Down the Rabbit Hole

Author's Note: Follows the events of "Through the Looking Glass", an alternate version of 1x11 - "Blood Calls to Blood" to the beginning of 1x12 - "Malec".
So, plot happened? I honestly didn't plan on this, but this is shaping up to be a much more detailled retelling of events than I expected. There'll definitely be a third part, which I promise will have actual Jalec content (and less angst)!

***

Finding his father was almost more jarring for Jace than what had happened in the alternate dimension and pushed everything else to the back of his head for a while. They hid while he healed from the demon's venom, and Jace tried to wrap his head around the fact that Michael Wayland was alive.

When he thought of his parabatai, it was mostly to wonder in passing at the strange weakness of their bond. He might not even have noticed it if his... encounters with the other Alec hadn't made him hyper-aware of what their connection was supposed to feel like, but at first he put it down to a side-effect of his injury.

Only the feeling didn't pass once he was fully recovered, leaving Jace off-kilter, as if the world had lost some of its color. When Clary found him staring morosely out of the window, hand on his rune as if trying to anchor himself, she rested a comforting hand against his back, and Jace had to force himself not to shrug her off. She noticed anyhow and asked, an undertone of hurt in her puzzled voice, "What's the matter? I thought the wound had healed?"

"It has. I'm fucking fine," he snapped, immediately feeling guilty, because Clary didn't deserve this. "I'm sorry, Clary. The last couple of days have just been a bit… much."

As was typical for her, Clary forgave him with a sympathetic nod, her hand back on his shoulder as she said, "I get it - it has been a lot. Meliorn. Getting injured. Finding out your father's alive. Alec."

Jace's head shot up, and he asked stiffly, "What about Alec?"

"Come on, Jace. First the two of you fought at the City of Bones, and then the whole thing in the other world…" Clary gave him a quizzical look, and Jace tried to relax, not sure why he'd reacted so defensively.

He replied with a weak smile, "Yeah, of course, you're right. Also, ever since we've come back, I've barely been able to feel him through our bond, and I have no idea why."

Clary nodded, although he could tell she didn't quite understand what he was talking about. He didn't feel like elaborating, though, just went back to staring outside. The silence stretched and became uncomfortable, Clary's hand sliding off his shoulder slowly. Jace knew she was only trying to be supportive, and he was being a dick, but the more he thought about it, the more worried he became. Finally, he came to a decision and turned, moving away from both the window and Clary.

"I have to call and make sure he's okay," he explained and went to look for his phone.

Clary asked worriedly, "Are you sure that's a good idea? Shouldn't we try to get my mom back first?"

"No. I need to know." Jace hardly paused, just shook his head and dialed Alec's number. It rang and he added quickly, "He's my parabatai, Clary."

She opened her mouth to respond, but right then Alec answered his phone, and Jace shushed her with a hand gesture.

"Jace?! Where the hell are you? And why did you take the Mortal Cup?" Alec's barrage of angry questions made Jace flinch. There was so much bitterness in his parabatai's voice, so different from the last time Jace had heard it, in the alternate dimension, when he'd been holding him after the demon got him. "Jace, fucking answer me!"

Shaking himself, Jace managed to respond, "Yeah, sorry. We're at the Jade Wolf." He knew he owed Alec an explanation, but first he needed to reassure himself that he'd been worried over nothing, so he asked, "Alec, is something wrong? Why is our parabatai bond so weak?"

Alec laughed, a harsh, ugly sound that grated in Jace's ears, and replied bitterly, "Oh, you noticed that, did you? I'm surprised that you weren't too busy running after your girlfriend!" Jace tried to intercept, but Alec just steamrolled over him. "You stole the fucking Mortal Cup, and now Izzy could end up being deruned and banished, because of your fucking stunt at the City of Bones. I had to do something to save my sister, so I tried tracking you through our bond. That's what's fucking wrong."

Ice cold squeezed Jace's heart when Alec's words sunk in. His parabatai rarely cursed, but then, he'd rarely had so so many reasons to be furious. Feeling blind-sided, Jace asked weakly, "Izzy? They're putting Izzy on trial? Oh Angel, Alec, I didn't mean to…"

Dimly he was aware that Clary was talking to him, probably wanting to know what was going on, but he tuned her out, too overwhelmed by guilt as he realized how selfish they'd been.

