dangerous path, he knew it, and the Clave had given him full freedom to do as he pleased on a very particular matter – one that had seen Shadowhunters opposing him publicly, and he hadn’t been able to deal out punishment as he would have wanted to.
Well, not to everyone involved. One person especially was in a situation so particular that he was slowing running out of ideas as to which attitude he should adopt. War times were a good excuse to reinforce the Law and severely punish insubordination, but here and now, given what was happening… Something had to be done, but he wasn’t sure what to do. Two paths were lying ahead of him, both with dire consequences, but he needed some help to make a decision – not that he could admit it out loud to anyone. He was, after all, the Head of the New York Institute, and it was his cross to bear.
“You wanted to see me.”
Victor raised his eyes from the file laid out on his desk, a frown on his face, exhaustion marking his traits. He hadn’t even heard the door opening or the Shadowhunter walking into the room – and it might very well have caused him serious problems, had she been a foe instead of an ally.
Lydia Branwell was standing in front of him, arms crossed, looking as displeased to be in his office as she could get away with.
Not that he would blame her, given the situation.
“Yes. Please come in and close the door.”
He stretched on his chair, feeling his vertebras crack, while she complied in silence before placing herself in front of his desk, a miffed look still present on her face. Her soft spot for her former fiancé had caused some frictions between them, but now, it might prove itself useful – hopefully.
“You’ve conducted a review of the Shadowhunters of the Institute while you were the envoy in charge,” he said in a dispassionate tone, careful to keep his intentions hidden, before looking through the sheets of papers spread in front of him. “And you sent it to the Clave not long before your weeding was supposed to take place.”
“I did,” she said in a cautious tone, slightly frowning, her posture not relaxing one bit. “Why?”
Victor sighed before crossing his fingers, his eyes fixed on her.
“What about him?” she answered briskly, but not before wincing a little.
Not surprising, given the latest event. He had lost all control on his latest mission – sent as a diplomatic envoy to a clan of vampires – and had almost killed one of them with his bare hands. Four Shadowhunters had been necessary to take him down before something worst happened – before more Downworlders decided to definitively turn their backs on the Clave.
The situation was concerning, to say the least.
“You’ve reviewed his behavior while you were there. I recall he was one of the primary targets of the Clave’s investigation, wasn’t he?” He waited for her to nod before going ahead. “So, what can you tell me about him?”
Lydia hesitated for a moment, before her loyalty to the Clave finally won out – and he knew he could count on her to give a fair assessment.
“What happened on his last mission was a highly unusual behavior. The Institute was running rather smoothly every time his parents made him the acting Head, and he has always taken his responsibilities very seriously. Missions were duly sanctioned and there are no reports of issues with Downworlders – be it misconduct or false accusations.” She paused for a second before adding in a dryer tone “Some of the older Shadowhunters have complained about it, but only in an informal setting. As for his own personal record, he is a very efficient Shadowhunter; of course, his biggest strength lies in archery, but his stats at hand combat are really good. And as you probably guessed, the biggest problems arose with Clary Fairchild’s arrival.”
She stopped for a moment and Victor hummed, perusing through the reports to his left. All reviews of Alexander Lightwood’s behavior – both as a Shadowhunter and as the acting Head of the Institute in his parents’ absence – had been more than satisfying, and the most recent one had even praised his talents at being a leader. The Fairchild’s girl arrival had thrown a wrench into the situation – one that had gotten some members of the Clave rather dissatisfied…
“Clary Fairchild,” Victor repeated, encouraging Lydia to go ahead with a nod.
Her sigh was nothing he hadn’t expected, but it still confirmed his suspicions.
“A great deal of unsanctioned missions had taken place since she arrived, as you’re aware –”
“This is why the Clave sent you here,” Victor confirmed.
“Insubordination,” Lydia uttered with pinched lips. “I went through the cameras recordings, and interviewed people around the Institute. Clary Fairchild never showed any interest in any of our rules or customs, and she has been encouraged in this behavior by Jace Wayland and Isabelle Lightwood. He, especially, has been the driving force for their unsanctioned missions.”
“So, Lightwood couldn’t stop them and decided to go with them instead?” Victor asked, sure he had gotten the situation right, but wanting to heard it out loud nonetheless.
He, too, had checked the cameras recordings and had talked with the Shadowhunters of the Institute – who had presented him with a united front on that particular topic. The trio made of Jace Wayland and the Lightwoods siblings had been rather popular, and no one had had a bad word to say about Alexander Lightwood’s leading abilities, which hadn’t surprised him. Stern but fair, and a skilled fighter too – the kind of soldier the Clave was looking for. Of course, no one would have been complaining about him – especially not people who had seen him grown and had known the Lightwood family as the Head of the Institute, had respected them.
