The Cost of Eros

Author's Note: For BlazersEtc for the Jalec Secret Santa 2018 - a bit of an experiment, using an omniscient narrator instead of a POV, and surprisingly smutless by my standards - I hope you like it anyway, dear! I'd already started this when the new Shadowhunters novel was released, and while I haven't read it, I tried to incorporate what I could learn about the parabatai curse by googling.

"One-sided love, a crush even, all that seems to pass by the rule—but real, requited, romantic love? It had a terrible cost."

- Cassandra Clare, Lady Midnight

"Perhaps being parabatai was a weakness that could trap you. But so was any kind of love, and if love was a weakness, it was a strength too."

- Cassandra Clare, Queen of Air and Darkness

"I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun."

- Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice

The first time it happened, neither of them noticed.

They had been tracking a particularly nasty Greater Demon for several days and were both teetering on the brink of exhaustion, because there was only so much Stamina and Endurance runes could do. The demon had led them on a merry chase, disappearing and reappearing constantly, never giving them time to rest. However, they were getting closer, having pursued the demon to a scrap yard on Long Island, and when Alec's sharp eyes spotted a scrap of fabric caught on a piece of metal, they knew they'd finally caught a break.

Activating their parabatai tracking came as natural as breathing, and they both fell into it easily, letting the fabric show them the demon's location while they stared into each other's eyes. Tired as he was, Alec couldn't quite suppress the familiar shiver of want as he lost himself in Jace's nearness, the firmness of his grip, the warmth of his soul never laying more open to him than when they connected like this.

He could feel an image forming in their minds, until it suddenly lit up like a beacon, sharper and clearer than even parabatai tracking. The demon was hiding in the far corner of the scrap yard, preparing to summon portal, but they should be able to make it before he disappeared on them again. Sharing a relieved look, they separated and took up the trail again, confident that the end of this hunt was finally in sight.

Neither one paid any heed to the fact that for a second the light surrounding their clasped hand had turned magic-blue.

Then the dreams started, vivid images that left them shaken and confused. Jace would wake with a start, his body seeming to hum with energy and memories that weren't his. He was also almost painfully hard, making it impossible for him to settle back down until he slid his hands down his chest to jerk himself to completion. It never took more than a couple of strokes before he fell apart, while at the same time, alone in his room, Alec cursed his treacherous mind for teasing him with snatches of Jace's hands caressing him. Pushing down the urge to touch himself, he instead jumped into the shower, hoping to douse his body's demands in ice-cold water.

He'd thought he'd left the worst of this behind, yet here he was, haunted by his parabatai's eyes, his lips and touch in ways that were not only impossible but forbidden. At first he hoped it was a one-off, but the dreams kept returning - and while Alec could never remember any details, they were always, always about Jace. More than once he woke with his parabatai's name on his lips, already spilling himself like the lovesick teenager he used to be, always followed by a sense of shame.

It took Jace a while longer before the vague impressions of someone holding him, caressing him, solidified into more corporeal form. First hands, broad and long-fingered, undeniably male, playing Jace's body like an instrument, making him gasp and writhe. Then there was a tall body pressed against him, unfamiliar with its flat planes and hard muscles and yet with a presence as familiar as Jace's own soul. It should have shocked him, to have his parabatai invade his dreams in this manner, and in a way it did, but at the same time it felt like the most natural thing in the world. Which was what frightened Jace more than the erotic nature of his dreams.

They were doing so good, him and Alec, having rebuilt their bond after Sebastian and Lilith, turning to each other as their respective relationships fell apart. It had taken Jace a while to put things together, but in the end he realized that Alec's attempts to rescue Jace from Lilith's clutches had indirectly led to Magnus walking away. Guilt was a familiar companion by now, the owl's deeds haunting him still, but this had hit him especially hard, because it had been accompanied by a spark of quickly squashed joy that his parabatai had chosen him.

The only victim of Lilith's machinations Jace felt even guiltier about was Clary, because after he'd come back to himself, he'd come to the bitter realization that Magnus's anti-love potion was still in effect. He'd tried his hardest, yet despite his efforts he'd been unable to resurrect the fledgling love he'd felt for the redhead that had upended his life so thoroughly. She'd felt it, of course, even when he'd attempted to convince them both that things could go back to the way they'd been before, and in the end he'd owed her the truth, no matter how painful.

Now Jace found himself stealing glances at Alec's hands when they wrapped around his bow, steady and strong, at his tongue when it darted out to wet his lips, left them glistening invitingly. Jace firmly reigned in his wandering thoughts, forced his attention elsewhere, and completely missed the flush in Alec's cheeks as his eyes kept being drawn back to his parabatai. A strain returned to their bond that hadn't been there since before Alec's almost-wedding, one they both tried their best to pretend wasn't there.