"Yeah, well, I didn't exactly plan on having to fight my own parabatai either, but apparently that's our lives now," Alec bit out on the other end of the line, voice heavy with what Jace recognized to be sadness as well as bitterness.

Without hesitation he replied, "Tell the Clave we're bringing them the Mortal Cup if they let Izzy go. And Alec… we're bringing my father, too."

Alec's shocked gasp was clearly audible, and when he spoke, all anger had been wiped away. Instead he sounded careful, gentle, as he asked, "Your father?! You're telling me Michael Wayland's alive. Jace... Are you okay?"

Jace swallowed a lump in his throat and nodded, before realizing that Alec couldn't see him and replying, "Yes. We went to find Valentine but found him instead. It's… a long story, and I'll tell you once we've managed to get the Clave to drop the charges against Izzy."

His voice was shaking, but it didn't matter. All that mattered was that, even after everything that had happened between them, Alec still cared. It soothed the wound that had been gaping inside him ever since the City of Bones.

"Alright." Alec's easy acceptance was a gift, and Jace had to blink a couple of times to hold back tears. "But you can't come here. They'd never let you leave again. I'll meet you, you can give me the Cup to pass on to Lydia, and then we'll go after Clary's mom. Together."

"Together," Jace echoed, voice wet with relief as a weight he hadn't been aware of lifted from his shoulders and the world righted itself. They hung up, but Jace stared down at the phone in his hand for a moment longer, smiling to himself.

Clary interrupted his thoughts, demanding to know what had happened, and he told her. When she protested Jace cut her off, "We're doing this, end of discussion. I'm not risking Izzy's life, and we'll manage to get your mother, Cup or no Cup. Especially now that my… my father is here to help us. So give it to me, Clary."

Although it was obvious she wasn't happy about it, Clary obeyed without further grumbling, and Jace once again felt guilty at the way he'd been treating her ever since their return to this world. Something had changed in him, and he found it impossible to regain the closeness they'd shared before. Had kissing that other Alec really managed to wipe away the feelings he'd been developing for Clary so easily? Or had it started earlier than that, lying on the ground at the City of Bones, Blade at his throat?

Jace had looked into the eyes of his parabatai and wondered for a second if this was how he died. Nothing in Jace's life, messed up as it had been, had prepared him for the pain this thought caused. He'd been entirely serious when he'd told Alec that he didn't want to live in a world in which they were enemies.

Of course, only a short while after he'd been living in a world in which they were the opposite of enemies, and Jace shook himself as the memory of Alec's lips, Alec's body against his, stirred up feelings he didn't want to analyze. Instead he pocketed the card with the Cup and thanked Clary sincerely, knowing what it cost her to do this.

"No, you're right. We can't do this if it might cost Izzy her life." She managed a smile, and his respect for her rose even more. Clary had only known any of them for a few days, yet she already felt like family.

"Whose life is at stake?" Michael Wayland's voice made Jace jump, and he cursed himself silently, knowing his father would have noticed this slip.

He was even more ashamed of himself for being glad when Clary answered in his stead, explaining, "Isabelle Lightwood. The Clave wants to banish her for helping us, so we're giving them the Mortal Cup in exchange for her freedom."

"You have the Cup with you?" Michael's eyes gleamed, and Jace hated himself for the suspicions that rose in him. It was only natural his father would be interested in the Cup - any Shadowhunter would be.

He was careful to keep his voice bland when he replied, "Isabelle's brother Alec is coming to get it. We can't go back to the Institute, they wouldn't let us leave again, and we still need to find Clary's mom."

"I remember the Lightwoods," Michael said, not showing any signs that he'd noticed Jace's evasion. "They left the Circle just in time. Robert was my parabatai, you know."

"And Alec is mine," Jace admitted reluctantly. He had known, but it had always felt strange to think of his biological and adoptive fathers sharing the same connection he and Alec did. Glancing out the window, he was relieved to change the subject by saying, "Actually, that's him now. I'll just..."

