Pride & Parabatai

This entry is part 37 of 38 in the series Shadowhunter AUs

Author's Note: A Jalec P&P AU prompted by @rebelqueenss. Set in a vaguely Regency-inspired version of the Shadow world, but one in which homosexuality and the parabatai taboo regarding romantic love are not an issue. Background Izzy/Clary, a bit of Alec/Sebastian.

I apologise for the mangling of the English language and the lame title. 🙂

Pride & Parabatai cover by pium-poetam

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Graphical Prelude

P&P Jalec
Pride & Parabatai // a Jalec Pride & Prejudice AU

Book I - Book II - Epilogue

Book I

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single Shadowhunter of high status must be in want of a parabatai. At least that was the opinion Maryse Lightwood expressed to her husband Robert when she heard that Inquisitor Herondale had brought her grandson back to Idris.

“His name is Jonathan Christopher, and they thought he was dead for years, raised by the Circle traitor Valentine Morgenstern. Now he is the Herondale heir - and he doesn’t have a parabatai!” She was pacing, almost vibrating with excitement.

Her husband regarded her warily. “And how does that affect us?”

“All foremost families desire to have parabatai in their ranks. And you must see that it would be very advantageous for our family if Isabelle or Alexander were to become parabatai to a Herondale. Maybe we could even get an Institute of our own!”

Behind his parents’ backs, Alexander Gideon Lightwood, oldest son of an honorable but no longer influential Shadowhunter family, rolled his eyes. His mother had always been ambitious, and unfortunately she had put her hopes for improvement of their family’s situation squarely onto her children’s shoulders - mostly his. He tried to be a good Shadowhunter and dutiful son, but binding himself body and soul to a total stranger for political gain? That was hard to swallow.

“One of these days your face will be stuck this way... I love you, Alec, but you do not know how to relax.” His younger sister’s prim admonishment was tempered by her wicked smirk.

“I love you, too, Izzy.” Used to her teasing, Alec shrugged and smiled down at her affectionately. “And don’t pretend you are alright with this scheme. ”

“Well, she can’t do anything about it as long as Father refuses to call on the Inquisitor.” Izzy gestured at their arguing parents, but the sight was not very comforting to Alec. In his experience, their father usually gave in to their mother’s demands in order to keep the peace.

This time proved to be no different, and Alec was not in the least bit surprised when Robert revealed that he had already visited the Herondale estate and gotten them an invitation to the next Clave Assembly. Accepting his fate with a sigh, Alec had to admit that there was a reason the Lightwoods’ marriage, while not the most loving, worked - they were both good at playing politics.

Clave politics were convoluted, and on the day of the Assembly Alec took a few deep breaths and straightened his dress uniform before entering, wishing its collar wasn’t quite so high. Inside the great hall dozens of people were mingling. Alec greeted several fellow Shadowhunters, men and women easily recognizable by their dark blue coats, but there were also plenty of Nephilim in civilian evening dress, most of it obviously brand-new and expensive. It seemed that members of every last Clave family had congregated, intent on ogling the long-lost Herondale heir and hopefully make an impression.

However, the Herondale party took their time before making an entrance, only confirming Alec’s opinion that the Inquisitor enjoyed her status maybe a little too much. He could only hope her grandson would turn out to be more personable, although considering he had been raised a Morgenstern Alec wasn’t very optimistic. When he told Izzy as much, his sister, who had decided to forego her uniform and was looking resplendent in a scandalously low-cut gown, laughed, “I don’t think anyone would ever accuse you of being an optimist. But look, you can judge for yourself!”

Indeed, a hush had fallen over the Assembly, everyone craning their necks to catch a glance of the guests of honor. Alec, standing taller than most, had a pretty good view, and he reported what he saw to Izzy: “The Inquisitor is looking prouder even than usual, and there are three strangers with her - two ladies, probably mother and daughter judging from their red hair and similar features, and a gentleman about my age who I assume is the famed Jonathan Christopher.”

Izzy soon had the chance to satisfy her curiosity herself, since their mother didn’t lose any time, herding them through the throngs of people so their father could make the obligatory introductions. It turned out that Alec had been right on all counts: The two ladies were Jocelyn and Clarissa Fairchild, who had been in hiding from Valentine Morgenstern out in the mundane world and had only rejoined society following his death. Jonathan Herondale, too, appeared to be just as Alec had suspected, if the cocky smirk on his face as he bowed to them was anything to go by. He was also rather handsome, his perfectly-tailored all-black attire contrasting with golden hair and striking eyes, one blue and partly golden brown.

Alec felt himself blush and cursed his pale skin as well as his unruly thoughts when the object of his scrutiny caught his eyes and, in the most deliberate fashion, winked at him. He shot Izzy a quick look, checking to see for how much teasing he was in, but to his surprise his sister appeared completely oblivious. Instead she was already deep in conversation with the Fairchild girl. Ignoring his mother’s encouraging nods, Alec bowed curtly to the Inquisitor and her companions and sought out the refuge of a quiet corner, from where he watched Izzy charm Clarissa Fairchild into accompanying her onto the dancefloor.

“Izzy has made a conquest, it seems,” the voice of Lydia Branwell broke into his thoughts, and he turned to smile at one of his oldest friends. He knew that once upon a time his parents had hoped that he might ask Lydia either to be his parabatai or to marry him, they didn’t care much which, but then she had eloped, scandalizing the entire Clave. Now she was back, after the unfortunate death of her husband, and even if Alec had wanted her in that way, her insistence of wearing black made it obvious that she was still in mourning and might not ever be ready to bind herself to someone else.

“Well, then at least one of us made a good impression,” he dead-panned. “Although not on the one that Mother has set her cap for.”

“Ah, I see, Maryse and her plans for your future…” Exchanging amused looks of complete understanding, they watched Izzy whirl Clarissa Fairchild around, both of them laughing as if they’d known each other forever. When the dance ended, they separated rather reluctantly, and the redhead rejoined the Herondales and her mother. Alec continued talking to Lydia, glad that they had the chance, because Lydia served as an envoy for the Clave and often had business outside of Idris.

They were half-hidden in their quiet corner, so Alec only noticed the Fairchild girl and Jonathan Herondale approaching when Clarissa’s voice could be heard over the din of people. “Oh, Jace, isn’t this fun? Everything’s been so strange since I learned about the Shadow world, but just now, dancing with Isabelle Lightwood, I felt for the first time that Idris could be home! Why don’t you find someone to dance with, too?”

“I’m glad you are enjoying yourself, Clary,” Jonathan, who apparently went by Jace, drawled in response, but his eyes were coldly assessing the room. “But have you seen these people? It seems that Isabelle Lightwood is the only one with looks and half a brain. The rest are sheep, clamoring for my grandmother’s attention!”

Clarissa, Clary, shook her head in exasperation. “Really, you are impossible! I know this isn’t the life you are used to either, but we are here now. And even you must admit that Isabelle’s brother is quite good-looking, too.”

Hearing this, Lydia shot Alec an arch look, which turned into a shocked laugh, quickly smothered behind a gloved hand, when Jace scoffed, “He is… tolerable, I suppose, but not attractive enough to tempt me. Just go and dance some more, Clary, I’m not good company tonight.”

They walked on, leaving Alec and Lydia in stunned silence. Finally Alec shook himself and raised a sardonic eyebrow. “Well, that answers the question whether he is truly a Herondale - he seems even more arrogant than the Inquisitor. Must be the Morgenstern influence.”

“Now, now, don’t be harsh,” Lydia said soothingly, ever the diplomat. “You don’t know what he has been through.”

Which was true enough, but Alec found he didn’t particularly care. He tried to sound amused and not bitter as he replied, “At least this means I won’t have to dance with him. Poor Mother, though, once again I prove to be a disappointment…”

After that Alec would very much have liked to put the Herondales out of his mind, but unfortunately Izzy’s budding friendship with Clary Fairchild made this impossible. His sister spent a lot of time at the Herondale estate, which was how she ended up there during the attack by the Circle.

Apparently Valentine Morgenstern was much less dead than everyone had thought, and he desperately wanted revenge as well as to retrieve his ex-wife, daughter, adoptive son and the Mortal Cup. When rumor spread that Jocelyn Fairchild had hidden one of the Mortal Instruments, it was met with almost the same amount of shock as the Circle’s reappearance and the incursion itself. Luckily he was rebuffed, but Izzy was injured in the process, and Alec immediately went to see her, needing to reassure himself of her safety.

Because the Inquisitor was busy marshalling the defense of Idris against the Circle’s next offensive, it was Jace Herondale who greeted him. “Your sister is resting, but the Silent Brothers say that she will be fine.” He appeared rather shaken, much to Alec’s surprise, and his voice held genuine warmth. “She fought very well, she saved Clary’s life.”

Alec remembered the rumors that the Fairchilds had hidden among mundanes, so Clarissa would not have Izzy’s Shadowhunter training. Unlike Jace, whose hand was still resting on the hilt of his Seraph Blade and who sported a deep cut on his cheek bone. He was also favoring his right leg when he led Alec through the mansion. If anyone had had any lingering doubts as to his loyalty, this would certainly dispel them.

Alec tried to imagine what Valentine Morgenstern’s sudden reappearance might mean to the man he had raised, and maybe it was out of compassion that he asked, “Has anyone seen to your injuries? I could draw a healing rune, if you like.”

Jace turned and looked at him in complete surprise, making Alec wonder whether he was unused to being cared for. Not that Alec cared for him, even if he was currently more civil than at the Assembly - although not by much, since he still hadn’t responded to Alec’s offer. Arching an eyebrow, Alec said sharply, “It’s just a rune, not an offer of marriage.”

Immediately he wished he could take back the words, since the Herondale heir had no doubt been subjected to more than his fair share of offers since his return, but he forced himself to hold Jace’s disconcerting stare with a challenge of his own. Finally, the other man seemed to decide that Alec’s words really held no hidden meaning, and his gaze softened. “Yes, I would appreciate your help. Thank you, Mr. Lightwood. But I assume you want to see your sister first.”

He looked even more handsome with his guard down, much to Alec’s dismay. Luckily they reached the room Izzy was in soon after, and focusing on her helped Alec forget about this inconvenient attraction. She was recuperating well, but the thought of how close he had come to losing her made Alec’s stomach hurt. When he rejoined Jace in the drawing room, his preoccupation with her paleness and the state of her injuries led to him possibly being more curt than usual as he gestured with his stele and asked, “Shall we?”

He had half-expected Jace to rise to the bait, yet all he did was nod and move closer, already shrugging out of his jacket and unbuttoning his waistcoat. He presented himself half-turned away from Alec, lifting the back of his shirt to reveal a nasty-looking bruise right above his kidneys, probably from someone’s boot. “This one is difficult to reach, and I didn’t want to activate my iratze without having a look at it first.”

“You have been walking around like this ever since the battle?” Alec drew in a sharp breath, not sure whether he was impressed or exasperated. Shaking his head, he drew a healing rune directly onto the injured flesh, gratified when Jace let out a sigh of relief as the color changed from an angry red to purple, then yellow. “It was deep, you were right not to use your iratze, Mr. Herondale. However, next time you might not want to wait this long. Now show me your leg.”

“Yes, mother,” Jace sassed, but he obeyed without hesitation, and Alec ducked his head to hide first his involuntary grin, then his blush at the thought of Jace taking off his buckskin breeches. However, all the other man did was remove his boots and stockings, explaining, “It’s my ankle. The bastard shoved a table at me and I barely managed to jump free.”

Alec nodded, kneeling down to cradle the injured joint carefully. He was no physician, but every Shadowhunter needed to know the basics, and he was relieved to see that nothing was broken. Despite his best efforts Jace hissed in pain, and Alec apologized, quickly applying another healing rune. He kept holding the bare foot gently while watching the magic take effect, until Jace’s hand on his shoulder almost made him drop it. The other man was smiling down at him gratefully. “You are good at this. Thank you.”

Always bad at accepting compliments, Alec flushed and looked away, but he had yet to put down the limb when Clary Fairchild walked into the room. Alec froze in mortification, despite knowing that nothing untoward had happened. The girl’s eyes were dancing with laughter as she took in the tableau in front of her. “Jace, I’m glad to see you have made a friend.”

“Do not be ridiculous, Clary. You will remember that I find friendship of little value,” Jace replied dismissively, and despite himself Alec felt hurt. He dropped Jace’s foot unceremoniously, not caring that it hadn’t completely healed, and Jace winced slightly as he continued, “Surely you remember Alexander Lightwood, Miss Lightwood’s brother? He was kind enough to apply healing runes on a couple of minor injuries I didn’t have time to look at yet.”

“Miss Fairchild. I’m glad to see you so well.” Getting to his feet, any goodwill Alec might have begun to harbour for the Herondale heir had evaporated, and he barely managed a civil bow. “And now, please excuse me, I would like to look in on my sister again before I leave.”

“Let me show you up, Mr. Lightwood,” Clary offered, and Alec didn’t see how he had any choice but to follow her. While they walked, she chattered ceaselessly, “I am so grateful to Izzy - has she told you that she saved my life? I felt so useless, but I have only just begun my training, and she was magnificent, with her whip and two blades! She said she will show me - she has really been most welcoming, ever since the Assembly, when so many others are regarding me and my mother with suspicion.”

Trying hard not to resent the familiarity with which Clary was talking about his sister, Alec was beginning to wonder whether she ever stopped talking when they finally reached Izzy’s room. The injured woman welcomed them both with a wide smile, and Alec quickly realized that she appeared not to mind Clary’s chatter at all. They were still talking when Alec stiffly took his leave, albeit with the promise to return the following day.

“Bring your exercise clothes,” Izzy ordered, ignoring his frown. “I should be mostly healed by then, but Clary needs to practice every day.”

If they had been alone, Alec would have protested, but in Clary’s presence he had to acquiesce, although his lack of enthusiasm probably showed. It made him rather short the next day, when he caught sight of Clary clumsily exercising with a quarterstaff, after he had checked in on Isabelle, who as promised was almost back to normal.

“You need to follow through.” Figuring he wouldn’t work up enough of a sweat to warrant changing clothes, he quickly put aside his hat and gloves before taking off his coat, waistcoat and cravat. Taking up a spare staff, he noticed Clary observing his state of undress, more specifically his half-open shirt and the chest hair it revealed, and lifted an eyebrow, remarking dryly, “You are a Shadowhunter now, Miss Fairchild. Mundane etiquette doesn’t apply when it gets in the way of fighting.”

With that he began to go through some basic drills, and to her credit Clary paid attention and did her best to follow his instructions. Alec was so focused on teaching her, he only noticed that they had an audience when Clary called out, “Jace, do you want to join us or are you going to keep staring?”

Alec turned around to find Jace leaning against a pillar with an air of nonchalance that struck Alec as just a tad forced, as if he had been caught doing something illicit. However, he sounded completely unmoved as he replied, “Is a display such as this not meant to invite spectators? I wouldn’t want to get in the way.”

