Let No Man Put Asunder

Author's Note: Hello angst-fest! 🙂
At first I only wanted to write the deruning, but I simply couldn't leave them like that, I had to know how they'd cope with being torn away from everything they knew.

***

Jace had experienced plenty of pain in his life, more than most people had, even Shadowhunters. However, nothing had even remotely compared to the searing anguish that shot through him now.

The closest was probably the pain he'd felt in the City of Bones, after the Silent Brothers had stopped him from ending his life, or when he'd activated the Soul Sword. He had also expected to be killed then, and as bolts of lightning bored into his side and raced over his skin, burning him alive, Jace howled and wished himself dead. Anything to be free of the pain that seemed to grow and grow, past the point of becoming unbearable. Finally he could feel unconsciousness start to beckon, a sweet siren's call pulling at the edges of his awareness, and Jace gave himself over to it willingly, even eagerly. If he fell far enough into oblivion, he would never have to return to this world of blinding pain, of that he was certain.

Just when he was about to let himself tumble past the point of no return, however, someone screamed his name, a voice almost as familiar as his own managing to break through the walls of agony. It was probably the only cry that could, carrying with it years of memories, two boys against the world, their souls bound together in ways few could imagine. And even those who might, who maybe shared a similar bond, Jace defied them, refusing to believe any connection could ever rival the one Jace had somehow gotten blessed with. How could it, when their parabatai wasn't Alec Lightwood.

Alec, whose increasingly hoarse screams were pulling Jace back from the peace of darkness and into the tortorous light, because he was strung up next to him.

The Silent Brothers had immobilized them both, probably in anticipation of the pain of the ritual, as Jace remembered as clarity came rushing back in. His body was still writhing in agony, but focusing on Alec made the physical discomfort somehow bearable. His parabatai was trembling, his skin pale and glistening with what Jace knew all too well to be cold sweat, as the Brothers' magic scoured his skin, erasing rune after rune. Stripping him of everything that made him a Shadowhunter.

Jace's own skin felt stretched, burned, lines of acid running all over him, too painful to pinpoint which marks had already been irredeemably erased. However, once most certainly had been, the one the Brothers had started with, the one that made Jace and Alec both lose any semblance of the composure they'd been clinging to. The parabatai bond broken, their souls torn apart, they had screamed in sheer terror and hadn't stopped since.

"This was your choice." The Inquisitor's cold voice cut through them, and Jace hated her more than he'd ever hated anyone, even Valentine. The emotion only intensified when she added primly, "The Law is hard but it's the Law."

During their trial Jace had often wondered whether the woman who was his only living blood relative didn't take a certain vindictive pleasure in their punishment, although she called it justice. Now he felt sure of it, but he had no strength left for anything but his desperate efforts to cling to his sanity. He needed to keep it together, needed to survive, to keep the promise he and Alec had made to each other when they had embarked down the road that led them to this moment. Managing to meet his now ex-parabatai's burning eyes for a mere second before they rolled back into his head again, Jace prayed to an Angel who had abandoned them that Alec would somehow do the same.

The torture continued for what felt like an eternity, but Jace held on, gathering every last ounce of willpower until one of the Brothers pronounced, It is done.

Over the rush of blood in his ears Jace heard Alec whimper as the ritual ended as abruptly as it had begun. Only then did he allow the beckoning darkness to swallow him, having received the sign of life he needed, now that he could no longer feel Alec's life force pulsing inside himself. They were broken, diminished, but they were alive, and that would have to be enough.

When Jace woke, it was to Clary's worried face hovering above him. Agony washed over him as consciousness returned, but it was less physical pain than a sense of loss so profound, he had to fight the urge to curl into a protective ball. Still, he remembered that she wasn't supposed to be there - no one was, and he most distinctly heard Izzy's voice in the background. "Wha…"

"Shh, don't talk." Clary shook her head as he struggled to form words, tears streaming down her face. "They'll come for you soon, but your mother pulled some strings, and we have a few minutes to… say goodbye."

Mother. Jace swallowed a lump in his throat, a storm of emotions racing through him as he thought of Maryse Lightwood. She'd been so disappointed in them, but more notably completely heartbroken, and their farewell before the ritual had been stilted. This was the only way she knew how to tell them that she still cared for them, and Jace grated out in a voice like razorblades, "Tell… tell her thanks. And that I love her."

Clary nodded, still crying, and Jace managed to cover her tiny hand with one of his, remembering everything they had shared. "I love you, too, Clary. I'm very glad I ran into you, and I'm sorry I hurt you."