He stepped forward, eyes fixed on the tall form of his parabatai approaching the restaurant, but was stopped short by his father's hand grasping his arm roughly. For a weird moment he wondered whether he would stop him from getting to Alec, but right then Luke entered, followed by Alec, and Michael let go of Jace as if nothing had happened, leaving him more confused than ever. His emotions had been a muddle since finding his father alive, old memories warring with remembered grief and shock, and Jace gratefully clung to the relief he felt when he directed his attention back to Alec.

His parabatai's face would have been unreadable to most, but Jace recognized signs of tension and exhaustion in the set of his mouth and the lines around his eyes, and despised himself for being the cause for most of it. However, when their eyes met, Alec gave him a nod, and Jace couldn't suppress a grateful smile. A corner of Alec's expressive mouth lifted in response, and Jace had to stop his hand from impulsively rising to trace it.

Instead he looked into those hazel eyes, silently asking for permission, which Alec granted with another slight nod. Releasing a breath, Jace stepped into Alec's space, intending to embrace him quickly. However, the moment his arms wrapped around Alec's shoulders, his entire body melted, and he held onto his parabatai, trying to convey without words how sorry he was for everything.

Alec remained stiff at first, but then, with a soft sigh only the two of them could hear, his arms tightened around Jace, and he clung back as if his life depended on it. There was no manly backslapping or making light, only them reconnecting, and Jace closed his eyes and breathed in deeply.

"I'm so sorry, Alec," he whispered, hiding his face in Alec's neck and trying very hard not to think of the last time he'd been in this position, swaying slowly on a dance floor. "I really thought we were doing the right thing, saving Meliorn. But we should have found a way to do it without endangering you, or Izzy."

Somehow their embrace grew even tighter, and a shiver raced down Jace's spine when Alec's breath gusted against his ear as he replied softly, "I wish you would have trusted me, trusted that I'd do everything in my power to keep Meliorn safe. But it was a horrible situation, for everyone."

"Still, we shouldn't have gone behind your back to take the Mortal Cup," Jace said, forcing himself to taking a step back and fiercely glad when Alec also released him only reluctantly. He couldn't even bring himself to care about the way his father was studying them intently, no doubt silently judging.

Much more important was the small smirk on Alec's face that told him everything was alright between them as he dead-panned, "Jace Wayland, acting impulsively, what else is new?"

Jace shrugged, pretending nonchalance, but he was grinning so hard his cheeks hurt. Alec smiled back, warm and private in a way that Jace did his best not to compare to a different smile in another world, and for a moment longer it felt as if there was no one in the world except the two of them.

Without thinking, Jace found himself swaying forwards again, like a planet gravitating into Alec's orbit, but he was stopped short by the surprised widening of Alec's eyes and a pointedly cleared throat from Clary. They both turned sharply to face the redhead, Jace grateful as she covered easily by apologizing, "Alec, for what it's worth, I'm sorry, too. I never wanted to get Izzy, or you, into real trouble."

"Well, I guess you're making up for it now," Alec replied with typical bad grace, and Jace bit his cheek to stop from smiling. "Just give me the Cup. Lydia gave me her word they'd release Izzy, and then I'll come help you get your mother back."

"And you trust Lydia? I know she's your fiancee, but…" Clary asked, still wavering, but Jace had already taken out the tarot card and was handing it to Alec, trying not to wince at the mention of Alec's engagement to the Clave representative.

"That's the Cup?" Before Alec could take it, Michael Wayland's hand shot out and he grabbed the card from Jace, who let it go out of sheer surprise. In the excitement of his reconciliation with Alec, he'd almost forgotten about his father, and now his parabatai was whirling around, Seraph Blade in hand. Jace stopped him with a glance, feeling a surge of gratitude when that was enough to stay Alec's hand, although he didn't put away his weapon.

"Alec, this is my father, Michael Wayland," Jace explained needlessly while his father inquisitively examined the card from all angles. "And yes, father, this is the Cup. As far as we know, only Clary and Jocelyn can remove it."

"Oh, but this is fascinating!" Michael turned to Clary and asked excitedly, "How is it done? Can you show me?"

