Lots of hugs and kisses go out to amaggiepie and sunshiiine23 for being beta masters. I wish I could show my readers what the chapters look like before you guys get your hands on them. You do A LOT of work. lol.
Warnings: Mature themes including perceived incest, explicit sexual content, and strong language. Immature themes including excessive dash usage and copious amounts of unapologetic relationship angst. Proceed with caution.
Context: This story is set after a City of Glass in which Clary and Jace do NOT figure out that they aren't really brother and sister. They never got the Book of the White to Magnus, so Jocelyn is still comatose. (This ignores City of Fallen Angels and City of Lost Souls entirely.)
Keep the Next Breath
Clary finishes drawing the rune onto the metal of the lock, and it falls with a thud onto the floor. She pushes open the top of the large, rickety chest and breathes in a lungful of dust. Waving the stale air away from her face, she peers inside and notes that there are, in fact, books stacked in the bottom—though they're partially obscured by a thick layer of cobwebs. Leaning forward, she draws one out and wipes the cover page clean with her sleeve. The title is in Italian. She squints at the words, trying to decipher their meaning.
"Oh, good. You got it open."
She looks up at the sound of Luke's voice. He walks into the back room of the bookstore carrying a mean-looking pair of metal-cutters. She holds up her stele, giving it a wave. "Unlocking rune."
"Right." Luke sighs. "You know, sometimes I forget you're—"
"I know." Clary replaces the book. "How was Mom?"
A familiar shadow passes over Luke's face. It's one Clary has seen many times while looking in the mirror. "The same. No change."
She nods. It's the response she expected. Jocelyn's condition never changes. It never gets any worse, and it never gets any better. Clary only asks because it feels wrong not to. The pretense of hope is better than the outright rejection of it. At least, that's what she tells herself.
"Thanks again for helping out with this. I've got a lot of cataloguing to catch up on."
"No problem." Clary bites her lip. "I'm just glad that you decided to get the store up and running again. And that you stayed."
Luke nods. "It's good to be back. I missed the place. And I missed you and your mom."
"Has the council found a replacement for you yet?"
"I don't think so. But I gave them a couple of recommendations." He pushes his sliding glasses back up his nose. "Not that they'll listen to what I have to say on the matter."
"They should. You know what you're talking about."
He grins. "Thanks for the vote of confidence."
Clary shrugs but smiles as well. It's good to have Luke back. It's good to have someone.
"Oh, I brought you some help. Maia's raiding the kitchen, but she'll be in here soon. I'll be up front dealing with customers. Last-minute Christmas rush."
Her smile falls away. "Oh. Okay."
Once Luke leaves, Clary rises up onto her knees and starts going through the contents of the trunk in earnest. She's sorting the books into 'English' and 'Foreign Language" piles when the door opens again and admits the quiet thump of Maia's sliding steps. The girl settles down beside Clary and wordlessly examines her method before joining in the sorting process.
They work in silence for several minutes, until they've emptied the chest and have to move on to labeling the books as 'fiction' or 'non-fiction.' Finally, Maia's friendly nature seems to win out over the awkward tension of the close-quarters.
"How have you been? Haven't seen you in a while," she says while writing down the book titles in Luke's catalogue binder. Her voice is loud in the silence of the room.
"I'm fine. You?" Clary hasn't talked to Maia since they all met at Taki's the night before the confrontation with Sebastian. That was over a month ago.
"Things have been easier since Luke got back. The pack squabbles less. Well, we still squabble, but it's less violent."
Clary doesn't look up from book jacket summary she's reading. "That's good."
Maia sighs. "Listen…I wanted to ask how you're really doing. With Jace being gone and everything."
At the mention of his name, Clary automatically reaches for the Morgenstern ring hanging on the chain around her neck. The metal is cool to the touch. Its familiar weight always brings a perfect image of him to her mind.
"Have you heard from him yet?"
"No." She avoids Maia's gaze. "Not yet."
