"I don't think this is such a fantastic idea."
Clary came to a halt in front of the closed door and turned on her heel to face me. "He's been in there for days, Jace. How do we even know he's alive? What if a bear crawled in through the window and mauled him?"
My frigid stare made her shrink away slightly. I would never tell her the noises I heard coming from my parabatai's room; fists pummeling the wall, glass shattering and occasionally muffled sobbing. Some nights I wondered if demons were actually ransacking the Institute, as opposed to the tortured soul desperately searching for a way to ease some of the pain. I tried to force some of the worry away. Boys will be boys, and what better way to make oneself feel better than kicking the crap out of something?
I casually shoved my hands into my pockets and leaned against the doorframe. "And I suppose this bear was trained by ninjas and stole Alec's wallet while he was at it?" When Clary glowered at me I continued, "He just wants to be left alone, Clary. We need to give him space."
"We've given him space," Clary sighed, exasperated. "He's been alone in his room too long. Bad thoughts go through a person's head when they're alone, especially if that person has a broken heart."
"Oh, not broken. Try ripped to pieces, stomped into the ground, burned then eaten by --"
"Jace," Clary interrupted. "Please. Just try to talk to him."
Any ounce of stubbornness in my body was lost in her pleading green eyes. I relished in the fact that not only was this young woman, whom was mine to kiss and hold and protect, stunningly beautiful, but she was also compassionate about the well-being of others, especially those that I cherished.
"If you don't go in there right now," Clary said, snapping me out of my reverie, "I will see to it that ten ravenous ducks are released into your bedroom while you sleep."
"Clarissa Fray!" I gasped, outraged. "You wouldn't dare."
My shoulders sagged in defeat. Damn all the ducks in existence. I crossed my arms in a final display of defiance. "Fine. At the risk of having my charming face bashed in, or getting an empty whiskey bottle tossed at my head, I will go into that room; however, I do have one condition."
Clary crossed her arms, mirroring my boldness. I took a step forward and pulled on the hem of her t-shirt, tugging her closer to me. With expert skill I pressed my lips against hers and pressed my body hard against her. I heard her satisfying moan as my tongue explored her mouth. Smiling against Clary's lips I pulled back.
"I think you know what I want."
Her eyes were glowing, sparkling with a fire that had been ignited inside of her. "I think I do," she said breathlessly.
"Good." I put more distance between us, more for myself than for her. "Have hot towels ready for me."
Clary's brows furrowed in confusion and her head tilted to the side slightly, like a puppy trying to figure out how to earn a treat.
"For my foot massage," I verified. "I'm not going to walk around with massage oil on my feet, am I? A hot towel to wipe them off after you've finished would be splendid. I should warn you though, my feet have been stuffed inside my sweaty sneakers all day, and my socks...well, I'd advise you to wear gloves and a mask when you peel them off. Have a hazardous waste bucket at the ready. Another day of wearing these and the angels might actually start gagging."
Clary shook her head, but not without an amused grin. "You are foul, Jace Wayland. Now go. Alec needs you."
No use in procrastinating any longer. I raised my hand and lightly knocked on the door. No answer. I glanced at Clary and with a sweeping hand gesture she motioned for me to go in. I knocked again, louder this time and hesitantly pushed the door open, as if the flames of hell were waiting for me on the inside.
"Alec? It's Jace. I'm coming in." I stepped into Alec's room, smiling at Clary's encouraging thumbs up before closing the door.
Silence greeted me, so I took the opportunity to survey the room. Disarray was too tame of a word to describe the mess. Smashed framed photos were cluttered in the corner, clothes were strewn across the floor, the curtains were drawn, but the slashes -- most likely from some sort of blade -- that covered them still filtered in light. I tried to suppress my alarm as I stepped by a heap of bloody bandages on the floor.
"Did a little redecorating, did we?" I kept my voice expertly light and steady.
Still no reply. I would have turned around then and walked out if it wasn't for the body-shaped lump underneath the blankets on the bed. Most likely a black-haired head was hiding under the mound of pillows. I approached the side of the bed, hands clasped behind my back.