Clary laughed, but Alec just shook his head, determined not to show how unsettled he was by the blatant regard of those mismatched eyes. “Back to work, Miss Fairchild. If Mr. Herondale has nothing better to do, we should leave him to it.”

“Alright. But you really should call me Clary. You have certainly swept me off my feet often enough.”

Despite himself, Alec smiled down at the grinning redhead. “As you wish, Clary, as long as you call me Alec. And now - en garde!”

With that he attacked again, trying his best to ignore the way he could feel Jace’s eyes follow his every move, until Clary landed on her backside the next time. Giving her a hand up, Alec glanced over, and Jace was gone. Soon after Isabelle joined them, announcing that she was well enough to go home, and Alec breathed a sigh of relief, even as Clary tried her best to change Izzy’s mind.

“I will visit soon,” Izzy promised, her hand lingering on Clary’s in a way that made Alec take notice. His sister was very flirtatious, but there was genuine warmth in her eyes when she teased her hostess gently, “You could always throw that ball we talked about. I would very much enjoy dancing with you again.”

In the end they left with the firm prospect of a ball in the near future, and Alec couldn’t stop himself from heaving a sigh once they were in the carriage Clary had insisted on. To Izzy’s inquisitive glance he replied, “I was rather hoping not to have to see Jace Herondale again so soon.”

“In that case I won’t tell you about the way he was watching you while you were sparring with Clary,” Isabelle replied, a sly smile on his face.

Alec scoffed, “Now don’t be ridiculous, Iz. I told you what I overheard at the Assembly, he most certainly isn’t interested in me that way.”

“If you say so, big brother,” Izzy replied placatingly, and Alec nodded, determined to stop thinking of that preposterous idea immediately. Luckily, he soon found his thoughts occupied by someone much less aggravating than the Herondale heir.

With Izzy fully recovered, the two older Lightwood siblings decided to take their younger brother on a training ride. Max was 11 and convinced he was ready to become a full-fledged Shadowhunter, so they both felt it was vital that he be as prepared as possible. Alec had taken his bow with him and was showing his brother how to shoot from horseback, getting lost in the rhythmic motion, when loud clapping interrupted his focus.

Looking around with a scowl, Alec’s eyes came to rest on a blonde stranger who had ridden up next to Isabelle and Max. It was hard to hold on to his irritation in light of the open admiration on the attractive face, especially when the stranger apologised, “Please, forgive my interruption. I have rarely seen such accomplished archery, and my enthusiasm got the better of me.”

“Alec is the best archer in Idris,” Max said proudly, and Alec felt a blush heat up his cheeks, shooting his little brother an admonishing glance. Undaunted, Max asked bluntly, “Who’re you? I’ve never seen you before.”

Luckily, the stranger didn’t seem offended, replying with a laugh, “I am Sebastian Verlac. And if your brother’s name is Alec, the three of you must be the Lightwoods - Aline Penhallow is my cousin and told me a lot about you.”

“I hope only good things,” Izzy laughed with a toss of her hair, which as always had escaped its confines. “How is Aline, Mr. Verlac? She is a dear friend, and I miss her dreadfully.”

Alec expected Sebastian to be as charmed by his sister as everyone else, but much to his surprise, while he responded amiably enough that he unfortunately hadn’t seen his cousin in a while, having been at the Paris Institute for several months, Sebastian then turned his attention back to him. “Please, Mr. Lightwood, would you give us another demonstration of your skills? I cannot hope to match you with the bow, but maybe we could test our horses.”

“Oh yes, a race,” Max exclaimed excitedly. “Say yes, Alec!”

Smiling, Alec was about to give in, when they noticed another rider approaching. The sun glinted off golden hair blowing in the wind, because of course Jace Herondale wasn’t wearing a hat like a civilised person. Alec’s good mood faded even before Jace stopped and greeted them with perfunctory courtesy. “Miss Lightwood, Mr. Lightwood, how nice to see you.”

They responded in kind, but Jace appeared distracted, his eyes continually straying to Sebastian, who was watching the exchange from hooded eyes. Finally he interrupted Izzy’s introduction of Max rather rudely, saying, “Clary sends me to extend invitations for a ball the coming Friday. Please feel free to bring your family and any… friends.”

There was a strange emphasis on the last word, and Jace shot Sebastian a look that bordered on a glare before taking his leave again, barely waiting for Izzy to accept on their behalf. Alec stared after him in consternation, barely managing to suppress a disparaging remark in front of Max. To his surprise it was Sebastian who broke the confused silence, inquiring politely, “I didn’t know you were acquainted with the Herondales.”

“We met after they returned to Idris,” Izzy explained with somewhat forced cheerfulness. “I have become friendly with Clarissa Fairchild, Mr. Herondale’s adopted sister. She is the one organising the ball we were just invited to.”

“Can I come, too?” Max asked. “He did say you could bring your family.”

“We’ll see,” Alec replied absent-mindedly, still preoccupied by the undercurrent between Jace and their new acquaintance. Turning to Sebastian, he wished etiquette would allow him to just ask, instead he offered diffidently, “You are welcome to accompany us, Mr. Verlac. The ball would be a good opportunity to meet the rest of Idris society, if you wish.”

They had turned their horses back towards Alicante, none of them in the mood to continue with their original plans and preoccupied with Jace’s interruption. Max urged Izzy to let him gallop for a bit, so Alec was left with Sebastian, who reacted to Alec’s invitation with a grateful smile. “Thank you, Mr. Lightwood, that is very kind. However, you have doubtlessly noticed that there is a connection between myself and Jace Herondale.”

Alec nodded, surprised but glad that Sebastian seemed happy to satisfy his curiosity. “Yes, I could not help but see that he appeared to react to your presence.”

He paused, unsure whether to press on, but Sebastian obviously didn’t share his reservations, responding easily, “There is in fact a rather long history between us. It might surprise you to learn that we grew up together, at one point being almost as close as brothers.” Alec couldn’t quite hide his surprise, and Sebastian nodded. “That was before Valentine Morgenstern killed his parents and abducted him, obviously. As a matter of fact, our divide stems from that very moment. We were playing together, and it was sheer luck that protected me from sharing his fate. I am afraid Morgenstern then proceeded to poison his mind against me, and he is now convinced that I should have been in his place. While under Morgenstern’s influence, he attempted to abduct me, and I fear I am not entirely certain of his sanity even now.”

“But that is preposterous! Who would blame a child for the actions of a madman?” Alec exclaimed. “I didn’t have the highest opinion of Mr. Herondale before, but I was trying not to hold his unfortunate background against him. However, now I really don’t see how he can ever hope to be admitted back into polite society. I wonder how the Inquisitor can be so blind to the danger; it is our duty to warn her, don’t you agree?”

During his outburst, Sebastian had been watching Alec with a curious half-smile on his face, and now he reached out and rested a hand on Alec’s forearm. “I truly appreciate your sense of duty and your outrage on my behalf, Mr. Lightwood. However, he has not done me - or anyone else - any harm since being rescued from the Circle, after all, so there is still hope that I am mistaken and he is truly reformed. For the sake of our childhood friendship I cannot be the one to bring on his downfall, not after everything he has been through.”

“Your generosity of spirit does you credit, Mr. Verlac. I will follow your example, then,” Alec replied with honest admiration. They were riding so close together, Alec could feel Sebastian’s leg brush his occasionally, and he found himself quite enjoying the attention, despite the seriousness of the topic they were discussing. “And I quite understand if you choose not to attend the Herondale ball, although you will be missed.”

“In that case I will not let Jace Herondale stop me from enjoying the pleasure of your company,” Sebastian promised, and Alec realised with a start that he was quite looking forward to the previously dreaded occasion.

So much so that, on the day of the ball, he found himself asking Izzy for help on what he should wear. “Uniform or evening dress, Iz? What do you think?”

“You wear your uniform all the time, and you wore your dress uniform to the Assembly, so definitely full evening dress for this occasion,” Izzy replied immediately, giving him the once-over. She herself was already dressed in a beautiful dark red gown with a plunging neckline, her generous bust emphasised with lace detail and a cross necklace, her arms bare except for white gloves and two bracelets encircling her upper arms. Alec didn’t share his sister’s daring sense of fashion nor a more than aesthetic appreciation of the female form, but he knew enough to defer to her when it came to style.

Also, he knew that the bracelets were actually weapons, and he knew his sister to be as deadly with the double whip as she was on the dance floor. Therefore he didn’t hesitate and followed her advice, choosing the cobalt-blue tailcoat, extra-frilly white shirt and matching waistcoat that she picked out for him, and paired them with breeches and dress shoes. It wasn’t the most fashionable outfit, but then Alec had no desire to imitate Beau Brummel, and Izzy insisted the blue suited him perfectly. Adjusting his uncomfortably high cravat, Alec figured he was as prepared for the ball as he could possibly be, even if he had to put up with Izzy’s endless teasing about Sebastian Verlac.

At least she desisted once they reached the Herondale residence, allowing herself to be pulled onto the dancefloor almost immediately by Clary Fairchild. Alec was beginning to wonder about these two, but he was distracted by his fruitless search for Sebastian as well as Max’s excitement over his very first ball. He tried his best to reign in his little brother’s enthusiasm, especially after he caught Jace watching them with a disapproving expression. His embarrassment only grew when he caught his mother wondering out loud to an acquaintance whether the Fairchild girl was a good catch. And still no sign of Sebastian.

“I’m sure he would have come if it wasn’t for him,” he grumbled to Lydia, who he had confided in and who was keeping him company in a quiet corner. They had already danced together, and Alec had no intention of accepting any other dance partners, which was why they were hiding out. “Izzy really seems to like Clary Fairchild, it is only unfortunate her adopted brother is such a…”

“Alec!” Lydia interrupted him sharply, nodding surreptitiously to where Jace was making his way through the crowd. In a low voice she asked, “Are you sure about Isabelle? She has always been quite the flirt - if she is really serious about Miss Fairchild, she might want to consider making her intentions clear.”

Before Alec could reply, they were interrupted by the person he least wanted to see. Jace bowed gracefully before asking stiffly, “Would you do me the honour of dancing the next with me, Mr. Lightwood?”

Although every fibre of Alec wanted to decline, he couldn’t think of an acceptable way to do so. Also, Lydia was shooting him significant looks, obviously meant as a reminder not to offend their host. Therefore, with bad grace and feeling somewhat railroaded, Alec accepted and found himself taking Jace’s offered hand when the next song started.

There was a small spark that shot through him when their hands touched, but he ruthlessly suppressed it, reminding himself of the ugliness hiding behind that beautiful facade. They began following the steps wordlessly, falling into sync with an ease that aggravated Alec. Unfortunately the song was a rather long one, and he figured he should at least preserve the semblance of politeness. His family had already made quite a poor showing that night, Alec did not want to contribute to it, not to the Inquisitor’s grandson, so with a sigh he asked, “Why did you ask me to dance if you intended to remain silent throughout, Mr. Herondale?”

Turning with the grace that marked all his movements, Jace cocked his head inquisitively, “So in your opinion conversing is a requirement between dance partners? I didn’t take you for the talkative sort, Mr. Lightwood.”

“I am not,” Alec bit out, accepting Jace’s hand as they moved through the rows of dancers. “However, it is customary to at least exchange some pleasantries. About the size of the room, for example, or the number of couples.”

“And that will satisfy your need for conversation?” Jace inquired, looping around another dancing couple and returning to Alec, their movements matching easily. They remained silent for a long moment, switching between lead and follow as naturally as breathing, making this the most pleasant dance in Alec’s memory, if only it wasn’t for the company. Finally Jace caught his hand again and asked diffidently, “Do you go riding often?”

Alec shot him a glance, but Jace’s handsome face didn’t betray his thoughts. Exchanging places smoothly, he replied with a certain bite, “I find it good practice, and I enjoy the company of my siblings. When you saw us, moreover, we had just made a new acquaintance.”

“Yes, Mr. Verlac seems to possess the gift of making friends wherever he goes,” Jace replied, looking as if he had an unpleasant taste in his mouth. “Whether he can keep them is another question.”

They crossed, bowing to each other, then closed ranks again, hands entwining, and Alec drawled sarcastically, “He certainly lost your friendship through no fault of his.”

They had reached the end of the dance line, and Jace was looking at him quizzically, opening his mouth to answer, but they were interrupted by Raj, a fellow Shadowhunter that Alec had never quite warmed to. Ignoring the fact that Alec was still engaged in a dance, he clapped him on the shoulder and insinuated with a grin, “Looks like your sister made a new conquest. The Fairchild girl will have no idea what hit her…”

Jace’s head immediately spun around and fixed on the sight of Izzy and Clary engaged in intimate conversation, and Alec wanted to slap Raj. Instead, with a stiff bow towards Raj, he pulled Jace back into the line, and they continued their dance in uncomfortable silence. Jace appeared lost in thought, and Alec was still wondering whether he should say more on the topic of Sebastian Verlac. Finally, he said after another half-turn, “You once said that you see little value in friendship. Surely that must be lonely.”

“I have been taught that friendship is not worth the risk. To love is to destroy, and to be loved is to be destroyed,” Jace replied as if by rote, still lost in thought. “So I prefer to keep my own counsel. Although I must admit being part of a family has been quite a pleasant change so far.”

Alec was reminded with a start that Jace had been taken from his family when he was a little boy, both parents murdered, and a part of him felt incredibly sad for the childhood Jace had been robbed of by Valentine Morgenstern. Undoubtedly that was also where his rather bleak view of love stemmed from, just like the manner in which he treated Sebastian.

“You might want to reconsider,” he finally offered during their last loop. “You are part of our society now, Mr. Herondale, and there are rules to follow, including ones pertaining to relationships between two people, no matter their history. Do not forget that.”

“Thank you for the dance, Mr. Lightwood,” Jace replied tersely, bowing over Alec’s hand. “And for the advice. It has been heard -- I could never disregard anything you say.”

With this mysterious remark, he let go of Alec and disappeared into the crowd, reminding Alec of nothing so much as a predator. The dance had roused a number of confusing emotions in Alec, but he was sure of one thing, namely that it wouldn’t do to underestimate the Herondale heir.

He said as much to Izzy, when she found him a little while later, taking a break from her flirtation with Clary. She shook her head. “Alec, I trust your instincts, but I asked Clary about Sebastian Verlac, and she said that Jace never even mentioned him. Moreover, according to her he has completely overcome Valentine Morgenstern’s influence on him and would never hold a grudge from so long ago.”

“Iz, Clary loves her adopted brother, of course she wants to believe that he escaped unscathed. Especially considering that he was raised by her father while she, Morgenstern’s real daughter, lived a save life among mundanes.” Noticing that Izzy was about to protest, he added, “I believe that she believes him, Iz, and that is only to her credit, but I will keep my own counsel in this and remain vigilant. Now I suggest you rejoin your… friend and enjoy the rest of the night while I try to stop Max from doing anything foolish. We need to make a good impression to help you with your suit, after all.”