"Luke told me he left to hunt down Sebastian on his own. That seems like the type of thing he would do. And from what I've seen, he's more than capable of taking that guy on, especially—"
"Could we not talk about it?" Clary looks up from her lap. "Sorry, it's just…I'd rather not…"
Clary's phone vibrates in her pocket. She fishes it out with a sigh of relief. Glancing at the text, she pushes to her feet.
"It's Simon. He's outside waiting. I'll be back tomorrow to help finish up."
"Okay." Maia looks a little relieved as well. "I'll see you then."
She shuffles into her coat and heads for the door, stopping briefly in the shop to let Luke know she's leaving. As soon as she's outside with the surly December air whipping through her hair, she begins to relax. Something about open spaces has brought her comfort lately, and she suspects it has something to do with public spaces not allowing for intimate conversations.
She sets off in the direction of the nearest subway station at leisurely pace. It isn't long before she runs into Simon on his way to Luke's house. As she passes him, he turnsaround and falls into step with her. "I texted you saying I was still fifteen minutes away."
"I know. I just had to get out of there."
"Why? You didn't come across Luke actually using those manacles of his, did you?"
Clary groans. "No. And please try to limit your kinky sex references. You've been making a lot of them lately."
"I'm a teenage boy. It's what we do."
"Have kinky sex?"
"No. Wish we were having kinky sex. We only joke about it to ease the pain of our longing."
She shakes her head. "That's ridiculous. How was your date with Isabelle?"
"Zero kinkiness. Although I thought it might take a turn in that direction when she insisted she couldn't go to the movies without her whip. Turns out she was just being practical. She beat a Raum demon with it on our way back from dinner."
"So it went well, then?"
"Yeah, I guess." He shrugged. "We're going out again on Friday."
Clary smothers the flare of jealousy in her chest and forces a smile. "That's great."
She tells herself it's a good thing that her friends aren't all as miserable as she is. It's nice that they can go out without hiding behind pretenses, that they can be open with their feelings. It's normal. Healthy. Good. And they deserve it.
She bites her tongue.
"Here." Simon offers her a plastic baggie filled with trail mix. "My mom made it, and she'll get suspicious if it returns uneaten."
"Thanks,but I'm not hungry."
"Yeah, I know. That's been your catch phrase for, like, the last five weeks. But you'd be doing me a huge favor. I can't bring myself to just toss it out, and there's a good possibility it's lethal to birds."
Clary accepts the snack with a sigh, chewing small bites while listening to Simon recount the ridiculous comments Isabelle made throughout the movie.
They're on the platform waiting for the train, when Simons begins shuffling his feet. "I think I'm going to tell her."
"Tell her what?"
"About me being a vampire."
Clary regards him with concern. "I'm pretty sure Isabelle's well-informed on the subject."
He shakes his head. "Not Isabelle. My mom."
Clary reaches out and takes his hand. "That's great, Simon. What made you change your mind?"
He shrugs. "I don't know. In a way, it's been easier keeping it a secret. But it's hard, too." The train slows to a stop next to the platform, and the doors open to let off a steady stream of people. "It's like my mom doesn't really know me, like she's not actually a part of my life. It's sort of scary."
They board the train just before the doors slide closed and stand pressed together against one of the windows.
"Do you want me to be there when you tell her?" Clary asks, keeping her voice down.
"Thanks, but I think it might go over better if I do it on my own. I don't want her to feel ganged up on. Plus, you can't tell her about being a Shadowhunter. The fewer secrets in the room, the better, right?"
"I guess so." The woman beside Clary shifts her weight, and Clary has to squeeze against Simon's side to avoid being smashed by her giant purse. "If that's what you want."
Simon gets off with Clary at her stop. She doesn't protest because she knows exactly what he'll say. "It's not safe with Sebastian still on the loose. Chivalry may be dead, but so am I." It's what he always says when she complains about being escorted around like a child—which has been quite often over the last month.
Clary supposes that as long as it makes him and everyone else feel better, she should just go along with it. And, despite the circumstances, it's been nice to see so much of Simon.
As they step out onto the street, she loops her arm through his. It's started to snow while they were on the train. She watches as snowflakes land on Simon's pale cheeks without melting.