“More or less, until Isabelle’s trial,” Lydia said, and her shoulders hunched a little.
Victor sighed before sitting more comfortably in his chair. All his suspicions had been confirmed so far, and he could feel the weight of the Clave hovering over him.
“And did you ever notice something… unusual about the parabatai bond?”
She told him of the tracking incident and Victor nodded, writing a few notes into his carnet. He had a little hypothesis of his own, but still needed more information to make his decision – and have enough justification to present to his superiors once they would call for it…
Isabelle Lightwood’s fondness for the Downworlders was a well-known fact – and something he was already taking advantage of, although she hadn’t realized it yet. It had been easy enough to pretend being manipulated by her act and in return actually manipulating her, and he was eager to reap the fruits of his efforts. Clary Fairchild, on the other hand… the Clave hadn’t given orders about what to do with her, but aggravation was growing within the Institute, and he had done nothing to ease the feeling. The girl was annoying enough, and had risked the safety of their society more times than he liked to think about. That she still hadn’t learned her lesson was worrying, but he would have to deal with it later.
And Jace Wayland… well, the kill order was placed, but no one had managed to do it yet. And forces were at work to keep him alive – his sister, the Lightwoods siblings and, be it damned, Valentine Morgenstern. That damn spawn of the devil had been protecting his offspring, in his own twisted way, and it sure made his job more difficult.
A knock on the door pulled him from his thoughts and he jerked, looking at his colleague in surprise, who seemed to be as startled as him.
“Come in,” he said, motioning Lydia to move aside.
Robert Lightwood walked in his office, looking more tired than he had ever seen him. Blood was staining his usually so pristine clothes and Victor bit back a wince.
Taking Alexander down had been far more difficult than what he had thought – and Raziel knew the boy had been weakened by the distance between him and his parabatai...
“Well?” he inquired, keeping up his calm persona.
Someone had to remain every inch the leader of the Institute, and the two Shadowhunters in front of him had failed to do so – according to the Clave’s standards, in any case.
“He is finally asleep,” Robert told him, barely acknowledging Lydia with a nod.
There was still some residual anger at her arrival then. Interesting.
“The Silent Brothers are staying with him for now. They are preoccupied,” Robert added as an afterthought.
Victor wasn’t fooled – familial love was running deep between the Lightwoods.
“Aren’t we all? Your son is in a bad shape, Robert.”
The man shrugged.
“His parabatai is forcibly being kept away. This was bound to happen at one point or another.”
Victor visibly winced this time, and noticed the same grimace on Lydia’s face. He knew he needed specific information on that particular bond, but Robert’s behavior made it obvious it wasn’t going to be a pleasant conversation.
“It has come to my attention that the bond had been weakened through tracking a few days before Jace Wayland joined his father… How come the separation has such… impressive effects then?”
Better play it straight. He knew Lydia would report the conversation to the Lightwoods siblings, and he still intended on presenting as good a face as possible. Not being outwardly against them might come in handy in the future.
“Each parabatai bond is different, Aldertree,” Robert told him, something vaguely haughty in his face, before he mellowed out. “The tracking should have weakened it – and it probably did. Which just shows their bond is much stronger than what we usually expect.”
“Any idea why?”
Robert obviously hesitated, and Victor looked at his file once again. Jace Wayland had been sent on the battlefield only a couple of weeks ago, and Downworlders passing by had taken pictures of the fight before sending them to the Institute, intent on staying in the Clave’s good graces. What the pictures had revealed had been highly worrying, and the Clave had left him free to deal with it – much to his displeasure.
“If they had been reunited since Jace Wayland joined Valentine and then separated again, I could understand it, given the… most recent development. But it didn’t happen that way. And you obviously have an idea on why it is so, Robert.”
He had no time for those games. The Clave wanted answers – and wanted him to take a decision, to take care of the Wayland problem. At least he had the freedom of choice in doing so, but he had to think of the casualties – and how short on Shadowhunters they were.
“You know Valentine. You’ve seen what he has done since the Mortal Cup fell into his hands. I’m sure you have studied what he has done during the first war.”
“His experimentations are famous, although not for good reasons,” Victor answered cautiously, trying to figure where this was going – oh, he had an idea, but it was too horrible to seriously consider it. Valentine was a madman, but to go to such lengths while experimenting?
There was nothing reassuring about the coldness in Robert’s eyes.
Dread started creeping up his skin.
“Hasn’t Jace been raised by Valentine until he faked his death?” Lydia enquired slowly, obviously coming to the same conclusion.
A heavy silence fell on the room.
“You’re not saying that… his own son…”
“He has had years with Jace. He couldn’t have come to… the result we’ve seen only in a few weeks. He would have needed more time. A lot more.”
A whimper made itself heard but Victor couldn’t have said where it was coming from with certainty.
