Chapter 1: Chapter One
Clary crept down the hallway of the abandoned building, her twin blades out and ready. She was hoping that she wouldn’t need to use them but if there was one thing that the last few months had drilled into her head, it was that she needed to be prepared for anything. The Shadowhunter life was not for the faint of heart.
“Honestly, Clary and I had this, Jace.” Izzy complained to her brother. Clary admired her attempt but ever since Lake Lyn Jace had been on every mission he could talk his way onto. When he couldn’t do that, he trained constantly. Clary and Isabelle had been planning on taking the mission on just the two of them, mostly for a chance to get out of the training room and work together for real.
If Alec had been in the Institute instead of Alicante at a mandatory meeting with members of the Clave and the Heads of other New England Institutes, he might have been able to hold his parabatai back. Without him, she and Izzy hadn’t stood a chance.
Although, maybe not even Alec could have forced Jace to stay behind on this one. Their relationship was shaky because of Jace’s insistence on keeping his death a secret from the one guy who it literally could not be hidden from. The lies grated on Alec and Clary couldn’t blame him.
“It’s a rogue warlock, Izzy. You need backup.” Jace insisted for the fifteenth time. His seraph blade was out and braced in front of him, ready to stab and slash. That was almost all he did anymore.
He needed time, she reminded herself. They had all been through a lot.
Although, if he could just let them in, the healing process would probably go a lot smoother… but who was she to say? Mostly she just tried to be there for him, forcing him into resting when she could and at least eating when he wouldn’t. Then she had to run interference between Jace and his siblings, which was a weird place to be stuck in.
“So you don’t trust Clary and I?” Izzy asked with clear frustration in her voice. “Wasn’t it you who argued with Alec that she was ready to be fully instated as a Shadowhunter way before he was ready to admit it?”
“Of course I trust Clary.” Jace answered with just as much frustration.
Clary winced. He had really walked into that one. Worse, he hadn’t even noticed it.
“Oh,” Isabelle said with a false note of cheer in her voice. Clary saw Jace’s shoulders tense and she knew he had realized what he’d implied. “So I’m the one you don’t trust.”
Jace stopped and turned to look at his sister. “You know I trust you, Izzy.”
“I wasn’t sure. I mean, you clearly don’t trust our brother, so maybe that means you don’t trust me either.” Izzy’s voice went a little colder as she defended Alec. It had been a point of contention for the entire month after Valentine’s death. After Jace’s death.
“Guys,” Clary tried to interject.
Jace rolled his eyes, “I trust Alec, he’s my parabatai.”
“Are you sure?” Izzy asked, “Because it really seems to me that you’ve forgotten what that word means.”
Clary opened her mouth and held out her hand in an attempt to ease the tempers that were rising. She was surprised Izzy was this annoyed at Jace but this had clearly been brewing for longer than just one tag along mission. Although, it wasn’t just one mission – Jace was up to about fifteen by now.
Any chance Clary had to diffuse the situation as gone in a flash. Jace surged up to loom over Izzy with his teeth practically bared, “How dare you?”
Izzy stood her ground, “How dare I? What was the last conversation you had with Alec? A real conversation, not just about the Institute? How long have you been avoiding being alone in a room with him?”
“Yesterday.” Jace countered, “We talked about Max.”
“Max! Great, our baby brother is such a deep topic of conversation.” Izzy laughed, “Tell me, parabatai, how’s Alec dealing with the Head of Institute’s workload? How are things with Magnus going now that they’re back together? Is Alec sad he can’t go on patrols and missions as much anymore? By the Angel, Jace, he worked through a migraine until he puked last week and you never even showed up!”
“I was training,” Jace grit out. That he didn’t have answers for Izzy’s questions was obvious. “If he needed help he could have asked me. He didn’t.”
Clary put her hand on Jace’s tense shoulder, “Guys, why don’t we pause this and…”
“He shouldn’t have to ask!” Izzy interrupted her. “You made an oath that you would have his back! And he didn’t ask you for help because you’ve been halfway to a spectacular freak out for a month now so everyone has been tiptoeing around you. He rearranges the schedules to give you whatever you want. He fields all the questions from the Clave about Lake Lyn. He’s tried a hundred times to get you to open up to him about what happened. When you actually sleep he sneaks food into your room hoping you’ll eat it if you wake up and it’s literally in your face. He’s holding up his end of the bargain, Jace. You aren’t.”
Jace reared back from her and Clary knew instantly that he was stung by the words. “Guys, seriously, let’s take a step back.” She tried again.
“Well I’m sorry I’m such a shit brother then,” Jace gave Izzy a smile that looked strained and sickly, not the arrogant confident vibe that he had clearly been going for.
“Jace, you’re - ”
Whatever Izzy had been starting to say, which judging by the flash of regret on her face was something reassuring about how Jace wasn’t a shit brother, got cut off by a burst of flame that Izzy and Clary saw coming at Jace’s back. Clary was out of the line of fire (literally) because of her position on the side of them. She grabbed Jace’s arm to yank him closer to her while Izzy ducked under the flames. The magic hit a wall behind them and left a blackened mark on the smoldering sheetrock.
“Mission, remember?” Clary couldn’t help it. She felt a sudden kinship with poor Alec. This was probably the kind of thing he had been dealing with for years.
Jace didn’t need any more of a reminder. Any trace of vulnerability on his face was gone. Instead, there was only the hardened resolve that he had been hiding behind for weeks now. He turned to face the warlock but there was no one there.
“By order of the Clave, show yourself.” He called out loudly.
The three of them formed a circle to cover their backs. Clary suddenly wished Alec was there because if the warlock was hiding somewhere not easily accessible then his arrows would have done a world of good.
“We don’t want to hurt you.” Izzy added. “We just need to talk to you about some mundanes that have shown up in hospitals talking about a warlock in this building attacking them.”
Four mundanes, to be precise. All of them homeless. They had clearly been using the old building as a place to stay for the night but the warlock apparently didn’t like to share. The reports weren’t actually mundanes straight up saying a warlock had attacked them. Instead they talked about getting hit with spells with enough confusion and hysteria that the hospital thought they were either concussed or high. It wasn’t until Luke had gone to interview the fourth victim that morning that he realized it was a warlock and he had called Izzy.
Which lead her and Izzy prepping for a mission and Jace busting in on it as soon as he got wind.
Honestly, before Luke called she had been planning on a night of sketching and maybe a face mask. What she was getting was a night of warlock hunting and running interference between Jace and Izzy.
“Really, we want to help!” Clary called out gamely. The sooner they got this warlock sorted, the sooner she could get Izzy and Jace back to separate corners of the Institute to cool down. If the warlock came in peacefully, she might be able to squeeze the face mask back in before she fell into bed.
Her hopes weren’t high but she clung to them.
The creak of a footstep caught their attention and Jace spun to face it. That left Clary and Izzy stumbling to get back into formation. Clary could see the frustration settling back on Izzy’s face.
“Show yourself, warlock.” Jace almost growled.
Aggressive wasn’t really the vibe Izzy and Clary had wanted to go in with. They were pretty sure the warlock wasn’t violent, just scared. Nobody had been seriously hurt and, to their knowledge, no one had been attacked unless they entered the warlock’s turf.
The voice was female and young sounding but of course with a warlock it was hard to tell.
“It’s okay, we just want to talk.” Clary called encouragingly. “If you’re afraid of the Clave, don’t be. The New York Institute isn’t like that anymore. If you want, we can contact the High Warlock of Brooklyn to advocate for you.”
“Shadowhunters are always like that!” Then there was a laugh that sounded just a bit too close to crazy to be comforting.
Izzy and Clary exchanged looks.
Would it help if Clary started gushing about how disgustingly cute Magnus and Alec were? Like, that had to score them some points. Their Head of Institute was practically married to the High Warlock of Brooklyn.
“Not always,” Izzy said as soothingly, “I promise, we aren’t here to hurt you. We just want to find out what’s going on.”
She tried to catch Izzy’s eye to mouth out the suggestion of contacting Magnus to her but Izzy looked distracted by Jace. When Clary refocused on her boyfriend, why was immediately obvious. He was breaking their protective formation to edge his way towards the warlock. “Jace!” Clary hissed.
“We’re not here to play games. Either surrender or be arrested.” Jace called with a voice as cold as ice. Apparently where she and Izzy saw progress Jace saw stalling.
“Get away from me!”
Jace did the opposite. Now that he was closer, he could clearly pinpoint the warlock’s location better. He lunged forward and instantly there was a flash of blinding white light that seared Clary’s eyes. She dropped down onto her knees, one of her blades falling from her grip as she smacked her hands over her eyes. She heard Jace and Izzy groaning, sounding like they were hurting just as much as she was.
For the first and probably only time, she felt a little empathy for the demons she blasted with her sunlight rune. She got it better now, she really did.
The room went almost eerily silent as their sounds of pain died down. Was the warlock still there? Probably not, or at least not in the room. The building was four rickety floors tall, which meant they would have to start searching again which might not be the best plan if Jace and Izzy had half the headache she did.
“Jace, you absolute idiot.” Izzy groaned in the usual voice she reserved for when her brothers were on her last nerve.
There was a low moan and then, “What?”
Apparently Jace’s headache was just as bad as hers. His voice sounded a little strange. Nothing crazy, but not the growl he had been using on the warlock. He had definitely been knocked down a few pegs. Or at least he had been for the moment. He was probably going to be angry as soon as the fog cleared.
Clary hesitantly pulled her hands down from her eyes and squinted a little. There was definitely some damage from the light, sort of like the spots that formed if you looked at something that was reflecting the sun for too long, except this was kind of like an all over haze. She blinked rapidly and grabbed her stele to run over her healing rune. Instantly, her vision started to clear and her headache eased. She looked up to Izzy and Jace so she could offer her stele to them if their heads were still a little too scrambled to get that far on their own.
And then she gasped.
That was not her Jace.
She stared at the teenager kneeling on the ground where she had last seen her boyfriend. His clothes were the same but his hair was lighter, there was no scruff on his face and there was still a lingering hint of baby fat clinging to his cheeks. His eyes were open and he was blinking rapidly like she had been just a minute before.
“Izzy?” Clary called softly. She hadn’t seen if Izzy was fixing her eyes or not yet and she couldn’t tear her own from the sight in front of her. Somehow, the warlock had turned back the clock on Jace, making him a teenager again.
She heard Izzy pulling her stele from her pocket just as Jace froze in his spot. He looked up and dismissed Clary instantly. Even through the fog of seared retinas, her hair was bright enough to give her away as not his dark-haired siblings.
“Izzy?” Jace asked a little desperately. “What’s going on?”
Izzy’s gasp was enough to let Clary know that she had finally looked at her brother.
“By the Angel, Jace.” Izzy crawled on her knees towards Jace and pulled his shirt up to activate his iratze.
Instantly, Jace stopped his frantic blinking and his eyes narrowed as he took Izzy in. “Who are you?” He asked suspiciously. He was a lot less intimidating like this and she had to stifle a giggle at the sight of him questioning Izzy.
Izzy raised an eyebrow at him, “I can’t look that different. Or old. If you say I look old Jace, I’ll gut you.”
Jace paled a little, “Izzy? How…?”
Clary slowly stumbled to her feet, feeling a little woozy but otherwise fine. “Maybe we should head back to the Institute? Regroup?” Or rather, regroup and figure out what exactly the warlock had done to Jace. And call Alec. Someone absolutely needed to call Alec and that someone was probably going to be Izzy. Clary didn’t envy her.
Izzy nodded and tugged on Jace’s arm until they were both more or less upright. “Clary is right, we need to get back to the Institute before we get into this.”
Clary and Izzy moved towards the door but Jace’s feet were firmly planted, “Wait!” He said worriedly, “Where’s Alec?”
The genuine concern in his voice made Clary turn and smile at him as sincerely as she could. “He didn’t come with us on this mission. We can call him though.”
That was apparently the wrong thing to say. Jace’s eyes widened then narrowed. He took a step back from her and pulled the hand Izzy still had on his shoulder so that she was forced to step back from Clary too. There was a knife in his hands that hadn’t been there before. “Who are you?” Jace asked with suspicion and distrust dripping from his young voice.
Izzy pushed down the hand holding the knife towards Clary. “Jace, how old are you?”
Jace didn’t take his wary eyes off Clary, “Sixteen.”
Jace at sweet sixteen was adorable. Undeniably lethal, of course, but seriously cute. Was it weird that Clary thought so? She was totally okay with their slight age difference on a regular day but all of a sudden she was the older one in this relationship and she wasn’t sure what was creepy.
“Okay, listen to me, you were twenty-three about ten minutes ago. A warlock we were tracking did this to you.” Izzy gave him the bare-bones of the situation. “I assume you feel like you just blinked and now you’re here with us…?” She waited for Jace to give her an incredulous nod. At least he was finally looking at Izzy and not glaring at Clary. “So I need you to trust me. This is Clary and we can one hundred percent trust her. Alec is fine, he’s just stuck in a meeting in Alicante.” She stepped back towards the door and this time Jace went with her easily enough. He was probably in shock and Clary could absolutely relate.
The three of them carefully but quickly crept out of the building.
The warlock had definitely won this round.
The walk to the Institute was a strange one. Jace was silent and Clary left him to it. Izzy was focused on texting probably Alec. Her increasingly frustrated expression said she wasn’t getting him.
“Alec isn’t answering?” Clary asked quietly.
Izzy nodded and sighed, “Not yet. If I make his phone buzz twenty times in a row, he should know to check it.”
That was if his phone was even on vibrate. Clary hadn’t heard loads about his meeting beforehand, so she wasn’t sure how serious it was. His phone might be off for all they knew, although that didn’t seem super likely considering the type of ridiculousness Alec knew the New York Institute got into. “Are you going to tell him?”
“Via text?” Izzy laughed, “Angel no, that would be a really weird text. I’m just telling him to call me.”
“Tell him to drink some water and then call you.” Jace muttered on Izzy’s other side. He sounded vaguely annoyed as he said it but annoyed in a fond way. Or at least annoyed in a familiar way.
Izzy laughed again, “God, you haven’t bitched about that in forever.”
Jace turned to her with a furrowed brow, “I haven’t?”
Well, never that Clary had heard. “You can feel dehydration through the bond?”
Izzy fired off another text instead of letting Jace answer, “Okay, I just told him to drink some water then call us. I don’t know if that’s going to sound urgent enough but it’ll get his attention at least.”
Clary was trying not to stare at Jace but she couldn’t help but to glance over every so often. Jace looked genuinely confused about what Izzy was telling him. He silently pressed a hand over his parabatai rune and that at least was familiar.
The Institute came into view and a sudden thought came to her, “Should we let everyone see Jace like this?”
“I don’t think it’s going to matter much.” Izzy shrugged, “It’ll be hard to keep it a secret.”
For his part, Jace wasn’t protesting but then to him, he wasn’t the one out of place in this situation. It was all of them that were strange.
The three of them entered the Institute and thankfully it was a newer transfer on the door. No one that Jace would recognize and definitely no one who would give the Head of Institute’s sister a hard time.
“Maybe we should call Magnus, even if Alec isn’t answering?” Clary suggested. “He might be able to fix this?”
“I don’t need to be fixed.” Jace sneered at her.
Izzy poked him, “Be nice to your girlfriend.”
Jace stopped dead on the stairs up to the catwalk. “My what?”
Slowly, Clary turned back around to face him, “Is that a bad thing?”
Jace had pretty much dismissed her once Izzy vouched for her back at the warlock’s building. Now, he was openly staring at her and gave her a full once-over. She was torn between rolling her eyes and blushing, honestly.
“You’re my girlfriend… and Izzy likes you?” Jace looked between the two of them.
“Because she’s not stupid, of course. You’ve finally picked an amazing girl who really loves you, Jace, and you totally adore her so for the sake of yourself when this spell wears off, be nice.” Isabelle teased him and Clary’s blush couldn’t be held back for another second. She could feel it warming her cheeks and she took the opportunity to turn back around and start walking towards Alec’s office again. The other two followed her after a few seconds.
Jace came up alongside her and leaned in a little awkwardly, “I’m sorry then. I just don’t like the idea that there’s something wrong with me.”
She nudged his arm with hers, “I’m sorry too. I didn’t mean it like that.”
Once they turned the corner, Jace got distracted by the door to the Head’s office, “Are they here?”
“Who?” Izzy asked before realizing who he meant, “Oh, you mean Mom and Dad? No, they’re not running the Institute anymore.” She pushed the door open and walked backwards into it with a big grin, “I’ll let you guess who is.”
“Alec? You’re not joking, right?”
Clary shut the door behind them, “Nope, this is Alec’s office.”
Jace laughed and he sounded so genuinely delighted for his parabatai that Clary’s heart ached.
She had, in her own head because she would never say it out loud, found Jace and Alec to be a strange match for sharing souls and being bonded. That was probably colored by the fact that her presence had strained things between them but they hadn’t seemed particularly harmonious even before she had really gotten on Alec’s nerves. Now that things had settled and Alec had accepted her place in their lives, they were having issues again because Jace was having a hard time with what had happened at Lake Lyn and he was determined not to tell his siblings about it.
And yes, of course she knew they loved each other. That was obvious to see. But overall they didn’t seem super compatible for what she understood the parabatai bond to be.
If she remembered right, Jace had told her that he and Alec had been bonded when he was fifteen. It had sounded ridiculously young to her but right on track with the way that Shadowhunter culture operated.
So seeing Jace like this, only a year into the bond, was beyond interesting.
This Jace seemed lighter than she had ever seen him. Less weighed down by all the bad stuff that had happened and that made perfect sense. It made her a little sad even, because there was such a difference in him even from where they were now (or where they had been yesterday, she supposed) to where they were when they had met. Throw in this teenage Jace and Clary was more determined than ever to help Jace heal from what Valentine had done to him. All that Valentine had done to him.
He would probably never be this Jace again but that was okay because she would never be the Clary who had just wanted to go out and party on her eighteenth birthday again.
Happier, though, less weighed down? That was in reach.
“How long?” Jace was asking Izzy and Clary realized she had been staring at him pretty intensely for the last minute or so. She blinked and looked away. Izzy was giving them both a soft smile and Clary knew she had been busted. She shrugged a little helplessly at Izzy.
Izzy perched herself on her brother’s desk. “A few months. Feels like longer.”
“So he did it then?” Jace asked eagerly.
Clary wasn’t sure what it was but Izzy clearly was. She grinned and nodded, “Youngest person to run the New York Institute ever.”
“Ha! Yes!” Jace crowed, “I knew he would be.”
She opened her mouth to tell Jace that he had been the one to give it to Alec because he seemed like he would love that but Izzy quickly caught her eye and shot her a look. Of course, Clary winced. If she told Jace that then the story about Imogen would come out and all of a sudden they would need to explain Jace’s season of many last names. That was kind of a lot to dump on a kid who was already, to his mind, dealing with time travel or something.
“That’s what he’s doing now. There’s a meeting in Alicante for the New England Institutes and members of the Clave.” Clary said instead when Jace noticed Izzy’s eyes and turned to look back at Clary. She went and sat down in one of Alec’s visitor’s chairs and Jace dropped into the other.
“He doesn’t feel bored.” Jace reported, “But he likes that political kind of shit so that’s not weird.”
Alec didn’t seem like he liked playing political games but he was good at it so maybe when he was younger it was more of a passion.
Izzy’s phone chirped out a text notification and Jace instantly perked up. “Is it Alec?”
“No,” Izzy said as she read through the text. “It’s Magnus. I asked if he was free and he says he’s portalling home from a client. He can be here in five minutes.”
The look on Magnus’ face if he saw what they were currently dealing with would be priceless. “Tell him to come. Even if he can’t do anything, it’ll still be fun to have him here.” Clary was careful not to suggest that Magnus would fix Jace.
“A warlock?” Jace asked.
Izzy’s grin went to another level. “Brace yourself Jace. Magnus Bane is the High Warlock of Brooklyn, one of the most powerful warlocks in the world… and Alec’s boyfriend.”
Jace fell back further into his chair and stared at Izzy with his mouth half open. “Alec’s boyfriend?”
For a split second, Clary thought that maybe he was shocked in a bad way. Then she saw the unadulterated happiness in Jace’s eyes and she knew that totally wasn’t it. Apparently Alec’s secret really wasn’t that well kept after all. Jace wasn’t shocked that Alec was gay, he was just shocked that Alec had actually accepted it.
It was a good kind of shock, all in all.
“Okay, tell him to come then.” Jace told his sister.
Izzy nodded and texted Magnus back. “Magnus is kind of a lot, so don’t be surprised, okay?”
“Nothing from Alec yet?” Jace asked instead of saying anything in response to Izzy’s warning. He shifted a little restlessly in his chair and Clary noticed his hand go back to his hip.
Izzy noticed the movement as well, “Oh, I forgot. Sorry Jace, I’ll try calling him again.”
“What?” Clary asked in confusion.
“In the first year or so after Jace and Alec became parabatai they had a hard time being separate from each other. They found it really uncomfortable.” Izzy explained. She held her phone to her ear and let it ring out. “How long have you been bonded?”
Jace answered easily, “Almost eight months.”
“Good,” Izzy said before turning to Clary, “If we had gotten Jace in the four month and under zone, it would have been a mess. They had a really hard time separating themselves out then.”
She looked at Jace a little bemused, “You’ve never told me that. Separate yourselves out how?”
“It was just hard to tell who felt what.” Jace tried to explain. The look on his face was familiar. Jace hardly ever answered her many, many questions about how the bond worked and when he tried he usually looked like he was trying to explain to her what emotions were or what sound felt like. Something unquantifiable. At first she thought he was just putting her off but it had become kind of obvious that he just had a really hard time explaining how the bond felt to someone who didn’t have one. Add in that he was protective of it so he didn’t really want to explain it and was only doing it because she had asked and he loved her enough to try.
Pushing hard or giving any facial expression that even hinted that she thought something about the bond might be funny was absolutely off-limits. She had learned that the hard way when his response had been to shut down the conversation. So instead she smiled encouragingly. Maybe she could get some actual answers about it from this younger version of Jace. “So like, one of you was mad so the other was mad?
“Kind of? Jace hedged.
Inwardly, Clary sighed. That was another one of Jace’s favorite ways to answer her.
“Apply that to every emotion, then add in a really wicked feedback loop.” Izzy said, “It applied to physical sensations too, in case you were wondering. The wrong one would eat. The wrong one would look for a wound that wasn’t there.”
“That happened once.” Jace rolled his eyes at her.
“You were freaking out that Alec was hurt but really you had been stabbed and he was feeling it.” Izzy turned to Clary, “Then Alec started freaking out because Jace was freaking out and that got Jace even more worked up. I’m trying to separate them and heal Jace, once I figured out it was actually Jace who was hurt because Alec’s little cut couldn’t have been that big a deal, but they were so panicked by then that they were absolutely useless.”
“It was maybe not our best moment.” Jace admitted with a self-deprecating grin, “We’re still learning. Or, I guess I am. Alec isn’t.” His grin faded a little bit and he looked to Izzy with something heartbreakingly vulnerable in his face, “Alec has his side of the bond half shut down. Do you think that’s because he’s in an important meeting or does he always do that?”
That Izzy didn’t know what to say to that was obvious. She hesitated and looked at Clary quickly before turning back to Jace. Gently she said, “I think that’s just how to you guys keep it most of the time. You would have to talk to Alec about it.”
“I keep my end of the bond half closed?” Jace repeated skeptically. He seemed to reject the idea so completely and Clary couldn’t help but notice that he had his hand pressed even tighter to their rune.
Before Izzy could say anything a portal burst into being behind them and Magnus stepped out. “Is everything okay?” He asked as he straightened out his jacket. As if Magnus ever looked anything but impeccably dressed even after a portal trip.