"I was wondering," he says slowly, "if you've thought at all about dating again?" She shoots him a bemused look and he hurries to add, "Not me obviously. Just…anyone. I was wondering if you've thought about dating at all? It's just that…well, it's kind of nice. And you've been pretty down lately."
"I'm not down. I'm just—"
"Worried about Jace," Simon finishes. "I know."
"Finding romance isn't exactly high on my list of priorities." She shrugs. "Hayden and I weren't even dating, and look what happened to him. Honestly, I think I would make a pretty awful girlfriend right now."
"But do you want to date? To find someone? Eventually?"
"I know that when I broke up with you it left a big, gaping hole in your heart that nobody else could possibly fill, but that's no reason to give up on love entirely."
Clary manages a weak grin. "True. You did devastate me. But I haven't given up. Not entirely."
"That's good." Simon heaves a sigh of relief. "Because I wouldn't want your spinster-ship weighing on my conscience for the rest of eternity. And if you ever need a wingman, I'm totally willing to find someone to help you out with that."
"Thanks, but I think I'll be flying solo for the foreseeable future."
Up ahead, the Institute's dark spires cut into the grey afternoon sky, and Simon and Clary slow their steps. When they reach the front stairs, Simon takes Clary's hand, drawing her around to face him. "I'm just saying that it might be easier now that Magnus is back. You wouldn't have to worry about that awkwardness with Alec."
"Magnus is back?"
"Yeah. He got in yesterday morning. Fresh from Timbuktu or someplace. I guess it means he found what he was looking for."
[ - ] [ - ] [ - ]
The greenhouse has grown wild and untamed. What used to be an organized chaos of neatly kept plots of flowers and ferns has turned into an overgrown tangle of plant life that swallows the floor and climbs the windows. Brown is now mixed in amongst the green. No one has bothered to pull the weeds. No one has bothered coming here at all since Hodge's death.
A month ago, the only time Clary had been in the greenhouse was the night before her birthday. She and Jace had watched the Midnight Flower unfold, had kissed for the first time in the soft glow of the ethereal bloom. Now, that moment feels like a lifetime ago. Even though she can recall the details of the night perfectly, it's as if the memory isn't hers at all. It belongs to another girl, someone who has never heard the name "Morgenstern" and who doesn't have a brother.
Since Jace left, Clary has been coming up here almost every day. She likes the solitude, the disillusioned beauty of the ruined gardens. She's cleared a place in the middle of the room and spread out a flannel blanket just big enough to stretch across. Sometimes she draws, but today her pencils remain in their box. Instead, she flips through the stiff pages of an old book. It's the collection of Nephilim fairytales she used to force Jace to read aloud at night. As she runs her fingers over the lines of text, she can almost feel the heat of his body lying alongside hers. When she closes her eyes, she can recall the quiet lilt of his voice.
"You know Arabic?"
Clary's eyes startle open, her hands slipping from the pages of the book. Alec is standing over her. He's dressed casually—jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt. The way he tips his head makes his dark hair fall into his face. He pushes it back impatiently.
"I can't read it," she admits, "but I like the pictures."
"I could probably read a bit to you. I'm kind of rusty, but it looks pretty basic."
Her heart constricts. "No, that's okay. I prefer coming up with my own stories, anyway."
He nods and a silence stretches out between them. It's surreal having someone else in the greenhouse after the weeks of the uninterrupted seclusion the place has afforded her. She's not sure what to say and can only watch Alec's face as he seems to struggle with how to proceed. Finally he gestures to the blanket. "Can I…?"
"Sure." She sits up, making him enough room for him to join her. He moves gracefully, folding his long legs beneath him as he sits down just in front her, their knees almost touching. Now that he's closer, she can see how tired he looks. The dark half-circles beneath his eyes stand out like bruises against his pale skin.