“So the parabatai bond…”
“Has been impacted, obviously.”
Robert sighed loudly, the weight of the situation heavy on his shoulders.
“If I had known about the experiments, I would never had let Alec bind himself to Jace… but it’s done, and he won’t survive the separation much longer, I’m afraid.”
“Even if the bond is severed?”
The Clave might have serious issues with that, but they didn’t want to lose a good fighter without a good reason either – especially as Valentine’s forces were outnumbering them by the day.
“Honestly, I’m not sure it would work.”
Lydia looked furious at hearing them talking so calmly about destroying such a sacred bond, but Victor wasn’t too comfortable with the idea either, and easily dismissed it, already thinking about another alternative.
“I don’t have many options left, then… your son is becoming a danger for the Institute, Robert.”
The man looked so utterly calm it was getting unnerving and Victor started to lose patience. He had no time for playing games with a former Circle member – he had an Institute to run and a war to win, damnit!
“You know what to do, Aldertree,” Robert answered in a flat voice – and Victor could see Lydia boiling next to them.
His options were more than limited: it was either sending Alexander Lightwood to a cell in the City of Bones – and weakening their forces in doing so – or getting Jace Wayland back to the Institute – and hoping there was still a shred of humanity left in him.
Looking at the Shadowhunters in his office, the Clave’s latest orders still taunting him on his desk, Victor knew he only had one option left – one he should have taken at his arrival at the Institute, had he had all the facts in hand.
The rescue mission it was, then.
He was falling.
His world had turned into black and red, into a haze of fire and pain. He couldn’t even remember his name – what he had been, before. Before the pain and the darkness and the never-ending screams in his ears, before the blood that never seemed to disappear, no matter how much he tried to wash it out.
Only following orders seemed to bring some of respite – a few moments of peace, before the pain started again, before he was clawing at this skin, trying to get it out – get it out, get it out, out, out, out.
There was only a thread of pure white bringing him peace – growing weaker by the days, so fragile it looked like it was going to disappear at any time.
And he was trying to reach to it – he knew it was important.
But it was growing weaker and weaker, leaving him alone, so alone in the pain and the darkness.
Alec was fretting.
The calming runes Izzy and the Silent Brothers had been drawing on him for a few weeks were quickly losing their powers and needed to be redrawn almost every day now, slowly becoming powerless in front of the pressure his parabatai bond was exerting on his body. His parents had locked him into his room after the last incident – that had left a vampire on the ground and four very pissed off Shadowhunters with various injuries – with the benediction of both Aldertree and Izzy.
Strange things were happening, but no stranger than Aldertree going back on his previous orders and launching a rescue mission for Jace – rescue mission he hadn’t been allowed to be part of. Too dangerous, the Silent Brothers had judged, and the whole Institute had sided with them.
The forced separation hadn’t done him any good, but other Shadowhunters had been – to his surprise – relatively indulgent. As long as he hadn’t attacked them, anyway.
But here and now, forced to stay in his room until he was given the all clear to get out, it was almost too much for him to bear. He knew the rescue mission had been successful – knew Jace had been brought back to the Institute, and directly sent in to be examined by the Silent Brothers, to decide once and for all whether or not he was a danger for them.
And there was questioning of course – he had been told of it after all, when it had first started, with his father giving him as many information as possible. Only his dad had a vague idea of what he had been going through, and had acted as a buffer between him and the Clave.
“It shouldn’t be long now…”
Izzy was in his room with him, sitting on his bed with her knees drawn to her face, huge bags under her eyes. The war had taken a toll on her and her twisted relationship with Aldertree hadn’t helped, but he hadn’t intervened – hadn’t noticed at first, too caught up in his own turmoil, and then too far gone to be of any help.
Some days, he felt like he was losing his grip on sanity.
“I need to see him now, Izzy”, Alec said desperately, turning in circles in his room.
His hands were shaking and he could still feel the slight burn in his parabatai bond that had appeared a few weeks ago, and hadn’t disappeared ever since.
He hadn’t understood why his rune had started hurting, until pictures of Jace had been taken and shared with the Institute.
He had felt the echo of Valentine’s experiments even when Jace was still prisoner aboard the Morning Star.
“They won’t keep you apart much longer,” and Izzy was trying to placate him, her voice barely soothing his frayed nerves – but still helping him grounding himself in the present. “Lydia said the Silent Brothers weren’t inclined in leaving you separated more than necessary, and honestly, it’s in no one’s interest they lie about that.”
“I know,” and there was a whimper in his voice. “But I need to see him Izzy, I can feel his soul calling to me and I don’t know how much longer –”
He bit his tongue, wishing words were enough to explain how he felt – but to no avail. His sister had been more than supportive, trying to stay strong for him while he was slowly losing control, but it wasn’t enough. Only being next to Jace could help calm him down – bring back the sense of inner peace he had come to associate with their parabatai bond.