It made it easy to overlook what happened next.

It was a fight like any other, Jace with Izzy in the thick of it down in the alley while Alec had taken to higher ground on a fire escape, arrows embedding themselves in their targets, keeping Jace and Izzy's backs free from Moloch demons. The battle was moving down the alley, and Alec risked losing his vantage point. He readied himself to jump to the next building, when every instinct inside him started screaming.

Without thinking he twisted around, Seraph blade already in hand, and the demon that had snuck up on him turned into dust. Shrugging, Alec holstered his sword and turned his attention back to the battle, only pausing to exchange a quick nod with Jace, who'd watched from the ground. Activating his sure-footed rune Alec made the jump he'd planned, while Jace decapitated another demon. Both of them were too preoccupied with the task at hand to wonder how exactly Alec had known what happened behind his back, right in Jace's line of sight.

With both them trying their hardest to pretend that nothing had changed between them, it was probably unsurprising that Izzy was the one to address the issue, always in tune with her brothers.

"Everything okay with you and Jace?" she asked bluntly, after cornering Alec in his office. She parked herself on his desk, ignoring his pointed glare. "You're not fighting, are you?"

"What? No!" Alec replied just a bit too quickly. He added more slowly, "Seriously, we're fine, Izzy. We've just both been very busy running the Institute while the Clave tries to sort itself out."

Jace had in fact been acting as Alec's second-in-command, albeit inofficially, because things in Alicante were rather unsettled in the wake of the Circle purgings and Imogen's death. Still, Izzy seemed disinclined to accept Alec's excuse. "It's not that. There's a… distance between you, almost as if you're both holding back. I thought you'd fixed things after Lilith?"

"We have," Alec insisted, but couldn't stop himself from inquiring, "but what do you mean, both of us?"

Of course Izzy pounced on this opening. "So you admit that you've been behaving differently! It's not just you, though, I would swear on it." Seeing Alec's obvious discomfort, she prodded more gently, "Alec, please, I'm just worried about you - both of you. Jace is still haunted by his time as the owl, he's so fragile, and you-- you don't always have to shoulder the weight of the world, big brother. I just want you two to be happy. And that's impossible unless things are good between you, you know that as well as I do."

"Yeah." Sighing, Alec rubbed his forehead, slumping forward in his chair as he admitted defeat. Looking up, he met his sister's gaze, warm with understanding. "Iz, I don't know what you think you've seen with Jace, but I… I've been struggling." He swallowed and forced the words out: "I really thought I was over it, but recently, it's like no time has passed, and I'm still the boy afraid to become parabatai with his best friend."

They both knew what he was referring to, and Izzy's face softened even further, sharing her brother's pain. In a small voice that made him sound much younger, Alec asked, "Do you think he knows and that's why he's pulled away? If your impression is true, that is."

"Oh, it's definitely not just you. You should know by now that I'm rarely wrong about these things," Izzy shot back, but there was no heat in it. "Just talk to him. You know he'll always accept you, the two of you are unbreakable."

Alec nodded in acquiescence, but his heart felt heavy. Jace might not intend to, but no matter how kindly put, rejection would hurt.

So, despite his good intentions to follow Izzy's advice, Alec kept finding reasons not to confront Jace. It wasn't difficult to come up with excuses - their duties kept them busy and often separated physically, with Alec liaising with the Clave in Idris during this tumultuous time, while Jace was in charge of the Institute's day-to-day running.

Sometimes they still went out on patrol, however, both of them loathe to be confined to desk jobs. It was during one such occasion, that things almost came to a head, when a rogue vampire managed to slip under Jace's guard while Alec was busy outside the nest. Even through the barriers they'd put up, the flare of pain was unmistakable, and Alec was inside before Jace's blade had finished its slightly belated arch through the vampire's neck.

Calling out his parabatai's name, Alec stopped short of catching Jace in his arms after he realized Jace was injured but not incapacitated. Still, his heart was racing, and desperation roughened his voice as he took out his stele and ordered gruffly, "Show me."

Jace's eyes widened in astonishment at the intensity in Alec's face, but he obeyed almost meekly, baring his side, where the vampire's knife had sliced clean through his leather jacket and into his skin. The gash above his parabatai rune was bleeding freely, and Alec drew Jace's iratze with hands trembling with adrenaline, adding an additional healing rune right above the wound for good measure.