She's curious. Curious as to why he's nervous and curious as to why she suddenly feels anxious. They've seen a lot of each other since the morning she found Jace's letter on her pillow. If Clary wants to go out and Simon isn't available, it's usually Alec who escorts her. They never discuss Jace, and yet it's as if he's constantly with them—an invisible pressure condensing the air, making her more aware of each breath she takes.
She knows that Alec knows. Even though he hasn't said anything, she knows he's figured it out—figured them out. It doesn't frighten her like it should. She fears Maia and Sebastian in a way it seems impossible to fear Alec. It must have something to do with the way he looks at her.
Or looked at her. She tries catching his eye now, tries to see if that something has disappeared, like a dream stolen by the reality of the waking world. "Simon told me Magnus was back."
Alec nods, his eyes on the sprawling plant life around them. "Yeah, he is."
Her throat has gone dry. She has to mentally shake herself to get the next words out. "And did he find a way to exorcise the daemon?"
"Yes," he answers almost distantly. "He found a ritual used by a Mongol priest in the 15th century. It involves tricking the daemon into thinking the human is dead and then trapping it an alternative dimension when it leaves the body."
"So then it's gone?" Clary looks down at the book in her lap. She traces a finger along the cover, following the impressions of the embossed title. It's beautiful, she thinks. "You're not in love with me anymore?"
"No, I…" When he falls silent, she has no choice but to look up. He's watching her. With those blue eyes that seem darker in the natural light of the greenhouse. Where Jace is steady like an undying flame, Alec's steadiness is that of a notched arrow—patient, watchful, and unbending. She sees that determination in him now. "No," he says, "I told him not to do the ritual."
The leather binding gives beneath her fingernails. She inhales and hears the sound like blood rushing in her ears. She feels hot, or frozen, or both. She can't look away from Alec. "I don't understand. Is it too dangerous? Or are your parents pressuring you?"
"No." He shakes his head. "Well, it's not that dangerous. And my parents haven't said much of anything about it. I think they're afraid to."
"Then I…" Clary swallows. "I don't understand."
Nodding, he lifts a hand as if to reach for hers but then seems to think better of it. Instead he tugs at the denim covering his legs. His eyes, however, remain focused on her. "Do you know why you fell in love with Jace? The specific reason why it was him and not someone else?"
She bites the inside of her lip. A part of her—the part concerned with self-preservation—warns her not to answer. Knowing is one thing, but acknowledging it aloud is something else entirely. And although she's not afraid of Alec, she's afraid of what it will mean to trust someone else. Will it change them? Have they already changed? Where is Jace now and why doesn't he know that she needs him?
Clary shakes her head, trying to dislodge the despair that accompanies these thoughts. She considers Alec's question. There are several things she loves about Jace. But she can't explain what it is about these things that make her love him the way she does instead of the way she should—like a sister. "No," she says softly.
"Does that matter? Not knowing?"
Her chest feels tight, a sensation that travels to her throat as she shakes her head. "No."
Now he does take her hand. The warm, callused touch of his palm is the realest thing she's felt in weeks. Instinctively, she wraps her finger wrap tightly around his. He squeezes back.
"Almost every person in this world would say that your feelings for him are wrong. Unnatural." He ducks his head closer to hers. "And right now, sitting here, you know you won't ever get to be with him the way you want to. But if someone told you they could take away your feelings for him, would you let them do it?"
Clary can't find her voice. All she can manage to do is shake her head until Alec's hand gently catches her face, his fingers brushing away the tears that have started escaping. The next breath she takes shudders painfully in her chest.
Alec shifts closer, moving to her side. "We don't choose who we fall in love with. I learned that a long time ago. I didn't choose to fall in love with you, Clary. But I love you, and I don't want to stop. That's something the daemon doesn't get a say in."
"But you know what I've done with Jace, with my brother." The words she's never let herself truly feel until now rise up without mercy. She feels each of them like a lit match pressed to her skin. "There's something wrong with me. I'm broken so that Jace is the only thing I want. Why would you want to love someone like that?"
The small amount of space separating them disappears as Alec turns her face toward his and kisses her. It's soft and declarative like the kiss he gave her in the training room. Only he doesn't pull back, but presses forward so that she has to lift her chin to keep their lips touching. And that's when Clary realizes she's kissing him back.