“We ran into an unfriendly warlock,” Clary said before she pointed at Jace.
Magnus looked over to him and Clary laughed when his eyes widened. “Well, Blondie, this is not what I was expecting when Izzy asked me to come consult on something she mysteriously wouldn’t talk about over text.”
“It’s been a weird day for me too?” Jace offered.
“Would you mind standing up?” Magnus asked. Once Jace shrugged and stood, Magnus held his hands out and started walking in circles around him, scanning him with his magic. “Biscuit, could you explain a bit better, please?”
Clary gave Jace a reassuring smile when he looked a little wide-eyed at her and Izzy. “We were on a mission looking for a warlock who has taken over an abandoned building and is attacking any mundanes who try to enter it. We didn’t get to see her, she just spoke a little to us when we found her. She didn’t trust us, even after I offered to call you and have you come be her advocate in the Institute. Jace tried to approach her and she threw out this huge burst of light and got away. I thought the light was it but then when we could see again, Jace was like this.”
“Sixteen and with no memory of being any older.” Izzy added.
Magnus dropped his hands and sighed, “Well, on the plus side, I don’t sense any major damage. He’s physically fine. On the downside, this isn’t like any spell I’ve ever seen. Based on what you said happened, I think this was largely a panic-based spell as a defense mechanism. Mostly instinct, little actual spellwork involved.”
“So?” Clary asked, “Is it not something you can reverse?”
“I didn’t say that, my dear.” Magnus answered, “It’s just not something that I can reverse easily. It’s going to take a little while to get a handle on. Although, I’m not sure it will be necessary. Spells like this tend to undo themselves fairly quickly.”
That seemed to make sense to Izzy because she hopped off the desk, folded her arms and said, “That’s kind of what I figured you would say. Do you have any idea of the timeline?”
“He’s not actively changing as we speak, so I don’t think this is a twenty-four hour kind of thing.” Magnus mused, “It’s hard to say but a week maybe? Two? It usually never takes a month and even if it was going to, I could figure out how to reverse it by then.”
So she was only going to be without her Jace for a month tops, most likely. That wasn’t so bad. “We haven’t been able to get a hold of Alec.”
“He’s certainly going to be surprised about this.” Magnus laughed, “Have you considered a fire message?”
Jace turned to Izzy pleadingly, “We could do that, right Iz?”
“I know this is hard, Jace, but if I send a fire message then everyone he’s in the meeting with will see it. A text is more discreet.” Izzy said apologetically. “If you’re not hurt then I don’t want to draw attention like that.”
Jace nodded but deflated a little too. His hand was back on his rune and Magnus caught the motion as easily as Clary had. They were both used to it from their respective boyfriends.
“This Jace has only been bonded to Alec for less than a year.” Clary explained softly.
“Ahh, I understand.” Magnus said, “Alec told me you both couldn’t stand to be apart for long at first.”
Well, apparently Magnus managed to get more out of Alec than she got out of Jace. She wasn’t sure whether to be hurt or ask Magnus his secret.
“And what about you?” Jace asked Magnus.
Magnus looked confused, “And what about me what?”
“How long have you been with Alec?”
Instantly, Clary had an idea where this was going. Magnus seemed to as well, because he only smiled softly at Jace. Thankfully, he didn’t seem offended that he was potentially about to get the shovel talk from a teenager. Younger Jace was just as bold as his older version.
“About five months.” Magnus answered, “Although it feels like longer.”
“Do I like you?” Jace asked.
Magnus seemed surprised but gamely answered, “We aren’t drinking buddies or anything but yes, I like to think that you consider me a friend.”
“So you like me?”
The question was very serious so Magnus seemed to visibly be holding back the laugh he seemed to want to let out. “I do. Sometimes I want to shake you but that’s okay because sometimes Alec wants to shake you too.”
“And you love my brother?” It was definitely a question, not the statement that the older Jace would have made.
“With everything in me.” Magnus answered softly.
“You’re nice to him?” Jace pressed. He stared at Magnus so intently, like he was trying to test him for truth with just his eyes.
Behind him, Izzy held her hands to her chest like she couldn’t cope with the cuteness. Magnus held himself together better and thank goodness for it. Jace was damned serious and it was obvious to see.
“We’re both stubborn and sometimes things don’t come out right.” Magnus admitted, “But I love him and he loves me. I want to give him the world and I try to live by that whenever possible… or whenever he’ll let me.” He leaned back from Jace and held his arms out, “Is that a good enough answer?”
“For now.” Jace said. He didn’t seem like he was now on team Magnus but that was okay. Clary was pretty confident that if he got to hang out for even ten minutes with the two of them, he would see what everyone else did. Hell, he would get to feel it.
The sound of Izzy’s phone buzzing caught everyone’s attention. Any hardness in Jace immediately evaporated and he was crowding his sister trying to see her phone. “Is that Alec?”
“It is.” Izzy said, “I’m asking him if he can come home any earlier.”
“It’s not like he was particularly excited for this meeting.” Magnus waved his hand and conjured a plush red armchair with ornate gold detailing on the arms. He dropped down into it gracefully. “If you give him a reason to escape, he’ll take it.”
Her phone buzzed again and Izzy winced and looked up at them, “He wants to know why. What do I say?”
“It’s a surprise?” Jace suggested with a smirk.
Izzy shot him a look, “Yeah, that’s going to go over great. He’ll think we’re messing with him and he’ll ignore us.”
“Maybe just tell him it’s easier to show him?” Clary offered. It was true but maybe not compelling enough of a reason for Alec to blow out of an important meeting.
“Tell him there’s an issue with a warlock that has affected one of his Shadowhunters.” Magnus said simply, “It’s the truth, after all.”
Izzy nodded, “I’ll add in the bit about showing him instead. That way he won’t ask, or at least he hopefully won’t ask.”
Clary watched as Jace slowly relaxed as it became obvious that soon Alec would be back. She had definitely noticed that Jace often seemed more at ease when he could at least see Alec, even if they weren’t actually interacting, but this was kind of extreme. Was her Jace just really used to being separate from Alec or was he just better at hiding how dependent he was? A mix, maybe? They were definitely okay with being apart now, but she would be curious to know if that was time and maturity or what Jace had mentioned before – that he and Alec kept their bond half shut, whatever that meant. She shuddered at the thought of trying to get Jace to explain it.
The four of them waited for Alec to answer her. After a long, silent moment Izzy’s phone buzzed again and she grinned, “He’s going to make his excuses. He’ll be here in ten or less.”
Jace plopped back down in his chair, apparently ready to pretend that he wasn’t so anxious to have Alec back in the Institute now that he was getting it. Magnus shot her a look and mouthed ‘babies’ before rolling his eyes.
She almost snorted before she caught herself. Jace was only two years younger than her at this age. Who was Magnus calling a baby?
Whatever emotional journey her face had just taken made Magnus outright laugh. Jace and Izzy’s confused expressions only made it worse. Magnus quickly conjured up a glass of what looked like whiskey and he swirled it in his hand as he tried to get himself under control. “Biscuit, my dear, you are wonderful.”
“I don’t even want to know.” Izzy shook her head at the two of them.
Jace arched an eyebrow, “I do.”
“Trust me,” Clary held up her hands, “You don’t.” She was pretty sure he didn’t want to hear that Magnus thought he was a baby, which was a fair assessment for most people Magnus met if he was ranking them against himself. Jace wouldn’t see it that way though.
“Isabelle, could you do me a favor and text me the address of this building the warlock has claimed?” Magnus cut in to smoothly change the conversation, “It might be best if I head in and try to defuse the situation.”
“Sure,” Izzy agreed easily. “If the warlock is throwing random spells at us Alec would call you in anyway.”
Jace sat up straight in his seat, his face alert but his eyes weren’t focused on anything in particular, “Alec is back.”
“Excellent.” Izzy said brightly. “Let me get my camera ready.”
“That was faster than ten minutes.” Magnus said lightly. For all that he seemed less than invested in this, he still waved his fingers so that his chair spun around and he was sitting beside Jace. Now, he was in a prime place to watch Alec realize that his parabatai had been de-aged or whatever.
For her part, Clary got up and sat beside Izzy on Alec’s desk. It wasn’t something she would ever do otherwise, she and Alec definitely weren’t there in their relationship yet, but there was no way she was risking missing his expression for anything.
“This isn’t that weird,” Jace said with a bit of sulk in his voice. Their preparations seemed apparently excessive to him.
“Oh, it’s fairly weird,” Magnus disagreed breezily, “I’ve maybe only seen a few cases of magical age regression in my life, and that’s saying something.”
Jace didn’t look thrilled being told that. What he said instead was, “So you’re really old then?”
If Jace thought that was an insult to Magnus, he had another thing coming. Magnus played up his age whenever he got the opportunity.
“Oh, kitten,” Magnus drawled playfully, “You have no idea at all.”
Whatever Jace had been about to shoot back, probably another attempt an insult in retaliation for Magnus calling him a kitten, was cut off by Alec’s door swinging open to reveal a very annoyed Head of Institute. “This had better be good, Izzy.”
“Alec!” Jace said in an excited voice that made him sound much younger than he even currently was. Apparently he couldn’t control it because even as he flushed, he still had a wide smile on his face that couldn’t be suppressed.
Alec’s frown smoothed out instantly as his mouth went slack in surprise. Beside her, Izzy was breathing deeply in an attempt to keep in the giggles.
Next up: We switch to Jace's POV as he and Alec discuss their bond
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Jace felt something deep inside him settle the second he felt Alec go from too far for comfort to nearly close enough. That kind of rapid change could only mean that Alec had portalled home but Jace hadn’t ever felt it before. No one had asked them to go far from each other yet, although he had caught Maryse and Robert talking about it a couple of weeks ago. He hadn’t told Alec because he figured one of them panicking about it was enough and if it had to happen he would prefer it was him.
Except it hadn’t been last week? It had been seven years ago?
He wasn’t sure how all of this worked.
He realized he had straightened up in his seat only when Clary gave him a weird look.
“Alec is back.” Jace said to explain himself. He wasn’t sure why but he really didn’t want this redheaded girl who looked at him like he was something special to think otherwise. And not the something special that most people meant when they were interested in him. She probably didn’t really care if he was the best fighter in years. She seemed like she thought he was more than just that. He wasn’t used to anyone but Alec and Izzy looking at him like that. Sometimes Maryse but never anyone else their own age. Even when they thought he was annoying or showing off or holding them back from the glory, they were still impressed.
She was different.
“Excellent.” Izzy said brightly. “Let me get my camera ready.” She dug out her phone and damn if they hadn’t gotten better in the last bunch of years. He could feel he had one in his pocket and he was really interested in playing with it later.
Alec’s warlock swirled his fingers around and suddenly their chairs were close together, “That was faster than ten minutes.”
Then Clary got up and sat by Izzy so her back wasn’t to the door anymore either. What did they think Alec was going to do when he saw him? “This isn’t that weird,” Jace said, annoyed.
“Oh, it’s fairly weird,” Magnus shot back with a smirk that just made it seem like he was amused, “I’ve maybe only seen a few cases of magical age regression in my life, and that’s saying something.”
He didn’t like the idea that this was that bizarre. Just because he was a little younger for a while, at least to them, didn’t mean that there was something wrong with him.
Izzy glanced up at him and gave him a soft smile that usually meant that she thought he or Alec were being particularly pathetic but she still liked them anyway.
“So you’re really old then?” He wasn’t really sure where that had come from.
“Oh, kitten,” Magnus drawled like he was something too stupid to play with, “You have no idea at all.”
The bond tugged at Jace before he could think up something good to say so that Alec’s boyfriend didn’t think he was some stupid kid. Alec was a little annoyed but that was kind of his default so Jace wasn’t bothered by it. No, what was awesome was that he was close.
The door to Mom and Da… to Alec’s office swung open in that dramatic way that Alec liked to use when he wanted to make a point. “This had better be good, Izzy.”
Whoa, Jace thought, he got tall.
“Alec!” Jace greeted in a voice that made him cringe. Only because Clary and Magnus were there. If he, Alec and Izzy had been alone it wouldn’t have mattered.
He felt the jolt of shock down their bond before Alec’s face reacted. By the time Alec’s face had registered the shock, the bond was swinging to confusion.
We shouldn’t be here. They shouldn’t see him like this.
Or maybe Jace just didn’t want to reunite with Alec in front of Clary, Magnus and Izzy’s camera. He jumped up from his seat and hooked a hand around Alec’s arm and tugged, “Let’s go, come on.”
“What?” Alec repeated. He let himself get pulled though and now that he was standing right beside his parabatai the height difference was even more obvious.
He didn’t like it.
They were out of the room and the door was half shut before Jace heard Izzy burst out laughing. He couldn’t make out the entirety of what she said but he thought he caught the word overprotective and he scowled.
He and Alec needed to talk. It wasn’t overprotective to want it to do it alone. Alec didn’t like being around other people, it made him uncomfortable if he was already not on his game. And yeah, the two other people in the room besides Izzy were people that they were dating but still.
“Your room’s in the same spot, right?” Jace asked Alec even has he dragged him in that direction.
“By the Angel…” Alec mumbled. “Yeah. Yeah, it is.”
Alec still felt pretty confused and shocked – really shocked – which was probably why he was letting Jace pull him along so effortlessly. Normally, Alec wasn’t so easy to force around. And that was when he was Jace’s height, not how he was now. “You’re too tall.”
“Not much I can do about it.” Alec shot back kind of sulkily and yeah, that felt like his parabatai.
Jace turned the next corner and pulled the door to Alec’s room open eagerly. Once he and Alec were safely inside, he shut it and locked it with his stele. Much better.
“Explain this to me.” Alec demanded and that was exactly why he was Head of Institute and Jace was definitely not. The how was the last thing Jace wanted to talk about.
“Clary, Izzy and I went on a mission, a warlock felt threatened, we got blasted with light, I’m this age now and I don’t remember being older. This feels like time travel but I guess it’s not. You can ask Izzy for details though because who gives a shit? You’re dating a dude who’s also a warlock and you’re Head of Institute.” Jace said incredulously, “Okay, sure, I’m apparently younger than I am normally but Alec, your shit is way more interesting.”
Alec burst out laughing in a surprised sounding way. “Seriously Jace?” At least he seemed to be taking the rest of that explanation pretty well.
“He had eyeliner on, Alec.” Jace said as if Alec didn’t know what his own boyfriend looked like. “And streaks of pink in his hair. I was sort of worried you’d fall in love with a raincloud or something.”
His parabatai snorted and dropped down onto his bed to stare up at Jace, which honestly felt a little better. “Magnus definitely isn’t a raincloud. If I had to compare him to weather, I’d say he’s like a supernova rainbow.”
Even though he’d only known Magnus for about six minutes, supernova rainbow seemed pretty accurate. “I grilled him a little, he seems okay.”
“By the Angel, Jace.” Alec shook his head, “You didn’t.”
Jace shot him a look, “Of course I did. What if he’s mean to you or something?”
Instead of getting an answer back, or maybe a pillow thrown at his head or something, Alec just stared at him and his emotions edged away from shock and amusement and into something Jace wasn’t as sure about. His own grin fell a little.
“You’re home now.” Jace said slowly. The words felt thick on his tongue and he knew exactly why even though he didn’t want to think about it. “You don’t have to keep your end half shut anymore.”
What if Izzy was right?
Alec’s eyes went soft and Jace felt like someone had punched him. “Izzy said we keep it like this all the time.” He turned and sat down on Alec’s bed beside him, close enough that he could feel Alec’s warmth even if they weren’t touching. It helped, a little. Barely.
“We do.” Alec said gently and suddenly he felt drastically older than Jace. He didn’t like it at all.
Alec shifted on the bed a little and Jace realized for the first time what all those people who got annoyed at them for not explaining the bond to their standards felt like. It was weird to be on the outside of his own soul bond.
“A lot of reasons,” Alec said finally, “It’s not something we sat down and decided on. It just sort of worked its way there.”
“That makes no sense,” Jace said flatly, “None at all.”
His parabatai tipped his head to the side as though he sort of agreed. That made him feel a little better but not nearly enough. “Outside of battle, we focus better when the bond isn’t as open. We had personal things going on too that we wanted to keep to ourselves.”
That made a little more sense because Jace was already struggling with Alec sensing his nightmares. It was one thing to go to his brother’s room after one himself and another to have Alec coming to him before he was ready. Still, the thought of wanting that privacy more than he wanted to feel Alec… that wasn’t right. And what was on Alec’s end that he wanted so separate from Jace?
“Like what?” He pushed. What reasons would Alec give? Had Jace ever said anything specific to him?
Alec fidgeted again and Jace felt how incredibly uncomfortable he was. His first instinct was to give Alec an out but maybe that was how they’d gotten here? It suddenly made more sense than it had a minute ago.
“Well, you met Magnus.” Alec answered him like the words were being dragged out of him. “It took me a long time to get to… that.”
“So you like boys. I know that already, Alec.” Jace said carefully.
Alec’s head jerked as he turned to face him with wide eyes, “You do?”
He had to fight the urge to roll his eyes and that wasn’t only because he thought it might upset Alec. It just felt too casual for something that he knew Alec was really struggling with and Jace had been struggling with trying to figure out how to help his brother with it. “You complain all the time when I get all, uh, excited when a pretty girl goes by. You think I can’t feel the same thing in reverse? Even when you don’t say anything?”
Alec’s face went a weird shade of grey-pale and how he could be so oblivious so many years later (on his end) Jace wasn’t sure. “Seriously, Alec, do you think I’m that dense?”
“No,” Alec said and it sounded more reflexive than sincere. “I just… you never… I didn’t…”
“Breathe buddy, jeez.” Jace poked him in the arm. He took a deep breath then and made his decision in a second, “And if it helps, I get it about the weird stuff you feel about me. I mean, you hate most people and I’m the only guy you’re close with and of course some of that’s going to transfer because I’m the only safe guy for it to transfer to. It was a little weird at first but I’m pretty sure you’re not serious about it and apparently you aren’t and… what are you doing?”
Alec had gotten up and he was pacing, literally pacing with his hands tucked behind his back like Maryse was inspecting them. “What the fuck are you saying, Jace?”
“Am I wrong?” Jace asked even though he knew he wasn’t. It was pretty obvious by the way Alec’s eyes almost bugged out that he didn’t want to answer that. “I literally can’t believe we half closed our bond for stupid shit like gay panic and focusing better and my,” He paused but then if Alec was going to get all his secrets thrown around then Jace couldn’t hold his back. It wouldn’t be fair, “My stuff with my Dad.”
Mid-step, Alec froze. “Your Dad?” He asked and there was a weird stab of panic down their bond that Jace couldn’t really make sense of.
“Well, you hate it when I talk about him and I hate when I let all of that stuff take over so…”
“I don’t hate it when you talk about him.” Alec said a little hollowly.
Jace did roll his eyes to that. “I can literally feel your emotions, dumbass. You can’t lie to me.”
Alec let out a huff of breath that seemed to take some of the wind out of his sails. He sat back down beside Jace, “I hate him, honestly. You can talk about him all you want and I get that you… that you love him but he was awful to you and I hate him for it.”
“Oh,” Jace said softly. “I didn’t know that.”
“Lot of that going around.” Alec deadpanned. “And what do you mean about letting that stuff take over?”
“By the Angel, I thought getting bonded to you meant we weren’t going to have to talk so much.”
It was Alec’s turn to roll his eyes, “I’m pretty sure that’s like half of why we closed the bond down a bit.”
Okay, that made sense. He hadn’t really thought about any of this the right way, apparently. “Sometimes I realize how far I’ve strayed from being who my father wanted me to be but when I try to fix it I can’t because…”
“To love is to destroy.” Alec quoted with a sort of surprising amount of venom in his voice. Jace hadn’t ever heard it there before but then Alec hadn’t ever admitted how he felt about Michael Wayland before either.
“Yeah,” Jace agreed quietly, “Except I do love you. And Izzy and Max. And then things get all messed up and I do something stupid and you hurt.”
It wasn’t necessarily that Alec got hurt like physically. Mostly it was Jace who did it in some weird attempt to push Alec away for his own good. He hated that he wanted to do it and he hated that he didn’t want to do it. If his father had met Alec, then it might have been easier. His father would have seen how they were meant to rely on each other and he would have understood. Or maybe not, because his dad’s bond with Alec’s father was so strained. Jace didn’t ever want to end up like that but then he felt so disloyal to his father that it got hard.
“I know you get kind of mixed up about him.” Alec offered quietly, “Izzy and I try to fight for you harder when we notice your Dad’s voice getting louder in your head.”
That, at least, he had noticed. They always did it and Jace sometimes found himself testing them to see if they would. Obviously it didn’t feel that way while he was doing it. He didn’t wake up in the morning thinking hey, be a dick to the two people you love most just to see if they’ll stick around.
No, he’d wake up with his Dad’s voice echoing in his head and the way he used to feel – not enough, not worth it, fucking everything up constantly – would sort of knock him over like a tidal wave and then all of a sudden he’d be blinking at Izzy when she gave him a hug after he said something stupid about fighting alone. They always pulled him back from that place, every goddamned time for years.
“You’re still here.” Jace said quietly. “I don’t know if I’m going to remember this when I go back – actually, I guess not because this isn’t like time travel or some shit like that but I kind of wish it was, you know? Because then I’d know that at least until now you and Izzy stay.”
Alec’s hand went to the back of Jace’s head and his parabatai jerked him forward until their foreheads were pressed together. Alec’s eyes were so close and he was staring straight into Jace’s, no blinking, no hesitation. “I’ll always stay.” Alec vowed, “I will never leave you.”
Jace nudged his head against Alec’s before pulling back. Alec’s hand let go sort of slowly, like he wanted to stay close. “So listen, your sparkly boyfriend thinks I’m gonna be here for like a week or two. Maybe a month. I get you don’t normally do it anymore, but can we keep the bond open because I’m going to go batshit if we don’t.”
There was a split second of hesitation on Alec’s end and Jace felt his stomach drop.
“Hey, wait, listen,” Alec said once he got the echo of Jace’s emotions. He gripped his shoulder and Jace almost pushed him back. “Listen, one of the things that we found we didn’t really want to experience was um… If Magnus…”
“Oh,” Jace said, relieved instantly. “Yeah, shut it down if you guys fuck.”
Alec’s face went weirdly red.
“Wait, don’t tell me after five months you haven’t…”
“By the Angel, Jace,” Alec used the hand on his shoulder to shove him. “Yeah, we do. Of course we do. I’ll block you off as much as I can if that’s um, happening. And I expect the same if you and Clary…”
And wasn’t that a thought. Jace wasn’t sure what his face did because he wasn’t sure what he actually felt about the idea but Alec gave a stab of concern that seemed kind of unwarranted.
“Okay, we need to talk about Clary.” Alec switched gears abruptly. “You love her, okay? Like actually, really, seriously love her. I don’t know what she’d think if you started making out with someone else. She’d probably get it but when you get older again, if you’ve cheated on her you’re going to hate yourself.”
Was it cheating if Jace hadn’t ever met her before today? Was it cheating if he didn’t love her? Sure, she was pretty and she looked at him in a way that Jace hadn’t ever seen before but he didn’t love her.
The answer felt like no and yes at the same time.
“I don’t know what I think about her.” Jace admitted.
Alec nodded, “I get it Jace but trust me, you love her. You’d die for her, you’ve killed for her, you’ve done a lot of stupid things to try and keep her safe.”
“Bet you loved that.” Jace joked. Instantly, some weird sort of leftover something came from Alec. “Oh, wow, you really hated it, didn’t you?”
“I’m over it.” Alec said, “And don’t tell Clary, but I like you guys together. I’m glad you met her, even if she kind of threw things into chaos for a while.”
