"Explain this to me, Jace." Alec was seated on the floor, elbows resting on his raised knees as he massaged his temples. "Why exactly am I under solitary confinement?"
"Alexander!" I propped myself up on my elbows. "Are you not having fun? Would you like to play Twister? Strip poker, perhaps?"
Alec locked gazes with me. "I'm serious."
I lowered myself down onto the mattress again and interlaced my fingers behind my head. "You're not under solitary confinement."
"Oh really?" Alec scoffed. "So why won't you let me leave my room? You won't tell me where Magnus is and, this one really takes the cake, you won't even let me go to the bathroom without keeping the door open."
"Magnus is in the library."
"Teaching a hot yoga class for pleasantly plump men."
Alec picked up a pillow and hurled it at my head. "That's not funny."
I calmly plucked the pillow from my face, grinning. "Sure does paint an image, doesn't it?"
"Stop being elusive, Jace."
I sighed and sat up. "I'm not hiding anything, Alec. Magnus is doing some reading for a client and I've been recruited as your bundle of entertainment for the time being."
Alec studied me. "You're my glorified babysitter."
"Don't sound so excited about it. With an attitude like that I ought to put you to bed without your dinner."
Alec rolled his eyes and shook his head. "You are something else."
"One of a kind, limited edition, the cream of the crop..." I rotated my hand in a circle. "I could go on."
Alec held up his hand. "That will not be necessary."
"Of course. You're right. Let's just marvel at the magnificence of me in silence."
"Or..." Alec got to his feet and removed his shirt.
I blinked, fazed by the abrupt show of skin. "I don't think you quite understand the rules of strip poker, Alec."
"You can tell me how I got these scars," he finished.
"You don't remember?" I asked, stalling.
"No." Alec looked down at his torso. "I have no idea why I'm covered in scars, or why I have two burns on my back and a bruised leg."
The haunting phone call replayed in my head. I could hear Alec's screams, his broken voice calling out my name and begging for Sebastian to kill him. I pictured him laying inside the container, shaking and covered in blood and sweat. I remembered the way he'd raked his nails down his eyes to escape the hallucinations, the way his frail body trembled with fever, the searing pain that swarmed me when Alec's heart ceased beating.
I could not evoke those memories inside my parabatai. I could not bear to see him suffer through the trauma again. The block in Alec's mind could only do so much; I had to become a shield too. I would do everything in my power to defend him, to protect his mind, his memories untainted with blood, and his life.
"You were fighting a demon," I said after a deep breath. "It jumped you and did some serious damage. By the time I caught up with you, you'd taken a headfirst tumble down two flights of stairs. Your amnesia is a result of a concussion."
Alec's blue eyes narrowed as he attempted to fit the phantom pieces of the puzzle together. "You weren't with me?"
"We split up," I answered quickly. "I was covering the ground floor while you went upstairs."
"We rarely split up like that."
"And what happened to you is exactly the reason why." I waited until my parabatai was looking at me. "I'm sorry, Alec. It was my fault. I insisted on hunting that bastard separately."
Alec's eyes fell to the floor, lost. "It's okay."
I could hear the hesitation and confusion behind Alec's words. He had no idea what he was forgiving me for. Doubt lurked in his face, a visible struggle of his desire to trust in my story and the argument of his instincts.
"I want to see Magnus."
Oh, boy. "He asked for peace and quiet--"
"Please, Jace." Anxiety glowed in Alec's eyes. "I feel like you're keeping me prisoner, and it's scaring me."
A breath whooshed out of my lungs as if I'd been punched in the gut. My lies, though spoken with the best intentions, were causing my parabatai pain. The protective gate that had been placed around him had surpassed a sense of refuge and crossed into imprisonment.
"Okay," I relented. "Let's go."
Sagging with relief, Alec slid his shirt back on and hurried towards the door. I hustled to keep up with his pace. Not a word passed between us as we rushed through the halls and to the library. Alec threw open the doors and strode inside. I hung back, giving him and Magnus some space.
The warlock was standing at a table overflowing with books. He was bent over a thick and dusty volume, his entire body tense and his fingers thrumming against the table. He looked up as we entered, relaxing when he caught sight of Alec. Magnus turned, opening his arms, and Alec crashed into them. He stroked Alec's hair and rested his chin on Alec's head, watching me with weary eyes.
"Alec, what are you doing here?" Magnus asked gently.
Alec pulled back and dropped his arms from around the warlock. "Something's wrong. You're avoiding me. Nobody will tell me anything, there are gaps in my memory and I don't feel right--"
"Shh." Magnus cupped Alec's face in his hands, slowing my parabatai's escalating breathing. "I'm not avoiding you. Everything is all right."
"Why did you send me away?"
Magnus's voice remained level. "I had research I needed to do."
"What research?" Alec demanded. "And why do you two keep looking at me like I'm pointing a gun at my head?"
Magnus's composure wavered. "What do you mean?"
"I can see it in your eyes." Alec glanced back at me. "Both of you. I can see the pity and the fear."
"You're imagining things--"
"You're hiding something from me!" Alec insisted, fuming.