"Marco," I said, waiting for the muffled, "Polo."
No such luck. I reached my hand out to yank away the blankets but thought better of it. With a slight exaggeration I cleared my throat. "Is Alexander Lightwood in, or do I need to leave a message?"
More silent treatment.
"Alec, get up or so help me I will jump on your bed."
Finally there was a hushed response. "Go away, Jace."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Mattress. I was not talking to you. I would like to speak to Alec, please, whilst looking at his face while he looks at my striking magnificence."
Again, there was no movement or reply. I waited patiently at first, but before long the temptation was too great to resist. With fluid movements I stepped up onto the mattress and began hopping up and down, focusing all my energy on pushing off to shake the mattress as hard as possible. To my complete satisfaction the pillows began to tumbled onto the floor as Alec flailed to get free. He disengaged from the entanglement of blankets and flipped onto his back to glower at me.
"By the Angel, Jace --"
"Good morning, sunshine!" I landed back on solid ground with a light thud. "I love the just-rolled-out-of-bed look you've got going on."
In truth, I hadn't seen Alec look this horrible since he'd been sliced open and poisoned by the Greater Demon Abbadon. His hair was shaggy and disheveled, his pallor alarming and his eyes, rimmed with red and sunken in, were dull, like murky water.
"Stop it," Alec hissed, his voice clipped. "Just leave me alone."
"When was the last time you ate?" I demanded, growing tired of this childlike game.
"None of your business." Alec set his head back down on the remaining pillow and shut his eyes. Both his hands were hidden underneath it, rousing my suspicions.
"Stand up," I ordered.
Alec's eyes snapped open again, but he remained unmoving.
"Stand up please."
His eyes remained on mine, challenging me, and his body still. His lack of training would have made him rusty, and I decided to use that to my advantage. Lightning fast my arm struck out and snatched the object clenched in Alec's hand. He had barely opened his mouth to protest by the time I had the object in my own hand. I sagged with relief to find it was not a weapon Alec intended to use for self-harm. I held the blue cashmere scarf up and looked at my parabatai in silent query.
"Apparently it, uh, matches my eyes," Alec's voice was strained and he was blinking furiously.
The scarf was rolled into a ball, so I leisurely unwound it, smoothing out some of the wrinkles. Alec made no move to stop me. Instead he swung his legs around to dangle off the edge of the bed and sat up, not straight, but slumped over. I continued uncoiling the scarf and when I came to the center I found Alec's cell phone wrapped up in the delicate material. My heart lurched. How many times had he tried to call Magnus?
"I didn't talk to him," Alec mumbled, as if reading my mind. "I almost did. It rang three times once but I chickened out and hung up. I wrapped it up and haven't tried again since."
"Alec, don't you think it's time to move on? You can't let this keep destroying you. Everyone in the Institute is worried about you. Beyond worried. Isabelle is plotting to storm in here, put you in a straight jacket and force feed you her own cooking through a tube."
"The other day," Alec went on as if I had said nothing, "Church snuck in here somehow and sat on the bed staring at me. His eyes reminded me so much of Magnus's. I didn't know whether to kiss him or throttle him."
"I hate to say it but, either way, my money would have been on the cat. You couldn't expect to walk away unscathed if you had tried one or the other." I lightly punched Alec on the arm. He swayed more than I anticipated. He was weaker than I thought. The next time I saw Magnus Bane I would wrap my hands around his throat...
Alec's voice was smothered in agony. He was staring at his hands. I could almost feel it right then; the grief and the aching, both physical and emotional, were overwhelming. Surely it was ten times worse for him. I wished there was a rune to make it all go away, to make Alec himself again. I knelt down in front of him and tried to catch his gaze, but he kept his stare directed away from me.
In a voice almost too small to be heard, Alec said, "I don't think I want to live anymore."
Though I kept my expression blank, panic was surging through me. Part of me wanted to rush out the door and give Isabelle the go ahead with her straight jacket plan. Being in solitary confinement under constant surveillance like some sort of diseased animal wouldn't help, though. That would only make it worse.