She exhales sharply against his mouth. It's as if all of the apprehension, all the anxiety, drains from her, disappearing into the soft heat of his touch. As his hand slips to the back of her neck, she feels light and unexpectedly lucid, as if she's woken from a dream to find the real world a much safer, coherent place. She chases the feeling, opening her mouth against his and pushing up onto her knees so that she can feel the firmness of his body press against hers.
His fingers hook into the belt loops of her jeans, and he tugs until she's in his lap, her legs slung around his hips. When he tips his head back to meet her mouth again, she's consumed with the heady sensation of sinking without fear of drowning. His hands caress her face, her hair, her neck, her ribs. There's nothing urgent in the way he touches her. The moment isn't fragile or in danger of slipping away; it's steady and enduring like a quickened heartbeat.
He's the one to draw away first. Her hands are fisted in the front of his shirt, so he doesn't get far. Breathlessly, he rests his forehead against hers. "Not broken," he says.
Her eyes fall closed. She shakes her head. "Aren't you afraid I won't ever love you back?"
"Yes," he admits. "But there's always that risk. No matter whom you love."
"I've hurt him." He sighs against her cheek. "I love him, but I've hurt him, and I don't think there's any going back."
There's something raw about the pain of the confession, and Clary finds herself kissing the corner of his mouth in an attempt at comfort. "You shouldn't wait for me."
"I know." He pulls back far enough to look her in the eye. "Jace is coming back, Clary. He's coming back for you."
"You don't know that." Clary releases his shirt and absently smoothes out the wrinkles she's left. "It's been weeks."
"He'll do what it takes kill Sebastian."
"I know he will. I've never doubted that." She picks through her words and feelings carefully, trying to find the truth that's been buried. "But what about after that? What if he doesn't want to come back? You know about us. Maia knows about us. Some kid in Luke's pack even knows about us. Maybe he doesn't think it's worth it anymore."
"I think,"—Alec touches a scarred hand to the side of her face—"that you give Jace too much credit. He doesn't want an easy life. He wants you. I don't think anything short of you sending him away will keep him from you. No matter how wrong it might be."
"I won't," Clary says. "I won't send him away."
Alec nods to himself. "I know you won't. Being with him is the only thing that makes you happy right now."
"I shouldn't have kissed you." This thought comes to her rather belatedly, and she makes no move to untangle herself from him. Instead she watches the rise-and-fall of his chest and studies the way he braces his weight with the hand not fixing her hair.
"I won't hold it against you." Once her hair is as close to tidy as it ever gets, he stops and seems to take her in. "You won't hold it against me, will you?"
"No." She catches his hand. "Of course not."
[ - ] [ - ] [ - ]
The Lightwoods don't celebrate Christmas. There's no fake tree. No lights. No corny music. Aside from Isabelle's failed attempt at baking gingerbread men, Christmas Eve passes in much the same way every other day has since Jace left. Clary trains with Robert, has a lesson with Maryse, and goes hunting with Alec and Isabelle.
In a way, she's grateful for the familiar routine. When she finally climbs into bed that night, she can almost pretend that tomorrow will be no different, that when she wakes up, the absence of Jocelyn and Jace will be no more painful than it was the day before. She can almost convince herself that the thought of Christmas without her family doesn't tear at her resilience.
She falls asleep, listening to the howl of the wind as it whips past her window.
An hour later, something wakes her. For a moment she lies still in the darkness, trying to think past the fog of sleep. She listens, hears nothing, and decides that it must have been a dream. She's already slipping back into darkness when she feels it—the weight of a body beside her on the bed.
Her eyes snap open. The first thing she sees is the dagger on her nightstand, the one she keeps in her room for protection. When she notices a second dagger lying beside it, her entire body tenses. Suddenly she can hear the slow, even breaths of the person just over her shoulder. Beneath the blankets, her hand slides across the mattress, reaching toward her dagger.
His voice stops her.