To his surprise Izzy actually blushed at his gentle teasing, convincing him even more that Clary Fairchild had somehow managed to worm her way into his sister’s heart, which so far had remained untouched by her many suitors. So when the very next morning, after everyone had gotten up rather later than usual due to the late night, a letter came from Clary, he almost expected another invitation for Isabelle.

However, as she read, Izzy’s face fell, and when Alec inquired as to the cause, she explained sadly, “The Fairchilds have left Idris and gone back to New York. Clary writes that she is very sorry, but that her mother missed her old life too much, especially after the Circle attack. She doesn’t know when they will be back, but it likely won’t be any time soon.”

“Oh, Iz, I am so sorry,” Alec responded with complete sincerity. “I’m sure she will miss you so much, she will return as soon as she has managed to convince her mother to part with enough money for a portal.”

Izzy’s laugh was still a bit weak, but some of the sparkle was back in her eyes, and Alec kept telling her the same thing over and over as the days passed with no sign of Clary Fairchild. At least they still had the pleasure of Sebastian Verlac’s company, who met them in the park the next day and apologised for his absence at the ball.

“In the end I was afraid there would be unpleasantness if I came into such close quarters with Mr. Herondale,” he explained. “However, I do very much regret missing the chance to dance with you.”

“I admire your forbearance, Mr. Verlac. And believe me when I say that I would much rather have shared a dance with you than with Mr. Herondale,” Alec replied with a pleased smile. “As it was, the rest of my family enjoyed the evening much more than I did.”

“Especially your sister, if the rumours I heard are to be believed.”

They were walking side by side, a few paces behind Izzy and Max, but Alec lowered his voice anyway and confided, “Unfortunately Miss Fairchild and her mother have left the Herondale estate and gone back to New York for an undetermined time.”

“Oh, what a pity! I have heard only good things about Clarissa Fairchild,” Sebastian replied with a sympathetic smile. “I wonder what brought on this sudden departure.”

After that they spoke of other things, Alec finding Sebastian uncommonly easy to get along with. Already he felt as if they had known him forever, and impulsively Alec invited him to dine with them that night.

Dinner was a pleasant affair, the entire Lightwood family won over by Sebastian’s friendly manner, Maryse even going so far as to remark that the Verlacs were an entirely respectable Nephilim family. Alec did notice, however, that Sebastian appeared reluctant to speak of his relatives, only saying that he had been away from their London home for several months, studying at the Paris Institute. After dinner, Alec took him for a stroll around the garden, where Sebastian changed the conversation from the latest demon lore back to Jace Herondale in the most surprising manner.

“You know how much it pains me to talk about Mr. Herondale, but I feel like I must tell you what I learned today,” he began, stopping Alec with a hand on his arm. The gesture was a bit overly familiar considering the shortness of their acquaintance, but Alec quite liked it and nodded in order to encourage Sebastian to continue. “It concerns the Fairchild girl - and your sister.”

If he did not have Alec’s full attention before, he certainly had it now. “Concerns my sister how?”

“It is only hearsay, albeit from a respectable source. Since I have come to admire your family in my short time here, I could not help but make inquiries on your behalf.” Sebastian’s eyes gleamed in the falling dusk, as if he was enjoying himself. Not that Alec truly could blame him, Idris being rife with rumours, and Alec himself wanted to know what was being said. “The truth of the matter is that Jace Herondale is behind Miss Fairchild’s sudden departure. Apparently he disapproves of your family and wanted to prevent a serious attachment between his adoptive sister and Miss Lightwood.”

“Are you certain?” Alec barely managed to keep his composure as his blood ran cold with icy fury. His family might not be in the same league as the Herondales, and Max’s exuberance and their mother’s mercenary ways had admittedly exposed them to a certain amount of censure during the ball, but that didn’t give Jace the right to interfere. Through gritted teeth he expanded, “I would not have thought Miss Fairchild to be the biddable kind.”

“I cannot claim to know how Mr. Herondale managed to convince her, but if he had the support of his grandmother, the Inquisitor’s word would likely help sway at least her mother.”

Sebastian’s words made a lot of sense, Alec had to admit. Not that it really mattered, all that counted were the devastating consequences, and he had to take a few steadying breaths before saying with deadly calm, “Whatever machinations were used, we know where to put the blame.”

“Jace Herondale has a lot to answer for,” Sebastian agreed, appearing quite willing to discuss the matter further. However, Alec had lost the appetite for company. He needed to think, to consider whether to tell Izzy and if there was anything he could do to fix the damage Jace had done. Luckily Sebastian was understanding, and they parted on the best of terms.

Arriving at home, however, Alec did not get the chance to withdraw somewhere quiet to think. Instead, they found their parents in great excitement, because there had been a message from the Inquisitor herself. Maryse was brandishing it when they arrived, exclaiming, “Alec, I don’t know what you did, but you somehow managed to attract Inquisitor Herondale’s attention. She has invited you to come stay with her at the Herondale estate, to attend to Clave matters.”

“I… what?” For once Alec lost his composure, and his mother, previously beaming with unusual pride, gave him a disapproving look. Gathering his wits, he quickly said, “Mother, I have never even spoken to the Inquisitor. I’m sure this is some sort of misunderstanding; I will write to her and explain that someone else might be more suited.”

Maryse’s unimpressed frown showed clearly how little she thought of his plan. “You will do no such thing. This is all we have worked towards, your father and I. If you handle yourself well, it might lead to a promotion for our family. Maybe even our own Institute!”

“She just handed control over the New York Institute to her grandson,” Izzy chimed in, as always better informed than Alec. He shot her a disappointed look, mouthing “Et tu, Izzy?”, to which she responded by sticking her tongue out behind their parents’ backs.

“So she might be planning to appoint new Heads in other Institutes as well.” Maryse and Robert didn’t notice their children’s wordless communication, too busy exchanging excited glances, and Robert put an end to the discussion by stating firmly, “ You will accept the Inquisitor’s invitation, Alec, and you will make a good impression. For the sake of this family if not your own.”

Sighing, Alec resigned himself to his fate. At least Jace wouldn’t be there, and his parents were correct in surmising that spending time in the Inquisitor’s circle could only change their family’s fortune for the better. Alec knew it was a smart political move, and, after he had settled into one of the many guest bedrooms of Herondale Manor, he did his best to prove to Imogen Herondale that the Lightwoods could be relied upon.

The lady led the Clave with an iron fist, and during his first dinner, Alec was grilled to within an inch of his life. Not only did the Inquisitor want to know details about his family background and education, she also went into great detail with her inquiries about Alec’s training and experience. He began to suspect that his parents’ hopes might be correct, as he was most definitely being seized up, although he did not yet know for which purpose.

“And do you pursue any hobbies not related to your duties as a Shadowhunter?” They had finished dining, and Alec felt pinned by the Inquisitor’s penetrating eyes. What sort of answer did she expect? He won himself some time by taking a long drink from his wine glass, managing not to let his dislike for the beverage show. Patience didn’t seem to be Imogen Herondale’s strong suit, however, and before he had the chance to gather his thoughts, she asked, “Maybe you play the piano? My grandson is an excellent pianist, you know.”

“No, I cannot say that I am very musically inclined,” Alec finally managed. “I prefer physical activities.”

“So many of our young Nephilim seem to neglect their minds in favour of their bodies,” Imogen spoke as if she hadn’t heard him.

“Well, I do enjoy reading,” he said, keeping a tight rein on his temper.

As expected she appeared unimpressed. “Oh, everyone claims they enjoy to read.”

“Grandmother--” an unexpected voice interrupted, and Jace stepped out of the shadows, making Alec wonder how long he had been standing there. “--that is hardly fair. I am sure Mr. Lightwood’s enjoyment of books is genuine.”

Alec was not sure at all that he liked Jace Herondale coming to his aid, but he managed a tight smile and a courteous bow. Luckily he was spared from answering by the Inquisitor, who rose and offered her cheek to her grandson to kiss.

“Jace, what a pleasant surprise. Had I known you were going to join us, we would have waited with dinner.” The Inquisitor seemed like an entirely different person, genuine warmth colouring her voice. “As it is, can we impose on you to play for us? I have been telling Mr. Lightwood about your proficiency with the piano.”

“I am sure you were exaggerating, but of course I will, if you wish it.” Was that a blush heating up Jace’s cheeks, making his unusual eyes shine even more brightly than normal? Alec dismissed the unwelcome thoughts as irrelevant and sat back, preparing himself to appear suitably impressed, since the Inquisitor seemed to think the world of her grandson’s talents.

Much to his surprise, however, he did not have to fake his enthusiasm. Once Jace sat down at the expensive grand piano in the corner, after taking off the dark blue coat of his Shadowhunter uniform, he transformed completely, his entire demeanour softening as he began playing a hauntingly beautiful melody. Alec had not been lying when he said that he was not musical, yet even he could hear that Jace was truly gifted.

He also made a rather attractive picture, the evening sun streaming in through the stained-glass windows, bathing him in warm light, his hair shining like gold. Alec found himself staring, transfixed; and when Jace finished playing he looked up and met Alec’s eyes with such a warm, open smile, Alec had to shake himself out of his trance. Unsettled, he mouthed a few platitudes, complimenting Jace’s playing, before making his excuses, saying with a pointed glance at Jace, “I want to write to my sister. She has not been in the best of spirits lately.”

The next day he sat in on some Clave meetings, grateful that there was little opportunity to interact with Jace after an uncomfortable breakfast. He did catch sight of him through a window once, pacing up and down the courtyard, lost in thought, but Alec was not in the mood to concern himself with whatever was going through Jace Herondale’s head.

After the third meeting, Alec found a letter from Izzy waiting and excused himself from luncheon to read it. There was a forcedly cheerful ring to her writing, and when he was done reading Alec was seething again. At this point there was a knock on his door, and when Alec opened it he was faced with Jace, the one person he least wanted to see.

The Herondale heir was looking unusually flustered, but Alec was in no mood to be charitable and asked curtly, “Mr. Herondale, what can I do for you?”

“Can I come in?” Jace asked, and Alec let him in with such bad grace, he knew his mother would be shooting daggers at him. Once inside, Alec sat down again, waiting for an explanation, but instead Jace stared out of the window, his body practically vibrating with nervous energy. Alec did not feel like making things easier for him, and a tense silence settled over them, until Jace finally whirled around and blurted out, “Mr. Lightwood, I cannot be silent any longer. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how much I admire and -- love you.”

Shocked, Alec stared in pure astonishment at Jace’s tormented expression, at a complete loss for words. Jace appeared to take this as permission to continue, which he did in a jumble of words, as if a dam had been broken. “Following my heart in this manner goes against everything I have chosen to live by, but the emotions are too strong and have left me no choice but to approach you in this fashion. Your family has shown a regrettable lack of judgement in the past, yet you yourself have behaved impeccably, and I believe you would make an excellent parabatai.”

He stopped, apparently thinking that he had made his point. Alec felt hysterical laughter bubbling up in him at the thought that the Herondale heir had singled him out in exactly the way his mother had dreamed of. Instead he focused on the outrage he felt over the fact that while Jace was visibly conflicted, he appeared to have no doubt as to Alec’s answer. Jace was not a man used to being rejected, and Alec took a deep breath before replying firmly, “In circumstances such as these I think it is customary to express gratitude. However, while I appreciate the honour you seem to think you are bestowing upon me, I cannot thank you. I can only hope that your feelings, which you told me have overruled your better judgement, will be of short duration.”

His words seemed to come as a complete surprise to Jace, his eyes widening, his skin paling, before he flushed with anger, his voice tightly controlled as he bit out, “And that is all the answer I can expect? Not even an explanation to the reasons for your rejection?”

“You might have gotten a more civil response had your proposal not been done in such an insulting manner.” Now Alec got up, feeling too wound up to remain seated. He took a certain pleasure in the fact that he was half a head taller than Jace. “However, as you well know, I have other reasons for my refusal. Even if my own feelings had been more positive towards you, do you expect me to accept the suit of a man who interfered in the happiness of my beloved sister?”

They were standing toe to toe, so Alec could see the other man flinch at this accusation from up close. Then Jace squared his shoulders and replied coldly, “By preventing an unfortunate attachment I only acted in my sister’s best interest. Which is more than I can say for myself.”

“This arrogance is what made me dislike you from the start. Yet it all pales in comparison to the fact that your treatment of Sebastian Verlac shows that you are not only prideful but dangerous,” Alec hissed, fists curled as he struggled to keep his temper in check.

A bitter laugh escaped Jace. “Oh, you have no idea. You are certainly eager to believe anything told against me, even my own honest reservations. Maybe you would have been less inclined to be so incivil, had I flattered you the way Mr. Verlac does.”

The air in the room seemed to be crackling with tension, and Alec took a step backwards. He was a guest in this house, he would not start brawling with his host’s grandson. His voice was ice-cold in its finality as he replied, “There is no way in which you could have proposed that would have tempted me to accept. You are the last person in the world I would ever bind my soul to.”

“You have made your case perfectly clear,” Jace said in a deadly calm voice, bowing stiffly. “In that case, please forgive my intrusion.”

Without waiting for Alec’s response, he took his leave, and Alec was left with his thoughts in turmoil. Pleading a headache, he excused himself for the rest of the day, and stayed in his room, trying to understand all that had happened. He could scarcely believe it had been real and went to bed still thoroughly unsettled.

In the morning, he took his horse and went for a long ride, the fresh air and exercise going a long way to finally calming his nerves a little. It all evaporated again, however, when he returned to see Jace waiting for him.

Before he could say anything, the Herondale heir forestalled him with a raised hand, offering him a letter. “I have been waiting here for you, hoping that you will do me the honour of reading this.”

With a curt bow he turned on his heel and disappeared, leaving Alec gaping after him. Usually Alec looked after his own horse, but this time he handed it to one of the Herondale stable boys, too apprehensive and eager to discover what was in the envelope he had been handed. The moment he reached his room he tore the letter open, finding several sheets of monogrammed writing paper covered in a tight scrawl.

Sitting down, Alec began to read.

Sir, do not fear a repetition of yesterday’s sentiments, which were so distasteful to you. Instead I ask that you spare me the time to read this letter containing some information which I was in no state to share yesterday yet that I feel would be to your benefit to know.

Yesterday, you laid two different accusations at my feet, in regards to the relationship between your sister and mine and about my treatment of Mr. Verlac. In this letter I will attempt to explain some of my motivations, in the hopes that you might, if not change your opinion about my character, then at least understand my reasonings.

You accused me of interfering in the friendship between Miss Lightwood and my adopted sister, and to this I can only repeat that I only meant to protect Miss Fairchild, who I have grown very fond of. At first I thought theirs was only a passing fancy, but at the ball I noticed that my sister’s regard had grown quite considerably and might soon lead to a more serious understanding between them. Miss Lightwood, on the other hand, while seeming to enjoy my sister’s company, did not strike me as treating her with the same depth of feeling. I then undertook it to counsel her mother, and with the support of Inquisitor Herondale we had little trouble in convincing her that it would be best if they returned to New York, a location Mrs. Fairchild is very fond of in any event. My sister was at first very reluctant, yet we managed to show her the prudence of such a relocation before her heart was permanently damaged when your sister directed her attentions to someone else. This, I had come to understand, would have been her normal course of action, so I did not expect the Fairchilds’ departure to injure more than her pride.

