The prodigal returns.

Jace's hands shook and he held back the sting of tears in his darkened eyes. Clary stood across the room from him, arms folded roughly across her chest as she stared coldly back at him. Yet again, the two locked themselves in a heated debate. It was exactly the same as the others. Jace tried to approach Clary on the subject of his own feelings, and Clary would shove him away and tell him how stupid and irresponsible he was. Frankly, Jace was tired of fighting with her; especially when all he wanted to do was dash across the room and sweep her into his arms and just hold her. Just hold her close and tell her how much he cared about her; how much he loved her. But he wondered why he kept trying–she didn't want to listen to anything he had to say on the subject. But he couldn't help coming back, thinking that maybe, somehow, she'd changed her mind.

"Don't you think I know?" he snapped, after she once again commented on how ashamed their mom would be; how ashamed everyone would be if they knew. "Don't you think, even for a second that I know what this would do to everyone?" He threw his hands up. "I don't want to feel this way! Don't you think I'm trying?"

She hardly even flinched. "Jace, you're being completely, one hundred percent selfish. All you can do is think of your own feelings while you stand back and watch everybody else around you suffer because of them! What do you think it does to Alec? To Isabelle? Do any of them matter to you anymore?" She shook her head, dark red locks hanging gently around her face. Jace scolded himself for noticing her beauty, even when he wanted to hate her. "And why," she continued, "do you assume that I feel the same?"

Jace, who had been looking at the floor during her lecture, snapped his head up to look at her and drew in a gasp. He held the breath and slowly began to back again, towards the door. He saw her react, her mouth dropping slightly open as he struggled to get away from her.

"Jace, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean that–˝

"If you didn't mean it, you wouldn't have said it," he said quietly, finally forcing himself to turn away from her and grip the doorknob in his pale hands. He jerked forward, breaking into a run once the door was open and the hallway loomed out before him. He heard her call to him and start after him, but the sounds of being followed faded as he turned the corner and, ignoring the elevator, went straight to the stairs. Once on the ground floor, he chased down the pews, heaving himself against the front door of the Institute, flinging himself into the cold night air. It was much too early, close to three in the morning. But Jace didn't stop running until he hardly knew where he was. He wished he had a quiet, grassy spot to sit down at and cool off, but this was New York. Grass was rare, unless you wanted to go to a park, all of which were too far away for him to find in this darkness. Instead, he leaned against the side of the closest building, overlooking the East River. Almost without even thinking about it, he absentmindedly wished that the river was cleaner; more beautiful. He slumped down onto the hard pavement beside the building, and reflexively took the ring from his finger and began to twist it around in his hands–something he usually did when he was especially nervous or upset.

And upset was the mildest way to describe what he was feeling then.

He hated to admit it, but Clary was right. Why did he assume that she returned his feelings? She probably thought it was weird and gross that he kept trying to push them on her. She'd said it herself–it was sickening.

Jace threw his hands over his head and stuck his face between his knees, willing himself to force back the stinging tears that threatened to spill over; though it wasn't the first time that day he'd thought he was going to cry. He breathed in huge gulps of air, hoping that it would somehow clear the urge. But nothing purged him of the hollow feeling inside his stomach that rose into his throat and clogged his voice. This was how it always ended up–he'd try to talk to Clary, they'd both get upset and yell at each other, Jace would run away from her, too ashamed to even look at her. He was so predictable. But at least this time, he hadn't stormed off anywhere obvious, like the kitchen or training room. If she really wanted to talk to him, she'd have to look.

He looked up slightly, resting his chin on top of his knees, his arms still hugging his legs. He stared out across the river in silence, ring still clutched in his hand. He'd been hoping to clear his mind of her —get her out of mind for once. Maybe be able to think things through properly, since she always seemed to get in the way of his judgment of what was best. But even staring out over the cold dark water, her face seemed to ripple in the gentle lap against the shore, and Jace had to look away. Why did she have to follow him everywhere he went? It was hardly fair—especially since she hardly seemed troubled by thoughts of him.

He shook his head softly, as if that would be enough to throw her picture from his head. So, instead of trying to dispose of the gentle thought of her that tugged at his brain, he embraced it—staring out of the water in the moonlight, allowing himself to try and catch a glimmer of her face in the river and letting him think about her. After all—what else could he do?