She rolls over so quickly her head spins. Jace is sitting on the bed beside her. At first, she thinks she must be imagining him. But then again, she has never imagined him looking like this. His hair, damp with melting snow, is dark and limp. It brushes the collar of his jacket, which is filthy and rent with long tears down the front. The meager light from the window washes out the color of his skin so that he's the color of paper; even the thin line of his lips look white. Everything about him seems…lifeless.
Except for his eyes. They're as gold as ever, burning and wild as they meet her own. If it weren't for the way he was looking at her and the slight trembling of his body, Clary might have thought he was a ghost.
"Jace." She can't stop from launching herself at him. Arms wrapped around his chest, she buries her face against his neck and doesn't flinch, even though he's as cold as ice. "You're really here."
He doesn't respond. Slowly his arms go around her, loosely at first and then tightening until he's holding her so closely she can hardly breathe. He turns his face into her hair and she nearly melts with relief.
"Are you okay? You look terrible."
She tries pulling back to see his face, but Jace's hold is like iron. She runs her hands soothingly over his back. "Jace? What's wrong?"
He shakes his head. His voice is strained in her ear. "Nothing. Nothing's wrong."
"Yes it is. You're so cold, you're shaking."
"I don't care."
"Well, I do." She tries drawing away again, and his arms tighten around her. "Jace, please. Can we at least dry you off, before you get sick?"
Slowly, he releases her and allows her to stand and guide him to his feet. She leads him into the bathroom, where she flips on the light, illuminating the small space and the extent of Jace's disheveled state. He's soaked to the bone.
Clary shakes her head. "You need a hot shower."
As she pulls open the curtain and leans in to adjust the taps, he keeps one hand on the small of her back. His cold fingers slip beneath the hem of her tank top, sliding across her skin and causing her to shiver.
Once the water begins to warm, Clary turns to Jace. She pushes the jacket off his shoulders and down his arms, and it hangs from his wrists until he releases her long enough to let it fall to the floor. His shirt goes next, and as soon as it's off, he reaches for her face. His thumbs trace her cheekbones as she unbuckles his belt and works his jeans and underwear off his hips. Once he's stepped out of them, Clary sighs and gestures helplessly to the running shower. "It should be hot enough now."
Jace continues to stare down at her. She can't help but note the discrepancy between the urgency in his gaze and the careful way his hands slide down her body. He takes the material of her tank top and drags it up. Clary lifts her arms, letting him pull the top over her head. The cool air raises goose bumps over her exposed skin, and she's grateful that he doesn't hesitate in ridding her of the rest of her clothes.
They step under the hot spray together, and Clary positions them so that Jace takes the brunt of the water. He hardly seems to notice. Now that they're both wet, his fingers glide more easily across her skin. He draws her against him and ducks his head to find her lips.
Clary turns so that he catches her cheek instead. "Don't kiss me," she murmurs. If they start, they won't stop. And she wants an explanation. "What happened? Where have you been?"
"I told you I had to take care of him." The words barely reach her over the steady hammer of water against the basin. "And I did. Sebastian's dead."
Her heart jumps in her chest. His words ring somewhere between her ears and their meaning seems so dangerously fragile that she almost doesn't trust it. The tips of her fingers turn white where they're pressing into his skin. "Are you…sure? Absolutely sure?"
Jace nods. "He won't hurt you, or anyone else, ever again."
Clary sighs and sags against him when her legs feel weak. She peers up at him. "And are you okay? You don't look injured, but you don't look well either."
"I almost didn't come back."
"But you did. You're alive. You're here. You beat him."
Jace shakes his head, the movement slow and careful. "It only took me a few days to find Sebastian. I killed him a month ago."
Suddenly the steam from the water is not enough to keep Clary warm. She shivers. "What do you mean?"
For the first time since he appeared in her bedroom, Jace looks away from her. He stares at the white tiles lining the wall, brow furrowed. When he speaks, he sounds pleading. "I had to try. I owed it to both of us to really try. I thought maybe it would be easier when I didn't have to see you every day. I thought it would be less impossible. Even if I didn't want it to be."