Never once had Alec liked a girl Jace was interested in. Not once. And yeah, Alec didn’t really like anybody so that wasn’t a huge deal breaker but to actually have a girlfriend that Alec wanted him to be with? “My parabatai likes my girlfriend?” Jace said a little shocked. “And Izzy likes her too? I actually found some chick that you both approve of? Izzy, sure. But you? I figured that was never going to happen.”
“Well, it took a while but it did.” Alec shifted uncomfortably.
That was kind of awesome? Like Jace was honestly worried about what was going to happen when they each got married. What if their spouses hated each other? What if Jace hated Alec’s person and/or Alec hated Jace’s? That shit could ruin them.
“So listen, okay? If you feel the urge to mess around with someone, go find Clary. She’d be down, I’m pretty sure. Then, when you’re older again, you don’t have to feel like you betrayed her.” Alec still sounded sort of uncomfortable but he was so dead serious that Jace knew what he was saying was true.
So apparently he had a girlfriend now? Long term relationships hadn’t ever been Jace’s thing – it was hard to be exclusive with a girl he was only fooling around with – but if that was what he had going, then he’d honor that. Cheating was scummy. His hesitance was just because he wasn’t sure if it counted. According to Alec it did though, so that was that.
“Okay,” Jace said and meant it, “Nobody but Clary. I got it.”
“And you’re going to mute the bond if anything starts to happen.” Alec pressed. “I don’t need random horniness, Jace.”
Jace almost snorted. His Alec could honestly use more random horniness but apparently this version didn’t. “Yeah, sure, I promise.”
“Good.” Alec said before something in his shoulders visibly relaxed. Jace felt the bond opening on Alec’s end and he got the rush of feeling he was used to.
It felt right but Jace wasn’t ready to bask in it. No, he wanted to see Alec’s reaction, because he wasn’t so used to it anymore. His parabatai had his eyes closed, like he was trying to center himself. There was something that said overwhelmed! on his end of the bond and Jace frowned at him while he tried to sort himself out. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” Alec breathed out slowly. “Yeah, it’s just been a while.”
“We’re idiots.” Jace said flatly.
Alec’s eyes opened and he gave Jace a lazy smile, “We are but that’s okay.”
They were still together, still brothers, so he guessed it was.
His room was almost the same. Same enough, he supposed, but it still felt like it wasn’t his. His things weren’t where he’d left them. His favorite jacket was gone but his favorite boots weren’t. They were in the back of his closet looking like hell, like he’d worn them to near pieces and definitely couldn’t wear them anymore, but he hadn’t tossed them either. It seemed stupid, his Dad definitely wouldn’t approve, but Jace felt weirdly reassured to see them sitting there.
He still had his piano, the one that Maryse and Robert had given him for his birthday a couple of years ago, and when Jace hit a couple of keys the thing sounded perfectly tuned. So he still played. Was it still after nightmares or did he just do it for fun? Did he play it for Clary?
Everything was so bizarre.
Alec was in his room down the hall and that settled him too. He and Magnus had some weird little conversation and Jace knew instantly it was because Alec usually went to Magnus’ place and he was telling his boyfriend he wouldn’t be staying over tonight. It made Jace feel like a bad brother. A cockblock at least.
But he didn’t tell Alec to go with Magnus either.
It felt selfish. Fuck, he knew it was selfish but he did it anyway. The thought of Alec sleeping somewhere else was messed up. What if something happened and Jace was too far away to protect his parabatai?
Getting in bed was even more bizarre. The sheets smelled differently than the usually did. There were too many pillows. Was that a girlfriend thing? Like he had one sleep in his bed sometimes so suddenly extra pillows appeared?
Jace threw them onto the far corner of the bed and tried to ignore the smell.
Sleeping didn’t go great. He felt like he kept jolting awake, except like ten minutes went by between each time and there wasn’t any reason for it. Alec and Izzy were okay. The Institute was quiet. Everything was fine.
Then, Alec had started sending calm vibes down the bond, which was something his Alec had never done before. Jace didn’t even know that he could do that. Best guess was that Alec had managed to zen himself out enough that he could radiate it to Jace but the words zen and Alec didn’t really go together so maybe that was why he hadn’t ever done it before.
This Alec seemed a lot more zen.
At some point, he fell asleep.
It took Jace an unforgivable few seconds to realize that he was waking up because someone was opening his door. If it was Alec it would have been okay because Jace’s instincts never really clocked Alec as a potential threat but it definitely wasn’t Alec so it definitely wasn’t okay.
Then, Jace saw the long dark hair and he realized it was only Izzy.
“You slept like the dead.” Izzy said before she’d even shut the door. “It’s like ten in the morning, Jace.”
“Good thing Maryse isn’t here.” Jace turned onto his back and stretched. It was really lucky Maryse wasn’t there. She did not tolerate sleeping late unless they’d been working the night before. “Is Alec gonna let me go on patrols?”
“I don’t see why not.” Izzy said as she dropped down onto the end of his bed. She purposefully sat on his foot and he made sure to kick her a little when he pulled it out from under her. “And if he gives you shit about it, remind him that technically you set the patrol rosters, so you get to pick.”
That was interesting. “I do?”
“Yeah,” Izzy said. “You’re in charge of personnel stuff. Training, patrols, assigning missions, new recruits, all of that.”
In Charge of Personnel Stuff wasn’t officially a job title that Jace knew of. It had always fallen under the Head of Institute’s duties, which meant that it was either something Jace had taken from Alec to help or, less likely, it was something Alec had created just for him.
Honestly, it was kind of perfect. Jace loved sparring and that made him really good at sizing up people’s abilities. It wasn’t hard to shift that into putting together teams that were best suited for a mission or even for each other.
“Did I do that or did Alec?” Jace asked curiously.
Izzy smiled at him, “Has Alec ever been good at delegating? It’s like he forgets that Mom and Dad ran this together and then with him later. That a lot of Institutes are run by married couples.”
So Jace had taken it for himself. “He’s not mad about it?”
“No, you’ve done a great job.” Izzy’s smile went a little softer.
Jace scowled, “Fuck, Izzy, don’t look at me like I’m some little kid.”
Izzy laughed and crawled up the bed to pinch Jace’s cheek. He tried to shove her off, but she had like an iron grip or something. “My little baby brother. You’re younger than me right now, just a little boy. I’ll protect you, baby brother, I promise.”
Oh eff that! Jace brought his knee up and jabbed Izzy’s side, flipping her up off the edge of the bed. Izzy landed on her feet grinning and Jace surged up to throw a kick up to knock the smile on her face. Izzy blocked it and tried to throw her own punch in return.
They didn’t normally spar in their bedrooms – Maryse’s rule – but she wasn’t there and Izzy was and no one was going to stop them from moving around the room trying to one up each other.
Izzy had gotten good.
Not that she wasn’t good before, she was just better now. Her clothes seemed kind of stupid for a fight but damn if she wasn’t making it work. Her heels felt like little stakes. He was gonna be covered in little purple pinprick bruises.
Jace fell back from Izzy the second he realized they had an audience. An audience of more than just Alec, at least. Clary and his brother stood in the doorway looking some weird mix of amused and annoyed. Or at least, Alec did. Clary was grinning.
“Good timing,” Jace panted, “Let’s go spar for real.”
Izzy shoved his shoulder, “I’m pretty sure that sweat on your forehead says this round was for real. What’s wrong, baby brother, I get too good for you?”
Her shit-talking sent another surge down Jace’s limbs and he tensed up, ready to start it up again but Alec took a quick step forward and held up his hands, “Hey, quit it.”
“Don’t be lame, Alec.” Jace grinned at his parabatai, “Let’s go have some fun. You run this place, right? We can do whatever we want now.” There was a rush of something fond/frustrated/familiar/shoulda-known that came down the bond and it only made Jace grin wider.
“I run this place,” Alec agreed, “So that means we go eat breakfast.”
Wait, what? “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Alec jerked his fingers at Izzy, calling her to his side. “Dead serious. You have twenty minutes to shower, get dressed and meet us down in the cafeteria.”
His brother’s grin went wide, way too pleased with himself to spell out good things for Jace, “Or I go on patrol without you tonight.”
“You wouldn’t.” Except that Jace could absolutely feel that Alec would. And Alec wasn’t Maryse or Robert. He knew all of Jace’s tricks to get out of the Institute because they were his tricks too. Not only that but apparently he had a warlock at his disposal who was probably totally willing to lock Jace up if Alec wanted him to.
Alec just smirked.
“Fine,” Jace tried to make it sound like he was agreeing because he wanted to, “Breakfast sounds great. I’m starving. Good call, Alec.”
His siblings and Clary backed out of his room, Alec at the lead. His parabatai didn’t need to stick around to see if Jace was going to go along with his order or not, not when he could feel it.
They shut the door behind them and Jace dropped his head back to stare at the ceiling. How had he ever thought that Alec – rule-loving, stick-in-the-mud, cranky Alec – running the Institute was going to mean free reign?
This was gonna be a long day.
Next Up: Jace learns just how bad things have gotten
I hope everyone enjoyed the chapter!
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After breakfast, Alec insisted he needed to get some work done and that he couldn’t spar. Then Izzy said the same thing, although at least she offered to let Jace go with her. Izzy’s new job – Weapons Master – sounded badass but it was still sitting in a room not sparring so for the moment it wasn’t worth it.
Clary didn’t offer to spar but she very carefully said that she wasn’t doing anything really important until the afternoon.
He’d felt Alec’s encouragement through their bond, telling him to ask her to go train with him but somehow it seemed like too much too fast. He wasn’t sure why – sparring didn’t really need to involve talking so it was probably the best way to get to know her – but he still didn’t want to.
She didn’t seem bothered when he said nothing.
Izzy kicked him.
He’d kicked back.
An hour later he was halfway to maybe regretting it. Hunting around the Institute for differences seemed like a good idea but that just sort of made him weirdly homesick. This was his home, so he had no reason for feeling weird. Except it wasn’t really.
The feeling was compounded by Alec’s door being locked. Jace was pretty sure he could get around that if he really wanted to but he’d been locked out because Alec had to get stuff done and he thought Jace wasn’t going to be helpful. That he was too much of a kid to let Alec work.
And yeah, that was sort of true but he didn’t like Alec thinking that so he left him alone to prove a point.
It seemed especially important to do it since Alec had just opened the bond up the entire way. In another room wasn’t so much of a separation that Jace couldn’t take it. Alec was use to more room to himself now. He in no way wanted Alec to try to shut it halfway down again so he could get some work done. Jace wasn’t a child and he and his own Alec had been working on not being literally in each other’s sightlines for the last couple of months. It wasn’t his favorite but he knew it was important.
So he was back in his room, tinkering on his piano and trying not to squirm in his own skin.
This was weird.
He knew it wasn’t time travel, he understood that he hadn’t actually gone anywhere and that he wasn’t going home after this. This wasn’t some great adventure where he could then go back and tell his Alec all about it and set them right sooner (not that they were wrong now or anything, they just seemed to have lost their way a little in the middle there and if he could really go home after this he could have spared them a lot of angst). He was probably just going to blink and be twenty-whatever again and think this was all some wild dream.
Just because he knew that was what was happening and was going to happen didn’t make this batshit situation any less ridiculous.
A buzzing noise caught his attention and for a split second Jace thought there was a fly in his room. Not annoying enough to do anything about but the sound happened two more times in rapid succession and Jace realized it was too precisely timed to be a bug.
Notification buzzing, Jace realized dismissively.
Then his eyes widened.
His phone! How had he forgotten about the phone in his pocket?
He jumped up from the piano bench and went to some hooks on his wall where he’d hung the jacket he had been wearing yesterday. Jace pulled it out of the pocket and tapped it to wake it up. Immediately he got a lock screen with notifications for a couple of boring Institute wide emails. He pressed the screen and for a split second he started wracking his brain for a password before he realized it wanted him to press his finger on a square for a fingerprint. That was interesting, although he’d seen enough Shadowhunters missing fingers or full limbs to find it a little stupid.
One press of his thumb later and he was in.
The background was a picture of Clary. He stared at it and felt a little dirty, even though she wasn’t doing anything wrong. She was just sketching, it looked like. Her back was to the camera and it was completely bare. She was just wrapped up in white sheets and the window – his window, his actual bedroom window was dripping light on a naked girl – lit her up in way that made her look halfway fae. Ethereal? They were stupid words and he felt silly thinking of them but he still couldn’t look away or pretend that she didn’t look gorgeous sitting there so focused on the picture she was drawing.
He had taken this picture himself. He’d had a naked girl in his bed and he’d thought her back and her face and her focus were what was worth taking a picture of.
It made him feel like the pig Izzy sometimes teased him about being that he’d even thought it through like that. Suddenly this adult Jace felt more adult than he was comfortable with and Clary seemed less like a girlfriend and more like… well, just more.
“Trust me, you love her. You’d die for her, you’ve killed for her…”
Alec’s certainty about his relationship with Clary seemed a lot more real all of a sudden.
He felt sort of like a creep, so he switched over to his photo album before he realized that might be worse. By the Angel, what if he did have dirty pictures of her on his phone?
There weren’t loads of pictures in the album, he noted with a mixture of disappointment and relief, and he scrolled through the quickly to see if there was some mini version of something with a lot of skin. He didn’t think there was anything, so he went back to the top and opened up the first one eagerly.
It was of a page in a book.
He rolled his eyes at his own future self. Apparently his habit of taking pictures of things he wanted to remember hadn’t gone away. He probably wanted to note the page number or something. The anticlimactic first picture eased off some of his boob panic (never in his life had he felt boob panic before and that was weird enough for him that it only added to the surreal feeling of this fucked up rabbit hole he was living in).
After the book there was a picture of Max and Izzy sparring that made him grin. Max had gotten big. At least he didn’t look like he was gearing up to shoot up taller than Jace like Alec had. He wasn’t sure what he would do if he had to look up at Max one day.
Next picture over was one of Clary laughing, then another of Clary smiling, then Clary giving him a suggestive bedroom eyes kind of look. He had a feeling there was going to be a lot of Clary in this thing.
The next was a video of some guy he’d never met before sliding on an icy sidewalk before finally falling on his ass. There was a giggle off camera and then Clary’s voice calling out “Simon!” before laughing again. Apparently this was important to preserve?
He scrolled through a few more pictures of Izzy and Clary taking selfies with his phone, laughing and looking like best friends. Alec came in on the last one, looking grumpy and playing along only because of what looked like Izzy’s death grip on his shirt.
Alec might have been scowling in the picture but Jace knew his parabatai well enough to see that he only half meant it. He was having fun with them, they fit together easily. Clary, the girl he apparently loved, fit together with the two most important people in his life.
The next was of a kindjal dagger and he was pretty sure he was taking a picture because of a nick in the blade itself. Not sure why.
Then a picture of Izzy sleeping unattractively enough that he was absolutely sure of why he’d taken it. He huffed out a laugh as he noticed the drool puddle forming under her mouth.
There were a few more of Clary then the rest seemed to be from the same party in a bar. Or actually, that was probably someone’s fancy apartment, he decided as he noticed some couches in the background of one of the shots. There were pictures of people he didn’t know mixed in with ones of his siblings, Clary and a couple with Magnus.
Jace thumbed over to the last picture and felt his breath catch. Izzy had stolen his phone for another selfie but this time she had dragged in Alec… and him.
They were all obviously a little drunk, skin flushed and eyes wide. Alec was grinning, which was a giveaway in itself, and Izzy was making a kissy face.
He – Adult Jace, him but not him - had his mouth open wide like he was shouting even though he was grinning too and he looked so…
He looked happy. And it wasn’t like he wasn’t happy now, because he was. Generally speaking, at least. It was more like he was lighter maybe? Like he wasn’t so… he didn’t know how to explain it. It was as though he had won something finally.
That didn’t make any sense because technically this guy had more to lose. It wasn’t just Izzy and Alec that he needed to protect. There were more people in their little circle, for better or worse.
For better, apparently.
His future self looked like the kind of person who had walked years in hell and had made it out and knew exactly how good he had it now.
It was the last picture on the phone and Jace swiped it away quickly, weirdly uncomfortable with how uncomfortable a single picture was making him. Hell, it should have been a good thing, like how he knew now that he would get to keep Alec and Izzy for a few years longer.
Still though, there was something about the picture that made him feel strange.
Instead, he opened up his text conversations and saw Clary again right on the top. By the Angel…
Actually, he should probably not be thinking about the Angels if he was going to diving into some potential sexting. Just in case he hadn’t been sure before, voyeurism apparently wasn’t his thing. This was awkward in ways that Jace couldn’t even describe.
Luckily, the most recent conversation seemed pretty tame. Clary was asking him where one of her sketchbooks had gone missing to and he was teasing her about the location. Sure, she bribed him with a winky face that definitely meant like blowjobs or something but it wasn’t wild.
Up from there was a conversation about him joining some mission. Clary was obviously trying to encourage him to not but he was totally not picking up on her hints. She even suggested sparing with Alec instead – she made it sound like he hadn’t in a while and what the hell was that even about? – and he seemed completely uninterested in it. That was maybe a worse find than sexting.
He scrolled back through their messages, finding everything from boring day to day things to intense conversations about nightmares and even some stuff referencing that psycho Valentine. Nice to know he hadn’t stopped hating the guy.
Next up was Izzy and he was expecting their text thread to be much of what it was in his own time. Them, sniping at each other nearly constantly, occasionally interspersed with warnings about Maryse, updates on Alec or Max or bitching about whatever idiot had gotten them both annoyed.
He clicked Izzy’s name with a grin, ready to read. The first exchange was from the morning before and it read:
Izzy: Clary says you’re planning on coming with us for the mission?
Izzy: That was a question, Jace
Izzy: Clary and I can handle it ourselves. That’s why Alec assigned it to us, not you
Jace: I’m coming
Izzy: How about you take a nap instead before you have a coronary
Jace: Come off it Izzy
Izzy: This is stupid, Jace
And that was it. What happened after that was pretty obvious. He’d one the argument and his prize was getting zapped by a pissed off warlock.
The conversation wasn’t especially hostile, he’d said things way nastier to Izzy before and had gotten back some pretty epic burns in return. There was no reason why it should have left such a sour taste in his mouth…
But it did.
Izzy was annoyed. Really, genuinely annoyed. And he was just dismissing her, like he wasn’t even talking to her.
His sister hadn’t seemed annoyed with him since he’d gotten here or whatever. She seemed the same as she always was, teasing him and giving as good as she got. He tried to shake off the weird feeling, but scrolling on to the next conversation didn’t make anything better.
Izzy: What did you say to Darkwind?
Izzy: You answer me first, Jace
Jace: Nothing that wasn’t true. Why, he go crying to you?
Izzy: No, you idiot, he’s lodging a formal complaint with Alec and threatening to go to the Clave if he doesn’t actually discipline you!
Jace: He won’t
Izzy: WHAT. DID. YOU. SAY?
Jace: He did a shit job on that mission last night, Iz. Rookie mistakes. He goes to the Clave, he’ll have to tell them what he did. He won’t
Izzy: He said your attacks were personal and unnecessarily cruel
Jace: Not my fault he can’t handle the truth
Izzy: Fuck, Jace, this is the fifth person threatening to report you. Alec can’t make all of them go away. Now this guy is calling him out for favoritism right to his face. You need to chill out
Jace: Alec wants to be Head of Institute, this is the kind of shit he has to deal with. He can handle it. He’s fine
Jace’s eyes nearly bugged out of his head. What the absolute fuck was future him going on about? Even if the guy had deserved whatever he’d said, that he was putting Alec in that kind of situation was bordering into unforgivable. He wasn’t stupid - gay and dating a warlock wasn’t going to make Alec the darling of Alicante. If he couldn’t even control his own parabatai, that was only going to make him look even worse.
Izzy apparently agreed because she stopped talking after that. She’d probably come to rip him a new one in person.
Jace bit his lip as he started going through the next few conversations. Over and over again, they were the same sorts of things. Go to sleep, Jace. Eat something, Jace. Chill out, Jace.
There were a lot of questions about Lake Lyn that he kept angrily deflecting. Then there was even more about Alec, mostly Izzy trying to get them to talk and him shutting her down.
It took him a too long to realize his hand had started aching he was gripping his phone so tight.
He sank back down onto the piano bench and tried to pull in a deep breath. He felt some twinge of something down the bond, sort of like Alec was noticing that he was off somehow. Hopefully, his parabatai wouldn’t come running. There was still too much to read.
Izzy: I get it, bad shit happened at Lake Lyn. Jace, whatever it was, it will be okay. You don’t have to do this again
Jace: I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m not doing anything
Izzy: You can keep testing Alec and I all you want. We’re not leaving.
He hadn’t responded. That, at least, made sense.
What the fuck had he done at Lake Lyn?
Opening his conversation with his parabatai felt like too much after the hellscape that had been Izzy’s. In order, his most recent conversations were Clary, Izzy, Alec, someone named Greylight who seemed to be asking for orders and had gotten zilch out of him, whoever that Simon guy was and then Magnus.
Magnus it was, then.
There wasn’t a lot there, which kind of sucked two different ways. One, he was curious, so sue him. Two, if this guy was Alec’s boyfriend then Jace wanted to be his friend. The most recent conversation was from two weeks ago and it was just a short question of Magnus asking Jace to spar with Alec because he had been kind of restless that morning.
Again with the implication that Jace both wasn’t interested in sparring with his favorite sparring partner in the world and didn’t seem to give a shit about him.
What the everlasting fuck was wrong with him?
Jace bit his lip and kept going through the backlog of his conversation with Magnus. There were a few short things, mostly it seemed to be them working out the timings of things. Then, it took a turn.
Magnus, asking him if he wanted anything from the curry shop for dinner. Jace, telling him he’d made pancakes. Magnus, asking him to feed the cats. Jace, calling Magnus a slob and telling him he’d cleaned up whatever horrific mess of an attempted meal was left in the kitchen the night before. Magnus, telling him to stop bringing cheap booze to the loft lest he ruin Magnus’ image. Jace, bitching about the amount of cats on the balcony.
There was a lot about cats, actually.
If he was reading this right – and he had to be, because how else could he read it? – he and Magnus had been roommates? It sounded like it was Magnus’ place and that Jace was crashing there. Why, none of the messages said. It was still weirdly interesting though.
A pretty large part of him wanted to put the phone down, go to one of the practice rooms and let out some of this anxiety the best way there was. He could read the conversation with Alec another time. Or never, that would kind of be fine too.
Except if he chickened out like that, he knew he’d be back in here in under twenty minutes because the morbid curiosity couldn’t be stopped.
He tapped Alec’s name.
It… wasn’t so bad? Jace sort of relaxed a little because the first conversation was just Alec checking in on a mission and Jace answering easily enough. None of the snarkiness that Izzy had gotten.
And the conversation above it was the same.
And the conversation above that was the same.
And the conversation above that was still the same.
Jace scrolled up through weeks worth of the same thing over and over. Alec, checking on a mission. Jace, asking about patrols. Over and over and over.
They never got bitchy with each other but it felt hollow. Like they were going through the motions.
Above that, finally, the conversations were a little warmer. They were kind of short but that made sense because he and Alec had never been big on texting each other. It was pretty even, though, and way more personal.
Just when Jace got settled into that section, he got thrown into something else. By the time he hit four months back, every conversation was Jace demanding Alec do something. Go there, check this out, lie about that. Loads about Clary and helping her with her mother. There was even a bunch of stuff about looking for a cup, which didn’t make loads of sense. There were gaps a week or two long with nothing.
Even when Clary stopped getting mentioned, things didn’t get better. It was him, ordering Alec around and complaining that Alec was dull or rigid or repressed. Sometimes Alec gave as good as he got but other times he was just kind of quiet. The kind of quiet that usually meant bloody fingers and missing arrows. The kind of quiet that he’d never let stand, if it were him and his Alec.
Except this was him and his Alec.