Knowing that Jace was in the same building helped a little – he hadn’t unraveled any further, after all – but it clearly wasn’t enough. He needed more.
“– you know this is for your own safety,” Izzy was saying, her voice sounding slightly desperate, and Alec stopped pacing for a moment, trying to give her his full attention. “Dad talked with Victor, you know? He knows how to handle the parabatai bond – more than any of us…”
“I guess,” Alec mumbled, still feeling the echo of a pull around his rune. “But he is being over-cautious here –”
“You know what Valentine did to Jace,” Izzy cut him, finally moving from the bed to come stand in front of him, her hands coming to hold his, and he allowed the contact – needed it to ground him. “I don’t want you to get hurt, and neither does Dad. Nor does Victor, and I know what you think of him.”
“I know,” Alec said in an exhale, feeling very tired all of a sudden.
Izzy squeezed his hands and he gave her a weak smile, trying to convey his appreciation for her continuous support. He certainly didn’t like the new Head of the Institute, but the fact that Aldertree had finally sanctioned a rescue mission for Jace, and that it had been a success – although people weren’t sure it hadn’t been too late… He was willing to give him the benefice of the doubt.
A knock on the door interrupted them and they turned towards the intruder, tensing up slightly when Maryse entered the room.
“The Silent Brothers are waiting for you,” she said in a calm voice, looking as steady as usual. “You are free to go to them but they want to talk to you about –”
Alec jumped on his feet, ready to leave the room, but stopped in front of the look she gave him.
“They want to talk to you about Jace’s situation before you go to his room.”
“Okay”, Alec mumbled before leaving his room without any care, intent on seeing his parabatai before anything else – he had waited long enough, damnit!
He barely noticed Izzy running after him, walking through the Institute’s corridors in great strides, the resident Shadowhunters just a blur in his eyes as people moved out of his way.
Jace’s soul was calling to him and the pull was too strong to ignore.
Darkness abated, but the pain was still here – fire and blood surrounding him, promising him he could never escape, could never be free.
He could hang onto the fleeting feeling of peace – still weak and frail, but at least not disappearing anymore.
The place was strange – unknown and yet familiar, promising punishment and reward all at once.
There was something he was looking for – something important, something worth remembering, but he didn’t know what it was. Had to keep looking, though.
Jace’s wings were huge – bigger than he had expected, and he had seen the pictures, had spent hours looking at the videos. The higher point went over his own head and the tips were dragging on the floor, their golden hue looking gloomy in the late afternoon’s light. A dark fluid was entirely covering them – not blood, the Silent Brothers had made sure of that, but it still didn’t look good.
His parabatai hadn’t moved when he had entered the room, the door closing softly behind them while the Shadowhunters guarding it were resuming their positions. And yet Jace was still standing in front of the window, his wings drawn high on his back in a defensive posture. It was as if he hadn’t heard him, hadn’t realized someone else was in the room, and Alec started to worry. Maybe he should have listened to his mother and went to see the Silent Brothers first instead of running towards Jace’s room… But the pull had been too intense to ignore, and he had missed his parabatai too much to spend more time apart from him.
He could still feel their bond pulsing between them, and it was hard to stay near the doorway – to not come any closer – when all he wanted was to breach the distance separating them.
“Jace?” he called in a soft voice, trying to make himself as non-threatening as possible.
Someone else was in the room.
He had thought he would have been left on his own for now – the men in the grey robes had finally taken their leave, the soldiers following them, and he had relaxed, once he had been left alone in his new cell. The place felt familiar somehow, and it had windows that opened on a park – a view that had called to him as soon as the door had closed. And his new jailors weren’t as bad as the old ones, even thought it had been painful, when he had been caught, and his wings were still sensible after the treatment he had gotten, but most of his wounds had been dressed and the pain was slowly abating. He had even been given a bath and clean pants, and food had been left in his cell – not poisoned, he was sure of that, hadn’t smelled anything. Still, he kept expecting for something to happen – they had been asking a lot of questions and had been angry when he hadn’t answered any of them, not knowing what to say. He had had no idea who they had been talking about and they had given up in the end, leaving the men in the grey robes to take care of him in silence before leaving the room.
And now someone else had come to see him.
Maybe another interrogation session? But the presence wasn’t threatening, wasn’t even trying to make itself threatening, so he didn’t move, waiting to see what was going to happen. He remembered exercises like that – having to stay still despite knowing danger was coming closer and closer, and the pain that usually followed – but the presence didn’t seem to be interested in that. It had made itself known, after all, and had stayed away enough for him not to feel threatened.
