Disclaimer: The Mortal Instruments Trilogy and all affiliated characters belong to Cassandra Clare
A/N: I can't tell you how sorry I am that this has taken so long. Last semester was hell, and I've just gotten recently motivated to write for fun again. I promise I plan on finishing the story, and hopefully in a timely manner. Writing this story has been very therapeutic. I get to rant and curse and love and cry.
Chapter 15: Worry and Pain
"Shit." He screamed, slamming his hands into the steering wheel. He had been following the black van at a careful distance for five solid hours. But now they were gone, lost somewhere on a back road. That sick, defeated feeling started to take over, twisting his stomach into tight knots. He felt stupid. He was going to be the hero, going to swoop in and rescue Clary, but now she was gone, and he hadn't called the police. Who did he think he was, fucking Lancelot or something? He was about to die like Romeo. He left her alone with Valentine's men for hours, and his hope was starting to fade.
He felt like he was driving in circles in some small town in northern Pennsylvania. He lost them off the exit ramp, and there were at least four visible winding back roads splayed out before him. His heart was pounding uncontrollably. Taking one of the roads meant leaving the exit open. Sitting still meant leaving Clary alone with them even longer. There was no good choice. He raked his fingers nervously through his sweaty hair, as the car came to a stop in a grassy corridor beside the exit ramp. The Honda purred as it idled. Clary's phone beeped and buzzed in the passenger's seat with missed calls and messages. He couldn't bring himself to answer it. Lying to Luke and Jocelyn would be impossible and at that point, incredibly wrong.
His chest grew tighter as unfamiliar cars passed. A red Camry, a silver F-150, a green mustang, no black van. "Fuck!" The frustration and anxiety were overwhelming. He almost felt dizzy, but he knew he couldn't give into exhaustion. Eyes wide open, he meticulously scanned the landscape. The bright blue sky was fading into a hazy gray dusk. It was as if the sun was being pulled towards the horizon more quickly than usual. He had to find her before dark.
Then, there it was. Like a shining beacon from heaven, a familiar black van rolled to a halt at stop sign just yards away. If Jace hadn't been staring at it all day, he might have mistaken it for another vehicle. It looked different than it had this morning, dirtier, thick brown mud spatters on the tires. He inched the Honda forward, not bothering to look for other cars. His gaze was locked, desperately searching the dark tinted interior for a tousled mop of red hair. He saw nothing in the backseat, not even a shadow.
The van pulled out into the street, and he punched the gas, excited but trying to trail at a careful distance. Surprisingly, they didn't head towards the interstate, but instead into the little town. It came to a stop outside a rundown pub, lit with glowing neon signs. Motorcycles and pickup trucks sat in the gravel parking lot. Jace pulled the Honda in front of a closed insurance office across the street. Slightly confused and wracked with worry, he waited for the men to make their move. He wasn't sure what to expect. Were they going to drag her into the bar, or just stopping to dump the body? No, he couldn't let himself think like that. Clary was alive; he could feel it.
Slowly, sliding the car window down, a light breeze wafted in his face. Even the gentle wind chilled him to the core. He eyed the men cautiously as the doors of the black van creaked open. They were visibly upset, arguing with each other over something Jace couldn't quite hear. One of the dark haired men turned and punched the other in the shoulder. It was more of a reprimand than actual hit, like he was striking a puppy with a newspaper. Still the little thump allowed Jace to catch a glimpse of the man's profile. He looked oddly familiar, but he couldn't place him. His mind automatically went back to his tumultuous and brutal childhood. The men who had Clary could have held him as a baby. Valentine had a way of keeping his followers, either through fear or brainwashing.
"Fuck!" He muttered under his breath as the men walked into the bar. Clary didn't get out with them, and they looked a little too comfortable to be holding a teenage hostage in their van. When the bar door slammed shut, he leapt from the Honda and sprinted towards the van. He cleared the entire two lane road in two thunderous bounds. He knew he should try to look a little less suspicious, but at that point it didn't matter. Saving Clary was the only thing he cared about, and he still held out the tiniest feeling of hope that she was still in that van.
Arms out, he slammed into the side of the vehicle with a thud. His chest heaved wildly as he grappled with the handle on the driver's side. "Mother fucker!" He screamed, no longer worried who was watching. He ran to the other side, and clutched the silver handle in his fingers. Click. The passenger side door swung open, and he jumped into the van. "Clary!" He shouted her name, and waited anxiously for a reply as he climbed into the backseat. With the exception of the few pieces of trash that littered the floorboard, the backseat was empty. Hope fading, he eyed the trunk. Nothing. Just some yellow synthetic rope, that made goose bumps rise on his bare forearms. They had done something horrible to Clary. A sick lump rose in the back of his throat, and Jace began to tremble. Part of him wanted to cry for what might have happened. Another part wanted to march into that bar and gut them both with a broken beer bottle for even laying a hand on his girl. But neither of those things would bring her back.