Suddenly, Izzy’s comment from yesterday about how he hadn’t bitched about Alec’s dehydration headaches in forever made more sense.
His door softly opened and Jace didn’t even bother looking up. “I’m a horrible brother.”
“You’re not.” Alec said evenly.
Jace shoved his phone towards Alec and his parabatai almost fumbled it to the ground he had to move for it so quick. “I’m a year and a half back, Alec. I’ve been shitty to you for a year and a half. More probably but if I read much longer I’ll puke.”
“We went through a rough patch.” Alec admitted slowly and Jace felt the little twinge of unease through the bond.
He knew what it was, “Went through? Or one we’re still going through?” Another twinge of something strange and Jace held his hand up, “Don’t lie to me.”
“Listen, I told you. When Clary came there was a lot happening.” Alec crossed over to Jace’s bed and sat down heavily and Jace could suddenly see just how much a lot had taken out of his brother. “Awful things, Jace. We’ve only just gotten through it.”
“Tell me.” Jace demanded, hungry to know. Hungry to understand. It didn’t excuse him, future him whatever, but it might make it easier to swallow.
Alec shook his head though. “No.”
“Are you kidding me?” Jace stood up and threw his hand out towards the door. “I can get anyone in this place to tell me if you won’t. Fuck, my passwords and backdoors might be outdated or gone, but I can hack the system by tomorrow morning and get every detail.”
He turned away from Alec, ready to do exactly what he was threatening. It wasn’t even meant as a threat, more as a promise. Alec didn’t get to protect him, not like this.
“Please?” Alec sighed and Jace stopped just long enough to really pay attention to the bond.
Alec was exhausted.
“Please, Jace, don’t.” Alec said softly.
“Why?” Jace asked without turning around. He wasn’t ready to and he definitely wasn’t backing down just because Alec was asking. If anything, feeling how absolutely shattered Alec felt by whatever had happened only made him want to know more.
There was a long pause before Alec spoke again. His voice was still too soft, not like a volume thing, just like… like something was wrong. “Because it was bad. Because you’re only going to be here for a little while so there’s no reason to do that to you again. Because I don’t want to explain, that means living through it all again and I don’t want to. No one in this building does.”
“I’m sure I could find someone who doesn’t really give a shit.” Jace said, “Someone will tell me.”
“No,” Alec said with a hard voice. And whoa, he had heard Alec giving orders before. It was an eldest sibling’s favorite thing to do, after all. This though, this was different. One word and it was obvious that for just a second he wasn’t talking to his parabatai, he was talking to the Head of the New York Institute. “I’ve already given the order. No one here will say a word to you about it. If they do, they’ll regret it.”
“Fine, no asking people. But computers don’t take your orders, Alec.” Jace made the point but he wasn’t so much of an ass that he was going to keep his back to Alec when his parabatai was clearly sending out distress signals. When he turned around seeing Alec didn’t make anything easier.
“You’ll have questions. So much of it needs to be explained. We left out lots of the reports.” Alec explained, “Most of the important things, honestly. The Clave either didn’t need it or didn’t deserve it.”
Things the Clave didn’t deserve to know? That was new and strange from Alec ‘The Law is the law’ Lightwood. New and awful, probably. Hard won, definitely.
Alec wasn’t done though. He tilted his head to meet Jace’s eyes straight on, “There’s still important things that not even I know.”
Suddenly, Izzy’s texts made more sense. “Things I’m not telling you.” Jace finished for him. “Something about Lake Lyn.”
Alec nodded one heavily, “Something happened. Something bad. You won’t tell me. Every time I push, I just push you away. Jace, I could explain everything up to that night to you but the thought of putting you through that again makes me... Please don’t ask me to. Please don’t ask anyone else to.”
Jace dropped down beside Alec heavily. He didn’t say okay or agree out loud but he knew Alec could feel that he’d leave it alone because his parabatai relaxed enough that he sort of went visibly boneless. Alec slouching shouldn’t have been so notable but it kind of was. “It was that bad?” Jace asked with a voice he didn’t mean to make sound so small.
“The worst thing we’ve ever been through. Together or alone.”
The bond told him how serious Alec was about that. The thought that there was something coming that was worse than his father’s death made his breath catch. “As long as nothing happens to you, Izzy or Max, I can take it.”
Alec laughed tremulously and it felt like a punch in the gut. “What?” He shifted in his seat to turn to face Alec better and grabbed his brother’s shoulder to jerk him around to face him. “What happened?”
Alec shook his head, “It’s done Jace.”
“Obviously not,” He jerked his chin towards his phone. “Tell me what happened to you guys?”
“Nothing we didn’t survive.” Alec answered like that made any hurt his siblings had felt any less. That was the kind of thing Jace would say for himself but the thought of dismissing Alec, Izzy and Max’s pain like that felt disturbing.
“That’s not an answer,” Jace insisted. “I won’t make you tell me the back-story or whatever the stuff with Lake Lyn is but you have to tell me what happened to you guys. I need to know.” His grip on Alec’s shoulder was getting tight enough to leave marks so he tried to ease up, even though Alec wasn’t really registering the pain. His whole body was so tense that loosening his grip made his fingers ache.
The door to his bedroom cracked open before Alec got a chance to say anything and Jace jumped up from his seat, jaw clenched and fingers pulling into fists. Who was bothering them now? Now, when Alec was clearly so bone deep weary and Jace was struggling to understand why and how to fix it?
“It’s just Izzy, Jace.” Alec said gently.
Izzy slid through the gap in the door and shut it behind her quietly. “Alec told Clary you were upset and Clary told me.”
“Oh yeah,” Jace tried for something sarcastically casual but he could feel his face tense up to make him look like a maniac or something. Izzy’s eyes softened, even when Jace kept talking, “I just read though my phone, I’m the worst brother and parabatai in the world, something horrible happens that I’m keeping secrets about like an idiot, Alec won’t tell me what any of it means but something awful definitely happened to you guys and he won’t even tell me that.”
Izzy shot forward, her hands reaching out to rest her warm palms against his cheeks. She tilted his face down so they could look eye to eye, “Having you here feels so good, Jace. You’re reminding us how to breathe again, that we used to know how. Even when things were going bad, I never once doubted that you love both of us but sometimes you’ve felt so far away that I had almost forgotten how you used to be.”
Alec’s hand reached out from behind them and wrapped around Jace’s fist.
“Listen to me,” Izzy said earnestly with shining, loving eyes, “Even when the spell undoes itself and you go back to pulling away from us, nothing is going to change. Alec and I are going to help you and eventually we’re going to win, just like we always do. But right now, while you’re here, can we please just enjoy it? Don’t ask us to put you in that pain again, please Jace.”
The silence while Izzy waited for an answer rang in Jace’s ears piercingly. His fingers slowly relaxed, just enough that Alec could force them apart to tangle with his properly. He squeezed his parabatai’s hand like he needed the lifeline to speak. “Tell me what happens to you three.”
Unlike Alec, Izzy didn’t hesitate.
“Max got attacked in the Institute by someone we thought was a friend but was really our enemy.” Izzy answered even when the bond jolted with Alec’s pain. “He almost died. We had to call in the Silent Brothers.”
Jace swallowed, trying to digest something happening to the tiny bundle of blankets that Maryse had handed him. “He’s okay?”
“He’s fine.” Izzy smiled and even though it was a little watery, it was still radiant. “He sends us texts and fire messages and letters and emails all begging to get him pulled from the Academy so he can train here with us. We’re more traumatized than he is.”
Jace laughed a little because that absolutely sounded like their fearless Max.
Something in Izzy’s face faltered just a little before she visibly strengthened her resolve. “A demon got into the Institute and started possessing everyone. It got Alec and it used his body to kill someone.” The jolt of pain and self-loathing from Alec nearly stole Jace’s breath, “Then it got me and I tried to kill Alec. Clary saved us, but the wound I got from that was taking a long time to heal. I… I trusted the wrong person. He gave me something I should have known better than to take and I…”
“It wasn’t your fault.” Alec’s voice was cold like ice but Jace and Izzy both knew it wasn’t directed towards her. It was towards whoever had betrayed her trust.
“It was yin fen, Jace.” Izzy’s voice got stronger and he admired her more in that second than any other, which was saying something.
Jace knew exactly what yin fen was and hearing her try to tell him she had gotten addicted to it felt like another failure on his part. If he had known of yin fen, he could have – should have – been able to protect his sister from it. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s not anyone’s fault but Ald-his.” Izzy denied. “I’ve heard of yin fen before. Maybe not by name, but enough that I should have been more wary taking a drug I didn’t know from a man I didn’t really trust.”
“He was the Head of the Institute,” Alec ground out in a voice like steel. “You should have been able to trust him.”
A Head of Institute between their parents and Alec? One who hurt Izzy?
“I’ve kicked it.” Izzy explained, ignoring what Alec had said. “It was hard… it is hard. It’s hard every day. It’s getting easier though.”
“We help?” Jace could tell Alec already knew all of this and he could only pray to the Angels that he did too.
Izzy smiled at him, “You do, you both do. I’m trying to balance accepting support because everyone needs that and also not relying too much on everyone, because this is my battle. I know if I called either of you and said that I was struggling, you would both drop everything to be there for me.”
“Always.” Alec said firmly. Jace echoed his words with his eyes.
Max had been nearly killed by a traitor in their midst and Izzy had been tricked into a yin fen addiction. He could feel Alec’s pain over what a demon possession had made his body do and as awful as that was, he found himself hoping that was the last of it.
Izzy’s eyes and the tension down the parabatai bond said it wasn’t.
“I already told you about Alec’s demon possession and he doesn’t like to talk about it but he’s really struggled with what happened.” Izzy’s eyes darted to their brother and for a second, just based off the way her expression faltered, he was disgustingly grateful he couldn’t see that pain on Alec’s face. Feeling it through the bond was bad enough.
There was something there too, something that Izzy clearly wasn’t adding.
Instead, her eyes turned back to Jace’s and he braced himself for whatever fresh horror came next. “For a while, your bond was really strained. A lot of stuff was happening and you were far away, physically and emotionally. Alec tried to track you with the bond…”
“You used a weakened parabatai bond to try and track me?” Jace turned to Alec this time, incredulous. They hadn’t gotten much instruction on what to do when they were bonded. That was considered to private and personal to every bonded pair. What they had gotten were some warnings about what not to do. What Izzy was saying was right at the top of that list.
Alec’s face was carefully blank. He was hiding behind the sort of walls he usually put up for the rest of the world, not them. Jace felt the bond go a little numb and he lunged to Alec, grabbing his shoulders and shaking them just enough to make Alec’s lips part in a silent gasp. “Don’t do that!”
“I won’t, not again.” Alec promised.
Jace shook his head, “No, don’t hide from me.”
There was confusion on Alec’s face that felt like a knife to Jace’s heart. He pushed at the bond, trying to bulldoze that pain down his end, to make Alec feel the full force of it even with Alec’s end just a bit closed.
Realization dawned on Alec’s face then. The bond opened back up and Jace watched tears well up in Alec’s eyes. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry.” Jace said a little more quietly, “Just don’t think you need to do that. Not with me. Not with Izzy.”
Alec always retreated into himself when things got bad. When they had bonded, Jace had been so sure that he would be able to keep Alec from turning all his pain inward like that but apparently he’d failed spectacularly.
“What happened when you tried to track me?” Jace asked. He was asking them both, even though he couldn’t tear his eyes from Alec’s.
It was Izzy who answered, “It was awful. It went wrong right away. He got dragged down too deep and had a seizure along the way. We couldn’t wake him up.”
By the Angel…
Jace pressed his forehead to Alec’s and tried to pull in a deep breath. It took a few tries before he could; his heart was pounding too hard to make it easy.
“I called Magnus and he came to try to help, but nothing he did managed to pull Alec back. He just kept him from being completely lost.” Izzy continued quietly. Jace felt her sit down in his vacated spot by Alec.
Standing felt like too much and Izzy wasn’t even done talking yet. Jace sank down onto his knees in front of Alec. Everything felt like too much and each word out of Izzy’s mouth only made it worse, but he needed to know, “Tell me the rest.”
“Clary and I finally managed to tell you what had happened and we set up a plan to get you and Alec to Magnus’ loft. It was hard, but you made it just in time. You brought back the piece of Alec’s soul that was missing and that brought him out of it.” Izzy finished and he got the sense that she was skipping over a lot of it. He’d promised them that he wouldn’t press for too many answers and that promise already grated on him.
“Okay,” Jace said slowly, “Okay, after something like that’d we would need to stay close to each other, to try to strengthen the…” Izzy and Alec’s faces stopped him cold, “What?”
“It wasn’t your fault.” Alec said almost silently.
Izzy added, “You were taken away again. Don’t ask where. Don’t ask why.”
“Our enemy.” Jace shut his eyes and leaned his forehead against Alec’s knee, “It would have to be. The Clave or other Shadowhunters would know better to separate us after that. If Alec had been that far gone, separation before we could strengthen the bond could have killed him.”
Alec’s hand came up to cup the back of his head and the truth made Jace laugh through a sob. “Fuck. Really?”
The lack of context for any of this was frustrating in the extreme. What must have happened to have that many massive breaches of Shadowhunter culture and laws be allowed to happen? A Head of Institute giving one of his best Shadowhunters yin fen? Parabatai separated when they should have been taken off active duty to tend to their strained bond? A child still in training attacked in the Institute?
What the absolute fuck had happened?
“I want to ask.” Jace mumbled against Alec’s pants, “I want you both to appreciate how frustrating this is.”
“Oh, we get it, trust us.” Izzy said with a laugh that didn’t have much actual happiness in it. She sounded as tired as Alec felt.
Jace straightened back up and sniffed a little, “Anything else?”
Alec shook his head but Izzy tellingly did nothing. He’d already figured she was holding some other major stuff back from him. “Okay, then I won’t go looking for anything else.”
He got it better now, why they didn’t want to tell him. He could feel just how wrecked Alec was just from listing out this stuff and he knew without a doubt that the rest of it would hurt them way worse to relive. As much as he wanted to know, he wasn’t going to be around long enough to really do anything about it. That was the other Jace’s deal and fuck he’d better remember all of this because he if didn’t snap out of his funk when he aged back up…
You can’t do anything about that either.
“So, we’re going on patrol tonight, aren’t we?” Jace said with a small smirk at Alec designed to hopefully make him, well, maybe not outright laugh but at least roll his eyes at him.
Alec shoved his shoulder a little, making Jace rock back onto his ass, “Yeah, sure.”
Another ringtone cut into Izzy’s laughter and this time it was Alec’s. His parabatai sighed and grabbed his phone out of his pocket, “I have to take this.” He said when he looked at the screen. He sounded really excited about it too… not.
“Hello, Inquisitor Herondale…” Alec’s voice faded as he closed Jace’s door behind him.
The second Alec was out of earshot, Jace turned back to Izzy. “Out with it.”
His sister was at least graceful enough not to pretend that she didn’t know what he meant. He was pretty sure he would have kicked her if she’d tried but that would have led to a fight and who knew if Alec was planning on coming back after he talked to the Inquisitor.
“There’s more about that demon who possessed Alec and I.” Izzy glanced back at the door and he could see the strain in her eyes. “Jace, the person the demon used Alec’s body to kill was Clary’s mother.”
Fuck. That explained the surge of grief from Alec. His brother would have felt awful no matter who it was but to have the victim be someone close to one of his own… that had to have been torture for Alec.
“You needed to know in case it comes up with Clary but I didn’t want to talk about it in front of Alec.”
There was something in Izzy’s voice that tipped Jace off. “What else?”
“What do you mean, what else?” Izzy asked and this time she’d schooled her voice a bit better. She even made eye contact with him while she said it but her fingers were twisting around her whip bracelet and who exactly did she think she was talking to?
“Just tell me, Iz.” Jace braced himself for whatever this last bit of shit was. “Don’t lie to me.”
The part about the lie seemed to break down whatever was holding her back. They didn’t lie to each other, everyone else maybe, but not each other.
“Right after it happened, we had Max’s party for his Rune Ceremony at Magnus’ loft. We didn’t know it but a warlock had cast a spell on us to sort of bring up whatever our fears were and then make us fight with each other.” At his blank look she grimaced, “For instance, Clary was briefly dating her childhood best friend Simon and she kept seeing him flirting with another woman and yelling at him about it, but it wasn’t true. You and Maryse fought and you thought she was saying horrible things to you, but she wasn’t.”
So some sort of spell that half made them hallucinate, made sense once Izzy explained better. He nodded to show he got it.
Izzy hesitated again but she still started talking. “Alec and Clary went up to the roof together. She was trying to tell him that she didn’t blame him for her mother’s death. What he heard was that she hated him, everyone hated him and he was weak. All sorts of stuff. Things he probably still hasn’t repeated to us.”
“What happened?” Jace asked hoarsely. He had a horrible feeling he understood where this was going and he was praying he was wrong.
“Between the magic manipulating his emotions and where his emotions were all on their own, it was really bad. He…” Her voice cracked, “Jace, he got up on the ledge and fell off. Magnus caught him in time, but he still…”
“Tried to kill himself.” Jace finished hollowly. The words tasted like ash.
Izzy reached out for him and mechanically, Jace reached back. Both her hands went around his and she squeezed so tight it almost hurt, but that hurt helped. “We’ve never really talked about it but I know he’s spoken to Magnus.”
“Alec pretty much killed himself and we’ve never talked about it?” Jace repeated and felt his heart start to shatter just a little bit more.
There was visible guilt on Izzy’s face and Jace felt like shit for putting it there. She bit her lip for a second, then said, “It happened while I was… with the yin fen. I was so worried about hiding…”
“I didn’t mean you Izzy.” He pulled her hands in to press a kiss to her fingers, “I promise I didn’t.”
She shrugged, “Maybe not, but it’s still the truth. Everything just kept coming for us, you know? One week Alec fell off the roof, then Clary nearly died because of a blood oath gone bad, then my secret comes out, then the Institute got attacked… it just kept coming and coming and we never got to breathe, let alone talk.”
They’d already pretty much said that they weren’t going to tell him what had happened to him or what this big overarching threat was, so he knew she was leaving out the shit he had dealt with. Still, all he was hearing was that Alec and Izzy were getting pummeled by pain and he apparently hadn’t made the time to sit down and talk to them about it.
“Stop it,” Izzy laughed but it was watery.
“Blaming yourself.” She said seriously. “It was bad, Jace, but it’s getting better. You did the best that you could.”
That was a fucking lie. If she wanted to let herself believe it, he wasn’t about to press anymore. He’d already put his siblings through enough for the day, thanks.
“I want to go on patrol tonight so bad,” Jace admitted. It wasn’t just because he wanted something to beat on either, “We need to get out of here, have some fun.”
“We haven’t gone just the three of us in a while.” Izzy said a little guiltily. “Clary said she understood, she’s been encouraging me all day about it.”
That was pretty decent of her, this girl he apparently loved. “Good, I’m glad.”
“You’re so obvious.” Izzy laughed again and this one felt more genuine. “Is the thought of being in love with her so bad?”
It wasn’t, technically. Bad wasn’t the word he would use. “Just weird.” He shrugged.
Izzy rolled her eyes, “Clary is awesome. Sometimes I like her better than you.”
“Gee thanks, Iz.”
She shoved his shoulder and stood, “We’ve still got a while before we head out. Try not to stumble onto anything else emotionally devastating, okay?”
That sounded kind of like a tall order. Apparently the whole fucking place was filled with painful reminders of whatever the hell had gone down. “You say that like I was trying to find any of this stuff.”
Izzy wasn’t buying it, “Yeah yeah, just do your best. Okay?”
“Okay,” Jace promised and he watched his sister go out the door lighter than when she had come in. That, at least, was something he had managed to do right.
Once he was alone again the things that he had just learned echoed in his head.
“Screw this.” Jace said. He stood up and went to the door too. Anything had to be better than sitting in here and stewing in yin fen addictions, suicide attempts and Institute attacks. He would go pester Alec, image be damned. Or go bug Izzy in the labs or train or something.
He left his phone on the ground.
“Don’t get too excited, boys,” Izzy said behind her shoulder as she walked down a damp alleyway lit by the moon and an old neon sign high above their heads, “But we’re going after an Ashing demon tonight.”
“I thought for a second you actually meant you had something exciting to say,” Alec grumbled in his usual way, “Not an Ashing demon. That was a letdown, Izzy.”
Jace laughed and it felt good. Maybe not the same way it did for Alec and Izzy because the both of them seemed almost out of practice they were so jumpy. He knew it was really because they were the opposite – they had dealt with so much worse that now regular patrols felt charged. They needed this, pure and simple. They needed easy and fun and messy and something that was just a regular pain in the neck.
Izzy had chosen well.
Ashing demons were pretty self explanatory. They were made up of something that was like ashes but wasn’t actually. They were quick but not particularly lethal as long as you didn’t come across one alone. They killed by smothering and it was hard for them to do that while they were being attacked by someone else.
There had been a period of time, a year ago to Jace’s memory, where there had been an infestation of them in the city. No one knew why but patrols killed them on a weekly basis. Nightly for a solid month. A tally had even been started in the Institute and Jace, Izzy and Alec were, of course, at the top.
It had been a game between them for a while with rules and everything. Loser was the one who got ashes on their clothes first. Once, they’d even worn white on patrol just to help the ashes show up better, to see how covered they got. Maryse hadn’t been amused.
Killing an Ashing demon pretty much meant you were going to be saturated in the stuff. Even if they didn’t physically land a hit on you, they exploded on death and that meant their ashy remains got on everything. It was worse than ichor in some ways.
“Did you like, summon one?” Alec pressed, “There hasn’t been an Ashing demon in New York in years.”
Izzy laughed in a way that didn’t really lend much certainty in her innocence. “I can’t summon demons, big brother. That’s a warlock thing.”
“And if I asked Magnus…?”
“Leave it be, Alec,” Jace threw an arm around Alec’s shoulders and tried to ignore the way he needed to stand up on his tippy toes to achieve it. “This is going to be good.”
“No,” Alec almost pouted, “It’s going to suck. We’re going to get covered. This isn’t like before, half the people who dealt with the Ashing demons last time aren’t even here. The whole Institute is going to see us trudging in looking like chimney sweeps and most people won’t know why.”
He was protesting and he sounded like he meant it but he couldn’t lie to Jace, not really. Their bond practically sang with how excited Alec was. And yeah, there was a little apprehension there too, he probably was justifiably worried about how they were going to look when they went back to the Institute but that was what the Hudson was for.
If they had the bond half shut, would Jace have understood what Alec was really feeling? Would he have been able to miss the excitement and just hear the protesting?
Jace slapped Alec’s back as he pulled his arm away, “Smile, Alec, this is going to be great.”
And it was.
Tracking the demon felt like a scavenger hunt. Little smears of ash on the walls, on the ground, on the furniture in some abandoned building.
Creeping through the dark, using signals and bare whispers to catch each other’s attention until slowly they barely needed to anymore.
Being one mind, ready to go when they entered the basement and then just waiting. Taunting the demon with their silent stalking.
The battle, drawing it out, laughing. Seeing years fall away from Alec and Izzy and feeling the blazing lightness emanate from Alec.
It was good.
It was what they needed.
Next Up: Jace and Clary finally get the chance to talk
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Please let me know what you think of this extra-long chapter!
On the morning of the fourth day of Jace’s journey to the future (sort of), Alec shot an arrow at his head.
To be fair, Jace had goaded him into it.
It was a game that they hadn’t played in a long time, even from Jace’s perspective. His Alec claimed that aiming an arrow at his parabatai’s head was harder than aiming at his brother’s head, so the game had been suspended. Jace had been fairly confident that he could convince Alec out of his new boring stance but according to him and Izzy he hadn’t ever managed it.