Alec had to put down the letter at this point, overcome with anger that his sister had been misjudged so gravely. “Not injured, what arrogance!” he muttered under his breath, before continuing to read.

If I was mistaken in my analysis, then I can only beg forgiveness from you and Miss Lightwood both. However, the reasons I stated for my own reluctance to follow my inclination towards you still stand, and I cannot regret wanting to protect my sister. Even were I to overlook the regrettable behaviour on part of your brother and mother at the ball, it is your family’s history that lies at the root of the problem. As the daughter of Valentine Morgenstern, Miss Fairchild is already subject to people’s scrutiny -- binding herself to a family of former Circle members, even if they have behaved impeccably in the past 20 years, would lead to unavoidable rumours and judgement. When I decided to approach you yesterday, I might have been willing to accept this for myself, but I could not bear it for my sister.

“What?!” Alec gasped, feeling as if he had been struck. Circle members? Jace had to be mistaken, there was no way Maryse and Robert Lightwood had ever been followers of Valentine Morgenstern’s. Yet even as he thought this, doubt rose in Alec. Would Jace make such an accusation if it wasn’t founded on solid evidence? Not only had he been raised in the Circle, as grandson to the Inquisitor he was in a unique position to ascertain the truth of such rumours. Also, this explained why the Lightwoods, despite their ancient name, were stuck in Idris, trying to improve their position within the Clave with increasing desperation as the years went on. Alec himself had few memories of the time before Izzy was born, and even this now struck him as suspicious.

“Still, he should not have taken the choice in the matter away from Izzy and Clary,” he commented, although some of his previous aggrievement had ebbed away in light of Jace’s shocking revelation. “Now, let’s see how he defends himself against Mr. Verlac’s accusations.”

When it comes to Sebastian Verlac, I am breaking a vow I made to myself, yet it seems as if there is no other way for me to defend myself against the aspersions the gentleman in question has cast upon my character. Therefore, please take this as a sign of my utmost confidence in your trustworthiness, which I am certain is not misplaced. Despite the shortness of our acquaintance, there is something in you that speaks to me on a deeply personal level, which is partly what led to my regrettable overtures yesterday. Do not be afraid, this is as much as I will say about my feelings about the compatibility of our souls, but I wished for you to understand that I am not lightly entrusting you with this knowledge, which I have not even shared with my family.

I do not know what exactly Mr. Verlac has told you, yet from your reaction I surmise that he mentioned our long-standing connection and likely implied that its severance was the result of some dastardly acts on my part. Going by your statement, he possibly even insinuated that I might pose an ongoing danger to him, maybe even to Shadowhunter society. I would not put the latter past him, unfortunately, and it is my hope that this letter will help assuage any concern in that direction you might harbour.

Please forgive my evasiveness, it is not easy for me to speak about it, and putting it in writing is the only way I can make myself share these details. Fact is that the man you know as Sebastian Verlac is no other than Valentine Morgenstern’s son, Jonathan Christopher Morgenstern. This I would swear on the Soul Sword, if you need proof of my assertion.

You might wonder why the world does not know of his existence. Valentine raised me as his own, even gave me the same name as his true-born son, yet I only learned of Jonathan’s existence when I was already a man. As horrifying as it was to be raised in the Circle, my own fate pales in comparison to that of my adopted brother. Of all the monstrous acts Valentine has committed, this is doubtlessly the most horrific, because he used two innocent children to experiment. One (myself) he injected with angel blood while still in his mother’s womb and then raised him to be what he considered “the perfect weapon” against demonkind. The other (the one you know as Sebastian Verlac) was dosed with demon blood and sent into the demon realm when he resisted his father’s control. What Jonathan experienced there defies imagination, but the little I learned fills me with horror - and pity.

It is mainly because of this pity that I agreed to keep the secret of Jonathan’s true identity, but also from a sense of obligation. You see, it was his return from the underworld, intent on avenging himself on the father who had abandoned him, that set me free. Previous to his recent attack on Idris, you had probably heard that Valentine had “died” by the hand of a demon he had summoned - said demon was Jonathan, whose mix of Shadowhunter and demon blood has imbued him with great powers.

Once the Circle was broken, Jonathan revealed to me that the man I had called father had actually murdered my parents. He also assured me that his blood made him no more a demon than me an angel, and that with Valentine’s death his desire for violence and blood had been quenched. Do not be fooled, however, no one who can murder and torture with the impunity I witnessed when he took his revenge can be said to be entirely sane, which is why I have kept my guard up around him. Yet until yesterday I did not think that he saw himself as my enemy. I cannot fault him for being envious of me, in light of the fact that I lived the life he probably considers his.

Despite the lies in regards to my own character, so far he appears to have kept his promise, which is why I have not exposed his true identity, except now, in this letter to you. I must admit, however, that his appearance here, using someone else’s name, in the wake of the revelation that Valentine is still alive, and his attempts to smear my reputation, have increased my suspicions against him. Please, I am aware that you do not trust me, but I beg you to be careful in your dealings with Sebastian Verlac - do not forget who he truly is.

You called me dangerous, and I undoubtedly can be. As I told you before, Valentine taught me “To love is to destroy, and to be loved is to be the one destroyed.” I am only mentioning this to impress on you that my feelings towards you were strong enough to overcome this lesson, hoping that this will convince you of the sincerity of my wish for your safety. If you ignore everything else I wrote down today, please believe one thing: Jonathan Morgenstern is not safe.

I will not call myself yours, since those sentiments are so abhorrent to you, but may the Angel keep you.

~Jonathan Christopher Herondale

Alec put the letter down, staring unseeingly out of the window across the carefully kept landscape of the Herondale escape, his mind in complete turmoil.

***

Book II

Alec read and re-read Jace’s letter multiple times over the course of the day. He absentmindedly dismissed the servants who called on him with requests from the Inquisitor to join her, claiming ill health.

At first he wanted nothing more than to dismiss Jace’s revelations about his parents and about Sebastian Verlac - Jonathan Morgenstern, or whatever his name might be. However, while he still considered Jace’s actions in regards to Isabelle and Clary as presumptuous and arrogant, the truth of the matter was that he believed him. His revelations explained too much, made too much sense of little things that Alec had overlooked at the time.

When he finally decided that he could not very well hide out in his room forever, it was time for dinner, and he approached the Herondale’s luxurious dining room slowly, reluctant to come face to face with Jace. However, much to his surprise, after inquiring pointedly after his health, the Inquisitor informed him that her grandson had returned to New York. Breathing a sigh of relief, Alec tried to put the letter - and the proposal - out of his head.

It was difficult, but Alec had always been good at compartmentalising, and he did his best to prove himself to Inquisitor Herondale and the Clave members he met in the next few days. Still, when he returned home, he waited impatiently for a chance to get Izzy alone. He could hardly bear to look their parents’ in the eyes, knowing what he did now, and he needed to share this burden with the only person in the world who could understand.

“Circle members?!” Somehow hearing Izzy’s shocked reaction already made Alec feel easier. “And Jace Herondale asked you to be his parabatai? I told you he was watching you when you were teaching Clary.”

“Surely that is not important in light of his letter,” Alec protested, although he understood how Izzy might find it easier to focus on that part of his narrative. “The question is how should we proceed with this knowledge. Not so much in regards to our parents’ secret, which I’m sure you agree we should keep between ourselves, but mostly in the matter of Seb… Jonathan Morgenstern.”

“It will be difficult not to confront our parents, but I agree, we will have to go on as usual.” Izzy’s reluctance was obvious, understandably so, since she was often the subject of their mother’s censure, but as always her common sense won out. Relieved to have her backing, Alec gave her a grateful smile, and she squeezed his hand reassuringly. “As for Mr. Morgenstern - while you were… distracted by certain Herondales, he, in the guise of Mr. Verlac, left Alicante for destinations unknown. Knowing what I do now, I suspect his departure is connected with Aline Penhallow’s upcoming arrival from London.”

“Aline is coming?” Alec already looked forward to seeing one of his oldest friends, but quickly returned to the topic at hand with a wry smirk. “Yes, I see how that could be awkward for an imposter.”

Izzy’s answering chuckle died on her lips. “Oh, Alec, do you think he did something to the real Sebastian Verlac?”

“I don’t know, Iz. I hope not.” Alec shrugged helplessly.

Izzy nodded. “From what you have told me, Jace seems to be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, to believe that he has renounced his violent ways. So shouldn’t we do the same?”

Alec considered her words. He hadn’t shown her the letter, only read some passages and summarised the gist of the rest, because it felt as if he was betraying Jace’s confidence. Finally, he came to a decision. “We won’t say anything, not to Aline and not to the Clave. But I will make inquiries, attempt to find out about the real Sebastian Verlac.”

“Sensible as always, dear brother.” Izzy leaned against him, and Alec wrapped an arm around her, his heart feeling infinitely lighter. He even managed to make a dispassionate report of his time with the Inquisitor to their parents, carefully omitting certain details, while Isabelle suppressed a knowing smile.

Still, he could not help but grind his teeth when Maryse crowed triumphantly, “This could be it. This could be our chance to restore the Lightwood family name to its rightful place. You have made us proud, Alec.”

Only long years of practice allowed Alec to keep his temper in check in light of this hypocrisy, now that he was painfully aware how the Lightwoods had lost their position in Shadowhunter society. Maybe one day he would confront his parents about their shameful past, but that day had not yet come. Instead he accepted the compliment with a tight nod and changed the subject.

Still, the matter remained on the forefront of Alec’s mind, until a letter from Lydia diverted his attention. She had been away on Clave business, and he had missed her company. So when she suggested that he join her on a tour of the Institutes of North America, he gladly accepted. It would give him a valid reason to get away from his parents, and he only regretted that he would have to leave Izzy. His sister put on a brave face, but he could tell that she still missed Clary every day.

“I could look her up when we’re in New York, tell her that Ja… that people were mistaken about your intentions,” he suggested carefully, but he was not surprised when Isabelle declined with a wistful smile. He understood all too well that she needed to be certain any contact between them stemmed from genuine desire on Clary’s part and was not prompted by outside influence, no matter how well-meaning.

“Do not disturb yourself, brother,” she replied resolutely. “I will keep busy during your absence. Maybe I can take Max to see Aline and make some inquiries about a certain acquaintance of ours in the process.”

After a very fond goodbye, Alec joined Lydia in San Francisco. Being in her company was always a relief from the pressures he felt from his parents, now even more so than usual, and he was grateful for the opportunity to broaden his horizons. He had always enjoyed hearing Lydia talk about her duties as envoy, and while he never quite forgot about Jace and his revelations, he was grateful for the diversion.

Still, he was not surprised when Lydia approached him on the third day of their trip. They had made the rounds of the brand-new Vancouver Institute, which had impressed Alec with its frontier spirit, so very different from ancient, shining Alicante, and were standing on the water’s edge, waiting for a local warlock to portal them to Chicago.

“Alec, please tell me what’s on your mind,” Lydia inquired gently. Sighing, Alec turned to face her. She was one of his oldest friends, yet he was not sure if it was his place to betray Jace’s secrets. Finally he decided to only share what he had learned about his own family. It did mean having to disclose the circumstances, of course, and Lydia looked gratifyingly shocked after hearing that Jace had proposed, exclaiming, “I knew there was something in the air during that dance!”

Blushing, Alec continued quickly, “Well, that is entirely beside the point. Naturally I said no, I could never bind my soul to Jace Herondale.”

“Naturally,” Lydia interjected drily, eyes twinkling suspiciously.

Alec glared at her, pointedly ignoring her comment. “The point is, afterwards he wrote me a letter, apologising for convincing Clary Fairchild to abandon Izzy. One of the reasons he gave was that he did not want his sister to get involved with the daughter of… ex-Circle members.”

This wiped the smile off Lydia’s face, but much to Alec’s surprise, she did not seem to share the strong emotion the mention of this still evoked in him. Instead, she covered his hand, balled into an angry fist, with her small, gloved one, and said pityingly, “You did not know? Oh, Alec…”

“You mean you… did?” Pulling his hand out her grasp sharply, Alec was aware he was staring, yet he simply could not wrap his mind around what he had just heard. He also could not stop his next question to come out like an accusation, anger beginning to simmer under his skin “How could you know and not tell me? Do you know what it feels like, to learn such a thing, to know that your entire life has been based on a lie?”

Lydia appeared stricken, and a part of Alec felt guilty, aware that he was lashing out at her when it was really his parents he was angry with. Then she straightened her back, her voice steady and full of understanding as she replied, “It never occured to me that they kept this secret from you. Izzy, maybe, but not you. And because you never mentioned it…”

“...you felt it was not your place to bring it up,” Alec finished, regaining control of his temper. In her place, would he have acted differently? There were many things one simply did not talk about in their society. He could not blame Lydia for being reticent in such a delicate matter. Still, he was relieved when their conversation was interrupted at this juncture by the arrival of the Head of the Vancouver Institute, accompanied by a warlock.

Ten minutes later they were in Chicago, and Alec was grateful when Lydia interpreted his stiff silence correctly and left him to his own thoughts for the rest of the night. As soon as politely possible he sought out the local Institute’s training facilities and banished his emotional turmoil with physical activity. However, he struggled to fall asleep that night, his unrest not improved by the knowledge that their next stop would be New York.

He was not sure how he should treat Jace when they met again for the first time since Alec had to reevaluate everything he had thought he knew about the Herondale heir. He no longer considered him the monster Sebastian Verlac had painted him as, he could even understand some of his hesitations about their family, yet the man remained a puzzle, and one that Alec was not sure he wanted to solve.

Therefore he could not suppress a sigh of relief when Lydia took him aside after a meeting with the Head of the Chicago Institute and said, “I figured you would like to know that Jace Herondale will not be in New York during our stay.”

It was a peace offering, an apology for the secret she had unwittingly kept, and Alec accepted it with a grateful smile. After that he found it much easier to focus on the actual purpose of their journey, and their three days in Chicago went by quickly and productively. If anything, this trip reinforced Alec’s desire to one day run an Institute of his own, as unlikely as that might be. For his parents it might be a symbol of regained status, a means to a political end. Alec, on the other hand, grew more interested in the minutiae the running of such a facility required the more he learned about it.

Thus it was with genuine awe that he first set eyes on the oldest North American Institute when they stepped through the portal. Brooklyn was a village outside of New York city limits, but it was bustling and quickly growing after the founding of the Navy Yard, and the Institute itself was breathtaking and had all the modern conveniences that could be found in Idris. It was easily the most beautiful place Alec had ever seen, and he felt immediately at home.

As Lydia had promised, there was no sign of Jace; instead they were greeted warmly by none other than Alec’s and Izzy’s old teacher Hodge Starkweather, who showed them around with an almost proprietary pride. Alec was very pleased to see Hodge again, who he had always admired, although there was a small voice in the back of his head that made a connection between Hodge’s long-standing friendship with his parents and his sudden reassignment to New York -- or had it been a banishment?