He took a deep breath, and tried to gather his thoughts. He'd followed the ominous black van all day. That didn't mean Clary was alive, but it did mean she was close. He stepped out into the fading daylight and turned to stare at the road. The men hadn't been out of his sight for more than a few minutes. So whatever they did with Clary happened within that short time span.
He eyed the mud splashed tires on the van, and suddenly a light bulb went off in his head. Breaking out into a dead sprint, he jumped back in the Honda and attempted to find the road that the van had taken. Going about sixty in a thirty-five mile per hour zone, he zoomed passed the exit ramp and up the back road where he first reencountered the van. He had to click the lights of the Honda on, the road was shaded by a thick cover of trees. Slowing the car to a snail's pace, he meticulously scanned the road for any clue that the men had been there.
The muscles in his back tensed as he thought about Clary out here all alone. She probably hated him by now. Maybe she thought he abandoned her, just left her at the failing mercy of Valentine's men. She was probably cold, terrified and crying. He hoped she was crying,. Dead people couldn't cry. He could picture the big tears rolling down her cheeks, the way they felt warm and wet against his bare skin. His hands shook around the steering wheel as he moved slowly into the gray evening, without any sign of Clary's presence.
The black asphalt rolled beneath the tires of the Honda while Jace's eyes grew weary of the yellow lines and the indistinguishable woodsy landscape. How could he tell where they were? Everything looked the same out here, just thick brush and trees lining the road. Black road, yellow lines, green trees over and over again. That hopeless feeling began to rise in the pit of his stomach again. Black, yellow, green… black, yellow, green… black, yellow, green…black, yellow, green…
"This is fucking useless." He screamed, slamming his hands into the dashboard. "There's no fucking way I'm going to find her out here." Jace reached into his pocket, searching for his cell phone. It was time to call the police. He slowed the car to a stop and began to dial. 9 1... But something strange caught his eye, just up ahead he could see something in the road. He inched forward, hesitant about elevating his hopes. As he moved closer, he realized what he was seeing was muddy tire tracks. Immediately images of the dirty van filled his worried mind. His heart leapt into his throat, but he tried to calm himself. "Anybody could have done this." At this point, it didn't matter if he was wrong. This was the only promising lead he had found, and he had to investigate. Hitting END on his cell phone, the 91 disappeared.
The tire tracks thickened and finally came to a stop at a clearing on the edge of the road. He peered through the break in the trees and could barely make out a rickety barn in the quickly fading light. The place looked dangerous, like it could fall apart any second. Swiftly jerking the Honda to a stop, he pulled off the road and jumped out of the car as he killed the engine.
"Clary!" He shouted. "Are you out here?" His voice was full of worried panic. Listening intently, his ears were only met with silence. He ran towards the barn. The door had fallen from its hinges and lay just inside its frame. He hesitantly stepped in, fearful of what he might find. The barn was almost completely dark except for a square chunk of hazy light that fell through the doorway, and long strands of the faintest glow that streaked in through the rickety boards. "Clary!" He called again, pleading for a response. Nothing.
He took his phone from his pocket and shined the light around him. He saw nothing but rotting hale bales, rusted tools and the end of some rope, yellow rope. For some reason this struck a chord. He stood their silently for a moment wondering why this was important. He moved forward, and by the time he realized that it was the same yellow rope from the van, his foot tapped against something on the dark ground. A tiny low moan hit his worried ears. His heart leapt with overwhelming elation.
Shining the phone at his feet, he saw a mop of fiery disheveled hair splayed out across the dusty floor. "Clary! Are you okay?" he exclaimed, his voice bubbling with excited relief. She managed to let out another moan, slightly louder this time. He bent down and scooped her up into his arms. Pushing the messy locks from her face, he pressed his lips gently against her forehead. He let out a deep sigh. A tear threatened to roll from Jace's eyes, but he choked down the lump in his throat. "Fuck, I'm getting soft." he muttered jokingly as he maneuvered around the junk littered floor of the decaying barn.
Clary let out another moan, but she still hadn't spoken a single coherent word. He was beginning to get worried that something was truly wrong with her. All of those terrible images came flooding back into his head. What if they had hurt her? What if they had taken advantage of her? What if she was too shocked to speak? "I'll gut them like a fucking fish!" He screamed into the darkness. He was moving faster now, eager to see her face. He felt something wet running down his arm, but it was too dark to see what it was.