She understands now. "You mean…being my brother."
He nods. "I tried. Whenever I thought of you, I tried not to think of us. Just you. Clary. My sister. I tried tricking myself. I imagined what our lives would have been like if we had grown up together as children. Playing together, fighting, stealing each other's toys. I told myself that if we had always been family, things would be different now."
Clary looks at where her hands are splayed across his chest, pale fingers overlapping black runes twined across gold skin. There is something stunning and imperfect about the resulting composition. It's familiar to her in the same way she recognizes the shape of her own shadow or the disorderly scrawl of her own handwriting. It is undeniably hers.
"And?" she quietly prompts.
"And it didn't work. I couldn't convince myself that I would love you any differently than how I love you now—with every part of me I know and every part you make me want to find." Jace's gaze returns to her, certain and unflinching. "I'll be your brother," he says, "for the Lightwoods, for Luke, for Jocelyn. For the rest of the world. But I won't ever be a brother to you. I won't pretend with you—or myself. I can't."
"Even if that was what I wanted?"
Beneath her right palm, his heartbeat quickens. "Even then," he says, sounding pained. "I can leave you—physically—but you won't ever leave me. Not in the ways that matter." His hand on her cheek is gentle, cautious. "Do you want me to go?"
She thinks about the last several weeks of life without Jace. The uncertainty. The Lightwoods' poorly disguised anxiety. The restlessness. The cold bed. The silent mornings. The long afternoons in the greenhouse. She imagines that as a sampling of a future without him. She wonders how long it would take for the empty feeling to subside enough for her to move on with her life, or whether she would even manage to at all.
She thinks that love can't be set aside like a heavy stone you're tired of bearing. It's a weight you take with you wherever you go, and the only choice you have is deciding how to carry it.
"I kissed Alec."
She waits, expecting him to pull away, to give her a betrayed look that will make the vice around her heart squeeze that much tighter. But he doesn't drop his hand from her face. His unwavering stare gives her the reassurance to continue.
"I'm not sorry that I did. Because when I kissed him, I realized that I could. I'm capable of choosing differently, and maybe it would be easier if I did. But I don't want to." She slides her hands up his chest to his shoulders and feels the tension of everything he is—muscle, and bone, and Jace. "I love you and I want to be with you, even if it's going to be hard."
Water streams from his hair down over his face, darkening his lashes and causing them to stick together. His eyes have almost disappeared beneath them entirely. "And that will make you happy?"
"I'm happy when I'm with you."
"Then you're happy now?"
"I will be, once you kiss me."
This time she doesn't turn away, and the kiss is a collision of respite, forgiveness, and crossed hearts sworn to die. She doesn't close her eyes.
[ - ] [ - ] [ - ]
This isn't his first time in a Mundane hospital. Clary dragged him here to see Jocelyn after the night at Renwick's when Valentine first told them they were brother and sister. Jace hadn't wanted to come, but Clary was desperate, and even then he would have done almost anything for her. Now, he's the one who's brought them here. And he regrets it more and more as the minutes pass.
Beside him, Clary fidgets and bites her lip. Even though they're in a deserted hallway in Hospital's basement, Jace doesn't reach for her hand. He tells himself it's practice for the real thing. This time he can't afford to slip. Not when the stakes are this high.
The door in front of them opens, and Magnus steps out. He's dressed more conservatively than usual—tight black pants and a shiny purple shirt with billowing sleeves. He looks tired, and Jace can guess that the spell he just finished casting isn't the only reason why. Magnus's cat eyes regard him wearily. "She's awake."
Clary bounces lightly on her toes. "Is she alright?"
Magnus nods. "There don't seem to be any lingering side effects. But only time will tell for certain."
Clary seems to take that in and then shoots a questioning glance at Jace. He inclines his head toward the door. "Go ahead. I'll wait until she's ready."
She gives him a small smile that wants to be bigger and then disappears inside the room, the door clicking shut behind her.