It seemed Alec was not allowed a reprieve from Jace’s revelations, and he inquired with more of an edge than was probably warranted, “How do you like working for a Herondale? It must have been… quite a change when the Inquisitor put her brand-new heir in charge all of a sudden.”

“Oh, at first we were somewhat apprehensive, I admit, suspecting nepotism,” Hodge replied with an easy smile. “However, we were quickly disabused of that notion, when Jace proved himself to be a very able leader. He also was the one to insist on paying a warlock to finally raise some decent wards around the Institute. As a matter of fact, most of the improvements you see around you are the results of his efforts.”

Hodge’s sweeping gesture encompassed the gleaming new gaslights, scientific laboratories and telegraph installation. Seeing Alec’s awed face, he grinned and added in an undertone, “Also, he is much more personable than his predecessor.”

“Victor Aldertree?” Lydia intercepted with an amused chuckle. “I have met him, and I must say that, while I cannot claim the same degree of acquaintance with Mr. Herondale as Alec, I can easily believe that you were glad to see the last of him.”

“You know Jace?”

Hodge appeared delighted, and Alec suppressed a wince, replying in a tight voice, “Alicante is small; I have met him on a few social occasions and at Herondale Manor.” Seeing Lydia and Hodge exchange glances, he added for emphasis, “If anyone can claim further acquaintance with the family, it is Isabelle. She was quite close with Jace Herondale’s sister Clarissa Fairchild before the latter relocated here.”

“Oh, I have had the pleasure of meeting both Miss Fairchild and her mother. It is nice for Jace to have family nearby.” Hodge smiled innocently, and Alec had to remind himself that he could not know why the subject was a delicate one.

Instead he changed the subject, bringing it back to a matter that was still puzzling him: “I must say, I am a little surprised to hear you speak so warmly of J… Mr. Herondale. He never appeared to feel at ease in Alicante.”

“Well, who would? Especially when one has to live with the Inquisitor,” Hodge responded lightly, and Alec noticed that Lydia was hiding a smile behind her hand. “I cannot speak for his past behaviour, of course, but you will not find many here in New York who have an ill word to say of him, be they Shadowhunters or Downworlders.”

Alec felt slightly blindsided and spent the rest of the tour trailing after Hodge and Lydia, lost in thought. So Jace, the man who did not need friends, appeared to have been forming alliances in his new abode. Not just among his fellow Nephilim, but even among Downworlders. Who would have thought this of the arrogant Herondale heir, raised by Valentine Morgenstern? Certainly not Alec, and it left him feeling disquieted.

As always when his mind was preoccupied, he tried to ease it with physical exertion. Hodge might not know what was bothering him, but when Alec asked for a good place to shoot, he gave him access to the Institute rooftop with a knowing smile, gently admonishing him, “Please remember to glamour your arrows.”

“That was one time, ten years ago,” Alec replied defensively, scowling when Lydia and Hodge both laughed good-naturedly. Gesturing, Alec made his escape with barely an excuse, saying curtly, “I can’t be here anymore.”

At least he could be certain that they would not take his bruskness for rudeness, knowing him better than most. Longtime friendships really were a double-edged sword, and Alec gratefully lost himself in the familiar rhythm of shooting, his entire focus narrowed down to his bow and the arrows he loosed into the night sky. It was a soothing, mindless activity, and Alec didn’t notice anything else for a long while. He most certainly did not notice the door opening, and when he swung around after what could have been forty-five minutes or two hours, he only narrowly avoided shooting Jace Herondale.

Surprise made him prickly, and he barked curtly, “Get out of my way, sir.”

He expected Jace to react to Alec’s insulting behaviour with anger, and a part of him would have welcomed the straightforwardness of a row. However, Jace surprised him again by lifting his hands and saying with a smile, “I would hope that we find ourselves on the same side.” When Alec lowered his bow, abashed, Jace added softly, “I did not mean to interrupt your training. Your presence came as something of a surprise for me.”

“Oh,” Alec said stupidly. Quickly gathering his wits, he asked, “So you did not come looking for me?”

“No,” Jace replied simply. “I cut my journey short and returned here after hearing that an envoy from the Clave had arrived. The missive did not mention that you were accompanying Miss Branwell. The rooftop is where I usually come at the end of the day to clear my mind.”

Alec was not sure whether to be relieved or disappointed, and he firmly stopped himself from asking whether his presence was welcome or not. So he said nothing, just nodded, and expected Jace to take his leave, only for the latter to clear his throat and ask with uncharacteristic eagerness, ”How are you finding the Institute? I hope Mr. Starkweather showed you some of the improvements we have been working on and made you feel welcome.” Obviously remembering something, Jace added, “But you know Hodge well, so I think I can be confident that you were treated warmly.”

“Oh yes, I have known Hodge for most of my life. And he did give us the full tour - crediting most of the modernisations to your efforts,” Alec replied honestly, taken aback by Jace’s openness and modesty, so unlike the man Alec had come to dislike when he first arrived in Idris. When Jace actually flushed with pleasure at the compliment, it was easy to smile and say warmly, “And I must say that among all the Institutes that I have visited, yours is the one that has impressed me the most. You are creating something beautiful here, Mr. Herondale.”

“Such praise, coming from you, is more than I could have hoped for.” Jace was smiling in a way that seemed entirely without reservations, and Alec was suddenly grateful for the darkness that hid his blush. Unaware of Alec’s predicament, Jace stepped closer, his smile turning hopeful as he inquired, “Mr. Lightwood, have you dined already? If not, would you do me the honour and join me for a late supper?” For the first time Jace displayed hesitation, adding quickly, “We… we could ask Miss Branwell or Hodge to join us, if you would prefer, although I think they both retired for the night.”

Alec had to have been on the roof for longer than he thought, but in any case, he realized with a start that he felt none of the apprehension in Jace’s company that he had feared and expected. Smiling, he shook his head. “No, I have not yet eaten and will gladly join you. There is no need to disturb Miss Branwell or Hodge.”

Jace’s face brightened, his unusual two-toned eyes shining, and once again Alec was struck by his near-angelic beauty. Emotions in confusion, he was relieved when Jace turned away to open the door for him, making easy small-talk about the Alec’s journey as he led him downstairs. After quickly informing the staff to set a second place at his table, Jace continued to be the perfect host, charming and friendly, with no trace of his previous abruptness.

It left Alec confused and fighting for enough composure to respond in kind, and at first he inquired into the running of the Institute mostly because it relieved him of having to do the talking. However, he was soon enthralled by the animated, almost loving way in which Jace spoke of his new home. He was full of praise for his fellow Shadowhunters but also for the Downworlders under his protection, and before Alec noticed they were involved in a deep discussion about the tasks involved in the administration of an Institute, soon moving on to Clave and Downworld politics.

Jace turned out to be a scintillating conversationalist, his mind quick and his opinions well-considered. There was none of the arrogance Alec had observed in Idris, instead he actually managed to startle more than one chuckle out of Alec with his teasing wit. He also appeared to find Alec’s conversation amusing, throwing his head back with laughter when Alec told him a story involving one of the stuffier Clave members and a freshly changed werewolf.

Both of them started when a junior Shadowhunter shyly interrupted them in order to remove their long-emptied plates and asked if they wanted anything else, obviously eager to be of service. Jace thanked her with a warm smile, calling her “Lindsay” and telling her to get some sleep before her patrol the next morning, as if he had made a point of getting to know all his subordinates and their schedules. It only reinforced the good impression Alec had formed of him that evening, and it was easy to agree when Jace asked diffidently, “After the meetings tomorrow morning, would you care to join me for a sparring session? Or we could go riding, if you’d prefer.”

“Why not both,” Alec suggested, and the laugh they shared felt warm, comfortable. It followed Alec to his room, where he very pointedly did not think about how much he had enjoyed Jace’s company. Izzy always told him he was prone to overthinking, and he was determined to follow her advice this time, even if he was no closer to figuring out the enigma that was Jace Herondale.

Seeing him perform his duties as Head of the Institute when he greeted Lydia the next day showed Alec yet another side of Jace. They were treated to an indepth look at the inner workings of the Institute, during which Jace expertly fielded every question. Alec could see that with every answer Lydia’s respect for him rose, and although Jace’s performance did not reflect on him in any way, he felt strangely proud.

They were even introduced to some Downworlder leaders, Jace having invited Meliorn, as representative of the Seelie Queen, Magnus Bane, the High Warlock of Brooklyn and Luke Garroway, the Alpha of the New York Pack. Impressed by the unusual civility of Nephilim-Downworld relations, Alec inquired diffidently, “Have you considered turning these informal gatherings into a regular Council?”

He hoped his suggestion was not considered as overstepping; he was there only as an observer, after all, accompanying Lydia, the official envoy of the Clave. However, the looks he received from everyone gathered were approving, and Luke Garroway grinned widely and clapped Alec on the shoulder. “I have my problems with the Clave, but this one seems slightly less rigid in his thinking.” Shooting Lydia, who was regarding him with an arched eyebrow, a charming smile, he added, “Present company excepted, naturally.”

“Naturally,” Lydia replied dryly, but then she surprised Alec by giving the werewolf alpha a serious look. “I understand that your history with the Clave has been fraught. I am glad to see that in spite of the… unfortunate circumstances you are still willing to work with us.”

“You have Mr. Herondale and his connection to the Fairchild ladies to thank for that,” Garroway explained, only adding to Alec’s confusion. It was not until later that Alec learned that the werewolf had once not only been a Shadowhunter himself, but Valentine Morgenstern’s parabatai, before falling in love with Jocelyn Fairchild. However, even without this knowledge Alec could see the warmth in the alpha’s eyes when mentioning the name. “I think you are acquainted with them, are you not? If Mr. Herondale here agrees, maybe we can all dine together tonight.”

A part of Alec wondered whether Jace would decline, maybe to stop Alec from interceding on Izzy’s behalf. Instead he officially extended a warm invitation, making sure to include Meliorn and Magnus Bane, wondering whether the latter would be so kind as to make sure Baroness Camille Belcourt, the head of the local vampire clan and his paramour, was aware of the event. There was no possibility for Alec to bow out gracefully, so he smiled tightly and hoped that somehow the relaxed mood that had marked this day would overcome the unavoidable awkwardness.

As if he could read Alec’s mind, Jace took him aside and asked quietly, “What would you say if we left Ms. Branwell and your Downworld Council to their own devices, Mr. Lightwood? Otherwise we might not have time for both the sparring and riding sessions you promised me last night.”

“I… would like that very much, Mr. Herondale.” Over Jace’s shoulder Alec noticed Lydia lifting an eyebrow, having apparently overheard their exchange, but he determined to ignore her in favour of mirroring the pleased smile on Jace’s face. They took their leave of the rest of the company with the promise to rejoin them for dinner, and Alec couldn’t help but feel as if they were being unruned boys avoiding their assignments.

The twinkle in Jace’s mismatched eyes led him to wonder if the other man felt similarly as he led them to the stables. Naturally Alec had not brought his own horse, but Jace offered him one of his, a beautiful black mare, while Jace lifted himself easily onto a gorgeous white stallion, and they were soon outside of Brooklyn. It felt great to be out in the open air, away from the endless string of inspections and meetings that had marked most of Alec’s trip with Lydia so far, and Alec urged his horse into a gallop without even noticing.

Jace laughed and followed suite, and without needing to state so explicitly, they began to race each other in earnest. They were both in uniform, and the wind whipped back their blue coats, exhilaration racing through Alec as he ducked low over his horse’s neck. In the end Jace beat him by two yards, yet Alec could not mind, not when Jace turned to him, still laughing, and said breathlessly, “As much as I would like to claim total victory, I had the advantage of knowing my horse. We will have to make sure to repeat this some other time, when neither one of us has an advantage.”

“Gladly,” Alec replied as they began riding back more slowly, giving their mounts and themselves the opportunity to catch their breaths. “At least we should be able to measure our fighting prowess without any such considerations.”

When Jace did not respond immediately, Alec raised an eyebrow and challenged him with a smirk, “You owe me a sparring session. Or have you already had enough?”

Immediately he wondered what had come over him to speak in this manner. Jace was higher in rank than he was, and Alec had just treated him with appalling casualness. Despite the easy way in which they had interacted here in New York, they were barely friends, and most certainly not anything more. Luckily Jace appeared not to have noticed Alec’s faux-pas. Taking off his hat and pushing his sweat-matted hair back, he grinned fiercely and said, “Enough? I have barely gotten warmed up.”

With a challenging glance over his shoulder, he spurred his horse into another gallop. Alec pushed down any misgivings and followed him back to the Institute. Once there, they separated in order to change, and Alec found himself rather relieved that the limited wardrobe he had brought along made choosing the right clothes for sparring a rather simple task. Otherwise he feared he might have hesitated whether he was appropriately dressed, which was entirely ridiculous and would have made Izzy laugh until her corset burst.

As it was, he was first in the training room Jace had shown him earlier, and to take his mind off all silly fancies, Alec immediately began warming up with a sandbag. This only helped until Jace’s voice interrupted his rhythm, “I see you do not need my participation.”

Alec turned to find Jace leaning against the doorframe, and he was almost certain he did not imagine the appreciative glint in his eyes as they roamed over Alec’s body. Hoping the flush in his cheeks could be attributed to the exercise, Alec managed to reply evenly, “An opponent always provides more of a challenge. Unless the punching bag is possessed or bespelled.”

A bark of laughter escaped Jace. “That… is strangely specific. Please tell me there is a tale to go with this example.”

“That would be telling,” Alec teased, but he relented quickly when Jace pouted in an exaggerated fashion. “Alright, I will tell you, if you promise not to relay this story to anyone else. Maybe at another late supper tonight, when the guests have left?”

“Now I really need to hear this in detail - and of course I promise faithfully not to betray your confidence.” Jace suddenly sobered, but his voice remained warm. “Just as you have kept mine.”

“Of course.” Alec shook his head, unwilling to spoil the carefree mood, and grabbed the first weapons he could see, throwing them at Jace, who caught the battle axes with quick reflexes. “But are we going to stand here talking or are we going to spar?”

Twirling the axes with casual dexterity, Jace smirked and went along with Alec’s change of topic. “As you wish. Pick a weapon and let’s see who is the better fighter.”

Picking up a seraph blade, Alec grinned back, and without further ado they began circling each other. Alec often trained with others in order to keep his reflexes sharp, yet it soon became evident that he and Jace were evenly matched. Anticipating each other’s moves felt like the most natural thing in the world, as if they had sparred together for their whole lives, and for a while Alec forgot everything about their situation in the clash of blades.

Finally they ended up in a tight clinch, blade to blade, apparently at a stalemate. They were in such close quarters, Alec could hear Jace’s harsh breathing and feel the heat of his body, yet nothing affected him as much as the rueful smile on his face when Alec’s blade twisted around to tap his side. Following a will of their own, Alec’s eyes flickered down to Jace’s lips, and his voice sounded hoarse to his own ears when he asked, “Want to go hand-to-hand?”