I could see Magnus's vigour crumbling. He was as susceptible to Alec's suffering as I was. Would he surrender his secrets at the risk of shattering Alec's fragile state? Would he bend to Alec's need to know the truth?
"Alec," Magnus began.
"Magnus," I warned, taking a step forward.
"I will tell you everything in time," Magnus continued. "I know it's hard, but right now it's safer for you to remain blind and deaf. Do you trust me?"
"Do you trust me?" Magnus repeated.
Alec hesitated. "You'll tell me everything?"
Alec nodded. "I trust you."
Magnus placed a kiss on Alec's forehead. "Thank you."
"I need some water."
I kept my gaze on the floor as Alec briskly walked past me and turned down the hall. I knew I should follow him, but I needed to quench my thirst for any progress Magnus had made. He was bent over the book again as I approached him. I glanced down at the parchment pages, drinking in the words and diagrams of demonology.
"Anything yet?" I whispered.
"It seems like I've been reading the same book over and over," Magnus sighed. "I still have no idea what we're dealing with."
"What about searching the effects of different types of demon blood on Shadowhunters?" I suggested.
"Well, when you find that information all organized neatly into one magical book, Jace Herondale, you can plop it into my idle hands."
"Sorry. I know there's a lot of information--"
Magnus chuckled hollowly. "Understatement of the year."
"You'll find something," I assured him. "Just give it time."
"Time," Magnus growled, "is a luxury we don't have."
As if on cue, a shrill crash echoed down the hall. Magnus and I froze, listening, before bolting from the library. I took the lead as we ran to the kitchen, my heart pounding in my chest. My hand reflexively went to my right hip, but I cursed when I realized I had not put on my weapons belt. I braced myself for what we would face in the kitchen.
Magnus bumped into me from behind as I came to a sudden halt, our breaths shallow and quiet as we stared across the room. Alec was standing by the sink, water and fragments of a drinking glass spewed before his feet. He had unwrapped the bandaging from his wrist and was pressing a crystalline shard against one of the three faint scars that resided there. The hand holding the glass trembled and the upper half of Alec's body twitched strangely, as if intermittent zaps of electricity pulsed through him. When he looked up at us, he revealed one eye that was black and another that was a darker shade of his usual blue.
"By the Angel..." I breathed.
"Help," Alec choked, his voice quivering.
When I started forward, Alec's voice, now firm and threatening, stopped me again. "Get back."
"Alec, put the glass down."
My parabatai's face contorted with intense concentration as he fought to pull the shard away from the magnetic force holding it against his skin. He twitched again and his blue eye faded to a shadowy navy hue.
"Just put it down."
Alec gritted his teeth. "I...can't."
I charged forward but before I could reach for Alec's wrists, he reached out and caught me around the throat. His grip was tight enough to keep me immobile, but not tight enough to cut off my air. I clawed at his hand, wrenching to get free. Alec twitched again and the fear that had masked his face vanished, replaced by a look of determination and disdain. His lips pulled back into a cocky grin and his iris darkened from the dim blue of late dusk to the black of the night sky.
"You always have to be the hero, don't you, Jace?" His voice was deeper than usual and colder than the breath of winter.
Alec's fingers clenched tighter. "You'd push anyone into the shadows just for your chance to be in the spotlight."
"Alec--" I gasped for air as he began to lift me from the ground.
He cocked his head to the side. "You were always a spoiled little brat with a pretty face who always got what he wanted. I welcomed you into my family with open arms, Jace, and I loved you. I loved you more than you could ever understand. But you rejected me. You chose that red haired bitch over me. You betrayed me. You left me behind. Disloyalty deserves the ultimate punishment."
Alec raised the shard of glass. My eyes clamped shut. There was a cry and my feet suddenly hit the floor. Alec sailed across the kitchen. He smashed into a set of cupboards near the ceiling and fell to the floor, bashing his head against the ground. He was still for a moment before groaning and shakily pushing himself into a sitting position. Wincing, he rubbed his head and opened his eyes. Though they were glassy and unfocused, they had returned to the bright blue of the ocean.
I bent over, hands on my knees as I caught my breath. Magnus was watching me, his hands at his sides but one palm still glowing with blue sparks. I gave him a nod, a silent thank you, which he returned. He then switched his focus to Alec, who was looking around, dazed.
"Alec," Magnus said softly, crouching in front of my parabatai. "I need you to go upstairs and pack a bag. You're going to stay at my place for a few days."
Alec blinked. "Why am I on the floor?"
Magnus took Alec's face in his hands. "Focus, Alec. Go upstairs and pack some clothes."
Magnus cast a quick glance up at me before answering him. "It's not safe for you here."
Another lie to add to the mountain we'd created. I turned away to hide my expression. We'd kept Alec enveloped in a haze to protect him, but we never thought that lurking in the haze was an obscured enemy, creeping up on our turned backs. My parabatai was no longer just a danger to himself.
It's not safe for you here.
I closed my eyes, damming the flood of tears. My insides twisted. It felt as though Alec had actually stabbed my heart with the shard of glass. Death would have been an easier punishment. My parabatai, my protector, my best friend, my brother, was going to be taken away from me because he was now a lethal threat against my life.
It's not safe when you're here.