Jace was watching silently, eyes dark and fixed upon Alec's actions, goosebumps racing over his skin as nerve-endings started to tingle at the almost-touch of long archer's fingers. Alec's mouth opened and closed over words unspoken, distracted by the sight of the healing rune flaring up an almost iridescent gold, followed by the wound disappearing as if it had never been there, with none of the pain that usually accompanied the application of runes.

They exchanged startled glances, as suddenly their bond sprang wide open, the pull between them so strong, they both gasped softly. Eyes locked, they swayed towards each other, and Alec caught himself half-expecting Jace to kiss him. Then they heard Clary's voice in the background, calling for them, and reality came crashing back in.

Confusion filled their bond, before the walls they'd so carefully erected in the recent weeks slammed up once more. They both shivered as if suddenly cold, and Jace fought back the urge to hug his arms around himself. Much easier to focus on their work than what had just almost happened.

In addition to everything else, they had also reestablished the Downworlder Council, and Alec was glad to see several other Institutes following their example, although the Clave itself was still struggling somewhat with its Downworld relations, even after the thorough cleansing. Still, during one of his excursions to Alicante, Aline found him and confided that her mother, who was now Inquisitor, had ordered her to set things in motion for a Downworlder Summit in Idris.

"It's going to signify the official end of the Downworlder ban, and hopefully all races will accept this sign of good faith and send envoys." Aline smile up at Alec warmly. "This is mostly your doing, you know. You and Jace, you've set an example with the way you're running the New York Institute."

Alec flushed with mixed embarrassment and pride, thanking her awkwardly, but it wasn't until he got home that pleasure won out. He immediately sought out Jace, finding him bent over next week's shift plans in the office they shared. For a long moment Alec stood transfixed in the doorway, helpless against the rush of warmth at the familiar sight.

The moment when Jace became aware of his parabatai's presence was obvious, his posture stiffening slightly before relaxing with a conscious effort, and the smile that met Alec seemed almost natural. "Hey, I didn't know you were back."

It wasn't meant to be a slight, of course, but there had been a time, not too long ago, when their bond would have made such a statement impossible, and they both realized this simultaneously, the atmosphere between them simmering with tension. Still, Alec tried to keep his voice light as he announced the good news, and Jace went along with it, as had become their custom.

"That is wonderful!" Alec's proclamation was rewarded with one of Jace's genuine smiles, a rarity ever since Valentine and Lilith, and Alec had to stop himself from stepping closer, drawn to his parabatai's light like a moth to a flame. Jace easily read his sudden reticence, and his face fell, closing off again.

Self-loathing tasted bitter on Alec's tongue for being the cause of this, and he swallowed it down, squaring his shoulders as he decided that this was it, he'd rather face Jace's rejection than hurt him like this again. That didn't make it easy, but once Alec had made up his mind, he rarely faltered. Taking a fortifying breath, he stepped fully into the office and closed the door behind him, the click of the lock sounding startlingly loud to his ears.

"Alec?" Jace asked cautiously, and through their bond their heartbeats sped up as if in preparation for battle.

Sighing, Alec motioned towards the couch in the corner. "Maybe you better sit down for this."

"Why? This is good news, it's what we've been working for, what you've been working for so hard. You should be proud." Despite his protests, Jace sat, and Alec followed his example, perching uncomfortably on the edge of the armchair opposite Jace.

Staring down at his nervously-twitching fingers, Alec shook his head. "We both worked for this, but that's not it." Forcing himself to meet Jace's carefully blank face, he explained hoarsely, "This is about us… about--"

Me, Alec had planned to add, but Jace talked over him, "--me, I know. Is it about the rune, when you healed me the other day? I'm so sorry, Alec!"

Jace had spent several sleepless nights following the incident with the rogue vampire, trying to find an explanation that didn't somehow imply that he'd tainted their bond, but guilt was a familiar companion. Especially because he still woke from increasingly graphic dreams of his parabatai, gasping from the remembered sensation of Alec's body covering his, naked skin against naked skin, their synchronized heartbeats driving hunger pulsing through their veins.

The memory alone was enough to heat Jace's cheeks, while Alec's tongue darted out to wet his lips, eyes darkening. Not that either one of them noticed the other's reaction, too preoccupied with their own tumultuous thoughts. Finally, Alec cleared his throat, breaking the tension building between them as Jace's words registered with him.

"That's not… Jace, why would you be sorry? It's the Angel's gift to you, and I'm glad if it helps you heal." He paused, but Jace only stared miserably at his hands, unable to bring himself to explain. Sighing, Alec reverted back to his original train of thought. "What I meant to say was that you have every right to be mad at me, for our bond being… the way it is right now. I need you to know that it's not your fault at all - I didn't mean to do it, but I'm afraid it was involuntary, like a… a protection."