They were close enough he could see Jace swallow hard, and Alec could no longer deny that his desire to continue sparring was mostly driven by the desire coursing hotly through his body. Eyes locked with his, Jace licked his lips and replied roughly, “I thought you’d never ask.”

Then he stepped away, but only to throw down his weapons and charge Alec, barely giving him time to brace himself. Jace was a ruthless fighter, fast and cool-headed, and Alec relished the challenge, felt himself rise to meet it. As before they were more than well-matched, exhilaration racing through Alec every time their bodies met, each anticipating where the other would be as they grappled, striking and ducking, weaving and rolling.

It was the sudden thought of how this would feel if they were connected with a parabatai bond that threw Alec off balance in the end. Unaware of the cause, Jace took the opening with a triumphant grin, pressing Alec into the ground, arm twisted behind his back. Despite the pain Alec’s gasps for breath were mostly due to the hot pleasure coiling in his belly at the sensation of Jace’s body pushing into his from behind.

He tapped out, biting back a moan when Jace chuckled, low and intimate, and the few seconds before he was released were of the sweetest agony. Even after he was free to move again, Alec remained prone for a moment longer, pressing his face against the cool, rough stone in hopes of cooling his ardour. Jace, too, stay seated close to him, hip pressed against Alec’s body, before clearing his throat and asking hoarsely, “I hope I did not injure you, A… Mr. Lightwood. I fear I was raised never to give quarter, not even in exercise.”

He had almost used Alec’s Christian name, and Alec wished that he had not corrected himself. However, status forbade him from extending such familiar address, so he got smoothly to his feet and offered Jace his hand instead. It was warm in his grip, calloused fingers wrapping around Alec’s, making his voice waver slightly as he replied, “Indeed not, Mr. Herondale. I would not want you to hold back, because I plan on besting you without reservation.”

“Well, you are very welcome to try.” Jace was slow to reclaim his hand, and they exchanged smiles of perfect understanding. Unfortunately there was no chance to continue, however; the young Shadowhunter from the last night, Lindsay, choosing this moment to interrupt with a message for Jace. Displaying a reluctance to leave that Alec found rather gratifying, Jace excused himself, “I do apologise, but I am still rather new at my post and this needs my attention.”

“Of course,” Alec nodded, suppressing his own disappointment. “The duties as Head of the Institute come first. I would not want you to neglect them.” Giving Jace one last smile, he said warmly, “I will see you at dinner.”

“Indeed.” Jace’s face brightened again. “And when everyone has left you still owe me that story.”

Walking back to his room to clean up, Alec was relieved not to run into anyone, because he was certain he was grinning rather foolishly. Even if he had to survive an awkward dinner with Clary Fairchild first. He still was not quite sure whether to forgive her for allowing herself to be separated from Izzy so easily.

In the end, however, Clary approached him with such an expression of warmth, he found it impossible not to smile at her when she inquired eagerly, “Please, how is dear Isabelle? Of all the exciting and wonderful things I experienced in Idris, her company is the one I miss the most here.” Shooting a quick glance at her mother, who had come in on Luke Garroway’s arm, and a young vampire who appeared much closer to the Fairchilds than to the dangerous-looking Baroness Belcourt, she added, “Not that I do not love being back. My mother is much happier when she is near Luke; Simon - Simon Lewis - is my oldest friend, and both of them were not allowed to visit Alicante.”

“Yes, the ban on Downworlders in Idris is… regrettable,” Magnus Bane interjected, not even pretending not to have eavesdropped on a private conversation. Shame was probably something immortal beings did not have much use for, Alec mused, fighting a blush when the warlock looked at him in a way that made him feel quite undressed.

Like all of the Shadowhunters present he had chosen not to wear his uniform, but now he found himself missing the protection it gave him. Squaring his shoulders, he met the High Warlock’s gaze head-on, quick to defend the Clave to outsiders: “Maybe so, but you have to understand the reasons behind it. During the Uprising…”

Before he could launch into a retelling of Valentine’s use of demons, he caught sight of Jace watching them from across the room and stopped himself. No need to bring up a subject painful to so many of people present. Instead he smiled at Clary, “Hopefully one day soon these restrictions can be lifted. You are not the only Shadowhunter with close ties to the Downworld.”

“Ah yes, how is dear Isabelle?” Meliorn, who had been one of Izzy’s early conquests, asked at this opening. Alec did not understand how his sister could enjoy the company of someone who might not be capable of lying but whose kind seemed to take an almost perverse pleasure in dissembling and playing with the truth. Still, he was friendly enough for a Seelie, and Alec willingly told him about his sister, always aware that Clary was listening to every word.

At the table Alec was seated between Clary and a flirtatious Magnus Bane, and opposite the formidable Camille Belcourt, whose relationship with the warlock appeared fraught, which left him wishing for easier dinner companions. Preferably Jace or Lydia, but following protocol the former’s seat was at the head of the table, with Lydia to his right, so Alec resigned himself to having to juggle the very different personalities of his neighbours. His mother’s rigorous training in etiquette and diplomacy proved very useful in this regard, and more than once he caught Jace giving him long, considering glances.

It made him long for dinner to be over and everyone to leave. Being with Jace was not exactly comfortable, unspoken words and emotions vibrating between them, but Alec much preferred this tension to having to fend off the advances of the High Warlock of Brooklyn while placating the head of the local vampire clan and keeping up a conversation with the girl who had broken his sister’s heart, yet who he found impossible to resent. Therefore he had to suppress a sigh of relief when dessert was over and Jace freed him from plight by saying, “Let us remove to the music room, where drinks will be served.”

Alec was aware that among mundanes ladies and gentlemen separated, yet that was not the case in the Shadow world, and he noticed that Clary whispered what appeared to be an explanation into her friend Simon’s ear, an indication that the latter was very newly turned. He wondered if Izzy knew more about Clary’s history - by all accounts she had not known that she was a Shadowhunter until very recently, yet her mother was apparently attached to a werewolf and her best friend was a vampire.

Before he could think of a way to ask, however, Clary moved away to approach Jace and ask eagerly, “Will you play for us, Jace?” Turning to the room, she explained proudly, “He is a wonderful pianist!”

Jace squirmed a little at the compliment, and Alec was immediately distracted from his earlier train of thought. Catching Jace’s eye, he said warmly, “It’s true, I have heard him play before.”

“You both exaggerate,” Jace demurred, a blush colouring his cheeks, but he agreed gracefully enough and sat down at the piano, choosing sheet music from a nearby table. Everyone else arranged themselves around the room, drinks or coffee in hand, with several of the men - and Camille Belcourt - lighting cigars and pipes. Alec stationed himself close to the piano, ignoring the amused smile on Lydia’s face.

He enjoyed listening to Jace’s fingers flying over the keys in a cheerful melody Alec did not recognise as much as he had the first time. More, probably, because he no longer felt as conflicted to admire something about the man he had despised so much at one time. Once again Jace appeared to get lost in the music, an unselfconscious smile turning his handsome features beautiful, and without pausing to think about it, Alec stepped closer until he was by Jace’s side. Blue-and-gold eyes flicked up to meet his, and whatever he saw on Alec’s face made him catch his breath, the music faltering.

Alec had not been lying when he told the Inquisitor that he had no great skill at the piano, yet his musical education had been thorough enough to enable him to find the spot Jace had lost. Nodding quietly, he pointed at the page, and Jace followed his finger and quickly picked up the pace again. His grateful smile left Alec breathless and slightly unsteady on his feet, and as if he could feel it, Jace scooted over a little, making room on the piano bench.

They probably appeared incredibly intimitate to those watching, but Alec could not make himself care about propriety. Without hesitation he sat down next to Jace, their sides pressing against each other out of necessity, a private bubble of their own making surrounding them as Jace continued playing. His entire body feeling warm all over, not just in the parts where they were touching, Alec began to turn the pages, feeling more than seeing the small, secret smile playing on Jace’s lips.

He was almost certain that Jace felt as reluctant as Alec to end the spell that was woven between them, not wanting this magical moment to end. End it had to, however, their audience breaking into applause when Jace finally finished playing, and only Alec noticed the moment it took for Jace to regain his composure before he stood up and bowed theatrically. Pulling Alec up, he said rather grandiously, “And please give a Mr. Lightwood here a hand. Without him this recital would have been much less pleasurable.”

His smile was for the benefit of the room, but his hand encircled Alec’s wrist, calloused fingers hot against his skin, and a shiver raced down Alec’s spine. Still, he managed a half-bow of his own, protesting politely, “You exaggerate, Mr. Herondale.”

“So much mutual appreciation, it quite warms the heart… Why don’t we agree that you were both amazing,” Magnus Bane interjected with a barely suppressed amused snort, breaking the mood. Instead of resenting the distraction, Alec was grateful, suddenly all too aware of the raw emotion bubbling much too close to the surface for such a public setting. It made him feel vulnerable, exposed, and from the way Jace released his wrist and quickly stepped away, he suspected it was a sensation the other man shared.

It did not mean that Alec was not still looking forward to their planned rendez-vous after the guests had left and Lydia retired; the latter pulling him aside to entreat him earnestly, “You deserve to be happy, Alec, but please be careful.”

“I always am,” Alec promised gently, knowing his friend only had his best interest at heart. And it was not as if all his doubts and misgivings about Jace Herondale had disappeared. He was not about to become his parabatai - he was not even sure he wanted Jace to repeat his proposal. There was still so much they did not know about each other. What he did know, however, was that he could not help the smile on his face when he followed Jace into his office.

Once there, instead of a return of the earlier tension, they found themselves chatting easily about the evening, Jace complimenting Alec on handling his challenging dinner companions, and Alec warmly returning the compliment. Jace’s efforts to work more closely with the Downworlders really were impressive, although Jace tried to downplay his part by crediting Clary and Jocelyn for a lot of it.

They were sitting next to each other, and Alec shook his head and impulsively reached out to touch Jace’s forearm. “You should not sell yourself short.”

Jace’s eyes fixed thoughtfully on the place where they were touching, and Alec selfconsciously began to pull back his hand, only to be stopped by Jace. Their eyes met, and Jace licked his lips before beginning to say quietly, “Alec, I…”

Alec’s wonder at hearing Jace say his Christian name was only eclipsed by his curiosity as to why he had used it, but before Jace was able to continue, an urgent knock on the door caused them to jerk apart abruptly. After collecting himself with a steadying breath, Jace called out, and much to their surprise it was Lydia who entered.

She apologised to Jace for the disturbance, but her eyes barely saw him, focusing on Alec instead. He knew something was seriously wrong even before she explained in a sad voice, “I just had news from Idris…”

She shot Jace a telling glance which Alec correctly interpreted, saying quietly, “Whatever it is, you can say it. I have the utmost confidence in J… Mr. Herondale’s discretion.”

“Of course.” Lydia nodded without further question, ever the diplomat, and continued with deep sympathy, “Alec, it’s your brother. Max… They found him dead. The suspect is Sebastian Verlac.”

The words reached Alec as if through a thick fog, their meaning barely penetrating. Max dead. It did not seem possible, and he found himself struggling for words, knowing there were things he was meant to say, to do, in light of such an unimaginable tragedy. Jace, on the other hand, had shot to his feet at the mention of the suspect, and Alec dimly realised that this was supposed to mean something, too.

Instead he just stared dumbly as Jace knelt in front of him. Where only moments before the touch of his hand had been warmth and comfort, now Alec just accepted it stiffly. Jace’s eyes bored into his, and he seemed to fight for words, but Alec did not have the capacity to divine what he might be thinking. Finally, he said in a low voice, “My greatest condolences to your family, Mr. Lightwood. I fear I have to leave, there is urgent business to take care of, but I trust Miss Branwell will take you back to Idris. I will leave orders that everything is to be done to aid you.”

Nodding mutely, Alec looked on numbly as Jace stood up and left with barely an apology to Lydia. Condolences were something else Alec would have to get used to, in this world in which Max no longer existed, and sorrow began to swallow him, so strong that he barely registered that Jace had called him by his last name again. That only hit him later, after Lydia had organised their hasty departure and he had been greeted by his family’s tear-stained faces as they stepped through the portal.

The moment he saw them, some of the fog lifted from Alec’s shoulders, realisation hitting him that he would have to be strong, to support them in their unbearable grief. After a fashion, being galvanised into action even helped, filling Alec with purpose, and he resolutely did not allow himself to dwell on everything that had happened in New York.

Max was sent off in traditional Shadowhunters fashion despite not having gone through his rune ceremony yet. Alec stared at the pire with dry eyes, one arm wrapped around Izzy, the other around his mother, who for the first time in his life appeared small and weak. His father, crying as openly as his wife and daughter, held himself apart, and if Alec had had any curiosity left, he might have wondered whether their youngest son’s death would spell the end of the Lightwood marriage.

As it was, he somehow made it through the ceremony without breaking down, but afterwards he found himself restless, unwilling to give into his emotions. His grief felt too vast, he was afraid that if he let go and let it spill into the open, he would never regain control. Instead he decided to seek refuge in physical activity, but he was paralysed trying to decide if he could go riding or boxing without remembering that glorious day with Jace, or whether he could bear to go to the shooting range, which would remind him of Max telling Seb… Jonathan proudly that Alec was the best archer in Idris.

Bitter bile rose in him at the memory, and he threw his bow to the ground angrily. Which was how Izzy found him, eyes still red-rimmed from tears, and with an agonised groan Alec buried his face in his hands and confessed, “I could have stopped this!”

“Whatever do you mean?” Izzy sat down next to him, face twisting into a worried frown, and rested a comforting hand on his shoulder.

Alec tried not to flinch away, feeling deeply undeserving of her kindness. “I knew who Sebastian Verlac really was, yet I chose not to expose him. And Max paid the price.”

“No, you do not get to shoulder the blame for this,” Izzy stated firmly, her eyes boring into him until Alec turned to look at her. “Unless you also blame me? We both agreed not to immediately expose Jonathan Morgenstern.”

“What? Of course not,” Alec exclaimed without hesitation. “There was no way for you to know that he had killed Sebastian Verlac when you went to visit Aline.”

Isabelle nodded and rested her head against Alec’s shoulder. “So if you don’t blame me, you cannot blame yourself. Max was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and there is only one person who is guilty of his death.”

“We will bring him to justice, Iz,” Alec vowed, although so far no trace of the fugitive had been found. He knew rationally that his sister was right, because he truly did not place any blame on her, just as he would never blame Max for being curious and trying to find Sebastian Verlac’s killer. He did not even blame Jace, for giving Jonathan Morgenstern the benefit of the doubt after the latter had set him free from Valentine. Still, Alec was not sure he would be able to forgive himself, certainly not before Max’s killer had been caught.