He sat for what seemed like an eternity, which, in reality, was only an hour or so. He'd almost forgotten that he'd wanted her to follow him—go after him and say to his face that she'd meant it. It was something he needed to hear. Jace needed to know from her that he simply couldn't have her. Maybe then he would finally go to her side and realize how absolutely stupid he really was.

A small stone clattered to the ground beside him and he glanced up to see who had thrown it—his worst dream coming true. Clary stood not far from where he sat, arms still folded, though more relaxed than when he'd seen her last—as if she were hugging herself from the cold rather than holding herself back from smacking him. His eyes met hers and he resisted the sudden impulse to look away. Even though he wanted so badly to think about how angry he was at her, a single thought tickled the edge of his mind, begging to be let in—she looked stunning in moonlight, pajamas or not.

"I found you," she said softly, finally releasing him from her gaze and staring at the ground instead.

"How did you know where I was?" he asked, staring straight ahead, towards the freeway.

She walked forward a few steps and held up a small, silver object. "I had Magnus track your Sensor for me," she said, a gentle smile resting on her pale lips. "You left it on your beside table," she added, tossing it to him.

He caught it and fumbled it between his fingers, as if he were examining it for damages. "I wasn't thinking I'd be going out tonight," he said, almost bitterly. "Hadn't thought I'd need it in my pocket."

Clary finally released a breath she must have been holding and came to stand beside him. She looked down at him and leaned against the wall, breathing haphazardly; nervously. "Jace, will you just let me expl—˝

"You know Clary, I really don't feel like talking to you right now," he snapped, cutting her off. Still, he refused to look up and give her the satisfaction of seeing his eyes—seeing how close to breaking he truly was.

"Jace," she murmured. "Don't tell me I ran across half of Brooklyn in zebra sweat pants and dirty sweatshirt for nothing?"

He couldn't help himself—he glanced up at her to find her giving him that soft smile that he adored so much. She wasn't making light of the situation, or how upset he was—she was just trying to break the ice. He averted his eyes again and, staring straight ahead, gave an abrupt nod that signaled to her to sit down. Using the wall as a support, she pressed her back to it and slid down to a sitting position, legs straight in front of her. She rested her small hands in her lap and seemed to stare at them for a moment, before speaking.

"Jace…let me explain."

"Explain then," he responded sharply, looking to her, suddenly not caring if she saw how hurt he was. Maybe she needed to see it. Needed to see what she could to do him with a simple flicker of words.

She met his eyes and he suddenly held his breath—this was it. The part where she looked at him and told him right then and there that she didn't care about him at all—not like he cared for her. This was where she told him that he was just her brother, and that's all he ever could be—all she'd ever let him be.

"Jace, I… I didn't mean it. Any of it."

He let out the breath and blinked, almost wishing that she had meant it. "Well, if you didn't mean it, why… why did you say it at all?"

Clary took a breath herself and looked away from him, suddenly almost scared to look at him. "I guess… I was just… upset, you know? It seems like every time we run into this topic, you always… know that I'm struggling, too. I guess I'd just been thinking that I've been hiding it better than that. And—well, if you can see through me, than I guess everyone else can, too. And that… it scared me. And I know this sounds really stupid and immature, but I…I wanted to make you believe that I didn't care. I wanted you to think that you meant nothing to me—nothing more than just my brother, that is." Clary took another breath. "But when I said it, I saw your face. I wanted to take it back—I wanted to make it go away." Finally, she met his eyes and he saw how much her words had hurt herself, maybe even more so than him. "I know that it may not always seem like it, Jace, but I… my intention has never been to hurt you. I'm the last person to want to hurt you. And I know… I know what I said was…well, it wasn't exactly kind. And I'm… I'm sorry."

Clary let out the remainder of her breath in a long exhale before she looked at him again. But Jace said nothing—just continued to stare ahead, as if he hadn't heard her at all. Truthfully, he was numb. Everything she'd just said—it was the last thing Jace wanted to hear. He didn't want to know that she cared about him. He didn't want a reason to keep wanting her. But judging from the sound of her voice, she'd meant it. For once, Clary appeared completely black and white, instead of the abstract piece of art she normally was.

Without looking up, Jace spoke, softly but forcefully. "Valentine once told me 'to love is to destroy. And to be loved is to be destroyed.'" Jace reached down and took a rock from beside him. "What he should have said is to 'love is to destroy yourself'," he muttered bitterly, heaving the rock and watching in not-quite satisfaction as it unsettled the too-perfectly still water. He brought his legs up to his chest again and wrapped his arms around them, resting his chin on top.