He held out the card to Clary, who looked a bit nonplussed but moved to take it, only to be stopped by Alec. He snatched the card from Michael with a shake of his head, stating firmly, "This isn't the time nor the place, Mr. Wayland. The Cup belongs into Clave protection." He gave Clary a small nod and continued, "But we'll leave it like this. This way, you still have a bargaining chip if necessary."

His father looked as if he wanted to protest, but Jace smiled, warm with pride at the ease with which his parabatai assumed leadership. Alec obviously noticed Jace's reaction, narrowing his eyes at him, but his focus didn't waver. Tilting his head, he asked straight out, "Once I come back, do you know where we should go, Mr. Wayland?"

His voice bore no warmth, maybe even a hint of suspicion, and Jace wondered whether he should be offended on behalf of his father. However, he knew why Alec was probably almost as conflicted about Michael Wayland's reappearance as Jace, since his parabatai was one of the few people Jace had confided in when it came to his childhood pre-Lightwood. It didn't help that Michael was regarding Alec with active dislike, something that made Jace's hackles rise out of protective habit.

Then he seemed to gather himself, a calculating look passing over his face, but he hesitated until Luke prompted impatiently, "Michael, any ideas? He had you for years, you must have learned something of his plans."

Looking around, Jace could see that everyone was now regarding his father with increasing wariness, and although he really wanted to give Michael the benefit of the doubt, he found it more and more difficult. Still, he couldn't keep the hope out of his voice as he asked, "Father? I'm sure the Clave will welcome you back with open arms if you help us find Valentine and free Jocelyn."

This finally seemed to decide things for Michael, and he told them of being experimented on with demon blood and overhearing Valentine plan an attack on the New York Institute from Redwick's, an abandoned hospital across the river. Everyone relaxed slightly, and they agreed that they should check it out while Alec returned the Cup to Lydia.

However, when Jace offered to go, Alec stopped him with a hand on his arm. The simple point of contact sent tingles all through Jace, and he had to force himself to focus on what Alec was saying, "Please, let Luke and Clary go. It's my fault that you're not 100% yet, and I want you at full strength when we face Valentine. Together, remember?"

"Only if you stop blaming yourself." Jace covered Alec's hand with his own, ignoring the look of surprise that disappeared almost as quickly as it had appeared. Then his parabatai nodded, acceptance passing between them, and took his leave. Clary and Luke followed, leaving Jace alone with his father for the first time.

Jace looked away, discomfited by Michael's scrutiny and unable to figure out what was going on behind his thoughtful eyes. Needing to occupy himself and knowing his father would approve, Jace decided to train. In many ways it felt like being a kid again, being pushed to the limits, wanting to prove himself.

"You're still weaker than I thought you'd be by now," Michael commented, and Jace felt small and insignificant. "Is it because of what the Lightwood boy said? You shouldn't let anyone affect you like that."

The way he mentioned Alec put Jace on the defensive, and he snapped, "Well, Alec's my parabatai. He makes me stronger, not weaker. It's just that he used our bond to try and find me after we took the Cup."

Michael's gaze sharpened, and Jace looked away, uncomfortable. "I don't want to denigrate what you have, but the warrior I raised wouldn't depend on anyone like that. Especially since he's in love with you. You know what the Law says about that."

Anger shot through Jace, stronger than he could ever remember feeling towards his father, who normally made him feel inferior, not indignant. He turned away, not wanting Michael to be able to see his face, where he feared his feelings for Alec were laid bare in all their confusion, and kept his voice steady as he said firmly, "The Lightwoods took me in, they're my family, and Alec is more than that. He's… he's the best of me, and I won't let you say a word against him."

Michael's eyes were heavy on him, but he replied with a half-smile, "You're right, I'm in no position to judge. If your parabatai bond is stronger, better, than the one I shared with Alec's father, then I'm happy for you."

They didn't talk much more before Alec returned. He gave Jace's sweaty form the once-over, raising an eyebrow, and Jace flushed, looking away. He mumbled, "I needed to know that I was fully recovered."

"Of course you did," Alec replied sarcastically, before adding more softly, "I think our bond's recovering, at least."