He was relieved to finally reach the barn door and ran as fast he could out into the wet grass and mud. Jace flung open the door of the Honda, and his eyes grew wide as he lay Clary in the front seat. The interior car light cast an eerie glow are contorted frame. Her body was almost completely limp, eyes barely open. And the blood, he was covered in it. "Oh Fuck!" Her pallid complexion was smeared with dirt and long red streaks. Her hair was matted to her scalp in a viscous pool of congealed blood.
He had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. "Clary." His voice was just a choked whisper. To see her like this did something to him, it stirred something deep inside of his soul. "I'm so sorry Clary, I'll never fucking forgive myself for letting this happen to you. But it's going to be okay now. I'm here, and I won't let anything happen to you ever again. You have my fucking word." He squeezed her frail hand. "I love you." He couldn't tell if she understood, but he thought he saw a groggy nod. That was it, that was all the time he had for apologies. He had to move quickly and get them out of here. They needed a hospital. Clary probably had a concussion, and she definitely needed some stitches. And there was still the small matter of two of Valentine's thugs who would no doubt come looking for them.
With no time to waste, he leaned back her seat and buckled her in. Climbing into the driver's seat, Jace stuck the key in the ignition and the Honda purred to life. He trembled nervously as he punched the gas and once again refocused his attention on the road. There were no street lights on the deserted country lane, and it felt like the darkest place he had ever been. And with Clary slumped over beside him, covered in her own blood, maybe it was.
Luckily when they passed by the pub, the white van was still parked outside. From the sound of the place, it seemed like the party had just gotten started. He prayed that they would be there for a while. His worried mind raced faster than the Honda. He still hadn't completely figured out what was wrong with Clary. He hoped that she was just groggy from a bump on the head, but deep down he knew that that couldn't have been the only thing they did to her. Valentine was cunning and ruthless, he would have taken painstaking measures to assure that Clary couldn't escape on her own. He just hoped that he would have also assured that his brutes would have enough compassion not to kill his own daughter. But what Clary had told him about Jonathan made him wonder. He already killed one of his children, why not the other?
When the silver car finally rolled back onto the highway, he breathed another sigh of relief and dug in his pocket for his phone. Flipping it open, he searched for Alec's number and hit send. One ring.
"Bro!" Alec exclaimed, his voice full of nervous excitement. "What in the hell is wrong with you? We've been trying to call all day! Are you guys all right?"
"Not exactly." Jace's voice began to crack. He paused to regain his composure "Clary's been hurt."
"Oh God, what happened? Is she all right?" Alec's voice was full of urgency.
"I think she'll be okay. She got hit on the head pretty hard. She needs help. Look, I don't have time to explain everything. I need you to do something for me. Are you near your computer?"
"Listen, we're just a little north of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, I need to know how to get to the closest hospital."
Alec sensed the worry in his voice. His brother was troubled. It was so strange seeing Jace like this, seeing him care about something…seeing him afraid. It worried him. "I'm on it man." He paused as his fingers rhythmically tapped the keyboard. "I think I've got it. Are you on highway 81?"
"I think so." Jace was fairly certain, but he couldn't be sure. He spent the entire day staring at the back of the black van. That was the only thing he had concentrated on, road signs hadn't seemed that important at the time.
"All right, then." He replied wearily. "You need to take Exit 15 onto South Enola Road, look for 111 Front Street. The hospital should be there."
"Thanks man, I gotta go. I'm driving like a fucking maniac, we're in a hurry."
"Jace." His voice was trembling. "Are you all right? I can send someone out there to help you. We're really worried about you guys."
"Don't be." Jace sighed, unconfident in his words. "I'm going to take better care of Clary. Nothing else is going to happen to her." He paused and took a deep breath. "As long as I'm alive."
"God, what's wrong with you man? Don't talk like that. You're going to be fine. You're Lancelot, remember? You slay the bad guy and get the girl." He mustered a false chuckle.
"Stop fucking around Alec. This is serious." He sighed deeply. "Look, you're my brother and I fucking love you, okay? Just remember that for me."
A lump formed in Alec's throat. The words were choked, but he finally managed to say it. "I love you too man." Click. Silence. The phone slipped from Alec's grip and his head fell worriedly into his hands.
"Jace." A small, muffled voice finally called from the passenger's seat.
A/N: I'm really sorry about the huge huge epic delay! I'll try to get another chapter out each week. But I've been so busy writing stuff for school that there hasn't been a lot of time for fun. Anyway, thanks for reading and reviews are better than scraping your beaten loved ones off a dirty barn floor. ;)