Time healed all wounds, apparently.
He chose to believe that it was nostalgia that made Alec grin, not anything else.
An old Mundane story about a man named William Tell started the idea for the game. That and Jace’s insistence that he could catch Alec’s arrows if he wanted to. Like out of thin air. Alec had scoffed, Izzy had made a sly suggestion and that was it, challenge set.
They didn’t use an apple. That was boring. They used little water balloons that Jace had to balance on his head. If he lost and Alec’s arrow pierced it, he got drenched. If he won by catching the arrow, then he got to throw the water balloon at Alec. His parabatai liked to hedge his chances by waiting really random amounts of time before he released the arrow, once making Jace wait a full seventeen minutes.
The whole thing did wonders for his balance.
So far he had caught three arrows (and had nailed Alec with the water balloon twice) and had missed two. His lead was small, but it was there and that was really all that mattered.
There was even an added element of difficulty now because of their bond. It was harder to get the drop on each other if the bond was sort of giving away their intent. If Alec got too set on when to shoot the arrow, Jace got a ten second warning that was sort of a breaking of tension on Alec’s end. If Jace’s concentration broke for even a second, Alec would notice.
Izzy had long since abandoned whip training to sit on the floor halfway between them and alternatively trash talk/cheerlead. She had gotten alarmingly good at the trash talking, it was kind of amazing. He hadn’t thought she could possibly get better at it.
“Would you just shoot please?” He grumbled at Alec. He had been waiting four minutes so far and if Alec didn’t shoot the damned arrow soon Jace was going to throw the water balloon at him anyway.
Alec didn’t say anything, he didn’t even smirk. He was a mask of patience and somehow that was even more annoying than if he had said something taunting.
“You’re enjoying this too much.” Jace accused.
That got a little smile out of Alec, “I had forgotten how nice it is to aim at your brain.”
“Tiny target.” Izzy said predictably.
“Ha, Izzy, good one.” Jace said sarcastically.
She just smirked back at him, like she knew the dig was a little too obvious but it had felt good to make it so she didn’t care.
The door to the training room they had stolen for themselves opened and it was only through steady practice that Jace didn’t flinch. He didn’t break eye contact with Alec either, the two of them waiting to see if the other would break to acknowledge the newcomer and thus lose their advantage in this game.
It was easier for Jace, for sure. People were way more likely to be looking for their Head of Institute than him. Besides, he had already noticed that people were kind of avoiding him like the plague.
Or at least he thought so, until he heard:
It was shouted, like full on echoing across the room. He couldn’t help it; he flinched when he realized this was someone who knew him.
Then the arrow pierced the balloon balanced on his head and he was soaked again.
Lightning quick, he grabbed a new balloon from the bucket on the floor and threw it as hard as he could at whoever had just broken his concentration.
There was a yelp and a splash before he’d even really registered who he was throwing water balloons at.
Was that… the guy who fell on his ass in that video on his phone?
Clary was laughing, head thrown back and hands clapping like this was the exact thing she had been hoping for. Behind him, Izzy was laughing just as hard. Alec wasn’t but there was something darkly amused coming down the bond, so he was at least happy to see this guy get soaked.
“Who the hell are you?” Jace demanded.
“Oh,” The pale guy just stared at him, “I guess that is Jace.”
And that just sent Clary into more peals of laughter.
Simon broke into a slow grin, “You’re like, jailbait now. Clary, you’re dating an underage Abercrombie model. This is glorious.”
“That’s Simon,” Izzy sounded like her birthday had come early, “He’s Clary’s best friend.”
If he was a better person, he’d drop the glare. Alec and Izzy liked Clary and she seemed to put effort into getting along with them. Or at least put effort into getting along with Alec and not even their bond could make him lie about how challenging his parabatai must have made that. So that meant that he needed to return the favor and get along with this guy, if he was her best friend like his siblings were his best friends.
Except there was something in Simon’s face that sort of made Jace want to keep on glaring.
“Hi,” He settled on saying.
“Be nice, Jace.” Izzy came around his back and wrapped her arm around his. “Simon’s a good guy.”
“Yeah, totally!” Simon bobbed his head a little frantically, “And we’re like really good friends, so…”
“What?” Simon edged a little closer to Clary, even though he was talking to Alec. “He said he was going to teach me to fight.”
“That just means he wants to beat you up in a way that makes it so Clary can’t get pissed at him.” Alec drawled.
There was a look on Clary’s face that said this was not the first time this had occurred to her, which made Jace smirk at her. She returned it with a flirty wink that threw Jace for a little bit of a loop.
Get it together, idiot, girls flirt with you all the time. This isn’t different.
Alec didn’t make a sound, there was no stifled laugh or anything else to indicate he had noticed any of that interaction with Clary – at least not to someone who didn’t have a bond with him. Jace could feel it though, the way Alec noticed and thought he was ridiculous and was way too amused by the whole thing. Jace dove back down into his bucket and threw another balloon, this time at his asshole parabatai.
Alec jerked in place, surprise coloring their bond, but he didn’t move fast enough and got a balloon to the side, re-wetting his already pretty damp clothes.
Once the surprise faded there was a rush of something that pretty much screamed I’m going to get you for that.
“What was that?” Simon asked, confused. He seemed like a guy who got confused a lot. “Why the friendly fire?”
“I’m sure Alec deserved it,” Izzy laughed and Jace barked out a laugh half for what she’d said and half for Alec’s outraged betrayal.
“He was just standing there.” Simon pressed the issue. “No expression. He looked bored.”
Jace tilted the bucket so the water balloons started scattering on the floor.
“And now he’s gonna look wet.”
Then things got a little chaotic.
Every once and a while, Jace looked at one of the computers in Ops just a little too long. They were just sitting there, innocent and available and Jace was quietly good at hacking things. Not like, bring down the world’s banks good, he didn’t need to do anything like that. It was more that someone had to erase the camera footage of the three of them sneaking out of the Institute and that someone was usually him.
Once he had obtained that skill, a few more got picked up along the way. Just enough to get into some secure databases. Sometimes it got obvious that their parents or the Clave were keeping information to themselves and Jace was just not a trusting guy, so sue him.
He had meant what he’d said to Alec – computers had no emotion and though his usual tricks to get into the systems were outdated, he was pretty sure he could get back in easily enough.
In fact, if he was in charge of assigning missions then his usual username and password would probably be enough in terms of clearance. He didn’t know what his most recent password was but he knew the things that he usually picked. Guessing it, he was pretty sure, wouldn’t take long at all. If he started with AIM and worked his way out through his usual go-to numbers and symbols he would probably be in before the system locked him out.
If he really wanted to, he could find out what it was that they were hiding from him.
If they all didn’t swear up and down that whoever this enemy had been was gone, he would have already done it.
It was upsetting, knowing they were keeping a major secret from him but he got why they were doing it. This wasn’t about him. The kid who was going to be around for less than a month didn’t really need to get all the devastating secrets revealed to him. He wasn’t taking this whole thing as an opportunity for himself, it was for them.
He was here because some warlock blasted him for being a careless idiot on a mission technically.
But Jace was taking this as a gift, honestly. He got to take a quick pop into the future to try and take care of his brother and sister before he got sent back or whatever. He didn’t have time for devastating emotions.
If all of this shit between the three of them was just from that, he would cut his future self some slack but he knew for a fact it wasn’t. It had started before all of that. This mysterious enemy was just the icing on the shitty cake.
He was curious. He wanted to know. He could find out if he really wanted to. Alec knew it, Izzy knew it and he knew it.
But they had asked him not to and he knew rehashing things that were finished wasn’t the right way to take care of them.
So he kept walking, he left the computer alone.
He hoped Alec was creepily tracking him on the cameras and was seeing this because he deserved some sort of medal.
Ice cream at the very least.
You would think that slaying four demons on patrol with Izzy and Alec last night would have tired him out enough that he wouldn’t be restlessly rolling out of bed at like eight in the morning but apparently not.
He sat on the edge of his bed, too hot and too annoyed, and glared at his phone that said it was stupid early in the morning. He should have been asleep at least another two hours. Three, since Maryse wasn’t around to demand he get up.
Even Alec was still asleep. Jace could feel his sleepy contentment but none of that was bleeding down the bond to wrap around him. Apparently that was something Alec had to actively do? Or maybe, it was because last night Jace had generously and very adult-ly told Alec to go sleep with his boyfriend. At first, he had mostly just meant sleep with as like spend time with or maybe stay over with. Once Alec started asking again and again and again if he was sure, he started making lewd faces and gestures to illustrate the many options of how Alec could finish out his night. Eventually his blushing brother had left him and Izzy behind outside of the Institute without a backwards glance.
Before Alec got too far away, he had said loudly to Izzy, “I’m glad that we can still make him blush even though he gave up his v-card.”
Izzy had laughed.
Alec had flipped him off over his shoulder.
Izzy’d stuck close for a post-patrol snack until they were both yawning. She had even offered to do a sleepover in her room but he had turned her down. He could do this. He and Alec didn’t need to be in constant contact.
And yeah, eventually he had actually fallen asleep but damn if hadn’t taken a while. He wasn’t going to push Alec to stay over with Magnus again tonight, that was for sure.
Staying in bed just sounded frustrating, so he got up. He considered a shower but he had only taken one a few hours ago, so it seemed kind of silly. Breakfast maybe. Except he also didn’t really want to be around the whole Institute either. Especially without his siblings to buffer.
Alec had quietly asked him to stick close to the Institute and not go venturing out himself. That made sense to him. If he had new enemies, and it sounded like he had made a few over the last couple of years at least, then he wouldn’t know it until it was possibly too late. Exploring New York without Alec and Izzy by his side wasn’t all that interesting either.
So that knocked out leaving the Institute.
For a split second he had a wild plan of finding out Magnus’ address and going over to his place. That would be interesting.
It also still counted as leaving the Institute though, so he reluctantly put the idea aside.
The closest thing to quiet solitude and a break from the thick stone walls was the Greenhouse.
He threw on some actual clothes and headed in that direction, finally satisfied with a plan.
Luckily, the morning shift didn’t start until 9am and it’s not like daytime was the busiest time in the Institute either. Now was the quiet part of the day where all the patrol units and monitoring teams in Ops had gone to bed and the people who were coming in for their normal day shift duties and training hadn’t arrived yet. It was actually a pretty peaceful time for an otherwise ridiculously busy place.
People’s reactions to him were kind of mixed and he still wasn’t sure what he thought about that. Some people didn’t even glance at him and he felt a special sort of affection for those uninterested saints. Others stared at him like he was a zoo exhibit, which he sort of understood for a first look – de-aging wasn’t something people got to see all the time – but as the days marched on it got more and more ridiculous. Then there were people who gave him such a wide berth it was almost worrying. Like what had he done to these poor bastards that they didn’t even want to be in an elevator with him?
There was also Alec’s order to consider. If someone was aware of what had happened, and Alec made it sound like everyone but him did, then some people were probably worried about saying the wrong thing to him and pissing Alec off. He’d gotten to be with Alec in Ops a few times and his brother had somehow gotten even sterner in the last few years. He hadn’t really thought it possible.
It was sort of like Izzy and her trash talking. Jace had thought that they were both masters of their craft before. He was vaguely impressed that they had both managed to level up many times over since then.
There were a few people in the Institute, people who had been friends before, who were still there and still willing to talk to him. Finding out that he hadn’t burnt every bridge he had was nice to discover.
Hodge, he had noticed, wasn’t around anymore.
Jace had snuck a peek into his old bedroom. By himself, of course, because Alec or Izzy would have said something if Hodge was just in Alicante. Or if he had been forgiven, his punishment rescinded and he was travelling the world or something.
It had been assigned to someone else. Someone who thankfully wasn’t in the room but judging from the bright purple bedspread and the complete lack of any of Hodge’s stuff was probably both female and way too young to be Hodge’s girlfriend.
So he was gone and Jace decided he didn’t want to know why.
Once he made it through the doors of the greenhouse, with sunlight streaming in and no people in sight, Jace felt whatever was wound up so tight inside of him easing off a little.
He found his favorite bench and sat down heavily, bracing his knees against his thighs.
Not for the first time, he wished Magnus knew more about this spell.
It wasn’t really the how long that he was super concerned about. Yeah, a timeline would be nice, but it wasn’t really necessary. The thing he really wanted was to know if he was going to remember this or not.
Should he write himself a letter? Just in case?
Dear Future Jace,
I get things went bad but stop shitting on Alec and Izzy.
Your Younger Frustrated Self
He almost laughed.
For a split second, Jace tensed up because he was sure that loaded Oh was going to be someone he knew who was finally home and seeing if the rumors were true up close and personal.
When he turned his head though, he saw a flash of vibrant red and realized it was Clary. “Hi,” He said a little lamely.
Clary paused for a second, as though she was thinking through the merits of about a dozen different things to say to him. She went to the bench opposite his and sat down, crossing her legs underneath herself and mirroring the way that he had his elbows against his legs. It tilted her front down a little, showing off just a bit more cleavage, and Jace had to quickly jerk his eyes back up at her face.
“Good Morning,” She gave him a sunny smile. “Sleep okay?”
He was tempted to lie, say yes and then hightail it out of there.
But she was smiling so brightly at him, like she was excited to talk to him, and all she had done so far was give him all the space in the world. If she liked talking to him so much, if she loved him, then that was pretty kind of her. Also, she had been pretty fun during the water balloon fight. Or at least it made her seem less like someone he needed to actively avoid.
“Not really,” He admitted, making up his mind to stay and talk for a little while. “You?”
“Not so bad.” Then she giggled, “This is weird.”
Hearing her say it and laugh about it made him feel instantly better. He couldn’t help but laugh too, “This is really weird.”
“I’ve kind of been freaking out, trying to figure out what to talk about if you ever wanted to hang out with me.” Clary admitted, “I haven’t really come up with anything, obviously, but I also kind of thought I would come up with something better than ‘how did you sleep last night?’”
He grinned a little, “Do you have the time by chance?”
“How about those Mets, huh?” She barely managed to get the words out properly, she was laughing so hard.
“Quiet patrol last night for you too?”
Clary’s hand pointed up at the windows above them, “How about this weather we’re having?”
Jace scowled playfully, “I wouldn’t know. I’m not allowed out.”
She just laughed again, “Well don’t look at me for help escaping. Alec already talked to me about that.”
“Did he?” Jace asked curiously.
“Alec made me promise not to make any plans to break you out of here. That’s how he worded it specifically.” Clary gave him a self-deprecating shrug, “He really hates all of my plans. I’m pretty sure if I planned a brunch and invited him, he would be too twitchy to eat.”
That sort of went against the picture Alec had painted, “Are you sure, he seems to like you?”
Clary’s jaw literally dropped. She jumped up from her bench, crossed over to his and gripped his arm so tight he almost winced, “What do you mean, seems to like me? Did he say something to you? What did he say? Tell me exactly how he said it, exactly how he worded it.”
The words came out in such a rush that Jace needed an extra second to make it all out.
Belatedly, Jace remembered that Alec had requested he not tell Clary that he was okay with her. This eager reaction of hers might have been why.
“Um,” He said as he tried to figure out how to phrase it without pissing off Alec if he found out about it later, “He just said that I – older me, I mean – like really loves you. And that we were…”
“We’re what?” Clary pressed.
Jace winced internally, “Good for each other.”
Clary dropped his arms and leaned back with wide eyes. “Alec Lightwood said that you really love me and that we’re good for each other and he said it in a way that implied he likes me as opposed to he’s eternally disappointed about those facts?”
“Yes?” Jace answered. Alec was going to be so pissed. “You can’t tell him I told you that. Seriously, Clary, you can’t.”
She looked sorely tempted but said, “Okay, if you don’t want me to I won’t. It’s enough to know it’s working, I guess.”
Clary gave him a wicked grin, “My plan to make him like me. It’s multistep. I’ve been working on it slowly. I figure eventually he’s got to come around.”
“You’ve met Alec, right?” Jace asked skeptically, “I mean, you’ve noticed that he doesn’t really like people, you had to have. There are people he’s known for years and he still gets annoyed just having to stand in the same room as them.”
There was a look on Clary’s face that said she wasn’t in the least bit surprised but that she was also undeterred. From what he had gathered, she was an incredibly determined person.
“I’ll win eventually.” She said again.
“Good luck,” Jace laughed, “You’re not the first person who’s tried to win him over.”
Clary sighed, “It’s kind of unfair. Izzy said that you and him just clicked when you met. And Magnus too, like on minute three they were in love. Apparently if he doesn’t decide to love you at first glance then you’re doomed.”
That wasn’t a bad way to describe how Alec operated, “Kind of. Like I said, good luck.”
“So yeah,” Clary said, “I’m not going to help you escape because I’ve got Alec finally tolerating me and I’m not getting demoted back down to him quietly hating me.”
“Alec doesn’t usually quietly hate people. It’s generally pretty obvious.” Jace said.
Clary nodded her head in an exaggerated way that made her look silly and serious at the same time, “I know. Quietly hating me was the second stage. Originally it was vocally hating me. We were there for a long time.”
That last bit – a long time – made him wonder, “How long?”
“How long did Alec hate me or how long have we been together?” Clary asked.
Jace just stared at her. He didn’t want to spell it out.
Clary took the hint and smiled, “Almost six months, minus a little time in the middle. And no, I can’t explain why.”
“Alec talked to you about that too?” Jace grumbled. It was good to have the out, though, because the rest of her statement was kind of a lot to deal with. Six-ish months? That was the longest he had ever been with any girl.
“Yeah, he did. He talked to everyone.” Clary said it kind of softly, like she had already noticed he was a little thrown. “So what is it? Do you not like redheads or something?”
Being asked straight out why he wasn’t that into her was awkward but she didn’t look upset and that made it easier to laugh the question off. “No major preference.”
“Do I smell funny or you think I’m really weird or…?”
“Are you fishing for me to tell you you’re pretty?” Jace teased.
She tilted her head a little in a maybe kind of gesture. It was kind of cute. She kept doing these little things that were cute or sweet and those weren’t usually the kinds of girls he went for. He wasn’t saying she wasn’t hot too, because she was, she was just also kind of not like anyone else he had ever met.
“You’re very pretty.” Jace promised her solemnly, “I’m just also not really interested in having anyone right now.”
“I’m not saying you have to marry me or something.” Clary said earnestly, “I understand that you’re only here for a little while and that you’re more interested in Alec and Izzy. Just could you maybe not give me the blank stare anytime you see me? Could we be friends at least?”
Instantly, he felt a little bad about how he had treated her. She seemed like a cool person and he wasn’t lying when he’d said she was pretty. “We can be friends.” He said, “We already are.”
“Yeah,” Jace grinned at her, “I don’t talk about the weather with just anyone.”
She laughed then and it honestly felt pretty great how easy it was to make her smile.
Suddenly, loving her didn’t seem so crazy.
Next Up: Jace and Alec talk the wedding that thankfully wasn't and Maryse comes to visit.
Thank you so much for everyone's continued support of the story! I really appreciate it! Please drop me a comment and let me know your thoughts, it always brightens my day :)
Just over a week into this new weird world, Jace had to ask.
“Not to be a whiny toddler or anything, but are Mom and Dad ever coming home?”
Alec, who had been sitting at his desk typing out something incredibly boring if the intense focus coming from his end of the bond said anything, froze in place. Sure, that just meant that his fingers stopped moving but for a split second he didn’t breathe or blink either and it seemed like he was a living statue.
“They don’t really live here anymore.” Alec said slowly after a beat of silence that went on just a second too long.
The weird, uncomfortable feeling coming down the bond set Jace on edge. Alec didn’t want to talk about this nearly as much as he didn’t want to explain what had happened to them before Jace got age whammied.
“Are they dead?” He asked bluntly.
Finally, Alec met his eyes. He was visibly startled by the question and Jace felt muscles he hadn’t realized he’d tensed ease off. “Okay,” He said, “So they’re not.”
“No,” Alec said firmly. “They’re fine.”
But there were plenty of other reasons why Alec so obviously didn’t want to talk about them. “What did they do?” Jace asked, his voice maybe a little colder than he meant it to be. Or, depending on what they had done, maybe not.
Alec stood and came around from behind his desk. Jace was still standing but instead of going to him, Alec just went over to one of his couches and dropped down into it in a tired sprawl. “What makes you think they did anything?”
“Don’t play, Alec.” Jace swatted Alec’s arm as he sat down on the coffee table opposite him. “You don’t want to talk about them for a reason. If they’re not dead then they did something. There’s a reason why they’re not here. There’s a reason why you didn’t call them to tell them I’m like this and if you did then there’s a reason why they haven’t come. At least one of them. So what is it?”
Alec hesitated and Jace felt a stab of fury.
“Is this about Magnus?” Jace demanded angrily.
Or Alec’s gayness in general but Jace didn’t think Alec would be comfortable or appreciative if he put it that way.
The look on Alec’s face and the way he tilted his head said a lot. “They weren’t happy in the beginning, no, but that’s mostly settled.”
“Tell me about it.” Jace said, suddenly unbearably curious.
Alec rolled his eyes a little. “I met Magnus and panicked kind of a lot. Then, Mom and Dad started harping on Izzy and I even harder about upholding the family name and a bunch of other stuff and I sort of decided to get married… to a woman.”
His obviously not straight brother trying to ruin his own life and take one for the team by marrying a chick was actually one of Jace’s worst nightmares. Worst nightmare because one, just the whole thing and two, because Jace was pretty sure he wouldn’t have much choice but to stand at Alec’s side and watch him do it.
“Yeah, it was maybe not my best idea.” Alec laughed a little. That was kind of reassuring to see, actually. “Lydia was really awesome, though. We were going to run this Institute together and she was totally on board with not falling in love. No-nonsense, very fair and by the book but compassionate at the same time.”
This was literally the closest Jace had ever heard Alec get to waxing poetic about a woman. “She sounds hot.”
Alec rolled his eyes, “She’s pretty, I guess? Actually, when I told Magnus I was going to marry her and why, he said it sounded hot too. As sarcastically as he was physically capable of saying it, of course.”
Magnus seemed like a guy with strong opinions about ignoring your feelings for duty’s sake. “He try to talk you out of it?”
“Yeah, definitely. Everyone did. Even Dad at one point.” Alec said, sounding just a little surprised about it even still. Jace couldn’t blame him. Robert rarely put his head in the game long enough to do any actual parenting. Mostly he just stood there while Maryse did the work.
That was kind of his philosophy about the Institute too, honestly.
“Did I?” He couldn’t help but ask.
“You asked if I was sure and told me I didn’t have to go with it. Of course you were my suggenes and I think you spent most of our time at the altar waiting for me to pass out.” Alec gave him a small smile.
That sounded about right. “You actually made it to the altar?”
“Oh yeah, I literally had Lydia’s stele against my skin, ready to draw the rune. Mom had invited everybody. Like half the Clave and every head of the major families in Alicante. They were all looking at us and…” He shook his head and Jace felt an echo of remembered panic emanating from his side of the bond.
“And then?” Jace prompted quietly.
A huge smile dawned on Alec’s face. “Magnus walked in. Fashionably late, of course. And… fuck Jace, he was so gorgeous and he was just standing there halfway down the aisle staring at me. He didn’t say anything but it was like… like… everything I had ever dreamed of was standing there asking me to say yes. To just be brave enough for once.”
Even if Jace didn’t like hearing Alec say anything about him not being a brave badass, he couldn’t help but grin at him.
“We were just staring at each other and you asked if I was okay and Izzy admitted she had invited him and everyone was whispering about it and Mom was getting pissed and I just knew I had to go to him. That I couldn’t pretend anymore and I couldn’t marry Lydia.” Alec explained. Then he started blushing, “So I sort of explained to Lydia, like barely because I couldn’t really speak, and she said it was okay so I just went. I told Mom to stop and I just grabbed him and kissed him. Right there in front of everyone.”