"I told you before, it's alright." She shook her head decisively, red hair flying, and they exchanged a wan smile before she extricated her hand from his weak grip. "All I ask is that you look after yourself. Make sure you're somewhere safe, living the life they wouldn't let you have."

With that she got up, and Izzy took her place. His sister's normally immaculate face was a mess, eyes red, streaks of mascara down her cheeks, but to Jace she'd never seemed more beautiful. His strength slowly returning, he lifted himself into a sitting position and pulled her into a tight hug. "I promise I'll look after him," he whispered into her hair, and Izzy clung to him even harder, her entire body shaking.

He could feel her pull herself together, and when she broke their embrace, her voice was even. "I know you will. And he better look after you as well, because you're my brother, too, Jace."

They embraced once more, exchanging "I love you"s, and Jace added fiercely, "You go be amazing, Isabelle Lightwood!"

"As if I could be anything else." She was smiling through tears that they both pretended weren't there before she got up, her hand lingering against his cheek for one moment longer. "If you need me…"

Jace looked away, knowing she couldn't make the promise she so desperately wanted to, not without risking the same fate, but it was Alec who replied firmly, "We'll be fine, Izzy. And maybe one day…"

At the sound of his parabatai.. no, his former parabatai's voice Jace looked for the first time to where he was resting on the other side of the room. It hurt even more than he had expected to realize that visual confirmation was now the only way he had to ascertaining Alec's presence, his safety, and in Alec's red-shot eyes he saw his own pain reflected. He looked away again, back to Izzy, and nodded, echoing Alec's weak half-promise: "One day."

Izzy was watching them with pain-bright eyes, but she managed a nod and smile. Clary came to her side, offering wordless support in the form of her hand, which Izzy took and clung to. One of the Shadowhunters the Inquisitor had brought from Idris, not trusting anyone from the New York Institute, appeared at the door. Jace rubbed his hand over his eyes, hoping to erase any trace of tears, and saw that the others were also gathering their dignity, all of them unwilling to give anyone the satisfaction of witnessing more of their pain. Then, with one last look over their shoulders, the girls left hand in hand, and Jace was profoundly grateful that they would have each other.

Just as he and Alec did. Forcing himself to his feet, Jace saw Alec do the same, and they met halfway to the door. The guard made an impatient noise but was obviously under instruction not to talk to them, so Jace gathered what remained of his self-confidence and offered Alec his hand. For a heartbeat Alec seemed to hesitate, but then his lip twitched in a wry smile, and his grip was warm and sure.

Jace's eyes involuntarily trailed down his neck, to the angry red line visible above his collar, taking the place of the familiar deflect rune, but he forced himself not to think of what they'd lost. There would be enough time for that later, time to re-discover Alec's body, try to soothe the aches he himself felt with every move he made, fresh scar tissue pulling and itching, senses he'd gotten used to dulled and half-dead. Instead he entwined their fingers and leaned his forehead against Alec's, tension fleeing with a sigh as Alec pushed back gently, his free hand scratching gently at the nape of Jace's neck. It was a gesture of familiar comfort, long predating the day on which Jace, half-crazed after killing Valentine, had crawled into Alec's bed and basically not left again, and while it only lasted a moment they were both breathing easier when Alec pulled back.

"Let's go," he suggested, as if they were only going on a mission and not leaving everything they had ever known behind. Jace nodded, squaring his shoulders, and they walked out side by side, still holding hands in a silent declaration. The hallways were deserted, doubtlessly by Herondale's orders. When they stepped outside, neither one of them hesitated as the wards of the Institute slammed up behind them.

Exile sounded civilized, almost nice, but for most Shadowhunters it meant certain death. Not for them, though, of that they'd made sure, too jaded not to believe that this day would come. Alec's fingers were clammy in the painfully tight grip Jace had them in, but they exchanged a quick look and set out without a backwards glance. They'd survived being stripped of their runes, they would survive exile, too.

***

Two months later there were increasing amounts of time when it felt as if they were doing more than just survive. Looking across the cafe to the window table where Alec was bowed over a textbook, Jace smiled and served the teenaged girl in front of him, who giggled nervously. Amused, he winked at her before using a lull in customers to grab a tray and clear some tables, although he admittedly had an ulterior motive.