"I'm surprised Alec didn't insist on coming." Magnus looks down at the Book of the White, which is clasped firmly, if a bit reverently, in his hands. There is still a bit of blood smudged across the cover from when Jace took it off of Sebastian's dead body.
"He thought he'd do more harm than help." He thinks it should feel strange defending the person in love with Clary, but Jace will always think of Alec as his parabatai first and foremost.
"Meaning he didn't want to have to see me."
Sighing, Magnus casually snaps his fingers, and the book disappears from sight—his payment for waking Jocelyn up. Jace is glad to see it go.
Magnus turns to leave but pauses and looks back at Jace. "If I could offer a word of advice?"
"I probably won't listen."
"The foolish rarely do."
"Well, now that you've buttered me up…"
"Make the most of what little time you have," Magnus says. "Don't waste it being too afraid to live life as you like. Alec understood that."
With that, Magnus leaves down the hall, and Jace is alone with nothing but a door separating him from the choices he's made. He can hear their voices.
"He's outside. I brought him to meet you."
"I know it's hard because you thought you'd lost him all this time. But now you have a second chance. I thought you'd be happy."
"You don't understand. Jonathon…even when he was a baby, I could tell there wasn't something right. He wasn't completely human. Now that we know what Valentine did to him, it makes sense that he would possess that sort of darkness."
"Just because he has demon blood doesn't mean he's evil."
"It's not his fault. I know that. But it's his nature to—"
"No. You don't know anything about Jace's nature. He's one of the most good, most loyal people I've ever met. Maybe when he was little all you could see was the darkness, but he's grown now, and his actions speak for themselves. You know, I've got angel blood in me and it doesn't make me behave any more angelically than anyone else. Sometimes blood is just blood."
The bedsprings creak as someone stands. "Can you please just give him a chance? He's your son. And he's my brother. We're family."
Jace tracks the footsteps as they approach the door, and then Clary is standing there, biting her lip and nervously tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. Hanging from her neck is the Morgenstern ring, the one that Sebastian had used to follow her every movement. Jace remembers the night he left it for her in Alicante and can't help but feel that its significance has changed. Instead of reminding him of the boy he used to be, it reminds him of the future he's cautiously begun to reach for. Seeing the ring around Clary's neck is more reassuring than the strained smile she gives him as he follows her inside.
Awake, Jocelyn looks even more like Clary. She has the same penetrating green eyes, the same easy posture, the same crease at the corner of her mouth that means she's dealing with something stressful. And yet she's not like Clary at all. There's something fundamentally different that Jace can't quite put his finger on. When he looks at Clary, some essential part of him recognizes her. When she's in the room, he feels the tether that binds them.
Jace looks into the eyes of the woman who gave birth to him and feels nothing.
She's sitting on the edge of the bed, her hands folded in her lap. Her fingers are long and elegant, with trimmed nails kept short by the attentive hospital staff. As he stops just a few feet away, her steady gaze sweeps over him, eyes scrutinizing and searching, although he's not sure what she expects to find. The demon she left behind? A glimpse of Valentine? He wonders if she feels the same indifference that he does, but then doubts that he could be so lucky.
Doubt. He recognizes it in her face only because her expressions are so similar to Clary's, and he's seen that look before. But then it's gone, vanished beneath the surface, and she smiles cautiously. "Hello, Jonathon."
~ fin ~
AN: And here we are. After a long, long, long road. Thank you to everyone who's read, and an extra big thank you to everyone who took the time to leave me feedback. If it weren't for you guys, my stories would just stay on my hard drive forever. You give me the confidence to soldier on. :)
I know that this is an ending not everyone will be pleased with. I only ask that you please consider that this is the ending to this fanfic and not the ending of these characters' stories. I like to think that they continue to go on living and changing even after the curtain drops. But maybe that's just me being sentimental.
To my betas amaggiepie and sunshiiine23...you guys rock. Without you guys this story would not be worth reading. It would be shit. So thank you from the bottom of my fanfic writer heart. It's always good to have supportive people in your corner.
Hopefully, I'll see some of you guys around the TMI/TID fandom!