Jace wasn't sure how it happened, but they ended up standing close together, so close he could feel the heat of Alec's body, and he swallowed, mouth suddenly dry. He nodded, "Yeah." His voice was hoarse. "I'm glad. It felt… all wrong."

Alec nodded, too, and their eyes caught until Jace felt breathless with the need to touch, his mind choosing this moment to replay the way Alec's body had felt pressed against his, all hard lines and hungry kisses. This Alec would feel the same, he was certain, except maybe a bit less confident, and Jace didn't know what he would have done if his father hadn't cleared his throat.

Michael was watching them with narrowed eyes and asked pointedly, "So, Alec, did you really hand the Cup over to the Clave? I reckon it would have come in handy during our fight at Redwick's."

Alec tensed and stepped back, but his face remained impassive, and Jace wondered if he'd imagined the flash of guilt, especially when he replied evenly, "We've done just fine without it all these years. And Lydia promised me that Izzy would be released immediately."

The last was directed at Jace, who smiled, letting his relief show. "That's awesome news, Alec! Will she join us tonight?"

"I hope not! Lydia won't stop us, but she can't officially sanctioned the mission, and Izzy has only just avoided a trial." Alec didn't look convinced, however, and Jace grinned, both of them knowing how unlikely it was that their sister would keep her head down.

They were proven right when Izzy showed up a couple of hours later, just after Clary and Luke got back from their reconnaisance trip with news of demon activity at Redwick's. Jace hugged her fiercely, apologizing, "I'm so sorry, Iz. We should have known better."

"It was my choice, Jace," she replied firmly. "We shouldn't have taken the Cup from you, but the Clave was wrong to risk Meliorn's life."

She looked at Alec as she spoke, who flushed and averted his gaze, obviously not hearing the argument for the first time. He'd been hovering near Jace ever since his return, as if unwilling to let him out of his sight - or maybe Jace was only projecting his own feelings, the desire to be close to his parabatai having grown ever stronger since their bond had recovered. Or maybe since he'd found himself pushed against a wall in a way he could no longer pretend had only appealed to his other self.

It should probably freak him out more, but when the six of them approached a suddenly suspiciously abandoned-looking Redwick's, all Jace could think was how good it felt, how right, to once again share the same purpose. That feeling remained even after they were attacked by several Circle members, supported by a swarm of demons. Their heartbeats synced up easily, and Jace let the energy flow through him, slashing and striking, secure in the knowledge that Alec was keeping their backs free with a deadly shower of arrows.

"Does anyone else think this is too easy?" Isabelle asked when it became clear that there were no more enemies than the ones they were currently decimating. There certainly was no Valentine, and Jace couldn't help but agree.

However, right then Clary yelled "Mom!", and everyone's attention was drawn to the sleeping figure floating in a glowing cocoon of green light. Clary and Luke dashed to Jocelyn's side while the rest of them quickly dispatched the few remaining foes.

There was one last demon, and Jace ran him through with his Blade even as a red-fletched arrow embedded itself in its skull. Looking up, Jace exchanged a triumphant grin with Alec, only to catch himself when a burst of hunger surged through his body. He was distracted by his father's voice, which bore a note of pride Jace couldn't remember ever hearing before. "You fought well. As did your parabatai. I see now that he truly makes you better."

It shouldn't matter to him what this man thought, not after so many years and a childhood of harsh lessons and little love. Still, he flushed with pleasure, but at least he managed to reply calmly, "I told you."

With that he turned away and joined the others gathered around Jocelyn, doing his best not to feel the weight of Michael's eyes on him. Clary was trying to get her mother to wake up, but he wasn't really surprised when there was no reaction. He smiled when Alec pressed his shoulder against his, asking, "Alright?"

"Yeah." Jace pushed back gently, reveling in the warmth of his parabatai's presence. "No sign of Valentine, though. I guess we should head back to the Institute. Jocelyn is our best lead now."

"Lydia can send to Idris for help," Alec suggested, and Jace suddenly remembered that he was talking about his fiancee. The woman he was going to marry. Nausea washed over him, and he barely managed two polite words until they were back at the Institute.