He had failed in his duty to his family, and in the days that followed the feeling of helplessness only intensified. Jonathan Morgenstern seemed to have disappeared without a trace, no matter how many resources the Clave used to try and locate him at the behest of the Inquisitor. There was no doubt in Alec’s mind that they had Jace to thank for Imogen Herondale’s support, even before she informed him that her grandson had provided them with an image of Jonathan Morgenstern’s true, demonic form.

However, although he had occasion to see her several times to coordinate the hunt, there was never any sign of Jace, and Alec told himself that he was not disappointed. Jace did not owe him anything, just because they had spent one pleasant day in each other’s company. Even before Alec had refused him, Jace had made it very clear that he did not truly want to connect himself with the Lightwoods, and Alec had witnessed for himself that he was building a life for himself in New York.

Alec’s place, on the other hand, was with his family, trying not to buckle under the weight of his grief that somehow did not appear to get any lighter with the passing of time. As hope of vengeance dwindled, Alec felt able to share some of his burden only in the company of Izzy, and to a lesser extent Lydia, who tried to spend as much time with them as her duties allowed. Even Aline came to visit, despite her own family’s loss, and Alec debated with himself whether to tell her about Jace’s letter. He knew what course of action Isabelle would counsel, yet a part of him feared that his choice not to confess owed more to a desire to spare himself than her.

Before he could come to a decision, however, a messenger from the Inquisitor reached them. His father’s shout summoned the entire family to his office, and when Aline hovered at the door, unsure of her welcome, Robert waved her inside.

“This concerns you just as much as us.” After a pregnant pause, he summarised the letter in four succinct words that shook everyone in the room to the core: “Jonathan Morgenstern is dead.”

Alec felt blindsided, and from the shocked faces around him he knew the others felt the same. It was Izzy who asked, “Dead? How?”

Robert shrugged. “It doesn’t say. The Inquisitor just sent word that a Shadowhunter tracked him down and killed him.”

Alec exchanged a look with Isabelle, seeing in her eyes the same conflicted emotions that made his own mind waver, caught between relief and a strange sense of loss. The hunt for Jonathan Morgenstern had given Alec purpose, and to have that purpose ripped away so unceremoniously… He was unsure how to proceed from this point.

“Is there a body?” Maybe seeing proof that Max’s murderer had reaped his just desserts would give him the peace of mind the simple knowledge did not. However, in this he was also fated to be disappointed, because his father once more shook his head after perusing the letter again. It seemed that Jonathan Morgenstern had been killed and then fallen into a river, which carried his body away.

The Inquisitor appeared to understand that for the families of Jonathan Morgenstern’s victims any detail was valuable, a fact that surprised Alec a little. Imogen Herondale had never struck him as particularly compassionate. Unfortunately no amount of detail could provide Alec with the closure he craved, and as he pulled a crying Izzy into a tight embrace he realised that knowing Jonathan Morgenstern had followed his victims into death would have to suffice. Meeting Aline’s eyes, dry but red-rimmed with tears shed in private, Alec hoped that time might indeed prove to be the healer people claimed it was.

Unsurprisingly Aline took her leave of the Lightwoods that very day, wanting to be with her family, and while Alec still felt conflicted for not having told her the whole truth about Jonathan Morgenstern, something like normalcy returned to their lives. There was a gaping hole where Max used to be, his undaunted spirit and cheeky smile, leaving their family forever changed, incomplete, yet it also drew them together.

Still, when Izzy found Alec in the stables one day a few weeks later, he was struck by the happiness on her face, the shadows that had been haunting her banished for the time being. She was holding a letter clutched to her breast, and before Alec could inquire as to its contents, she exclaimed, “Clary just wrote - she is returning to Idris!”

“That is good news indeed!” They had not spoken of Clary since his return from New York, preoccupied with graver matters, yet it seemed that all the while Isabelle had carried on caring for the redheaded Fairchild girl. Alec wondered what had changed, why Clary had resumed an acquaintance so unceremoniously disrupted, and quickly diverted his thoughts when they unavoidably traveled to Jace. Instead he asked, “Is her mother coming with her?”

“No, she stayed in New York with Luke Garroway. Clary says you met him?” Isabelle looked up from the letter that she kept reading and rereading, and Alec forced himself not to blush or look away. It was ridiculous that the mere mention of his time in Brooklyn could affect him so, and he made sure to tell Izzy about the New York Institute in as passionless a manner as possible. Luckily she was preoccupied, asking with uncharacteristic uncertainty, “Do you think she will come to see me? Maybe she just wants to visit the Inquisitor.”

Alec actually laughed at this. “She would not have written to you otherwise. Face it, Iz, in a few days Clary will be here, and you might actually have to do something about this fancy of yours… unless you want her to leave again.”

“You’re right,” Isabelle replied, ignoring Alec’s teasing tone completely. Obviously coming to a decision she gave him a quick hug before whirling around, determination in every line of her body. Before leaving, she called over her shoulder, “Thanks, big brother!”

Not even her use of the now-loaded word brother could stop Alec from smiling after her in bafflement. Never had he seen his sister like this, but if he knew anything, he knew that Clary Fairchild would not stand a chance against whatever charm offensive Izzy was planning. If he wondered what it might mean if Clary were to be his sister-in-law, he very studiously did not consider whether it would bring him into contact with her adopted brother.

As it was, he did not have to wonder long, because the very day of her arrival Clarissa Fairchild came to see them, flaunting all conventions - and with her came the aforementioned, looking as strikingly handsome as ever in his riding gear. Flustered, Alec focused his attention instead on the two ladies, who were smiling at each other as if not a day had passed since the ball at Herondale Manor.

A warm chuckle brought his focus immediately back to Jace, however. His face showed same fondness for the sight before them that Alec felt, no sign of his previous misgivings visible, not even when Clary shyly asked Isabelle to show her the gardens. The moment the two had left the room, Jace’s demeanour sobered, although his eyes still shone with genuine warmth.

“How are you, Mr. Lightwood? You and your family have suffered such a grievous loss, I hope you do not feel Clary and I are intruding.”

Alec had wasted too much time trying to remember the exact measure of gold in Jace’s blue eyes, and now all he could do was clear his throat and say with too much alacrity, “No, of course not. I… We are glad you have come.” Gathering his wits about him, he managed to deadpan with a quirked eyebrow, “Isabelle especially, of course.”

Jace regarded him quizzically for a moment, before obviously deciding that Alec was not alluding to his interference in Izzy’s and Clary’s relationship. Relaxing, he smiled and said in a low, intimate voice that most definitely did not affect Alec’s heart rate in any way, “Your sister cannot possibly have matched Clary’s enthusiasm at the prospect of a reunion.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Alec replied, and they shared a laugh that loosened a part of Alec that had been tense for weeks. Ever since New York, if he was honest with himself, and while being in Jace’s presence now did not erase his ever-present grief, it did assuage it somewhat. He was gripped by the urge to share some of this with Jace, and from the way the other man was regarding him, he was almost certain his confession would be welcome.

However, before he could find the words, they were interrupted by Izzy and Clary bursting into the room. They were holding hands, both of them glowing with excitement and happiness. Letting go of the redhead long enough to fling her arms around Alec, Isabelle exclaimed, “I’m getting married, Alec!”

Alec hugged her back without reservations while Jace did the same with Clary, congratulating the couple. Alec echoed his well-wishes and was promptly embraced by his prospective sister-in-law. After stiffening for a second, he consciously relaxed, figuring he should try and get used to the redhead’s enthusiastic nature.

Any hope he might have had of speaking to Jace privately was gone after this, of course, as the news was shared with Maryse and Robert, who only hesitated a moment before accepting the inevitable with good grace. Isabelle had never been interested in a parabatai bond, and a Fairchild was an entirely respectable matrimonial option, even if she was Valentine’s daughter. Understandably enough Clary also wanted to tell her mother in person, so she and Jace departed for Brooklyn with promises of returning soon.

However, they had only been gone for two days when another Herondale made a surprise appearance at the Lightwood estate. Ignoring all conventions of polite society, the Inquisitor came without advance notice, and when an astonished Robert asked her to come into the study while he got his wife, she waved him off. Pointing at Alec, she ordered, “You will accompany me on a round of the gardens, Mr. Lightwood.”

Alec and Robert exchanged a puzzled glance, but the Inquisitor was not one to be disobeyed. Confused, Alec led her outside, trying to figure out what might have prompted the uncharacteristic rudeness in the normally so correct Imogen Herondale. He did not have to guess for long, because they curtly, “You must know why I have come.”

“Indeed, ma’am, I do not,” Alec responded, instinctively assuming parade rest in the face of authority, no matter how confused he was.

The look she gave him could only be described as a glare. “Do not dissemble, Mr. Lightwood. I cannot abide pretense.” When Alec only stared at her, unsure how to respond to such an accusation, her voice rose, “You must know that I am here because of my grandson.”

Jace? Alec tried to remain impassive, but some of his surprise must have shown on his face, because Imogen Herondale unbent enough to explain, “It has come to my attention that you plan to bind yourself to my grandson. You must know that such a course of action is entirely out of the question.”

“Is it?” Alec fought the urge to laugh, the entire situation striking him as increasingly ridiculous. “In that case you know more than I do, Madam Inquisitor.”

“Jace is not only my blood, he is the only surviving Herondale heir. It is impossible that the son of Circle members should ever become his parabatai!” There was no hiding her fury now, yet despite her formidable presence, Alec felt surprisingly calm.

Shifting his weight slightly, he chose his words carefully, “If it is impossible, then I do not see what reasons you have for your… ambush.”

“Ambush? You are impertinent,” Imogen accused him with a raised finger, and still Alec did not flinch. “I have come to get your word of honour that you will not become my grandson’s parabatai.”

“I will do no such thing.” For such a small woman, the Inquisitor loomed large, but Alec squared his shoulders and stared her down.

Something she saw in his eyes made Imogen change her tactics a little. “Must I remind you that you owe him? He hunted down Jonathan Morgenstern, you should repay him by freeing him to form a more suitable attachment.”

Jace had been the one to find and kill Max’s killer? The knowledge hit Alec like a blow to the head, yet he set it aside firmly and focused on the Inquisitor instead, who was still waiting for his response. “I do not share your opinion on our suitability, I fear. I might be the son of ex-Circle members, but Jace was raised as the son of Valentine Morgenstern himself. In this we are equal. The Herondales are one of the foremost families in Shadowhunter society, but the Lightwoods are also an old and honourable house. In this, too, we are equal, and in any case, I would not consider status an impediment to a parabatai bond.”

“You are then determined to have him and bring him into disgrace?” the Inquisitor accused him, and again Alec had to suppress a disbelieving laugh.

“I have said no such thing,” he stated firmly. “I am simply stating that I will not give you the assurance you demand because a parabatai bond with your grandson, should he wish it, would bring no dishonour on either of us.”

Eyes blazing with anger, Imogen Herondale stalked away to where her carriage was waiting. Alec quickly followed her, and she gave him another furious look before hissing, “You will come to regret your obstinacy, Mr. Lightwood. I assure you, my grandson will be amenable to my reasons, and you will have gained nothing by your sister scheming her way into a marriage with Clarissa Fairchild.” Stepping into the waiting carriage, she added icily, “I do not bid you goodbye, Mr. Lightwood. You do not deserve such attention.”

At any other time, being the object of the Inquisitor’s wrath would have intimidated Alec, but now he simply stood by the side of the road and saw her off without blinking. In all likelihood Imogen Herondale was right and he would never become Jace’s parabatai. He had probably just ruined his career, yet he felt he could not have behaved differently. Setting his jaw, he turned to go back inside. He was a Lightwood, he would face the consequences of his actions the way he had been raised to.

Right away this meant telling his parents why the Inquisitor had just interrogated him in their garden. After a moment’s hesitation Alec chose to share at least part of the truth with them, that the Inquisitor had come to the conclusion that an attachment had formed between himself and Jace Herondale, mistaken as that impression might have been, and had come to warn him off. He expected reprimands, maybe even outrage that he had disgraced the family name, yet as with Izzy’s choice to marry Clary, his parents accepted his explanation with surprising grace.

What surprised him most, however, was the look of pride in Maryse’s eyes, as if Max’s death had softened her a little, or at least changed her priorities and ambitions. Giving him a smile full of understanding, she said softly, “You stood your ground because it was the right thing to do. Jonathan Herondale probably does not deserve you, but you have become the kind of man anyone could be proud to call parabatai.”

“Jace, he goes by Jace,” Alec choked out, not wanting to have Jace’s name associated with Max’s killer. “And he is the one who brought Jonathan Morgenstern to justice, although I did not know this before today.”

Although unintended, following this announcement there were no more questions about Alec’s and Jace’s relationship, and Alec was relieved, because he would not have known how to answer them. He only knew that he could not have acted any differently, and that was what he told Izzy later, the smile on his face feeling only mildly forced as he said, “In all likelihood any interactions with Jace Herondale will be restricted to your nuptials, dear sister, because the Inquisitor will probably make sure I get sent to Wrangel Island.”

He could not muster up too much in the way of apprehension at the prospect, although that would likely change once the wedding was over and Izzy had moved to Brooklyn. For the time being Alec was content to help his sister prepare, which proved to be an excellent way to occupy his mind.

Returning from town after yet another a wedding-related errand, he noticed the Herondale carriage in front of the house. He smiled, thinking that Clary had come for a visit, only to stop short when instead he spied Jace nervously pacing in the garden. It reminded Alec of seeing him through the window of Herondale Manor on the day of his ill-fated proposal, and his stomach did a slow flip. Keeping his voice steady, he said softly, “Mr. Herondale. I did not expect to see you before the big day.”

“A… Mr. Lightwood!” Jace whipped around, a myriad of emotions flickering over his expressive face before settling on a smile that did nothing to calm Alec’s stomach. “I… there was a question I wanted to ask you, and it requires privacy, something we most definitely will not have during the festivities.”

“Our sisters certainly appear to have their hearts set on inviting everyone they know,” Alec interjected, suddenly nervous. They were standing close to each other, and once again he found himself captivated by Jace’s presence. “As it stands, I am exceedingly glad to see you. I have wanted to thank you in person ever since learning of that your hand slew Max’s killer. My family is deeply in your debt.”

Jace’s eyes darkened, and he shook his head decisively. “Your family owes me nothing. I did not mean for you to know of my deed. Jonathan was my responsibility, and I only wish I would have brought him to justice sooner, before he showed his true colours in such a horrific and unforgivable fashion.”

“You did not want to kill him when you thought him reformed, that is only to your credit,” Alec argued. “Please, do accept my family’s gratitude.”

Shaking his head once more, Jace visibly set his jaw. “I do not want your family’s gratitude, for I did not do this for them. If anything, I did it for you. Alec…” His name was barely more than an exhale from Jace’s mouth, and Alec could feel his heart beat a strange gallop, even before Jace continued softly, “I will only ask this once, and after this it will never again cross my tongue. But I need to know: do you still feel the same way you did when I asked you to be my parabatai? Because on my part...” Jace paused, and Alec took a shuddering breath. “My affection and wishes for you remain unchanged.”