Jace gaped at him, “You made out with a warlock right there in front of the half the Clave?”
Alec grinned, happiness just dripping from every inch of him. “It was pretty amazing.”
“That’s massive, Alec. Did anyone get it on video, you think?” He wanted to see it honestly. The look on Maryse’s face had to have been killer. That thought brought him back down to earth though. “Oh shit, what did Mom and Dad do?”
The happiness didn’t vanish, it was maybe too powerful for that, but it dimmed so much Jace almost ached in its absence. “They were… disappointed.”
“I hope you told them to fuck off.” Jace said.
Alec shrugged, “I told them it wasn’t negotiable. It was hard at first but things got better. Everything with Magnus just made dealing with them so worth it and then I started to not care so much. We learned some things about them and suddenly their opinions meant a lot less.”
And here it was, what Alec didn’t want to tell him about them. It was a nice segue, he couldn’t have planned it better if he tried. “Like?” He prompted.
Alec met his eyes and said, “Like Dad was cheating on Mom.”
On the one hand, it sounded like something Robert would do. Just spit on his own wife because she wasn’t convenient anymore. He didn’t have strong loyalty to much of anything. But then, on the other hand, an affair needed some sort of passion and Robert was passionate about virtually nothing. Coffee, maybe. Not much else.
“Dick.” He said.
“Yeah,” Alec agreed, “Pretty much. They’re getting divorced.”
“Good.” Jace decided almost instantly. “She deserves better.”
“He’s being a jerk about it, giving her a hard time and being nasty sort of passive aggressively. And the Clave is totally siding with him. Between being cheated on and then all of the stuff that’s happened, it’s really kind of changed Mom. She’s more…” Alec paused as he thought it over, “She’s more ours now.”
Maryse was a hard task master and she rarely chilled out enough to actually like them. To joke around, touch them lovingly or give them advice instead of orders. She mostly felt like their general as opposed to their mother, although Jace obviously didn’t have loads of experience with what mothers felt like.
But sometimes she relaxed and it was like the whole world got brighter. Maryse had a wicked sense of humor that ran dark. She told hilarious stories and even if there was a lesson in them they were still worth it. Sometimes, when she brushed his hair out of his eyes and beamed at him, he felt like he could slay a thousand demons.
A Maryse that was more theirs sounded awesome.
“Did you tell her?” Jace asked a little hesitantly. If she knew and she was staying away because of all the same old reasons, he was going to be bummed.
Alec shook his head, “No, I haven’t. I mean, we don’t know how long this is going to last and she’s been slammed in Alicante lately. I can if you want, though.”
He honestly did want Alec to but that felt selfish. If she was playing the game to keep her status in Alicante then he shouldn’t demand her time. “It’s okay.”
Alec nudged him, “I’m not asking if you want her to move back in. I was thinking like an afternoon visit or something.”
That didn’t sound so bad, or at least Alec didn’t think it did. He trusted his parabatai’s judgment about what was okay for other people, less so about himself.
Besides, if he was going to be here then he was going to do his damndest to make sure his family was okay, since apparently his older self had given up on that. Maryse included. It would be good to see her, see if she was doing well considering all the shit that had gone down lately.
“Okay,” He agreed, “Yeah, call her please.”
“I will.” Alec agreed and Jace waited a beat but he didn’t grab his phone to do it in front of Jace.
Bastard, he wanted a chance to warn Maryse off of topics they were keeping a secret from him.
Alec’s smile widened and Jace knew instantly that he knew that Jace had worked it out. “Ass.”
“Just looking out for you, parabatai.”
It took a while to find Izzy after he left Alec’s office. She wasn’t in one of the training rooms or the labs or the kitchens (thank the Angel). She wasn’t in her bedroom either but while he was in the hall just outside her room trying to think of another place to look, he heard her laugh.
A few doors down he found her and Clary sat on a bed in a room with way more easels than seemed necessary. Clary, he remembered, was an artist so he would guess this was her room.
“Jace!” Izzy said when she saw him peeking through the door. “Come here.”
“Are you allowed to invite me into a bedroom that isn’t yours?” Jace asked mostly just to annoy her. He came in anyway and shut the door behind him.
Izzy rolled her eyes, “Just for that you no longer get a vote.”
Sitting on Clary’s bed was maybe going a step to far so he hoped up onto her desk instead, “Vote for what?”
“What we’re going to have for dinner tonight. We’ve decided that we’re ordering out and having a party, probably in Alec’s room since that’ll annoy him.” Izzy reported cheerfully.
He shrugged, “Pick what you want for dinner, as long as we have ice cream for dessert. We have bigger things to deal with though.”
That got their attention. Izzy frowned at him, worried.
Jace just grinned, “So Alec tells me that he made out with Magnus in front of Mom, a Silent Brother and half the Clave. Please tell me someone got that on video. Security footage at least?”
The twin looks of wicked glee that Clary and Izzy gave him were full of promise.
Alec was annoyed. Like more than usual. Extra strength annoyance. Edging into actual anger.
What he was doing that had him so worked up, Jace wasn’t sure. Last he had seen his parabatai he had been staring at his tablet in his office with a look of genuine dismay on his face. Jace had left him to it because paperwork was boring and Clave stuff was boring and Alec’s whole job was eighty percent boring.
Instead, he had gone to find Izzy.
She was in her Weapons Master ‘office’ except it was really more of a workroom. She didn’t get a desk, she got a workbench to repair weapons, the equipment to heat metal and an alarming amount of hammers and other equally intense looking tools.
Izzy, he had decided, had really won the job lotto out of the Lightwood siblings. He was pretty sure she was going to keep the title too, no matter what Max ended up with. What could he pick that would top hers?
There was a blonde guy in the room with Izzy and Jace hung back for a second to remember his name. Overhill? Yarrowhill? No, Underhill. He was Head of Security and though he wasn’t one of them, Izzy had him beat too.
Izzy didn’t bother to look at him as he came in and kept right on talking, “… not going to keep repairing his stuff if he doesn’t even have the balls to come ask me to himself. It’s ridiculous, Andrew, I mean how can he keep asking his boss to do this for him? I can’t spar right now Jace so if that’s what you’re here for then go find Clary. I don’t care if he’s got a crush or not, this is getting silly.”
Jace stopped halfway into the room and stared for a second before deciding she was still the person he was going to bother for a while even if she wasn’t going to go train with him.
“I know, Izzy, I’m sorry. I’ll speak to him again but the kid is only eighteen.” Underhill said. He sounded sympathetic and respectful but he had a smile on his face that said otherwise. He seemed pretty amused by whatever situation this was.
His sister looked less amused, “Well tell him that women don’t like guys who can’t even talk to them. Especially at their jobs when the conversation would be work related.”
“I can give him some pointers, if you want.” Jace offered mostly as a joke as he hopped up to sit on Izzy’s workbench.
Underhill’s eyebrow rose, “I don’t think getting romance tips from a sixteen year old is going to boost his confidence. No offense, Jace.”
“Wisdom is wisdom, but whatever you say.” Jace grinned.
The other man turned back to Izzy, “Thank you again for this, Isabelle. I really appreciate it. When his stele is fixed, just let me know and I’ll come pick it up. I have to go check in with Alec now.”
“I don’t recommend that.” Jace shook his head seriously. “He’s pissed.”
Underhill looked a little alarmed although Jace wasn’t sure what the exact reason was. “About what?” He asked.
Jace shrugged, “No idea.”
“Um, okay,” Underhill gave him a slow nod, “I can’t say you’ve ever used the parabatai bond to warn me when not to bother him but I’ll take it.”
“I think he had a budget meeting this afternoon,” Izzy said a little dismissively, “Those are never fun.”
There was no way that Alec was hitting the level of frustration and anger that he was currently sitting at over a budget meeting, “Something more than that. He’s not annoyed, he’s genuinely pissed.”
That seemed to interest Izzy a lot more, “I wonder what it is. Should I text him you think?”
Underhill winced, “Actually, there was that meeting on the mission gone wrong last night that was supposed to happen today. Debrief and reprimand, I think. Not sure when but that might be it.”
“Oh,” Izzy started laughing a little, “Wasn’t Raj on that mission? There’s your answer, Jace.”
She started to say something else but there was a jolt of adrenalin that came down the bond and made Jace go rigid.
Then pain. Alec’s pain.
“What’s wrong?” Izzy saw the look on his face and stood but there wasn’t any chance he was wasting time to answer her.
Jace started running. He didn’t know where in the Institute Alec was but that didn’t matter. Not when his parabatai was in trouble and hurt. The bond tugged at him and Jace followed without thought. He heard Izzy and Underhill following behind him calling his name but he didn’t bother answering.
Alec needed him. Alec was hurt. Someone had attacked his parabatai.
Anyone who was in his way either jumped to avoid him or got shoved. He didn’t care. They weren’t what mattered.
The closer he got to the Main Hall, the more people there were. They were gathering around one of the conference rooms near Ops.
Then, he heard it.
“Fuck you, Lightwood!”
Jace pushed himself through the crowd just in time to identify the guy who had shouted at Alec. Tanned skin, black hair… and a smear of blood on his fist.
Jace came at him from behind, taking him down in one clean move that had the guy groaning on his back before Jace delivered a kick to his ribs. He dropped down on top of the asshole who had touched his parabatai and smashed fist into the guy’s mouth. His teeth cut against Jace’s knuckles and he felt one of them give but even that little bit of pain was worth it. If his hand hurt, then Alec’s attacker had to be feeling it twenty times worse. There was a squeal of pain and that only made Jace grin.
“Never touch my parabatai,” Jace hissed at him before he pulled his fist back for another punch.
Before he could deliver the well deserved blow, a hand caught his and yanked him back.
“Stop, Jace, I’m okay!”
Izzy came through the crowd and took one look at the situation before she hauled the guy to his feet and Underhill restrained him for her.
“What the fuck!? What the fuck, he knocked out my tooth! That little shit knocked out my tooth! I want charges made, Lightwood. You can’t…”
“Shut up, Raj,” Izzy snapped, “You just hit your Head of Institute, you’re not innocent. Jace was protecting his parabatai. There’s literally laws that say he’s totally within his rights to beat the crap out of you.”
While Izzy dealt with that, Jace pulled his fist from Alec’s grip and pushed him into the conference room behind them. He shut the door and locked it with his stele. No one was coming in unless Jace let them.
Now that Alec was safe, Jace could finally look him over. There was blood on his face from a wound just above his eyebrow and it was leaking a steady river of blood down Alec’s face. Head wounds were bleeders but knowing that didn’t make his heart stop pounding. He quickly activated Alec’s iratze and watched as the wound sealed up.
“Anything else?” Jace asked a little breathlessly. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, Jace,” Alec said seriously. He was half sitting on the conference table behind him and Jace saw a whole bunch of the same mission report scattered across the table. When Alec noticed where he was looking, he said, “Raj messed up on a mission last night. He was getting heated, especially when I said I was escalating this to the Clave. When I left the meeting, he grabbed my shoulder to turn me around and decked me. His ring caught me, that’s why there was a cut. Otherwise it wouldn’t have been much of a punch. I didn’t really think he had it in him, so I wasn’t on guard. Then he started yelling while I tallied up the charges in my head. That’s all, Jace. No other injuries. This was barely anything.”
The bond wasn’t tugging Jace anymore and there wasn’t any pain coming from Alec’s end. That was more reassuring than hearing Alec say he was okay. Jace didn’t particularly trust him on that count but the bond couldn’t lie.
Jace tried to pull in a deep breath and ease himself out of battle mode. “I can’t believe he punched the Head of Institute. Is he incredibly stupid or something?”
Alec rolled his eyes, “Monumentally.”
The iratze didn’t do anything to clean up the blood from Alec’s face and the sight of it was still freaking him out. He pulled his sleeve down over his hand and went to wipe Alec’s face but his brother jerked his head back.
“Don’t wreck your shirt. I can clean up myself.” Alec insisted.
That meant leaving the room though and Jace wasn’t sure he was ready for that.
Alec sighed, “Jace…”
A knock at the door had him spinning around and glaring. Who the fuck was bothering them?
“Jace? It’s me, can I come in?” Izzy called through the wood.
Izzy was okay. Izzy was the only one who was okay. He pulled out his stele and unlocked the door. He opened it slowly, just in case there was anyone besides Izzy out there.
The hall was cleared but Clary was standing behind Izzy.
“Can I come in?” Izzy repeated gently.
Jace nodded to her but his eyes flickered to Clary.
“Can I come in too? Or I can sit out here and make sure no one bothers you guys?” Clary asked with a soft smile. When Jace didn’t say anything, she just smiled wider and nudged Izzy through the doorway. “I’ll stay here. Tell me if you need anything.”
Jace didn’t say anything before he shut the door and locked it again.
Izzy had a bundle of bandages and a few water bottles in her hands. “Raj is with Underhill. He’s going to go to Alicante tonight. Let the Inquisitor deal with him.”
Alec pushed himself back further onto the table so he was sitting on it for real. “I’ll have a report typed up to accompany him in an hour or less.”
Their sister looked a little skeptical but Jace knew that was more because of him than because of any doubt in Alec’s paperwork abilities. Instead of saying anything, she just uncapped a water bottle and poured some onto a piece of gauze.
“I want to know the minute he leaves.” Jace said, “And when or if he comes back.”
“Easy, parabatai,” Izzy said as she used the wet gauze to mop the blood from Alec’s face, “Raj might be stupid but he’s pretty interested in self-preservation. That across the Institute rescue you just did will be more than enough of a warning to keep away from Alec.”
“Good.” Jace said. He hoped it was enough of a warning for the rest of the Institute too.
Alec shot him a look, “I did not need to be rescued from Raj.” He grumbled.
Now that Alec’s face was blood free, Jace felt himself relaxing a little more.
Izzy just laughed, “We were all the way in Weapons, how was Jace supposed to know that?”
Exactly. Jace bumped his shoulder to Izzy’s in thanks. Of course Alec could have taken out that twerp if he had wanted to, Jace didn’t doubt that. The guy getting a lucky hit with a ring after attacking with Alec’s back turned didn’t mean Jace didn’t trust his parabatai to handle it himself. Him not hitting back was probably strategic anyway, just letting the guy dig himself deeper.
He just also couldn’t really control the urge to beat the crap out of a guy who had touched Alec. Could anyone really blame him?
Alec rolled his eyes at him but he didn’t say anything so Jace knew he’d won before the argument even started. “Am I allowed to go my office now?”
Jace stared at him.
The minute Jace heard the sound of high heels coming towards him, he knew who it was. Not Izzy with her bouncy, sure-footed steps.
It was Maryse; efficient, quick and brutal.
Considering he had only talked to Alec about her yesterday, it was pretty nice that she had apparently cleared her schedule to get here before he went back to his usual age.
When he turned around to see her, she was smiling in a way he had almost forgotten the look of. Wide and unselfconscious, just happy to see him.
“Look at you,” Maryse said as she opened her arms and wrapped them around him. “I couldn’t believe it when Alec called.”
Jace was still a little covetous of things that felt the same as before. Maryse’ hugs were apparently one of them. He put his arms around her too, “I’d love to have heard that conversation.”
Maryse laughed, “I admit, I made him repeat himself. I thought that I couldn’t be hearing him right.”
They pulled apart just as Izzy started towards them. Jace braced himself because Izzy and Maryse never got along.
His mouth nearly dropped when they smiled genuinely at each other and Izzy got her own hug. He even got a wink from Izzy over Maryse’ shoulder. “Mom, I’m so happy you came to see my little brother.”
Maryse shot Izzy an amused look as she straightened back up, “I’m sure you’re enjoying lording age over him.”
“It just means she’s old.” Jace said because he could.
Before Izzy could say anything, Maryse held up a hand, “Children, please.”Calling them both children was pointed and sarcastic and it only made Jace laugh, “Let’s go find Alec and sit down together. Do you know where he is?”
“Well he feels focused and annoyed, so probably his office.” Jace guessed easily. “He’s always in his office. It’s boring.”
“Running this Institute is a lot of work.” Maryse said as the three of them turned towards Alec’s office. “I miss it sometimes and then I remember the paperwork. That usually does the trick.”
“Just one of the many reasons why I don’t get why he wants to do this so bad.” Jace admitted, “Like yeah, power and leadership and all that but like, Clave meetings, paperwork, long hours, less patrols. Sounds like shit, honestly.”
Normally he might have gotten told off for swearing but he’d thrown it out there anyway just to see how Maryse reacted. He figured he would either get a swat to the head or a warning glare. Instead, Maryse and Izzy traded some look he couldn’t read.
Maybe them being closer wasn’t so great after all? That was a lot of concentrated no-nonsense sass at the same time.
Izzy didn’t bother knocking on Alec’s door but then Jace sort of refused to as well so he couldn’t say anything. Maryse didn’t look like she approved but it wasn’t her office anymore so she didn’t get a say (that was still weird – the office thing, that was).
Luckily Alec seemed like he didn’t mind. Or at least, he was used to it and wasn’t in the mood to fight about it anymore. He was on the phone but waved them inside.
He wasn’t talking, just listening, which meant he was definitely on with the Clave. It got even more obvious when he said, “Understood.”
Izzy dropped down onto the armchair in the corner. “I could deal with the paperwork. It’s the Clave interference, that’s the real downside.”
A pen came flying from the other end of the room and Izzy, not expecting it, got a direct hit on her shoulder. She yelped.
Jace had to stifle the laugh that threatened to burst out when they all turned and saw Alec with his phone to his ear glaring at her. There were a lot of other things on Alec’s desk and if Jace made too much noise he was pretty sure they were all fair game projectiles in Alec’s eyes.
“Jeez,” Izzy rubbed her bare shoulder even though it couldn’t have hurt that much, “Someone’s cranky today.”
Alec, generally speaking, was usually at least a little cranky.
Izzy was just lucky that she said it quietly.
While her children squabbled, Maryse had claimed her own corner of the remaining couch. Jace sat beside her and that would leave Alec to roll over his chair or sit on the floor. He figured if he was only seeing Maryse this one time during his adventures in the future he should get the seat next to her.
After Alec said something else too quiet to make out he finally hung up the phone, “Can we please not say anti-Clave sentiments while I’m on the phone with them?” He stood and found a spot next to the wall to lean against before sliding down and stretching his legs out in front of him.
“Oh, they couldn’t hear me.” Izzy protested, “You worry too much, big brother.”
“You don’t worry enough.” Alec countered although he felt like he only half meant it.
“I didn’t come all this way to listen to the three of you snipe at each other.” Maryse said with an arched eyebrow, “I’m more interested in hearing about what’s happened since Jace got himself deaged by an angry warlock.” There was a chiding look tacked onto the end there, just to remind him that what had happened was entirely preventable.
“Hey,” He protested, “I didn’t do anything. Talk to me when I’m older, he’s the one that let this happen.”
“True,” Maryse said, “I apologize, you’re right, you didn’t do anything wrong.”
“This time.” Izzy teased.
Jace decided to be the bigger person and let that slide, “I mean, I guess I don’t really remember what I was doing before my eyes got seared in some random warehouse so that’s probably yet another point to the whole this is not time travel thing. It was just all of a sudden, I’m trying to see again while I heard Izzy and Clary groaning – although I didn’t know it was Clary at the time, obviously.”
“That did hurt,” Izzy backed him up, “Then I look up and see him and, yeah, it was surprising.”
Alec chimed in, “I was in a meeting and Izzy is blowing up my phone. I finally get a moment to check and all she says was that there had been an incident with a warlock and it would be easier to show me. No warning whatsoever. Not even Magnus gave me a heads up.”
“You can’t get mad at me if you’re not mad at Magnus.” Izzy said firmly, “And I know for a fact that you get sad if you have to be mad at Magnus, so I think just let it go.”
Their brother rolled his eyes but he very noticeably didn’t deny it.
“I think the biggest thing is that Alec got way taller than me. I’m not happy about it.” Jace hadn’t harped on the height thing lately but it was worth repeating.
“Again, I can’t do anything about that.” Alec huffed.
“I considered stopping by the Academy and taking Max out for the day but he’s on a training run, so it wouldn’t have been possible.” Maryse said regretfully. It was kind of a bummer. “Then you would have someone else’s height to marvel over.”
Jace felt himself go cold, “He’s not gotten crazy tall, has he?”
Maryse laughed and shook her head, “He favors Robert, so I think you’re safe.”
“Don’t let him hear you say that,” Izzy said seriously. She had a look on her face that said Max had real feelings on the issue, “He’s convinced he’s going to be taller than Alec one day.”
That got a laugh out of Alec that made Jace pity poor Max for a second.
“If he can’t be here,” Jace said, “Then tell me more about him. Who’s got pictures? The more embarrassing the better, please.”
The three of them eagerly started sharing stories of Max’s antics and hell, Jace was a little impressed at how much shit Max managed to get into.
Hearing about him, that he was okay and that he was well on his way to being another badass Lightwood, made another string in the knot of worry that was inside of him every second he walked around in the future undo itself.
Max was okay.
A frustrated younger sibling with dreams of battle glory and family domination but okay.
As long as he didn’t end up taller than Jace, it was all good.
Maryse stayed through dinner. Ordering takeout with her was a weird experience because it was usually something she sneered at. Just another thing she had relaxed about, apparently.
Talking with her felt better than he’d thought it would. Relaxing in a way that he didn’t usually associate with Maryse.
She started making her excuses after dessert but the conversation kept flowing for another half an hour. When she tried again, they managed to keep her another ten minutes.
Finally, Maryse stood and said, “This was lovely, I’m so glad you gave me the chance to come and have the day together, Alec.” She gave him a big smile before leaning in to hug him. Izzy got her hug next before Maryse turned to Jace, “I’ve arranged for a portal back, once I text that I’m ready. Walk me to the door, Jace?”
Jace stood, fully aware that this was probably so he and Maryse could have a few minutes just to themselves.
She gathered her things and said a final goodbye to Alec and Izzy before the two of them headed out of Alec’s office, Maryse’ arm linked in his.
“I really am glad Alec called,” Maryse said almost wistfully, “We’ve had such a crazy time of it lately, it was nice to sit down and just relax with the three of you.”
“You could come back to New York to live,” Jace suggested, “Commute to the Clave.”
Maryse sighed, “That would be nice but isn’t practical right now. Alec needs to be seen as running this Institute himself, without my influence. Robert wouldn’t be pleased either.”
It probably wasn’t the time for it but Jace couldn’t help himself, “Alec told me what he did. That you guys are getting divorced.”
There was a small pause before Maryse said, “We are. It’s for the best. I hope the news didn’t upset you.”
“I’m only upset for you.” Jace said truthfully, “It’s shitty what he did.”
She sighed, “It’s not how I imagined my marriage ending but at a certain point, it became a relief. We both knew we were done. His affair just sealed the deal. It was hurtful, of course it was, but it helped having that final line crossed. I couldn’t ignore it. I couldn’t pretend that we could fix it. Especially after the three of you found out. Alec especially was furious.”
They turned onto the catwalk in Ops. The room was quiet but still busy.
“Probably because of the timing, since he’s got Magnus now.” Jace segued not too unsubtly, “What do you think of him?”
Maryse paused for a moment. If she noticed that he wanted to talk to her about it just in case she needed a kick in the butt about Alec’s sexuality or relationship then she didn’t let on. “I regret how I reacted at first. I was so desperately trying to salvage a reputation that I had ruined, I let it cloud my sight for too long. And I was humiliated that Alec chose his moment to come out to be while so many important members of the Clave were watching. I should have been proud of him.” There was genuine sadness in her voice in a way that he didn’t hear from Maryse often. “I am proud of him. What he did wasn’t easy.”
Well, at least that was a reassurance on the whole gay thing. And now for Magnus, “Izzy and Clary managed to save some of the security footage of it. They showed it to me, it was a pretty epic first kiss.”