Feeling blindsided by the entirely unexpected confession, Jace stared at his parabatai in wide-eyed shock. "Protection from what? From me?"

His immediate thoughts were that Alec still hadn't forgiven him for his deeds as the Owl, no matter how often he'd promised Jace that he never blamed him in the first place. However, Alec was already shaking his head in denial, the need to reassure his parabatai winning out over his fear. "No, of course not. I was trying to keep something from you, and one would think I'd know better by now."

Eyes fixed on Jace's, Alec forced himself to lower his defenses, opening himself to Jace and the bond that connected them. Feeling the change, Jace took a steadying breath and carefully sensed along the thread entwining their souls, towards the warm, bright light was so uniquely Alec. Without thinking, he leaned forward and rested a hand on Alec's knee, feeling it tremble under his touch.

They were both holding their breath, hearts beating quickly and synchronously in their chests. Parabatai couldn't read each other's thoughts, but with their bond wide open for the first time in weeks, it felt as if the distance between them melted away. Jace's guilt and Alec's fears were burned away by the fire of the emotions laid bare from one moment to the next.

Suppressed love and desire sprang to life, flames reaching towards one another, erasing the boundaries between them and leaving them gasping. Their hands found each other, gripping tightly, and they swayed forwards, their bodies trying to mimic the merging of their souls.

"Alec… parabatai..." Jace's voice was awed, and all Alec could do was nod, overwhelmed. All the little moments they'd ignored fell into place and made sense - beautiful and terrifying sense. It should make them reel back, scramble for the illusion they'd upheld, yet the moment they thought it, it was as if they'd stepped off a precipice and there was no way back.

Eros. The thing Alec had spent most of his adolescence hiding from the one who shared his soul. The thing the Law expressly forbade between parabatai.

Alec's words still trapped in his throat, it was once again Jace who spoke in a half-whisper, "I'm sorry. I didn't know."

"Didn't know what?" Alec managed to ask hoarsely, aware with every fibre of his being that they were still sitting closely, knees touching, hands clasped, unable to pull away. "That I'm still in love with you? Or that you are?"

"Both." Jace's wry snort felt like like sandpaper. "Everything that's been going wrong with our bond. We've been breaking the Law and didn't even know it."

A hiccupping sound escaped Alec, and not even he himself was sure if it was a laugh or a sob. It was enough to propel Jace into action, however, and the next moment they were in each other's arms, embracing as if they were keeping each other from drowning. It was a familiar sensation, and some of the tension bled from them almost automatically.

The kiss that followed felt inevitable, both of them turning to one another simultaneously, and they swallowed each other's sighs of pure relief with mouths and lips that tingled and came to life the moment they met. With the bond still wide open, the joy they felt, tinged with disbelief and a quickly sparking desire, was shared, passed back and forth the way their breath was.

Kissing had never felt like this, like something not just experienced but truly shared, and before they knew it, Alec was pushing Jace backwards onto the couch, their bodies crying out to be close, ever closer. It was like the dreams they'd had, only so much more, because it was real, more real than anything except for the moment their souls had been bonded during the parabatai ceremony.

Jace tore at Alec's clothes impatiently, needing his skin, his touch, and Alec pushed up Jace's shirt, covered his chest in kisses, lingering on the rune at this left flank. Nimble archer's fingers flicked open jeans buttons, and they both groaned when hot, hard flesh was opposed, hungry, greedy sounds that turned into chuckles as the absurdity of the state they were in hit them.

Alec's hair was sticking up in every direction, Jace was halfway stuck in his t-shirt, and both their faces were flushed, lips swollen, eyes glazed with passion. It should be ridiculous, yet the giddy laughter that escaped them did nothing to dispel the heat burning hotly under their skin. They paused only long enough to rid themselves of their clothes, then Jace was beckoning and Alec followed, grateful to whoever had invested in a couch large enough to accommodate their bodies

Not that they bothered much with practicality, too lost in exploring one another, rocking and sliding, and sharing the emotions filling them to the brim, spiraling higher and higher until spilling over. They were left gasping into each other's mouths, the intensity of what they'd just shared so overwhelming, all-encompassing, it took them a moment to realize that the warmth spreading through their spent bodies didn't just come from the inside.

"You're glowing," Jace remarked, sounding dumbfounded.

Alec met his awed gaze with a raised eyebrow at such an obvious statement. "So are you, in case you hadn't noticed."