Relief flooded Alec, and he laughed helplessly. He could see that Jace had not expected this reaction and quickly explained, “On the contrary. My feelings for you have undergone a great change since that day. As a matter of fact, they are… quite the opposite from what they were then.”

They stared into each other’s eyes, both struggling to believe that they had somehow managed to find their way to this point. Later, Alec would be unable to say who moved first, and it did not matter in any case. All that mattered was that they were in each other’s arms, exchanging kisses that made him tremble. By the time they broke apart, Jace’s cheeks were flushed and his eyes were shining, and he was the most beautiful thing Alec had ever seen.

Resting his forehead against Alec’s, vulnerability naked on his features despite their intimate position, Jace asked in a hoarse half-whisper, “Alec, will you be my parabatai?”

“Jace... it will be an honour,” Alec replied firmly, jubilantly, and pulled Jace into another embrace. When they separated for a breath of air, he asked the one thing that had been puzzling him: “What made you decide to ask me again?”

“My grandmother.” Jace smirked, and when Alec frowned in confusion, he went on to explain, “She told me of your meeting and how you reacted. I suspect she wanted to put me off by mentioning your disrespect, but instead… instead she taught me to hope.”

Alec felt as if his heart was full enough to burst. Gazing into Jace’s smiling eyes, he wondered how he could have ever thought him conceited and arrogant. Jace fit warm and familiar into Alec’s arms, into his heart, and Alec could not wait to bind himself to him, body and soul.

***

Epilogue

As unlikely as Alec would have considered this event even a few weeks ago, once he had agreed to become parabatai to Jace Herondale, he could not wait for the day when they bound their lives, their very souls together. Before this could occur, however, they had to inform their families and prepare for what was one of the most sacred ceremonies in the life of a Nephilim.

Alec knew he did not have to fear disapproval on part of his parents and Isabelle -- on the contrary, he feared a return of his parents’ mercenary spirit, which had been so off-putting to Jace in the early days of their acquaintance. He also felt confident that Clary was going to approve of their bond, possibly even match Isabelle’s enthusiasm, which left only Jace’s grandmother, who had made her opinion so well-known to Alec and Jace both.

Surprisingly, it was Jace who reacted with greater anxiety as they approached Herondale Manor with the intention of breaking their news to the Inquisitor. Grabbing Alec’s hand tightly, he growled, “If she insults you again…”

“If she insults me, you will not to anything rash,” Alec soothed him with a smile and a quick caress against his cheek. “We do not need her approval, and she won’t risk the Clave’s censure by punishing us openly. Parabatai bonds are something to be treasured - even parabatai bonds with the son of ex-Circle members.”

Jace took a few calming breaths, his smile small but reaching his eyes. “You are right. We will live in New York, and if she wants to have a relationship with her only heir, she will just have to accept that you are a part of me.” Leaning in for a kiss, he added warmly, “You are a marvel, Alec Lightwood, and I will challenge anyone who speaks against you.”

“I can fight my own battles, thank you,” Alec chuckled, pleased in spite of himself, and reluctantly tore himself away, their carriage having reached their destination. Ever since he had accepted Jace’s proposal, he felt as if nothing in the world could hurt him, and he found himself facing the Inquisitor with equanimity.

As it turned out, she received them coldly but with perfect politeness, obviously having divined the purpose of their visit. Jace did not mince words, introducing Alec as his parabatai-to-be, and stating in a firm but not unsympathetic tone, “Grandmother, I know you do not approve, but I will bind myself to Alec Lightwood as soon as it is convenient. Your approval and presence at the ceremony are not required -- but they would please me very much.”

Imogen Herondale regarded them with hard eyes, her face unreadable. Suddenly, her entire demeanour changed, softened to a degree that Alec had never before witnessed in the formidable lady, and she said softly, “I will not repeat the mistakes I made with my son, your father. Jace, if you truly desire such a bond with Mr. Lightwood, I will not stand in your way. It will be my honour to attend your parabatai ceremony.”

Next to him, Jace stiffened at the mention of his father, visibly overcome with emotion. Alec had only heard rumours of what had happened to Stephen Herondale, but he knew that Jace had never known his parents. Disregarding propriety, he reached out, squeezing Jace’s hand gently, and replied in his stead, “Thank you, ma’am. From both of us.”

They did not stay long after this, and while Imogen still treated Alec with stiff formality, he felt hopeful that this would change in time. Not that it particularly mattered to him, but he knew what having family, someone who was related to him by blood, a connection to his parents, meant to Jace. It shocked him, how easily he could read him now, and he could not help but wonder what it would be like when they were shared a parabatai bond.

Already he felt reluctant to be separated, but duty called Jace back to New York for a few days, and as much as Alec would have liked to accompany him, custom forbade their cohabitation until after the ceremony. This struck Alec as somewhat ridiculous, considering that no one had thought twice of his presence in New York before. However, when he mentioned this to Jace, his parabatai-to-be laughed throatily. “During your previous visit I was not yet free to do this…”

With this Jace swung around and straddled Alec, his eyes full of such hunger, it made Alec shiver. His hands moving seemingly of their own volition, he slid them down Jace’s back until they came to rest on his hips, anchoring him in place. They were both breathing hard despite not having done anything, until Alec broke the tension by pulling his intended into a passionate kiss. Jace groaned and opened up to him, and they explored each other’s mouths deeply and thoroughly. Jace a hot weight against him, heat spread through Alec’s body, and he had rarely been more grateful for a closed carriage as in this moment.

As it was, it was only the sudden cessation of movement that roused them from their increasingly heated clinch, and Alec let his head fall against the wall with a thud, the dull pain serving to distract him from the clamouring of his body. Looking up into Jace’s flushed face, he chuckled ruefully. “I concede your point.”

“It was difficult enough not to get distracted by you before, now I fear I would be entirely incapable of performing my duties.” Grinning, Jace lifted himself off Alec’s lap, yet neither one of them made any motion to exit their vehicle, both needing a moment to compose themselves. Alec studiously avoided looking at Jace, all too aware of the other man’s proximity. When he felt confident that he had his baser urges in check, he risked a glance to the side, only to find himself the object of intense scrutiny. Realising that he had been caught, Jace tilted his head and explained ruefully, “I am trying to commit you to memory. Rationally, I know that we will only be separated for a short while, yet I find myself reluctant to leave. This feeling is entirely unfamiliar -- but not unwelcome.”

“I share your predicament,” Alec admitted, covering Jace’s hand with his own. “Therefore I think it is best if we say our farewells now and that I not accompany you to the portal chamber. Appearances must be upheld.”

“Always so sensible, it is entirely aggravating,” Jace grumbled, but there was no bite to it, and after another lingering kiss he climbed out of the carriage while Alec remained within. Forcing himself not to follow Jace’s retreating form with his eyes, Alec leaned back and directed the driver to take him home. There were many preparations to make before they could take their oath.

He was rather grateful that at least he was spared the pomp and ceremony of a wedding, but there were still formalities to be observed. Especially when one of the prospective parabatai was the Herondale heir. Having agreed to their union, Imogen Herondale insisted on the ceremony being held in Alicante, with witnesses from all the foremost Clave families. Unsurprisingly Maryse was beside herself with excitement, and Alec began to see his hopes for a simple, understated affair disappear, when Izzy suggested that they hold the ceremony on the same day as her wedding.

“This way you get your parabatai without fuss, and afterwards we can have a proper celebration with everyone.” Forestalling Alec’s objections, she teased, “Don’t worry, big brother, no one will pay attention to you with Clary and myself in the room. You say your oath, we get married, everyone forgets about you, and you can run off after observing the minimal amount of social niceties.” She paused and amended, “Well, maybe you will have to dance one dance.”

One dance Alec could deal with, so after conferring with Jace, they agreed to the joint festivities. For Alec, the day could not arrive soon enough. He did not enjoy being separated from Jace, although they tried their best to steal private moments in between Jace’s duties in New York and the trials they had to undergo in preparation to becoming parabatai. Actually, Alec did not mind these tests very much -- the training and battle exercises with Jace were exhilarating, and as their one previous sparring session had shown, they were well-matched.

Not embarrassing himself by giving in to his body’s urges when Jace was pressed against him in a tight clinch proved to be the biggest challenge. Alec had always prided himself on the mastery he had over his passions, yet as it turned out, there simply had not been anyone to provoke them the way a simple touch from Jace could. He suddenly had a much better understanding for what he had always considered the Downworlders’ weakness -- with Jace next to him, all tightly coiled strength and bright eyes, he wanted nothing more than to follow his impulses.

At least he knew himself not to be alone in this predicament when, after they had passed their last trial with flying colours, Jace barely waited to find a quiet corner to back him against the wall. He was flushed with excitement, and Alec could feel him firming against his thigh, his own body answering in kind. Fingers twisted into the front of Alec’s shirt, Jace rocked forward, both of them groaning at the friction. Their mouths fused in a kiss that was tinged with urgency, both of them all too aware that the constraints of location and time forbade them to give into the heat building between them.

“Only a few more days.” Jace sounded almost as desperate as Alec felt when he tore himself away, resting his forehead against Alec’s. Nodding in agreement, Alec took a few steadying breaths and suddenly found himself chuckling in wry amusement at their predicament. Ever since he had promised himself to Jace, laughter came easier than it had in a long, long time, and he only wished Max could have been alive to see it.

He experienced a similar surge of wistfulness as he lay awake on the eve of the ceremony. Aware that in the next room Izzy was likely as unable to sleep as he was, he considered spending their last night in their parents’ home in her company. However, he had only just stepped into some old breeches, soft and comfortable with wear, and was tugging in his shirt tails, when a sound from the window drew his attention.

Opening the curtains, the candlelight made the familiar gold of his intended’s hair shine, and Alec let him in with a helpless smile on his face. Having just easily scaled the side of the house, Jace obviously did not require his aid to enter, but he grasped Alec’s hand tightly and did not let go after climbing inside. Alec used it to pull him closer, and Jace came easily, fitting himself into Alec’s arms and grinning up at him. Shaking his head fondly, Alec asked with mock-censure, “What are you doing here, Jace? This really is most unseemly.”

“Do you want me to go?” Laughing unrepentantly, Jace pressed himself closer, and Alec could not suppress a shiver. A reply seeming entirely superfluous, he instead cupped Jace’s face in his hand and kissed him, soft and sweet. Jace immediately melted into the caress, lifting himself onto his toes in a way that Alec found simultaneously endearing and enticing, and their kiss deepened.

If he’d struggled to find sleep before, now he was fully awake, his entire body beginning to thrum in anticipation. Jace’s tongue flicked at his mouth, and Alec opened to him eagerly, not even pretending to keep up the appearance of propriety any longer. Rationally he was aware that they only had to hold out one more night, but the past few weeks had stretched his self-control to the limits.

Therefore, instead of disentangling himself from Jace’s hands, which were currently busy pushing Alec’s suspenders down his arms, he began directing them towards his bed. Unsurprisingly Jace did not protest but went more than willingly, and Alec tasted the triumphant curve of his grin with his tongue. To Alec, this only served as further enticement, and he slid his hands down Jace’s back and unceremoniously hoisted him up, depositing him on the mattress.

This elicited a startled laugh and two strong arms firmly pulling him down, Jace’s fervour increasing when Alec’s body came to cover his. Alec, too, felt growing ardour, a part of him still caught in a feeling of disbelief that he was truly experiencing this, that he actually had Jace arching underneath him in his bed, all hungry kisses and eager hands.

Alec had never indulged in the pleasures of the flesh, except on his own, yet there was no room for hesitation in the space between their bodies, which seemed to recognise each other by touch. Every point of contact lit Alec on fire, and he interrupted the never-ending series of kisses to unceremoniously rid Jace of his coat and shirt, his own shirt following them onto the floor, leaving them both bare-chested and regarding each other with naked appreciation.

The candlelight made Jace appear golden, spread out on Alec’s white sheets, yet what left Alec dry-mouthed was the look in his captivating mismatched eyes. While Alec knew himself to be not exactly repugnant, no one had ever looked at him in this fashion, as if he was a gift from the Angel himself. It made his stomach flutter excitedly, and he found himself crossing his arms bashfully, shifting to hide how much Jace’s regard was affecting him physically.

“Don’t hide from me,” Jace ordered gently, seemingly able to read Alec’s mind, giving him a smile that was at once reassuring and teasing. “I have dreamed of this moment for a considerable amount of time.”

“So have I,” Alec admitted, letting his arms drop. Throwing all remaining scruples overboard, he quickly rid himself off his breeches, forcing himself to meet Jace’s heated gaze head-on as he knelt back onto the bed completely nude. Licking his lips, he added in a playful challenge, “I believe it’s your turn, Mr. Herondale.”

Grinning widely, Jace complied immediately, and Alec drank in the sight of all that bare flesh, well-muscled and hard. His eyes tracked over Jace’s skin, involuntarily drawn to the rising column between his legs, and Alec could feel his own flesh, already well-primed from before, respond in kind. Then they were kissing again, two naked bodies entwined on Alec’s bachelor bed, writhing together as if they’d been waiting for each other all their lives.

Alec was lost to sensation, to the feeling of Jace rubbing against him, his steady hands coaxing him to the highest pleasures, the warmth of his mouth leaving no room for shyness or qualms. Fire burning in his belly, Alec let himself go, discovering Jace’s eager responses to his own caresses, his breathless gasps when Alec leaned down to taste the essence of his intended, the way their bodies fit together perfectly as they both found themselves overwhelmed, trembling in each other’s arms.

By unspoken agreement they decided to wait with the ultimate intimacy until after they had been joined by the parabatai bond, yet Alec doubted that this night could have been any more wonderful than when Jace tenderly cleaned them both of the traces of their union with a damp cloth. Never before had Alec shared his bed with someone who wasn’t a sibling in need of consolation, but as everything in that night, it felt completely natural to fall asleep with his arms around his intended, Jace’s golden head resting trustingly on his shoulder.

In the morning, Jace slipped out of Alec’s window after a lingering kiss that rather tested their resolve to wait with further caresses. However, they both had to get ready for the ceremony and thus reluctantly separated. Luckily not for long, and a few hours later Alec batted away Izzy’s hands, as she attempted to straighten his necktie one last time on the steps to the hall of ceremonies under the fond eyes of his parents.

Inside, he could see Jace’s family, blood and chosen, although Luke and Simon would only join them for the wedding later on that day, alongside every prominent Shadowhunter able to travel to Alicante and representatives of all Downworld races. Alec and Jace definitely owed Izzy and Clary for sparing them this rigmarole. Instead they had the privilege of entering the sun-flooded hall with only those closest to them in attendance.

Taking a deep breath, Alec nodded at his family and Lydia before directing all his attention to the man awaiting him in the centre of the circle. Jace was smiling at him, a glow of true happiness suffusing his eyes, offering him his hand, his very soul, and Alec did not hesitate. It had been a long journey, with a destination he had never dreamed of, but it had brought him where he belonged. Home.

Alec clasped Jace's hand and blue fire erupted around them.

***

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