Alec obviously noticed that something had changed, his eyes worried and confused, but Jace ignored him and focused on getting his father settled in. He hated himself for already risking their still-fragile reconciliation, but he needed time to gather his wits if he was to face Alec and Lydia together. Convincing Michael that he should let Izzy look him over very effectively took his mind off his parabatai.

However, there was no avoiding Alec when they all met to discuss the best ways to wake up Jocelyn. Magnus Bane joined them, and Jace had to clamp down an irrational surge of jealousy when the warlock openly showed what he thought of Alec's engagement. Alec was visibly affected, holding himself stiffly upright, and Jace couldn't help but wonder bitterly whether he'd already been replaced in his parabatai's heart, only a couple of days after the revelations of the memory demon.

He knew he shouldn't feel this way, even if it were true. The Law was clear on this: Same-sex relationships in general and unrequited love between parabatai might only be frowned upon in Shadowhunter society, but shared eros was strictly forbidden. Also, Jace had had his chance - had had years of chances, which he'd squandered, blind to both Alec's feelings and the potential of his own. Blinking furiously, Jace tried to refocus on the briefing, finding them immersed in a discussion of which warlock might have powerful enough to to create Jocelyn's potion. They settled on Magnus Bane's old friend Ragnor Fell as the most likely candidate, and Alec promptly stated matter-of-factly, "Alright, so we'll go find him."

Jace shot him a grateful look, feeling warmed by the easy way with which his parabatai assumed that they would tackle this next task together. His hopes were immediately doused with cold water, however, when Magnus lifted an impeccable eyebrow and asked archly, "Shouldn't you remain here and prepare for your upcoming nuptials?"

"Why don't I come along instead," came the surprising offer from Michael Wayland, who had so far been a quiet presence that Jace had tried his best to ignore, unable to shake the unsettled feeling that crept over him whenever he laid eyes on the man he'd thought was dead for so long. The others seemed similarly unsure how to react, and Michael added reasonably, "I'll only be underfoot here, and it will give me the chance to spend more time with my son."

"You haven't been cleared for missions yet," Alec replied, gratifyingly unwilling to back down. "Izzy and Lydia can handle the… wedding stuff."

"This is hardly an official mission, Alec. I'm sure it'll be alright if Jace's dad comes along." To Jace's surprise it was Clary who intercepted on his father's behalf.

"Thank you, Clarissa," Michael answered, and something about his smile made Jace's skin crawl, although he immediately told himself that he was being unreasonable. His father had always said he was too thin-skinned, and Jace had sure proven him right in the past few days. "Maybe before we go, you can show me that famous Cup of yours?"

"Oh, I don't know, maybe..." Clary sounded flustered but not entirely unwilling.

However, Alec cut her short, "I'm afraid that's not possible. It's under lock and key and will be handed over to the Clave after the wedding."

"Ah well, I guess I'll see it then," Michael shrugged, seemingly unaffected, and Jace felt strangely relieved. There was nothing untoward about his father's interest in the Cup, and maybe if he kept telling himself that he would start believing it.

In the end Alec and Michael both accompanied Jace and Clary through Magnus' portal to a meadow with no sign of Ragnor's dwelling. They all looked around, confused, until a wall of green flames suddenly surrounded them, and Magnus looked impressed when he explained that only the pure of heart could pass through them. Jace and Alec exchanged a glance, Clary shrugged, but Michael's reaction was less innocuous.

"A healthy dose of paranoia," he drawled, and suddenly there was a short Seraph Blade at Clary's neck.

"Father?!" Jace asked, frozen to the spot in shock. "You're still part of the Circle?"

Clary was struggling, but there was no way to escape the firm grip Michael had on her, and he remained completely calm as he replied, "Oh, son. I am the Circle."

With that he used his free hand to take out a stele, undoubtedly stolen from the Institute, and passed it over his unshaking Blade arm, revealing Michael Wayland to be none other than Valentine himself.

Behind Jace Magnus gasped, but he barely noticed, anger making him see red. Unthinking, he threw himself forward, crying hoarsely, "You killed my father!"

Alec's arms around his middle stopped him from reaching his foe and undoubtedly getting Clary killed, and they were the only thing that stopped him from falling to the ground when his knees buckled after Valentine laughed in his face, "Oh no, I didn't. I am your father, Jace. Yours and Clarissa's both."