The word stirred something in him and he heard soft footsteps coming closer before stopping a few feet away from him. It reminded him of something – of the white light that had been so comforting since he had woken up, of home and love and acceptance. There was an aching familiarity to it, and yet he couldn’t remember why – didn’t know where it was coming from.
He stayed still, looking by the window, keeping his wings high. He wasn’t going to use them to defend himself – not unless he was attacked – but it was always best to keep himself protected. He didn’t want anyone to prod at the two huge wounds on his left side, where he could feel the skin slowly knitting itself back together. It was more difficult to see his bones and the golden blood running through his veins now that the men in the grey robes had applied an ointment on him, but he would be damned if he let anyone else touch him.
“Jace, it’s me. Alec.”
Jace. It was a word he had heard before – the soldiers had expected him to react to it, and had been more than disappointed when he hadn’t. Did it belong to him? And the other word… Alec. It sounded familiar – important. He didn’t know why.
He heard the man shift on his feet, unsettled by his lack of reaction, and decided to move a little – turn towards him, let him have a look at his face.
The soft, barely audible gasp, he had expected, but the utter sadness in hazel eyes? He hadn’t. And he had to raise his eyes to look at the man, something that made him want to fly way – leave the ground to be the tallest, but he refrained the urge. The stranger was wearing all black clothes – leather and cotton that seemed as comfortable as his own pants – and he had a huge black mark on his neck, one that looked similar to the dozens that decorated his battered body. A rune, his mind supplied, and there was familiarity in the word, too.
The stranger – Alec, he had said it was his name – was utterly distressed at his lack of reaction, he could see it plain as day. There was something painful in the knowledge that he had caused the feeling, but he didn’t know what to do – or why he felt like he wanted to change that.
Something flashed into his mind at the word – this was important, he knew it. Parabatai. A fleeting feeling he had been looking for, while he had been a prisoner on the ship – something that meant love, pure and unadulterated love, a promise of never giving up on him, of always having somewhere to return. It was important and he had to go back to it.
“Parabatai,” he repeated slowly, his voice croaking, and he was rewarded with a little smile on Alec’s face, something akin to hope flittering into his eyes.
He had done something right then – and the content feeling on his left side seemed to approve.
“Do you remember… Jace?” The stranger moved towards him but already he was shaking his head, taking a step back, watching him stop in position.
Just because he knew the word – just because it brought warm feelings to the surface – didn’t mean he knew why he was here – or why the Shadowhunter seemed to know him. The situation was confusing but yet he didn’t feel like he was at risk of being punished for not having the correct answer.
Alec sighed and walked closer to him, making sure they were face to face, before cautiously moving his hand towards him, brushing against one specific rune – one that was extremely close to the huge, gaping wound on his left side that was slowly healing. He wacked the hand away, hissing. No touching. The rune had brought him warmth and peace during his imprisonment – had been the only thing to do so, while his wings had been growing, tearing away the skin of his back and making him cry and scream in pain, and then afterwards, once he had been sent on the battlefield to kill. No, no one was going to touch it if he could prevent it.
“It’s our parabatai rune,” he explained gently, taking off his jacket and then moving up his shirt to show the same rune on his skin.
He tilted his head to the side, not realizing how birdlike he looked, before taking a few steps closer to get a better look at the rune on the Shadowhunter’s body. His fingers moved of his own volition and went to brush against the rune, noticing how firm and warm the skin underneath was – and how Alec was shivering slightly at the gesture.
“Parabatai,” he repeated slowly, still tracing the contours of the rune, and Alec smiled gently at him, his eyes very bright all of a sudden.
“Yeah… Jace… do you remember anything about it? About the Institute? About your childhood?”
He sounded a bit desperate now and Jace – it was his name after all, right? – shook his head before taking a step back, already regretting the contact. His past was still a huge hole of darkness and emptiness, with a few warm feelings to comfort him – feelings he couldn’t associate with a memory.
“I’m sorry,” he offered, not knowing what else to say.
Speaking was still difficult, and he would rather not do it too much – not if he could avoid it.
Alec’s shoulders sagged a little, but he put on a brave face, obviously still trying to make himself as non-threatening as possible.
He could appreciate that.
“It’ll probably come back later,” Alec whispered, and Jace hesitated for a moment before nodding.
They stood there face to face a bit awkwardly before Jace moved back to the window, enjoying the softness of the carpet under his bare feet. He didn’t feel the need to hide himself behind his wings – for once – but didn’t know what to do to cheer up the Shadowhunter, not when all his memories were gone.
He half-wished Alec would come closer, be gentle with him again, but didn’t know how to ask for it.
The sound of clothes rustling made him realize his visitor was getting dressed, and he suspected he would soon be left alone again. He sighed a little at the sound, unaware that Alec was doing the same, although for a different reason.