Maryse laughed, “Alec is just as dramatic as Izzy when he wants to be, he can’t ever deny it. I was far less upset about his sexuality than about Magnus. Magnus’ reputation is… legendary, to put it delicately. I was concerned for our image, of course, but I was even more concerned for his heart. It’s been wonderful to be proven wrong.”
“Not something you usually say,” Jace couldn’t help but laugh a little.
She took it gracefully, “Magnus has been good for him. He’s grown so confident and secure within himself. And Magnus loves him deeply, not even at my most selfish and most angry could I deny it. I thought he was fickle, the type to fall in love easy and often, so even if he did really love Alec he wouldn’t stay in love. It turns out I barely knew him at all. Not to mention, he’s incredibly protective of Alec and that is more a relief than I can say.”
Hearing Maryse’ approval of the relationship was more reassuring than Jace was expecting. As the main entry to the Institute came into view, he nodded and said, “I’ve only met him once but I can feel the difference in Alec. It’s kind of amazing.”
Maryse pulled out her phone and started typing to whoever was arranging her portal back to Alicante, “I can see it every time I’m with him but it’s nice to hear it from you as well.”
A portal came to life behind her and Maryse sighed, “Tonight really was wonderful, Jace. Now that you know I know, please text me and call while you’re here, all right?”
“I will,” He promised.
Maryse leaned in and hugged him.
“You’re okay, right?” Jace asked a little more anxiously than he meant to. He said it quietly in her ear so no one else would hear.
That just got him a tighter squeeze, “I’m okay, baby.” Terms of endearment weren’t really Maryse’ thing but when she used them it made him feel like she really was his mother. And she was, she said so and he felt it, but any shred of proof was something he hoarded as though he was still a little kid just arriving in New York.
Maryse pulled back and beamed at him, “I’m so proud of you, you know that right?”
His throat got tight so all he did was nod.
“Go back to your brother and sister; see if Izzy’s finished off all the cookies yet.” Maryse ordered playfully before turning and walking towards the portal. At the last second she turned and smiled at him and he waved back before she was gone.
Then the portal closed and Jace was just standing in the middle of the hallway by himself, except still surrounded by people.
He felt a tug on his bond with Alec. His parabatai’s way of demanding his presence.
Jace just smiled and turned back around towards Alec’s office.
Next Up: Memories & Magnus
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He was holding the blade in his hand so tightly that his fingers ached. His jaw was clenched, his lips twisted in a parody of a sneer… anything to hide how desperately afraid he was.
The man standing in front of him had eyes that seemed to see all of that and whispered to him that he couldn’t hide it. That he could never hide.
The circle rune was burnt red on his neck. He looked familiar but Jace couldn’t place him.
“Fight me and watch your friends die.”
Izzy and Simon were already restrained and Jace felt his heart race as he tried to figure out if calling his bluff would save them or just get them killed because he wasn’t good enough.
There was a struggle behind him and when he dared turn back, he saw Alec being dragged in with a blade to his neck. Magnus was being restrained too, right behind Alec.
Jace should have been paying attention, should have known this was coming, should have kept them safe.
“See, you are strong, but they make you weak.”
To love is to destroy.
Think, think… there had to be a way out of this. There had to be a way to fix this…
“Let us go.” Clary said, the only one not being held back.
“You can have the book. I won’t be able to stop you without it.” Clary kept going.
No, not when they were so close!
“Ah, Clarissa.” He said, “So like your mother. Willing to do anything for those that you love. I’m touched but the book was never part of my plan. I want you to wake up your mother. I know that you’ll both join me eventually. It’s fated.”
And then he turned back to Jace, eyes mocking because he already knew what was going to happen.
And Jace… lowered his blade.
“Jace wake up!”
Jace jerked awake with his lungs burning and his heart racing. There were hands reaching for him but he shoved himself back, hand lifting to fight with a blade that wasn’t there anymore.
“Jace, it’s me.” Alec said, his voice low and soothing. It always was after a nightmare, because that’s all that had been, just another nightmare.
He practically collapsed into himself, “Alec,”
Once Alec was sure Jace knew him, he came closer and pulled him into a hug that Jace didn’t have the strength or desire to fight. He sagged against his brother and held him tightly. Seeing those men holding a blade to his parabatai’s throat and knowing there was nothing he could do…
“Hey,” Alec rubbed his back. “Jace, you’re okay.”
“I don’t know what that was, Alec. It was the Circle. There was a man and his eyes were so familiar and… fuck, he was going to hurt you and Izzy and even Simon and Magnus if I didn’t go with him. Clary had a book and she tried to trade it for our safety but all he wanted was me…”
“I know, Jace, it’s okay.” Alec said softly. There was sadness emanating from the bond and Jace didn’t understand.
He shook his head against Alec’s shoulder, “No, no, I couldn’t think of anything. I couldn’t do anything and his men had a blade to your throat and…”
Alec sighed and pushed him back just enough so Alec could see his face, “Jace, I know. That wasn’t a nightmare, it was a memory. Everything turned out all right. You did the only thing you could and everything is okay.”
“A memory?” Jace repeated faintly.
His parabatai just looked tired, “From a few months ago. Our enemy. It was all of our faults, not just yours. We should have been better prepared. I’m sorry, Jace.”
That man was the enemy who had done so much harm to them? There was something so familiar about him but Jace didn’t know why. He was a member of the Circle? It didn’t make any sense but he could tell Alec didn’t want to explain any further and the pain in his eyes held Jace back from pushing it.
“Magnus said this might happen when the spell starts wearing off.” Alec explained, “That memories might start bleeding over. It’s already been eleven days, he thought it might start soon.”
Jace fell back against the pillows and tried to pull in a deep breath that wouldn’t sound shaky to Alec. “A memory.” He said again, although why he was bothering he didn’t know.
There was silence from Alec and Jace just stared at the ceiling, trying to get the feeling of panic out of his body. His limbs were tingling, like all the adrenalin in his body had already jolted through him and now he was left trying to convince himself that nothing was actually wrong.
Then Alec laid down beside him, “A bad memory. I’m sorry it couldn’t have been something good.”
“Doesn’t sound like there’s a lot of good to choose from.” Jace said sort of bitterly.
“That’s not true.” Alec protested immediately, “Maybe not loads in the last few months but that doesn’t mean that everything since you were sixteen has been shit, Jace.”
“Sorry,” Jace said and he meant it. He felt so keyed up it was impossible to think happy thoughts or relax.
Alec just sighed, like the apology offended him or something. It probably did but there was nothing Jace could do about it.
When Alec got up again, Jace almost reached out to grab him and pull him back down. He didn’t want to be alone and, after having to watch someone hold Alec back from him and threaten his life, he didn’t want Alec to get too far away from Jace for him to protect his parabatai. And that was stupid, he knew that. The dream or memory or whatever was long gone. Alec was fine.
But everything in him said that he not only needed to protect Alec but that he was failing at it.
“Let’s go.” Alec stood up and held his hand out to pull Jace up from the bed.
Alec smiled at him and even if it was a little tight and fake, it still added another layer between him and the memory. “Let’s go down to the training rooms. You can pick the weapons.”
In an instant, Jace was up and ready.
That was exactly what he needed.
It hadn’t taken too much nagging to get Izzy to organize the dinner tonight. He let her think that he wanted all of them to have dinner at Magnus’ loft because he wanted out of the Institute and Magnus’ was maybe the one place Alec would feel was safe enough to actually allow him to go.
He had asked her about a week ago but after his nightmare with the memory, he ramped up his attempts to get her to ask Magnus and Alec about it. Why he couldn’t just ask himself he wasn’t sure, it just felt too weird, so he got Izzy to do it instead.
If she didn’t believe the reason he gave – being tired of feeling cooped up – then she didn’t say anything.
It had the benefit of being at least partially true. Other than a few patrols with Alec and Izzy, he had been stuck inside the Institute nearly the entire time he had been with them.
But that wasn’t why he pretty desperately wanted to have this dinner.
He had only met Magnus the once and yeah, everyone said he was great for Alec and Jace himself could feel how much happier Alec was, but he wanted to see it for himself. He wanted to see them interact. He wanted to see the loft that Izzy said Alec had practically moved into.
He wanted to make sure Magnus really treated his brother right.
There wasn’t a lot of time left, if he needed to do anything to help Alec then it needed to be sooner rather than later.
So Izzy got everything set up. Apparently Magnus really liked hosting gatherings of any kind, so it hadn’t been hard. Alec hadn’t said much to him about it so Jace was counting the whole thing as a win.
An unexpected bonus to the night was learning that Clary could create portals? Like, what Shadowhunter could do that?
Jace stood there and just stared at the golden portal Clary had created in Alec’s office while Clary herself was beside him grinning, obviously really pleased with herself to have so completely surprised him.
“I already told her she can’t portal you anywhere.” Alec warned him without even needing to hear Jace say anything about it.
“Do you enjoy being so lame?” Jace griped.
Alec just shot him a look over his shoulder before walking through the portal.
Jace shook his head and ignored the way Izzy snickered behind him. They were both lame. He went through the portal, not willing to hear Izzy say anything about his traitor parabatai’s travel restrictions.
And when he stepped out of the portal, he got to see Alec kissing his boyfriend.
He didn’t stare, of course. He moved quickly out of the way so Clary and Izzy didn’t walk straight into him, but he did try to discretely spy on them.
They didn’t break apart just because someone else had come through the portal, which was interesting and reassuring. Alec really wasn’t hiding anything about this.
Izzy and Clary came into the loft with linked arms, already laughing.
“Hey!” Izzy called to Magnus and Alec, “This is a family dinner, not foreplay. Break it up!” Then she turned to Jace, “Alec is so weak for Magnus. Like they are incapable of not being mushy.”
“Mushy?” Alec pulled his lips back from Magnus but they were still standing close and holding hands, “Are you eleven, Izzy?”
Jace watched Magnus just to see if he was like, offended or annoyed by Izzy but he mostly seemed amused.
Then, Izzy’s hands came over his eyes.
“We have an impressionable youth here.” She said.
Jace didn’t bother getting insulted, which was what Izzy probably wanted, “I’m mostly shocked that Alec is doing anything that could be worth you covering my eyes. Alec.”
“Oh sweetheart, you haven’t seen anything.” Magnus drawled as Izzy uncovered his eyes just in time to see Alec roll his eyes and blush a little. “Shall we start with drinks?”
“Yes please,” Jace said immediately.
He was pretty surprised when Magnus didn’t immediately say no. He just turned to Alec with a raised eyebrow, as if asking if he would be angry if Magnus gave his underage (but not, technically?) brother a drink.
Alec just stared at him for a moment.
“Seriously?” Jace asked because Alec damn well knew that he’d been plenty drunk before. Hell, Alec’s first time drunk had been with him a year ago by his count. Of course, Alec didn’t like drinking and he liked the loss of control even less so that hadn’t happened again but still. Alec couldn’t pretend anything otherwise.
“One.” Alec said finally.
“You’re more Maryse than Maryse sometimes.” Jace grumbled. “Don’t go outside, don’t drink, don’t skip breakfast.”
Magnus, who had been at his drink cart making something with his back turned to them, whirled around dramatically with his mouth dropped open, “Don’t skip breakfast!? That’s a rule? That’s a rule enforced by Alexander Gideon Lightwood?”
Jace didn’t need that reaction spelled out to him. Alec skipped meals whenever he was even the slightest bit busy or stressed. He decided to stop standing around and go sit down. Clary had long since already claimed a spot and just to keep it from being weird, he sat down beside her.
Izzy claimed a day bed by the balcony, draping herself over it like she was Cleopatra or something. That left a single armchair or a couch for Magnus and Alec, and Jace wasn’t surprised to see Alec pick the couch so Magnus could sit next to him when he was done distributing drinks. Izzy quickly got something that looked red and fruity and Clary was being handed something that looked maybe like a mojito.
Should he be offended that she, who he was pretty sure was actually underage, was getting a drink without anyone asking about getting someone’s permission?
“Jace, are you a scotch man yet at this age or should I conjure you some sort of hideously cheap beer?” Magnus asked, complete with theatrical shudder.
He wasn’t actually a scotch man yet but the idea that he was going to be was maybe the best thing that he had heard about Future Jace so far. “Scotch is great, thanks.”
“Scotch is disgusting, actually.” Izzy contradicted as she took a sip of her guaranteed headache in a glass.
Magnus handed him a glass of scotch that Jace took a little too eagerly. He took a quick sip and managed to mostly keep the grimace off his face.
Surprisingly, Magnus went to sit by Alec with his own drink and something for Alec too. Alec took it without frowning even. It was clear, so Jace couldn’t guess what it was but that Alec was willing to drink anything alcohol at all was pretty interesting.
“I told Simon that we were having dinner tonight and he pouted when I told him he couldn’t come.” Clary said with an unrepentant giggle.
“Thank the Angel.” Alec didn’t even bother lowering his voice. It made Magnus smile a little wider.
“I don’t think he’s that bad.” Izzy said.
Clary shot her a look that Jace wasn’t sure how to read. “That’s only because he thinks you’re gorgeous.”
There was a jolt of alarm through the bond and Jace pulled his eyes from Izzy to see Alec looking between Clary and their sister with a look that dripped with suspicion. “He does?”
“Most men do, Alec.” Isabelle shot back in a way that somehow managed to sound not at all conceited.
That didn’t seem to reassure Alec at all.
“Oh calm down, big brother. He’s with Maia, remember? I’m not about to start dating Simon Lewis.”
Magnus seemed mostly amused, “If anything changes on that, please do make sure I’m there when you tell Alexander. I wouldn’t miss the look on his face for anything.”
His parabatai both look and felt extremely conflicted. On the one hand, Alec would never tell anyone who they could and couldn’t be with. It was a sore spot for him aside from just not being who he was. On the other hand, Jace had been in Simon’s presence for about forty-five minutes but even he could see that Simon and Alec were unlikely to ever be friends.
Izzy saw the look on Alec’s face too and laughed, “You mean like what his face is doing right now but multiplied by ten?”
“By one hundred,” Clary said, “But I fully support it, Izzy. If you and Simon were to date, I mean. Not in a breaking him up with Maia kind of way, just in a maybe if the planets ever aligned kind of way. Then Simon could take my place as Alec’s least favorite person!”
Alec shifted uncomfortably, “You’re not my least favorite person.”
“Oooh!” Clary looked entirely too excited, “Who do I beat?”
“Well, Raj for one.” Alec answered easily.
Yes, fuck Raj.
“I know why I don’t like him,” Jace looked between the group and found that all of their faces were doing similar things – disgust with a heavy dose of sheer frustration. “But do the rest of you not like him?”
“He’s a pig.” Clary said first. “He talks about threesomes all the time. And not in an ‘everybody had fun’ kind of way like Magnus does sometimes. He talks about it in a bragging way that just makes me feel bad for women who I’m pretty sure are fictional.”
Izzy went next, “He only listens to the orders he wants to but when he does he’s so rigidly by the book it’s impossible to talk to him.”
“He tried to throw me out of the Institute when Alec needed me.” Magnus said as he leaned into Alec’s side and put his feet up on the coffee table. The casual pose made the next thing out of his mouth even more surprising, “So I threw him against a wall and knocked him out. We haven’t been friendly since.”
Jace stared at him.
“I really treasure that memory, Magnus.” Izzy giggled.
“I wish I had that memory.” Alec ran a hand down his face. “It might help me deal when he’s being a stubborn ass.”
Magnus ran a finger down Alec’s deflect rune, “I can share, darling.”
Jace wasn’t sure what he had been hoping to see between Magnus and Alec when he asked for this dinner. It wasn’t like Magnus was going to pull him aside and show him the contract signed in blood that said he was always going to be kind to Alec. Short of that, Jace wasn’t sure that he was ever going to be able to fully relax in the short amount of time he had to figure out whether or not he was really good leaving Alec to the future without him there.
But while he sat there through drinks, then dinner and then dessert, there were so many little casual moments and touches that Jace felt the worry die down as much as it was probably going to without that blood contract.
He wasn’t sure he had ever seen Alec so relaxed.
There was always a weight on Alec’s shoulders. Even when he was just with Jace and Izzy, there was something deep inside of him that was always tense. Jace wasn’t sure he had ever really seen Alec without that ball of worry and pain and self-consciousness. Some days were better than others. He wasn’t always in pain, Jace would know, but there were never really any moments that he had seen Alec actually carefree.
Magnus steadied Alec in a way that Jace wasn’t sure that Alec had even been capable of. The loose set of his shoulders, the easy smile, the lack of that usual tenseness in their bond… it was amazing. Seeing it and feeling it at the same time was almost jarring.
It was like every single second, Magnus put Alec at ease.
They had little jokes between them and Magnus seemed to get Alec’s sense of humor better than anyone Jace had ever met outside of him and Izzy. When Alec grumbled or gave someone an exasperated look, Magnus just seemed to find his grumpiness cute. He flirted with Alec almost continuously but never to a point that Alec got uncomfortable. Magnus seemed incredibly aware of Alec’s more self-destructive tendencies and though there wasn’t any harping on them, he didn’t just leave them unchecked either. Jace only got a limited view of that last one, just passing comments really, but the way Magnus reacted or spoke said just how much he noticed.
The touching was maybe the biggest thing. Alec did not like to be touched if the person wasn’t family. Sometimes he literally moved himself to avoid an accidental brush of someone else against him, he liked it that little.
He and Magnus were nothing but casual touches. They held hands, they kissed, Magnus stroked his cheek or put a hand on his shoulder or on his back. Never once did Alec flinch away or avoid it. If anything, he seemed to crave it. His whole body oriented itself around Magnus sort of subconsciously.
Seeing Alec like this was half crazy, half wonderful.
And Magnus himself, he decided, was a good guy. He told hilarious stories, he could say a lot with a single expression and he took crap from no one. The idea of calling this dude his brother-in-law for the rest of his life wasn’t a hardship.
Especially if he kept conjuring food with a snap of his fingers. Now that was handy.
For all that he had decided he liked Magnus and he approved of him dating his parabatai, he was still a little surprised when after dinner Magnus made eye contact with him and tilted his head towards another room in a universal meet me over here kind of way.
Alec, Izzy and Clary were laughing about something, so Jace didn’t have a hard time slipping away for whatever pow-wow this was.
The room Magnus had called him into looked like a warlock’s workroom. Jace hadn’t been in many but every time he was something exploded.
“Alec updated me that you’re starting to have memories bleed over?” Magnus started without fanfare.
Jace might have been annoyed that Alec was just spilling his nightmares to others but Magnus was the closest thing they had to an expert about this so he got why. “Just the once.”
“While you were asleep?” Magnus asked to confirm, which then confirmed that Alec hadn’t spared any details.
“Yeah, just while I was sleeping. There hasn’t been anything during the day.” Jace answered.
Magnus nodded, “I didn’t think there would be, that would be fairly rare. It’s usually a subconscious thing. I’m sure you realize this means the spell is breaking down?
He did, even if he and Alec hadn’t explicitly talked about it. “I figured.”
“I can’t give you an exact timeline but I would feel comfortable estimating less than a week.” Magnus explained.
“Do you think I’ll remember?” Jace asked seriously. He understood that this wasn’t really that he would stop existing or return to his own time or something but he still really wanted Future Jace to have his memories of this time. Have his thoughts too, because the guy needed them.
Magnus looked less sure, “It’s possible but I really couldn’t say.”
Jace shrugged, “I guess we’ll find out.”
“Because of the nature of the spell that did this – quick and painless – it’s likely to reverse in a similar manner. It might not be instantaneous but it’ll be close to.” Magnus said those words reassuringly and literally up until he said them, it hadn’t occurred to Jace to be nervous about the actual process of re-aging. At least it sounded like it wasn’t going to be a big deal.
“Good to know.” Jace said before hesitating.
Magnus gave him an encouraging smile, probably thinking he had another spell question.
That wasn’t what he wanted to say at all.
Fuck it, he decided. He wasn’t going to be the one dealing with any secondhand embarrassment about this for very long.
“I didn’t ask to come tonight because I’m bored in the Institute.” Jace said before realizing what a big lie that was, “Okay, yes, I am and that’s totally Alec’s fault but that’s not specifically why I asked to have dinner here.”
Magnus’ curious expression went a little guarded. He seemed to have caught on well enough but obviously wasn’t sure where exactly he was going with this.
“I wanted to see you and him in like your natural habitat. Izzy and Clary and even Maryse talk about how in love you guys are and that’s great. I trust Izzy’s opinion and if Mom says it then she has to mean it seriously. And I can feel him and how different he is.”
At this, Magnus seemed as if he couldn’t help but cut in, “Different?”
Jace hesitated again but this time he knew he was wrong to. He didn’t like talking about the parabatai bond or Alec in that way with people who weren’t Alec or Izzy. Magnus was safe though, Jace knew that. He was proving it every day.
“Alec always feels… heavy? Like weighed down or something. Always. Even when he’s happy there’s always something inside him that’s weighed down and afraid.” Jace tried to explain it as best he could. “It’s not always huge. I know that doesn’t make sense. Sometimes it’s worse than others. Sometimes it’s so little I don’t feel it unless I’m really paying attention.”
Magnus just looked sad. “I understand.”
Jace shook his head, “When he opened the bond for me at first, I didn’t really notice. I was just so happy that he wasn’t going to keep it the way that he and older Jace do. But it got obvious pretty quick. Yeah, he’s still grumpy and he gets annoyed and he’s too focused on things that he can’t change. But he’s so much lighter. He’s so much less… less tense and scared and sometimes he just radiates this calmness when he’s never done that before. Never, Magnus.”
Some part of him was almost happy that he wasn’t literally going to go back to his own time. He missed his Alec fiercely, just like he missed his Izzy and his Max. These people now were the same and he loved them but they were also not the same and he loved them.
If he had to go back and find his Alec still so scared of himself and what everyone would say if he lived as he wanted to live, then it might have broken his heart. He thought he was doing the right thing for Alec by not calling attention to his sexuality, by not making Alec confront it. He had thought that by loving him and making it not a big deal, it would get better.
He had been wrong. Izzy had been wrong. Alec had been wrong.
“It’s… I wish I could really make you feel it. I wish you could understand how big it is, even though it’s also so little.” Jace settled on saying. “I was so scared of what would happen when we got older and marriage and stuff started coming up. This - you and him – is like my wildest dreams times twenty. And yeah, I can feel the difference and I trust what Izzy and Alec say about you but I wanted to come myself. I wanted to make sure.”
Magnus didn’t say anything for a moment. Jace didn’t know him well enough to read the expression on his face… but he didn’t need to know or understand to see the tears welling in his eyes. Magnus didn’t let them fall but they were there all the same.
“Thank you.” Magnus said softly, “I hope you got what you were looking for.”
“I did,” Jace promised, “I’d thank you for loving him but once you get past Alec’s walls I think it gets pretty obvious that having him in your life makes you the lucky one, so I won’t say it.”
Magnus laughed then and it sounded maybe a little choked up but that was okay.
“Try and encourage him and his Jace to open the bond like it’s supposed to be.” Jace looked through the crack in the door to see Alec laughing with Izzy, “There’s nothing left to be nervous about, except whatever that Lake Lyn thing is. But they should try again, it’s so much better like this. It so much easier to understand.”
“Trying to get the two of you to explain anything about your bond is like pulling scales from a dragon,” Magnus sounded just annoyed enough to give Jace a fairly good idea on how many times he had tried, “But I will.”
Just to make him laugh, Jace couldn’t help but add, “And I’m sorry for the two weeks of cockblocking. Unintentional.”
Magnus almost sputtered he started laughing so hard. He literally bent double with his hands wrapped around his stomach. “Oh my god.”
The door opened slowly and Alec peeked in, utterly confused. “What are you laughing about?”