"No, you're lying!" Collapsing against Alec, Jace's eyes locked with Clary's shocked gaze. Nausea rose in his throat, because deep down, no matter how much he didn't want to, he believed Valentine - his father. And Clary, who he'd kissed only a few days ago, was his sister.

"Oh, Jace, you have always been weak. Just look at you, clinging to your parabatai, as if your feelings for him weren't an abomination!" There was a sharp intake of breath from Alec, but his grip didn't waver, and Jace was pathetically grateful for it. The contempt in Valentine's voice was all too familiar, and Jace could feel himself crumple under its weight, just as he had when he was boy.

However, right then a blast of purple energy knocked Valentine to the side, and Clary immediately jumped free of him, whirling around, Blade in hand. Magnus was already gathering more energy, but before either one of them could attack the stumbling man, Valentine had summoned a portal.

"We'll be together again soon, Jace, Clary, together with your mother - and the Mortal Cup," Valentine stated and disappeared with a mocking salute.

"Now, that was… interesting," Magnus finally broke the stunned silence, rousing Jace out of his stupor.

He shook off Alec's hands as if he'd been burned, ignoring the hurt look in his parabatai's eyes, and said roughly, "Let's just get what we came here for."

"Jace…" Alec reached out, but Jace refused to react, barely able to hold himself together as it was.

"No," Clary interrupted firmly, surprising them all. "Magnus and I will go find Ragnor. You and Alec should go back to the Institute, warn them and make sure the Cup is safe."

"And talk," Magnus added wryly, giving them both arch looks. "I'll make sure Biscuit's safe."

"I…" Talking was the last thing Jace wanted, but Magnus was already conjuring up another portal, and Alec and Jace found themselves being herded through it by a very determined redhead and a resigned warlock. Magnus had made no secret of his interest in Alec, and Jace wished he knew what was going on in his head after what Valentine had just revealed, but the ageless face didn't betray any secrets, and the next moment the portal deposited them back at the Institute.

Avoiding all eye-contact, Jace reported what had transpired to Lydia, adding bleakly, "It's my fault he escaped. I should have killed him, done something... Instead I let him blindside me."

"Don't be stupid. If you'd charged him, Valentine would have killed Clary. As it was, you distracted him enough that Magnus could take action." Alec's voice was firm, and without thinking Jace looked up.

He found himself caught by warm hazel eyes, and the world fell away for a moment as he responded helplessly, "You heard him, though. I'm weak, Alec, a disgrace."

"No, you're not. If you're weak, what does that make me?" A blush colored Alec's cheeks, but he didn't look away, and Jace wanted nothing more than to reach out and touch. Instead they both jumped when Lydia cleared her throat pointedly.

"I think we're getting away from the point," she said, her eyes on them much too knowing for Jace's liking. "Valentine has escaped, but he didn't get the Cup. And he won't; it's safe here until we can hand it over to the Clave."

Alec swallowed visibly and stared at his feet, his voice small as he nodded, "Yeah, after the wedding."

The word alone was enough to make Jace want to throw up, but then Lydia stepped closer to Alec, her fiance, and Jace wanted nothing more than to disappear. Still, his feet remained rooted to the spot, a part of him wanting to see this, to remind himself that Alec was going to marry this woman, this almost-stranger. Lydia laid a small, strong hand on Alec's forearm, and said softly, "If you still want it. Alec, no one's forcing you, least of all me."

Those weren't the words Jace had expected, and he realized he was holding his breath waiting for Alec's response, which came after a long, miserable pause: "I know, and I'm grateful. But this was my idea, and it's the right thing, for all of us."

He wasn't looking at Jace, but the bottom seemed to fall out of Jace's world nevertheless. Not that he had expected anything else, not really. Nothing had changed after all - except for Jace himself.

He could feel Alec's conflicting emotions through their bond and wished it was still as weak as it had been earlier, when he'd returned from that other world. The world where a different, luckier Jace was probably kissing his Alec right now, with no Law, no duty standing between them. With a strangled noise that no one could mistake for an apology, he whirled around and dashed from the room, suddenly needing to be as far from his parabatai as possible.

***

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