“That’s probably a lot for you take in… I’ll let you rest and come back later,” the Shadowhunter murmured slowly before leaving the room, the door closing silently behind him.
Jace looked at the wood panel, not sure was to think of it. Maybe his memories would come back, if he gave it time.
He hadn’t been able to go back for a full week afterwards. Seeing Jace in that state – still bearing the marks of the torture he had endured at Valentine’s hands, wings hanging heavily at his back, memories gone – had been too much for him to handle and he had chosen the coward way, hiding in his room or in the training room when his thoughts were too much for him to handle.
Izzy had been at his side – always was there for him, his precious sister, and he probably would have done something stupid without her – but she hadn’t been able to do much. Jace was only allowed a few visitors, on Aldertree’s orders, but had reacted badly at seeing his parents or even Clary – which had sent the girl into a crying fit that even had Alec worried. She had finally broken down over the pressure of the war, then. They had been expecting it, but she had held on for longer than they had all thought.
He had been busy checking the latest reports in the control room when Lydia barged on him, breath short and two pink traces on her cheekbones, clothes disheveled. It was unusual to see her so out of control, especially where everyone could notice the state she was in, and Alec couldn’t help but feel dread pooling in his stomach, already rising up from his chair to meet her.
“They need you in Jace’s room,” she said, breathless. “They have been trying to interrogate him again and it went wrong and the Silent Brothers can’t calm him down – Alec, you have to go there.”
He was already springing on his feet, trying to reach Jace through their parabatai bond – to no avail. It had been slowly mending itself since Jace had been brought back to the Institute, but the distance – the emotional distance – between them was still too much for him to feel anything but the presence of his parabatai at the other end of the bond.
It didn’t bode well.
Lydia was all but running on his heels when he barged into Jace’s room, surprising the Shadowhunters who had been standing guard – but none of them made a move to try and stop him. The scene in front of him was worse than he had expected: Jace forcibly held on the ground by Aldertree’s men, his wings flapping away desperately, while two Silent Brothers were trying to practice an old form of magic over him – to no avail. Aldertree himself was standing in front of Jace, a hand to his nose and the beginning of a bruise already starting to form on his face, looking more dismayed than Alec had ever seen him.
“About time,” he grumbled, motioning for Alec to get closer. “Try to get him to calm down, okay? Before he hurt more Shadowhunters.”
“What did you do to him?” Alec hissed, barely registering the warmth of Lydia’s hand on his back.
“Regular interrogation, Lightwood. Don’t act so offended – you know the Clave’s methods. We should probably have done that with you in the room, though,” he added almost as an afterthought, “because he reacted badly without any reason. You think you can handle him?”
“Get out of my way,” was the only answer Alec had to give, and Aldertree’s men were too glad to obey, rising up and taking a few steps back, allowing him to get closer to his parabatai.
Jace’s wings were desperately flapping around while he was whimpering in pain, apparently unable to stand still or rise on his own.
“I’ll leave the guards outside, in case you need reinforcements. Lydia, time for us to go,” and on those words the room emptied itself, the Silent Brothers leaving in a twirl of robes.
Alec barely noticed them leave, too busy kneeling in front of Jace and trying to put his hand on his parabatai’s shoulder without spooking him. He had been careful not to place himself between Jace and the door, but rather on the other side, leaving free access to the exit.
“Jace,” he called softly, his hands hovering, watching in anguish as his parabatai was still trashing around in pain, his wings creating more damage than he would have expected it to be possible in an almost empty room.
The daggers-like feathers were sharp enough to cut into the wood of his bed and Alec was trying to avoid getting cut, not willing to bleed all over his parabatai.
“Jace,” he called more insistently, finally finding an angle where he could touch him without risking being cut. “Jace, calm down. It’s fine now, you’re safe and no one’s gonna hurt you. It’s alright.”
Oh, he was bad at that, but repeating the words enough times finally made his effect after a long moment. He let a sigh of relief escape his lips once Jace calmed down enough for his wings to lower themselves around him, surrounding him like a protective cocoon.
“It’s alright,” Alec whispered again, gently stroking Jace’s shoulder, feeling him shake slightly under his hand, his breath uneven. “It’s alright, I’m here, you’re safe now…”
“You don’t know that,” came the muffled response, and Alec felt his heart miss a beat.
It sounded a lot more like his parabatai – memories back and cockiness alike – than he had dared to let himself hope for.
“I know that I’m not letting you out of my sight again, and if Aldertree wants to interrogate you, he’ll have to go through me first,” he answered, unable to keep the fierce protectiveness out of his voice.
If the Clave thought he was going to let them coming near Jace again, they were in for a nasty surprise.