Not knowing what else to do, I straightened and said gently, "Stand up."
Still refusing to make eye contact, Alec slowly pushed himself to his feet. He teetered unsteadily for a moment but quickly regained his balance. Without giving him a chance to recoil, I lurched forward and threw my arms around him. I embraced him with everything I had. My arms tightened around his thin frame, afraid he might slip through them and disappear. I do not know how much time had passed before I finally felt my parabatai's arms go around me. He clenched the back of my shirt in his fists, holding me there, and buried his face into my shoulder. Though he made no noise I could feel his tears soaking into my shirt. I held on tight, refusing to loosen my grip even slightly, and waited patiently for him to push me away. It was not my place to decide when the embrace would end. I wasn't the one being ripped to shreds on the inside.
The hands clutching the back of my shirt suddenly slipped away. Alec gently pushed my arms away and stepped back. He swiped at his eyes and tear-soaked cheeks almost angrily and whispered, "Sorry."
My brow furrowed, frustrated that Alec was angry at himself for hurting and showing it. "Look at me."
Those famous blue eyes finally found mine again, minus the light and confidence that once made them blaze.
"Don't you apologize. You didn't do anything wrong. You're a fighter, Alexander Lightwood, and a stubborn one at that. You can beat this and I'm going to do everything in my power to help you, but you've got to promise me that you will never give up on me. Promise me, Alec."
All he could do was give the slightest nod. I knew better than to try and force anything more out of him. I looked at the way his shirt hung too loosely on his body. "Do you want something to eat?"
Alec's eyes narrowed as he thought about it. "No. I'm just tired."
"Okay. We'll get some food into you later." I made a gesture towards the bed.
I didn't have to state that I wasn't leaving, and Alec knew better than to try and talk me out of it. He climbed underneath the blankets and collapsed against the pillow. I walked around to the other side of the bed and plopped down beside my parabatai. I remained seated upright and kicked off my shoes. So long as Alec stayed in this room, I stayed. I was his guardian, ready to fight anything for him whether it was his mother that walked through his bedroom door or a nightmare that plagued his dreams.
Alec's back was toward me and his voice was so soft and fatigued I had to strain to hear him.
"No need to thank me. I was born with this combination of charm and devilishly good looks."
The room was quiet for a moment before Alec rolled onto his back, his eyes closed. "Jace?"
Alec's mouth open and closed a couple times, as if he were struggling to fit the right words together. "I -- Would it -- Would you--"
It dawned on me then what he was asking. I was no longer oblivious to Alec's true feelings about me, not since before that night I kissed him. He had been afraid to tell me back then, and that was why his eyes were closed now. He was afraid of my rejection. Without another word I slid my hand under the blanket and found his. It was a private gesture where no one could see, just as Alec preferred it. My fingers laced through his and he gave a gentle squeeze, a silent thank you. I gave a squeeze back and watched him as his body relaxed and he swiftly fell into a deep sleep.
A million thoughts swarmed my head like a pissed off hive of hornets. What if I couldn't do this by myself? What if Alec purposely hurt himself while my back was turned? What if Alec did heal, but then Magnus came back and shattered him all over again? I glanced at my parabatai's face and the thoughts were lulled away by his hushed snoring. The healing process could only take place one step at a time. Alec was here beside me, alive and asleep in a temporary serenity, and that was enough for me.
My eyes drifted back over towards the door. I wondered if Clary was still standing out there, waiting eagerly for me return and tell her that I'd magically fixed everything. Life had been easy before I had stepped into this room. I'd kissed Clary and joked around with her as if this day was like any other. Now I didn't even know when I'd leave Alec's side. I was already missing everything about Clary: the sound of her voice, the soft caress as I wound a strand of her hair around my finger, the smoothness of her lips against mine as I kissed her. Alec was my priority now. I just hoped she was willing to wait indefinitely.
I guess I'll have to take a rain check on that foot massage. I imagined Clary waiting outside the door wearing yellow rubber gloves and a safety mask over her face, a container in one hand with a red biohazard symbol.
couldn't even muster the smallest smile.