Indeed, they were both wrapped in the familiar golden glow of Jace's angelic powers, all their runes lit up, sending tendrils of strength through their veins. It should have been intimidating, even worrying, yet Alec remained unfazed. Smiling tenderly, he leaned in and pressed a kiss to Jace's temple, whispering, "You're gorgeous like this. My parabatai, my love, my angel."

"Getting soft in your old age?" Jace teased, but his voice was choked up and tears shone in his golden eyes. Swallowing, he asked more seriously, "Aren't you scared? I didn't even notice I was doing this. We're already losing control, like the stories about parabatai in love warn about."

Unsurprisingly Jace had always been more hesitant to trust his emotions, despite being filled with more love than anyone else Alec had ever known. Alec, on the other hand, was usually the one who followed the Law, in spirit if not to the letter, the one who'd wanted to trust the Clave long after he'd started to see the cracks in its foundations.

Yet now he felt no uncertainty, only the solid body of the man in his arms, whose heart beat along his own. "Jace, parabatai, our bond already changed before today, so intent seems to be enough for the curse. If it exists, it seems we're doomed whether we act on our feelings or not."

"Always so sensible, my Alec." Jace laughed tenderly, a surge of love so fierce he thought he would burst with it thrumming through his veins, leaving no room for doubts, for fear. And alongside it came a sensation, simultaneously foreign and familiar, the whisper of sheer power that he'd come to associate with Ithuriel's gift. Pressing their foreheads together, Jace said softly, "No curse can break us, I can feel it. The Angel will keep us safe."

Prophecy wasn't one of Jace's gifts, yet while they thought their love was written in their every look, every gesture, no one seemed to suspect them in the months that followed, as their love bloomed behind closed doors. Izzy was relieved to see them seemingly reconciled, but she respected Alec's reluctance to share details, and to everyone else they were just what they had always been. Parabatai, the closest bond known in Shadowhunter society.

Their bond kept changing, however, and while they were nothing like the monsters of legend, they knew not to become complacent, no matter how easy it was to lose themselves in each other, body and soul. No more dreams plagued them, at least, not when they fell asleep in each other's arms more often than not, despite having to separate early in the morning.

They fought better, too, their sense of where the other was becoming ever stronger, until they could practically see through each other's eyes, move through each other's bodies. It saved Alec's life when a demon materialized behind him, his body moving before his mind had time to process, his runes lighting up on their own as he twisted around and up, blade embedded in the demon's skull.

It almost spelled their doom when a greater demon cornered them, blood-red magic filling the air, reaching towards them and leaving them nowhere to hide. Realization hit them that this might be it, they could die that night. Jace looked at his parabatai's tall form, unsurprised when Alec met his gaze, full of determination. If they were to die, they would take the demon with them.

Without thinking, they clasped hands, and immediately power flooded their bond, rushed through their veins. It was stronger than anything either one of them had ever felt, stronger than their sense of self, of personhood, and violence tasted sweet on their tongues as they struck out with white-hot fire. The demon was reduced to a crisp like so much tinder, yet still the power burned inside them.

They were no longer Jace and Alec, they were only one, and not in the wondrous way they experienced during love-making, when not just their bodies merged but their souls. Instead they knew nothing but blood and fire, a terrible fury that swallowed them whole and knew no end.

With no foe left to vanquish, their terrifying anger had no outlet, so it built and built, looking for a way out. Despite the late hour, there were civilians in the streets surrounding them, unaware of the monster that had been awakened, clasped hands ready to rain down destruction on anyone that crossed their path.

The entity that had been Jace and Alec began to push at the limits of its skin, hungrily reaching for its next victim - only to be halted in its tracks when runes that had been burning red suddenly flashed golden.

Jace stumbled as glorious warmth replaced violent fire and dropped to his knees, followed by Alec, like puppets with their strings cut. They were still holding hands, and the parabatai bond crackled and sparked between them like an electric wire, but they were once more separate people, not a hungry monster.

Gasping, they fell into each other's arms, completely drained but also completely themselves. Cupping Jace's face with his hands, Alec stared into his parabatai's eyes, drinking in the familiar blue with its fleck of golden brown. His voice was hoarse, awestruck: "You are a marvel, Jace Herondale."

"Told you we'd be safe." Jace's light words were belied by the tightness of his grip on Alec's shoulders, the fear and relief mingling in his gaze. Resting their foreheads against each other, he vowed fiercely, "I'll never let anything happen to you. Whither thou goest, parabatai."

"To the ends of the earth, if necessary," Alec promised without hesitation. Their lips met in a kiss that tasted like affirmation, like future, and between them their bond lay, open and strong, their souls reaching out to each other.

To the Clave, they might have betrayed their oath, but to the two men kneeling on a dirty street in night-time New York, nothing was more sacred.

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