A chocked-up laugh came from the lying form in front of him and Alec waited patiently for his parabatai to rise, still stroking his shoulder in a circular move. Of what he could see from his position, his wounds had mostly healed, although the skin was still stretched thin on his left side, doing nothing to hide the severe malnourishment he had endured at Valentine’s hands. Being back at the Institute had done almost nothing to change that, although he didn’t look as scrawny as before.
Jace finally managed to move to his knees and Alec let his hand fall into his lap, looking at him with the hunger of a drowned man. It had been too long since he had last seen the mismatched eyes looking at him with that utter fondness Jace seemed to hold for him when it was only the two of them and he took into the sight. His heart skipped a beat, the parabatai bond humming gently on his rune.
“Alec,” Jace whispered with an intensity that bordered on desperation, and Alec could only brace himself on his knees before getting a handful of his parabatai clinging onto him with all his strength, huge wings brushing him slightly.
He returned the embrace fiercely, holding onto Jace so as to never let him go, fighting the tears that were coming to his eyes. He finally closed his eyes and hid his head onto the crook of Jace’s neck, not really believing his luck.
His parabatai was home. Finally.
“You’re here,” Jace mumbled into his neck, hands fisted into his shirt, and Alec hold him even more tightly than before – if it was possible. “I wasn’t sure…”
“I’m here,” Alec promised – and I’m not letting you go. Never again.
He could hear the contented sigh – could feel the warm exhale on the skin of his neck – and tried to move his hands a little to stroke Jace’s back without cutting himself on the feathers. The wings seemed to follow his lead, moving slightly so that he could try to bring some comfort to his parabatai without getting cut. It was strange, feeling their soft texture brushing slightly over his skin, and he was suddenly hit with the urge to touch them – brush his fingers between the feathers.
He didn’t do it, of course, and only let go once Jace decided to move a little, positioning himself into a sitting position – facing him, with his mismatched eyes shining bright into the late afternoon light that was coming from the window. Alec imitated his position and gently raised his hand, telegraphing his every move before cupping Jace’s cheek, fingers ghosting over the wound that still slowly healing, the skin still transparent – he was almost certain he could see the bones of the jaw under it, as well as the golden blood running through his veins.
Jace was shaking slightly.
“It doesn’t hurt much anymore,” he promised with a smile – not as sincere as it used to be, but not entirely fake either.
And the way he was moving into the gesture didn’t seem to be a lie either.
“You’re back,” Alec whispered, his voice breaking in the last word, and he dropped his hand before looking away, suddenly feeling all too vulnerable to keep looking at his parabatai.
But Jace was having none of it and cupped his neck, forcing Alec to look at him again – and he was suddenly remembered of that one time, after the memory demon. Before everything had gone to hell.
“Parabatai,” and Jace’s voice was more serious than it had any right to be. “Hey. Look at me.”
He waited for Alec to obey before going ahead, words falling from his lips.
“I couldn’t have done it without you… after this –” and he gestured to the wings on his back “– happened, our bond was the only thing that hold me back to my humanity.”
“You hold me back. You saved my life.”
Again hovered in the back of Jace’s mind, but he couldn’t bring himself to say it – not when his parabatai was already on the verge of tears. Maybe he hadn’t waited for the right moment to say it, but the urge had been too strong, too intense. As soon as he had gotten his memories back – right in the middle of his interrogation with Aldertree – he had known he needed to tell Alec how important their bond was to him. It was the only sure, pure thing in his life, the foundation he always came back to, since he had learned of the experiments done on him by Valentine. Alec had his soul in his keep and knew him better than anyone in the world – including himself. He could trust him.
“I missed you so bad,” Alec whispered, so low Jace wasn’t sure his parabatai had meant to say it out loud. “You were gone and it hurt… the emptiness…”
“I know,” Jace whispered back, clasping his free hand into Alec’s. “Valentine’s experiments stopped me from feeling it at first – but it came back all amplified once I got the wings…”
He knew he had to explain all this in details, but – later. For now, all he wanted was to hold onto his parabatai, feel close to him again. It had been too long since he had last felt a gentle touch on his skin…
Alec was shaken to the core but did his best to hide, realizing than Jace’s emotions were running high – higher than he had ever seen them. And he was itching to get closer, although the look on his parabatai’s face meant he wasn’t done – had something to ask and was unsure of the answer he would get, given how fretting he was, all of a sudden.
“I need your help with…” and Jace hesitated, before trying again. “Could you…”
Silence fell over them and Alec frowned, not knowing what he was supposed to do.
“I need your help with my wings,” Jace finally said, very low. “The feathers…”
Alec took a closer at the feathers closest to him – and yes, he could see it now: some of them weren’t in the correct position, mussed up and going into all directions, a few almost on the verge of falling but yet still caught between two arrays of feathers.