Alec didn't notice his approach, too busy trying to decipher the own notes strewn about him. He was chewing on a pen, which Jace plucked from his lips in order to claim them for a kiss, and flailed a little at being thus surprised. Smirking, Jace wagged a finger in mock admonishment. "Really, Alec, no situational awareness whatsoever! Maybe it's time for a refresher course in self-defense?"

Rolling his eyes, Alec stole his pen back. "Are you that desperate for students? Not that I can blame them for running from you - you're possibly the worst teacher the gym has ever seen!"

"Shouldn't you be nice to the person bankrolling your lazy student ass?" A quick check of the cafe told Jace that he had a minute, so he unceremoniously pushed Alec's table back, ignoring his squawks of protest. They died down quickly enough when Jace straddled Alec and leaned in close enough that he could see the pupils in those hazel eyes dilate.

"I happen to have it on very good authority that you like my lazy student ass." Alec tried his best to keep his composure, but a becoming flush began to color his cheeks, and he sounded slightly breathless. They stared each other down, the game of one-upmanship as familiar as the phantom pain of what they were missing.

There were shadows under Alec's eyes from when Jace had to shake him awake after yet another dream of their bond being severed left him trembling, convinced that Jace had died and left him behind. Jace's own nightmares predictably ran along similar lines, except in his case Valentine was often involved in the deruning, so since they could no longer use stamina runes both of them tended to run on too little sleep and too much caffeine. They also clung to each other more fiercely and openly than either of their scant relationship histories would have suggested, the weight of Alec's hands on his hips, the bristle of dark stubble against his palm anchoring Jace and creating at least a pale mimicry of the connection they craved.

"It's a very nice ass," Jace admitted, the grin they shared almost easy. Reluctantly leaving his comfortable perch to go back to work, he teased, "I could be wrong, though, so if you get your homework done by the time my shift ends at five, you might want to remind me. Angel knows I need the motivation to survive those wannabe warriors in my MMA class tonight!"

"Is it homework if I do it voluntarily?" Alec inquired aimlessly, tapping his pen against his book.

Turning away to greet a new customer, Jace called over his shoulder, "At least one of us should have a GED, and I'm too pretty to be an intellectual."

The customer laughed, as did Alec, a sound so full of fondness it warmed Jace all the way through, and Jace redirected his attention to his work with a smile. He hadn't been exaggerating - they needed every cent he earned with his two jobs. Magnus had offered to set them up somewhere, but without need for discussion they'd declined. They both felt that they already owed the warlock too much.

Touching the charm he was wearing, the one that would alert him should a demon approach, Jace thought of the wards Magnus had put up around their home and of the weapons he'd provided them with. Most notable had been Alec's bow, which Magnus had claimed from the Institute, reminding them who the rightful owner was, and the look of naked gratitude on Alec's face had been enough to endear the warlock to Jace forever.

Still, they had decided to make their home away from New York, not just because it hurt too much to be so close to their old lives but also to make it more difficult for enemies to find them. They'd picked a mid-sized town, big enough for two guys living together to blend in but too small for an Institute or to have much demon activity. There had been a small nest of Ravener demons in an abandoned factory, but after the night Jace woke up to find Alec sharpen his arrows with a blank look on his face, those weren't a problem anymore.

Fighting side by side had both been deeply satisfying and completely unsettling, Jace having to squash the urge to constantly check where Alec was because he couldn't feel him. It had thrown them both enough that they'd walked away with a degree of injuries to make this a one-off foray into non-powered demon hunting, and Magnus had soundly scolded them the next time he checked in with them.

Jace hated feeling weak and powerless like this, but after all the pain and loss, the constant ache of everything they'd given up, what he needed more than the satisfaction of killing demons was to keep Alec safe. That was a priority that hadn't changed, had even deepened to a degree that Jace was aware most people would call unhealthy. But then, most people didn't have to live missing a piece of their soul, a gaping hole that no amount of touching and kissing, no desperate love-making in the dark of night, could fill completely.

Sometimes, afterwards, when Alec had fallen asleep, the furrow between his brows smooth for once, Jace slid out from under his arm and padded to the window on bare feet. Staring up at the moon, he thought bitterly of Clary and Izzy and the other people they'd left behind, of the purpose their lives had once had and the warmth of Alec's soul entwined with his, and wondered whether it had been worth it. Then Alec would make a distressed noise, indicating the start of his nightmares, and Jace turned around and crawled back into bed. Cradling the man who'd been his parabatai and who now was both more and less, he decided that it didn't matter.

They were together, and that was enough. It had to be.

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