He felt the too-familiar hand on his arm, and though he didn't want to, he looked to Clary, sitting beside him, a soft frown on her face. "Jace," she said gently, but there was nothing she could have said afterwards that would have made a difference.

Instead, Jace unexpectedly cupped Clary's face with his hands, and before he even realized what he was doing, he leaned down and kissed her, softly at first, and then a bit more forcefully. He wanted to feel something—to know she felt it back.

But she was kissing back. She reached her arms around his neck and pulled him closer, refusing the possibility of air. She clung to him—as if she let go enough, he would slip away. One of his hands slipped down her back and held her there, the same sense of passion and guilt flowing through him; as it did whenever he looked at her. Two voices quarreled in his head, one shouting at him to stop what he was doing—telling him how wrong it was. The other whispering to just let her know.

He listened to the second voice.

His grip on her tightened instinctively when he heard the slightest sound—like somebody was coming to take her away from him; but he told himself he would fight back—fight to keep her, just a moment longer; a moment more to linger in heaven. But Jace's heaven was twisted; demented. In Jace's heaven, he was loving his own sister. But somehow, right then, none of it mattered.

One of Clary's hands came to his face and held it gently, her lips moving in harmony with his. Jace never thought that he could feel such chemistry with somebody—his entire life he'd believed that love could only hurt. Not to say he didn't still believe it—but maybe, the pain was worth it; even if it could only last for a little while.

Finally, Jace pulled back slowly and their eyes met and Jace was surprised to see Clary's eyes full of something he'd never seen in her before. Perhaps because it was something she'd never let anyone see before—passion. They stared for a couple moments, before Clary began to lean forward again, but this time, Jace held her back gently. She blinked, and realizing what she'd done, she tried to pull away, suddenly ashamed.

"Clary," he murmured, holding her in place, forcing her to meet his eyes. "I…there aren't words to say how much I want this. But… when we go back to the Institute, I have to pretend that this never happened. And… the more that happens, the harder it is to pretend." He closed his eyes and leaned his forehead on hers, breathing in her scent; breathing in her. He felt her eyes close too as she nodded softly, hand still placed on his cheek and his arms still around her. Unwillingly, Jace drew himself from her and leaned the back of his head against the cool brick of the building behind them. Clary's head still poised in the same position a moment longer, after he withdrew. After what seemed like an eternity, she leaned back beside him, turning her head slightly to just look at him.

"Will you… will you do me one favor?" she said suddenly, biting her lip as he looked up.

"Uh, sure, Clary. Anything."

She shifted uncomfortably. "Will you just… hold me?"

He blinked in surprise—hardly the request he'd been expecting (though he didn't know exactly what he had been expecting). Almost without thinking, he found himself nodding numbly, stupidly holding out his arms to her. Awkwardly, she crawled towards him, settling herself in his grasp as his hands instinctively tightened around her; the same notion of her being carried off floating into his head. Clary leaned her head gently against his chest, and Jace felt his heart unwillingly leap and speed up in its BPM; but he could only close his eyes and hope that she wouldn't notice the sudden change.

"Clary, can I… tell you something?"

He felt her nod slowly, but he was grateful that she didn't move to look at him.

"I…I'm sorry. For everything."
He felt her stiffen, but still she didn't move; though he could tell she was alert. "What do you mean?" she asked softly.

"I mean… for all this. It's just… I'm ashamed, I guess. Ashamed to need you as much as I do. I shouldn't… I shouldn't want you. Not like this."

Clary's arm came up and she pulled herself towards him in an awkward half-hug, crushing her arm between her body and his as she reached with the opposite hand to him. Her fingers brushed his neck and Jace felt his skin shiver beneath her touch and he silently scolded himself—after all, brothers were allowed to hold their sisters when they asked for it, right?

"Jace…" Clary's voice was quivering unevenly. "Don't. Don't be ashamed of anything."


"No," she said firmly, holding herself closer. "Please don't." Her voice lowered; almost a plea. "I don't want to know that it hurts you. I don't want to hurt you. I… I won't be the one to destroy you."

Jace's eyes widened as she clung to him, shoulders suddenly heaving uncontrollably. Instinctively, he brought a hand to her cheek; almost, but not quite, surprised to find his fingertips come away wet. Jace wasn't exactly the type to comfort a weeping lady; even so—if Isabelle had ever had a breakdown, what did Alec do? Jace couldn't remember. So instead, he did the only thing he could think of.

He held her tighter.