“I have finally, finally,” Magnus had to stop here when his voice dissolved into giggles again, “Gotten the apology that I so richly deserve.” He pointed at Jace, “You have no idea. Your two weeks is nothing. I accept from you and from your future self.”
Well, at least he wasn’t the only Jace who was keeping Magnus and Alec from getting down and dirty.
I hope everyone enjoyed the chapter! Please let me know what you think, I always love hearing your thoughts!
Next Up: Sibling conversations
Jace was sort of shocked when he suggested he and Alec walk back to the Institute instead of portalling and his parabatai actually agreed.
Clary and Izzy went ahead through one of Clary’s portals without them and Magnus was still randomly breaking into bursts of laughter whenever he looked at Jace. He could tell that Alec was curious but he didn’t ask.
It was late enough that outside Magnus’ building it was dark and semi-quiet. As quiet as New York ever really got at night. It was peaceful in a way that Jace didn’t normally think this city was capable of.
Alec was silent beside him. He felt pretty at ease and that just smoothed out any part of Jace that might have been anything else.
About three quarters of the way to the Institute, Alec finally broke, “What did you say to Magnus that had him laughing so hard?”
“Our little secret.” Jace replied easily.
Alec huffed, “Something dirty then.”
Jace just gave him a wicked grin, because he wasn’t really wrong.
“He, um, talk to you about anything else?”Alec asked in a way that sounded awkward but the bond said otherwise. Alec was pretty unrepentant about having told Magnus he’d had a memory nightmare.
“Just about how the spell ends,” Jace left out the rest of it. Alec didn’t need to know. “Did he explain it to you or do you need the recap?”
“He explained it.” Alec answered. Then a beat of silence that felt forced. “Are you good with it?”
Jace shrugged, “He says it’ll be quick and easy and sometime in the next week. Sounds fine. I mean, other than the eye-searing it didn’t hurt to get here and that happened to Izzy and Clary too so I don’t think it was a feature of the spell itself.”
A pause again. Jace waited for Alec to say whatever it was he needed to say.
“You’re still nervous. Why?”
“Is that why you asked Magnus to talk to me?” Jace couldn’t help but ask.
The Institute came into view as they turned the corner, brightly lit up to only them. Instead of going inside, Alec headed towards a nearby bench and sat down. Jace wasn’t going to complain about staying out a little longer and sat beside him, half turned so he could face Alec.
“You’ve been nervous for the last couple of days, since the dream.” Alec said finally, “I thought if Magnus explained what would happen, you would feel better.”
Explaining felt weird, especially considering he wasn’t one hundred percent sure what the issue was.
“I don’t know why I’m nervous.” Jace’s fingers restlessly played with the stele he pulled from his pocket “Nothing is really going to happen. It’s not like this is time travel or anything. I’m just going to get older again, which I’ve already done once. And it’s not even like I’m nervous as though it’s dying or something. I get older. I still exist. It’s just…” He shrugged.
The quiet that came after he stopped talking was appreciated. He didn’t want Alec to give him some lame platitude like he was some dumb little kid. He wanted his parabatai to think about what to say before he actually said it.
Finally, Alec said, “Is that you’re nervous about the actual process or the after?”
It was a good question.
“The after, I guess.” Jace said. Even if Magnus had said it was going to hurt, he didn’t think it would have made him nervous. He could take pain.
“I think that you think that you’re awful when you’re older.” Alec said as he tilted his head back against the bench. “You’ve built this idea up in your head that every bad thing that happened to Izzy, Max and I is because of you. You’re wrong, Jace. You don’t have to be worried about us. We take care of each other. You take care of us. That’s not going to change when you get older again.”
Jace didn’t know what to say.
“You and I went through a rough patch and that’s okay. I wasn’t a saint either. I pushed you away, I wouldn’t talk and when I did it was sort of fake most of the time. I was so afraid of everyone finding out my secret that I let it ruin me for years. I let it ruin us.” Alec kept talking even though they were both sort of aching from the words. “Yeah, maybe you could have just told me you knew. Maybe you could have pushed me harder. Maybe you shouldn’t have hid your own secrets while you let me hide mine. Knowing you knew might have helped but I was afraid of so much more than just you and Izzy knowing that I don’t even know if that would have done anything major for me. The point is, there’s blame for both of us but it’s not about blame. I’m sorry I hurt you. Future you is sorry you hurt me. We love each other. Nothing else really matters.”
There was a nudge to his hand and when Jace looked down, he saw it was Alec pulling the stele out of his hands. Instead of letting him grip it so hard his fingers were turning white, he wrapped their hands together instead.
“Our enemy,” Jace whispered, “Everything that Izzy said happens…”
“You can’t protect us from everything.” Alec said seriously, “I can’t protect us from everything either. You’re angry with yourself for not seeing Izzy’s yin fen addiction. I didn’t see it either. You blame yourself for not realizing how much I… how much I was blaming myself for Clary’s mother’s death. Izzy didn’t see it either. I didn’t see how being torn in so many different directions was breaking your heart. I didn’t see a lot of things. There was so much happening. We all could have done better, not just you. We know now. We see where we went wrong. We’re fighting to keep it from happening again.”
“You said I keep pushing you away,” And Jace could see on his siblings faces how much that hurt them. If he could see it, his future self could see it too and he was still doing it.
Alec nodded, “You are but I know you’ll tell me eventually. You know yourself, Jace. You and Izzy make fun of me for being in my own head so much but you are too. You’re torturing yourself with what happened at Lake Lyn. It’s not that you’re trying to hurt us, hell, you’re probably trying to protect us in some weird way. This isn’t the first time you’ve tried to push Izzy and I away and it probably won’t be the last.”
It hadn’t ever occurred to him that he might be trying to protect them by keeping whatever secret it was. That made more sense, even if he still didn’t like it.
“You’re blaming yourself too much.” Alec pressed the point, “If you’re nervous about aging back up then don’t let it be because you’re scared that you’re going to hurt Izzy and I or that you think future you is an asshole who doesn’t take care of us. He’s the one who found me when I had bloody fingers on the roof more times that I want to admit. He’s the one that brought the missing piece of my soul to me while he was bleeding and exhausted from running through the city to get to me even with a pack of angry werewolves behind him. He’s the one who gave me my dream of running this Institute.”
Alec squeezed his hand and when Jace turned to look at him finally, he saw a smirk on Alec’s face.
Jace laughed and if it was a little ragged sounding then Alec wasn’t going to judge him. “I won’t miss hearing you say that over and over again.”
“I think I will,” Alec admitted without the slightest bit of guilt, “It’s been more fun than I expected. And a parabatai who does what I tell him, that’s great too.”
“You’re such an ass.” Jace couldn’t help but say it. He made sure there wasn’t any upset on Alec’s end of things but all he was getting was amusement so he knew Alec wasn’t taking him seriously. “So um… can I run something else past you while we’re out here?”
“Of course.” Alec said evenly. “Always.”
Jace squirmed in his seat a little. He believed his parabatai, hell he could feel Alec meant it, but he also was pretty sure this wasn’t a topic that Alec really wanted to get into. He didn’t have any more time to gently investigate anymore though. Any lingering worries he had for Alec and Izzy had to get resolved before he just blinked and was older.
“I heard more about that demon that possessed you.” Jace eased into it as gently as he could but Alec still tensed next to him, “And I heard about what happened after at Max’s party.”
Alec turned away from him and this kind of hiding Jace let him do. It was the bond that mattered more than reading the look on Alec’s face or making Alec see the look on Jace’s. As long as his brother didn’t try to shut their bond back down halfway just to avoid Jace feeling something Alec didn’t want him to then it was fine.
When Alec didn’t speak, Jace kept going, “I get there were spell involved and you weren’t entirely yourself but I need to know if that’s something you… if that’s something you feel other times.”
“It isn’t.” Alec said slowly. “Not… not seriously. And even then, not in a long time.”
That should have been reassuring but it still felt like a punch to the gut. “Define a long time.”
Alec was silent.
“Fuck,” Jace breathed out, “So you’re saying that my Alec – not that you’re not mine too but like… you’re saying I’m somehow not feeling when you…”
He couldn’t speak. The words felt thick and panicky in his chest.
How could he have missed something like that? He had been so angry with his Future self and now Alec was telling him that he was just as bad?
“Jace, breathe. Being parabatai doesn’t mean feeling and registering and correctly interpreting every negative emotion and then knowing instantly the right thing to do to solve it.” That, Jace decided, was both true and a goddamned tragedy, “I know I’ve missed a lot of your pain. This is what I’m saying. You’ve built your future self up in your mind as this horrible guy. He’s not. You’re not. We shut the bond when we shouldn’t have. I see that now. The problems were gradual. It’s not like one day things got bad. We operated as if we still had a full connection but didn’t put in the effort to understand like we did before we bonded, that’s all Jace. Things got superficial and we didn’t notice. If you failed, I failed. If you should be condemned for it, so should I.”
Alec was saying it that way on purpose. Jace was really good at blaming himself for things and not so good at even hearing the idea that Izzy or Alec should be blamed.
Jace almost laughed. He really was taking self-hatred to new heights, wasn’t he?
“I get it.” He said quietly, because he did now more than ever.
“You came to us at a bad moment and I’m sorry for that. We’ve barely gotten to take the first steps of recovering. But I fully believe that we will recover. Once Izzy and I break down this last wall you’ve built up around yourself, I know we’ll find our way again. We had already seen where things had gone bad, like I said. We were already determined to work on it.” Alec explained.
“And then Lake Lyn happened.” Jace finished. “And I flinched again.”
Alec rolled his eyes, “And you got hurt again. You’ve been through so much Jace. There’s a reason why Izzy and I refuse to let you find out about all the things that happened. There’s stuff in there that will devastate you. It will make you question every single thing you’ve ever believed to be true. I know because it’s exactly what happened.”
So go easier on yourself. Go easier on the person you become. Stop hating yourself.
Easier said than done.
Alec had given him a lot to think about. The letter he wanted to write his future self was getting revised in his head. “I understand,” He promised again. That wasn’t a lie, it was just that holding on to the lesson was harder than it looked. This wasn’t the first time he had needed to learn it. “Go back to before. About how sometimes you feel like…”
The words just refused to come out of his mouth.
“Hey,” Alec nudged him gently, “I would never do that, Jace. I would never leave you and Izzy then and I would never leave you, Izzy and Magnus now. Sometimes things get hard and my head just…” He sighed heavily, “Things just get hard. I know better how to deal with it now.”
Jace knew Alec sometimes struggled with hurting himself by letting himself get injured in fights or training and not healing the injuries. They had sort of talked about it a few times before but Jace couldn’t pretend that he was the poster boy for mental health and there wasn’t much conclusion to those conversations other than them promising to be there for each other and Jace resolving to track Alec down if he noticed things going too far.
Hearing that he had missed suicidal moments hurt.
Alec’s promise was comforting but the conviction he could feel through the bond was better. His brother meant it, that he wouldn’t ever leave them like that. Things got muddle sometimes, Jace knew that, but he knew he would be looking better now – both versions of him. Jace didn’t think he could have strayed so far from himself inside of a decade to make that not true. Izzy would look harder too. And Magnus knew. Jace felt it down to his bones. Magnus knew all of this and he wouldn’t let anything happen to Alec on his watch.
“Is there anything else?” Alec ducked his head to catch Jace’s eye, “If there’s anything we can talk about that will make you feel better, then we can Jace.”
He leaned forward, gently tugging his hand from Alec’s to brace himself against his legs, “I guess that’s it. I’ve been trying to make sure that you guys are really okay while I’ve got the chance, you know? The dream meaning I’ll be older again soon kicked me into overdrive.”
“We’re really okay.” Alec’s voice wasn’t teasing or patronizing.
It was steady and truthful.
“Jace, I promise you we’re okay.”
Training with Izzy was different than training with Alec in a lot of ways. They fought so differently, for one, he couldn’t use the same tricks against the both of them. Izzy was like fire, excited and bold. Alec was like ice, calculated and strong.
Also, training was when he got his best talks in with Izzy. Yeah she liked to trash talk way more than their brother did, but they also really got into deep shit when they were fighting.
So sue him, he used it to his advantage.
He was fifteen days into this strange new world and apparently he had six days or less before he was done with it.
Izzy seemed fine. He had been watching her carefully the last week or so, after he found out about the yin fen. Not in a creepy way (he hoped) or like he didn’t trust her word when she said that she was both off it and would tell her brothers if she needed a little extra support. Just in a worried kind of way. He couldn’t really help it.
“So I noticed you’re not avoiding Clary like she’s got the plague anymore.” Izzy said with a grin right before she sent a roundhouse kick to his face.
Jace leaned out of range lightning fast. “She’s not so bad, I guess.”
Izzy laughed, “God, teenage boys are the absolute worst. I’m so glad I don’t deal with them anymore. I keep waiting for Max to take a total dive but so far he’s held steady.”
“I can’t listen to you talk about Max as a teenager. It’s too weird. Last I remember we were still trying to figure out how to get him pronounce ‘Institute’ right.” A thought occurred to him that had him freezing when he really needed to keep moving to avoid Izzy and her staff. “He’s not still saying it wrong, is he?”
“Angel, no.” Izzy thoughtfully didn’t take the blatant opening for a hit, mostly because she seemed to be turning into mush, “I had forgotten about that. You know, when we finally got him to say it properly I was kind of sad? Like it was the last baby thing left.”
“Well that’s where he is to me, the picture of him on my phone was freaky enough without adding in you telling me he’s got a girlfriend or something.” Jace said before thinking of Alec and adding, “Or a boyfriend.”
“Last time he was here he made puking faces if you kissed Clary or Alec kissed Magnus. He’s completely horrified by romance.” Izzy said as she dodged his staff going straight for her ankles in a neat little hop.
Jace swung his staff back around quickly to make her do it again but Izzy just planted her staff and used it to launch herself about five feet back. No fun. “I’m noticing a distinct lack of stories about your prey, by the way.”
“One, that’s by choice.” Izzy said.
“Duh,” Jace agreed.
That made Izzy give him a grin that would have been too dirty for his Alec and his delicate sensibilities, “Two, I just got out of something that was short, but intense. I’m looking for fun and light for a while. I’m not looking to find my future spouse and immediately fall in love like my emotional brothers.”
Jace snorted, “I was surprised too.”
“So what other points of concern do we need to get through for you to feel better?” Izzy asked with an innocent smile.
“Um,” Jace said, a little surprised. Then, he narrowed his eyes, “Did Alec talk to you?”
Izzy took a quick jab at his stomach that, to his annoyance, landed. While he doubled over glaring, she said, “I know you, idiot. Alec didn’t say anything and he doesn’t need to. You want to see Mom after you find out about the divorce. You want to have extended time to scope out Magnus. You’re transparent, little brother.”
“I really hate being younger than you.” Jace took the second to say it yet again because it was so, so true.
Unsurprisingly, Izzy looked like she disagreed, “Having Alec be younger than me would have been even more fun but this has been surprisingly satisfying. Mostly because it annoys you.”
“I don’t know what’s worse, being younger than you or having Alec be so much older and taller.” Jace was just whining at this point and he knew it but he didn’t really care. Izzy was always up for a petty bitching session, “Actually, I take that back. It’s having Alec be too old and too tall.”
“He really did shoot up those last few inches out of nowhere.” Izzy agreed. She spun like a ballerina out of Jace’s latest attack and continued, “But I digress. You’re transparent, Alec’s too tall and I can read you boys like books. Spit it out, Jace.”
Just for that, he aimed his next attack at her face. She blocked it aggressively – she always did when someone was threatening to mess up her makeup. “I was going to be all nice and discrete and subtle. You’re so rude.”
“Since when have you ever been subtle?” Izzy scoffed. “Spit. It. Out.” Each word was punctuated by a hit from her staff.
“Yin fen!” He shouted back once he managed to get far enough away from her. “Can a brother not ask his sister how she’s doing without getting beat up?”
Izzy laughed and the light sound of it was reassuring. He appreciated that she wasn’t too ashamed to talk to him about it, because she had absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. “I never really thought about what Mundanes would think of our conversations until Clary showed up – don’t ask – but can we just take a second to appreciate this moment? My older part angel brother who is currently younger than me because a warlock cast a deaging spell on him is asking me, also part angel, if I’m doing okay in my recovery from addiction to a drug made of vampire venom. It’s weird and we’re living it.”
“If you’re going to spell it all out like that, sure, it’s fucking weird.” Jace agreed because honestly? She was absolutely right.
Izzy dropped her staff and came up to him. It felt maybe like it was a trick, because Izzy wasn’t above them, but all she did was rest her hands on his shoulders, “Like I told you, I take it day by day. Exercise helps. Talking to people who have been through addiction helps, and yes, I’ve found people to talk to regularly. Candy helps. You and Alec help. Just being around you guys helps, even if you don’t know that I need the distraction or the support. The way you both talk to me, how you trust me, it reminds me that I’m strong. If I have a day when I really need someone, I will tell you. I will tell Future Jace and I know he’ll be at my side.”
Even after his conversation with Alec and realizing how hard he was being on his future self, Jace still couldn’t say that he entirely trusted him. It seemed like he was making all the wrong moves. It seemed like he was being an ass to the people who were most important to him.
But hearing over and over again that Alec and Izzy had this unwavering faith in him?
It was everything.
One more to go!!!
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When Jace jerked awake in his darkened room, he was twenty-three years old.
He didn’t have to feel along his body for differences, he didn’t have to run and go look into a mirror, he just knew.
For a full minute, he was half convinced he had just had a very vivid dream.
That wasn’t true though and he couldn’t deny it.
The memories of the last two weeks were there but hazy, as if he had really lived them when he was sixteen. It wasn’t crystal clear like the memory of yesterday should have been. There were little moments that cut off abruptly and though Jace laid there trembling and trying, the missing pieces didn’t all come back.
There was enough. Waking up in that warehouse so confused. Seeing Clary and not loving her, not even trusting her. Trying to reconcile the Izzy he knew with the Izzy he saw in front of him, the same but so incredibly different too. Seeing Alec – maybe the purest form of Alec he’d ever gotten to see. Finding his phone and hating himself. Hearing them explain and hating himself even more. Playing with Izzy and Alec like he hadn’t in years. Worrying.
So much worrying.
Jace dragged a hand down his face and tried to pull in as deep a breath he could. His bond with Alec was still open wide and if he had a full blown panic attack he’d wake his parabatai up. He wasn’t ready to face Alec.
He also wasn’t willing to close their bond for some privacy.
That made no sense. It was how he and Alec were used to operating. It was how he chose to operate.
It was how he had chosen to operate.
It had been so long though… he had forgotten what a fully open bond felt like. He had forgotten how comforting and true it was, how feeling the full force of Alec’s soul grounded him in ways that he couldn’t even articulate.
It felt right.
It felt right when so much of his life felt like it was being eaten alive by flames.
He wouldn’t ask anything of Alec, not about the bond. It was up to his brother. Jace had put him through enough.
All of that was later though. What he needed right now was to get his head on straight.
Jace sat up in bed and reached for his lamp. Turning it on and seeing his room only made things more real. He hadn’t left his jacket draped over his desk. He didn’t ever leave his phone on the other side of the room but that’s where it was. Little things that weren’t major. It wasn’t like his younger self had repainted while Jace had been… gone?
It was as though he’d had a bad night’s sleep. Not one of those nights when he closed his eyes then blinked them open to the morning’s sun with seemingly no time in between. This was one of those nights where he knew time was going by and it wasn’t particularly restful but he wasn’t really aware of much else.
He had slept away just over two weeks of his life while his teenage self walked around in his place. Two different people. The same but not.
To love is to destroy.
When those words echoed in his head too loudly and his father’s disappointment was all he could think about, he felt like two different people. One person, strong and cold and someone who Valentine would have been proud to call a son, warred with the one who only wanted to do a good job and bask in the light of being with Alec and Izzy as much as they would allow. There was some part of him that would always marvel at how lucky he was that he got to have them.
And when those two people were so separate inside of him, it was Izzy and Alec that inevitably paid the price. He should have been used to it – hating himself for pushing them away to be his father’s son even while he did it – enough that this younger version of himself hating him for it shouldn’t have felt so different than it normally did.
Except it was so different.
The frustration and mistrust and anger were so visceral a part of otherwise faded memories.
It was as though he had woken up from another nightmare. His body felt shaky and wrung out. His mind was racing and tired. It was so, so strange.
Jace stood and before he had even thought through where he was going, his feet were taking him to his bathroom. He fumbled with the sink, turning it on to entirely too cold water and splashing into his face in the dark with only some weak light from his lamp streaming in. The shock of cold helped. It always did.
Some sort of cognitive dissonance had him flicking on the light just to see himself. Just to see that he existed and he was actually the age he was and the age he had been before.
He met his own haunted eyes in the mirror and was almost overcome with the urge to punch it until the image in front of him shattered into a hundred sharp pieces. That would make the reflection more accurate at least.
There was a piece of paper taped to his mirror.
It took him too long to notice and longer still to drag his eyes away from his own face to look up and read the familiar handwriting.
We’re stronger together.
You know we’re stronger together.
It was so fucking weird to know himself so well.
He grabbed a towel and dried his face. When he looked in the mirror again, he looked just as messed up.
You know we’re stronger together.
This moment of realization felt the same way every time. It was something that was built on blinding relief, love and a feeling that could be described only as oh, of course.
When he finally realized that the answer to all the pain and uncertainty was Alec and Izzy. He would say remembered instead of realized but honestly every time felt like a revelation.
They might have been stronger together, it was true, but Alec and Izzy were strong on their own too. They were strong as brother and sister as well. Jace was strong because of them. If he didn’t have them, he would have never survived his father – both losing and loving him. Without them, he would be lost.
When he pushed them away, he was lost.
The revelation, each time it came, was as close to a moment of pure peace as he ever got to feel.
He didn’t bother pulling shoes on or making the bed. He needed to be with them. He needed to talk to them. Everything else wasn’t important.
The lightning bolt of need that sent him from pushing them away to needing to be back beside them was always abrupt and startling.
The hall outside his room was dim in deference to the hour. He softly padded his way to Izzy’s door first and knocked quietly. He wasn’t worried. She always heard him.
When she opened the door, she took one look at him and pulled him into a hug. He wrapped his arms around her tightly. This was what she did every time and every time he felt a profound sense of gratitude that he hadn’t pushed them too far away. He wouldn’t ever be able to, they promised again and again, but every time he was worried about it. Izzy’s hug was always some mix of forgiveness and the knowledge that forgiveness wasn’t necessary.
They didn’t talk; Jace maybe wasn’t ready for words.
Silently, he took Izzy’s hand and she shut her door behind her.
He was shirtless, barefoot and shaking. She was in an oversized t-shirt that looked like something he had once owned, barefaced and understanding. Together they walked to Alec’s door.
When they got there, Jace didn’t knock. He never did. Izzy and Max didn’t either. Knocking meant someone else, not family to Alec. He didn’t like it when they knocked.
His parabatai was asleep but Jace had known he would be. Izzy let go of his hand to slip in to Alec’s bed beside him. He was curled on his side wearing the black shirt without sleeves that he usually wore to training. Maybe so he would be ready in case Jace woke up from another nightmare in desperate need of a fight to make the memories fade.
He wouldn’t need it tonight.
Jace slipped in beside him, grateful that the room was dark. He wrapped a hand around Alec’s arm and shook him just a little.
It never took much to wake Alec up either.
“Jace?” Alec mumbled sleepily as he opened his eyes and saw Izzy first. He rolled onto his back and found Jace on his other side.
Understanding tinged the bond.
You know we’re stronger together.
In the dark, with his strength and his hope beside him, he was finally ready.
“At Lake Lyn, I died.”
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Please let me know what you think of the ending!!!