“Do you want me to… groom your wings?” he asked, a bit curious, eager to get his hands on the soft feathers now that he had the permission – oh, it might be dangerous, given how sharp they were, but he had never been one to back down from a challenge.
Especially when his parabatai’s health was at stake.
“I’ll try to keep them in position so that you don’t cut yourself,” Jace said, almost apologizing for what could happen – and Alec wanted to hurt Valentine, badly, for what he had done.
Seeming Jace looking so frail and vulnerable never failed to awake a deep, intense feeling of protection in him.
“Should I use something or…?”
“Just your fingers will be fine,” Jace assured him, hesitancy slowly disappearing from his face – but the vulnerability was still present in his eyes.
His wings twitched when he turned and presented his back to Alec. He then carefully extending his left wing, bracing himself for the gasp that was sure to come – and yes, here it was, his parabatai shocked to see the new, white scars covering his back.
He hadn’t expected the soft touch and had to stop himself from flinching, before relaxing under the reverent caress. Alec was gentle, cautious even, trying to get him to relax before placing his hands at the junction between skin and bones, touching the feathers in a light way.
He knew his parabatai was the right person to take care of him – especially now that he was in such a vulnerable position.
Alec couldn’t help but marvel at the softness of the feathers under his fingers. They had lost some of the dark fluid that had stuck to them in the first days after Jace’s arrival to the Institute, although some was still there, dried and stuck onto the feathers in some places. Those that were unmarred by the fluid were softer than silk under his touch, and he lost himself in the feeling of running his fingers between the feathers, careful not to cut himself on their sharp edges.
Jace moved a little in front of him, his breath hitching, and Alec stilled, worried he had hurt his parabatai.
“Tickles,” Jace mumbled before pushing back against his hand, the pressure light enough for Alec to be comfortable running his fingers through the feathers one last time.
“I’m gonna need to get some water,” he warned before rising up and walking towards the bathroom, hoping he could find a container somewhere.
It was his lucky day, because he soon came back with a bucket filled with warm water in one hand and a pile of towels in the other, Jace waiting for him with an eyebrow raised, his wings moving softly with every breath.
“That would probably be more comfortable if we moved to the bed?” he suggested, obviously intent on staying where he was.
Alec eyed the cushions lying around on the ground and shrugged before setting the towels and the bucket next to Jace.
“Hand me one of these, okay? I have a feeling we’re gonna stay here for a long time…”
Jace was only too glad to give him one of the cushions – one that looked to be more than comfortable to be kneeling on for a long period.
No need to make it uncomfortable when it was supposed to be an occasion to spend time together and reconnect.
“Tell me if something’s wrong with the water,” Alec said before dipping one of the thinnest towels in the water.
It would probably have been easier if they had been able to leave the Institute and go for a shower into a waterfall, but soaking Jace’s wing feathers into water that way would have to do. And it was easier for him to brush his fingers between the feathers, careful to replace them in a more natural position, mindful of the various knots.
Jace started humming contentedly, his position relaxing a bit more every time Alec was done with a particular knot – or had been particularly gentle in replacing his feathers in the correct position, almost petting them with careful fingers – and barely realized he was falling backwards before a hand stopped him.
“You’re falling asleep,” Alec told him in a teasing tone, one hand still stuck between his feathers.
He had been working on a rather resistant knot, where a great number of feathers had been twisted together and then stuck together because of the fluid. Even watering the knot hadn’t helped – for the first time since he had started grooming the wing – and he wasn’t sure what to do now.
“I’m not sure I’ll be able to take care of that one,” he finally admitted, fingers running in circles over the knot, and Jace shrugged a little, careful not to dislodge his wing from its position.
He had never expected for the grooming session to feel so nice.
“Do what you can,” he finally said, trying to move the feathers a little by himself – to no avail. “And pull it out, if you have to. I don’t think it’s very healthy to keep it that way.”
Alec hummed in return, watering the knot once again, a frown on his face. It reminded of all the time spent in the training rooms, drawing runes onto his arrows and making sure they were as sharp as possible – a time-consuming task for sure, one that needed patience and concentration, but the final result was always rewarding, and he was intent on reaching the same goal here.
There was no way in hell he was going to let the feathers twisted – and even broken, for some of them – without doing anything that he could to change that.
“I’m gonna take care of that,” he promised, fingers treading through the feathers, and Jace expanded his wing to give him more room, careful to keep it oriented so that he wouldn’t get cut. “As long as you don’t mind waiting…”
“Wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” Jace answered truthfully, wishing he could turn to look at his parabatai.
He had missed him and was only too glad to be able to spend the next hours in his company. Raziel knew they wouldn’t have many opportunities to spend time just the two of them in the future, once the Clave would know he had his memories back…
No, really, best to stay here and enjoy.