Acceptance and Denial
"Your parabatai is such a pain in the a—" I ducked with a cry as a knife sailed through the air and sunk into the wall precisely where my head had been milliseconds earlier.
Alec stood in the kitchen, horrified. I gawked at the weapon before mustering my composure and calmly pulling it from the wall. I could hear Alec breathing hard across the room, and I wondered if he could hear the pounding of my heart. After closing the door I crossed the floor to stand in front of him.
"Is this payback for something? Did I leave the toilet seat up? Did I forget to bring home a carton of milk?" I asked with a timid smile.
Suddenly I was in Alec's embrace, his arms wrapped around my neck and pulling me down against him. I could feel him shaking against me. With a sigh, I enfolded him in my arms and buried my nose against his neck, placing soft kisses against his skin.
"I'm sorry," Alec whispered. "You startled me and the knife was in my hand..."
"I'm sure other couples throw knives at each other all the time."
Alec put his hands on my shoulders and gently pushed me back so he could see my face. "You're upset with me."
I lifted the knife that was still in my hand and tilted it left and right, watching the light glint off the gleaming blade. Alec rubbed his arm and looked away, ashamed. I placed the weapon on the counter and slid it out of reach for good measure.
"I don't recall you ever pointing a weapon at me, let alone throwing one," I said.
"I'm sorry!" Alec raked his fingers through his unkempt hair. "Like I said, you startled me. It was just a reflex."
I narrowed my eyes. "Alec. Look at me."
It took a moment before the Shadowhunter finally lifted his blue eyes to meet mine. He only held contact for a few seconds before his gaze fell away again. I knew my silence was making him uncomfortable, but I continued to silently observe him. His fingers twitched now and then, and his knee was bobbing nervously. His shoulders were hunched forward slightly like he was expecting someone to sneak up from behind and attack.
"It's getting worse, isn't it?"
"What is?" Alec asked without looking at me.
"The fear. The trauma. The nightmares. Everything is getting worse."
Alec stepped away from me. Something flashed in his eyes too quickly for me to decipher. Betrayal? "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"That's enough, Alec. You can't hide it from me. If you keep hiding everything from me, the trauma will get to be too much and it'll kill you."
"Stop talking to me like I'm a traumatized mental patient!" Alec's voice rose. "I'm dealing with my situation the best I can."
"You threw a knife at me."
"It was an accident! I told you I was sorry."
"Alec, sooner or later you're going to hurt yourself or someone else. I'm asking you...I'm begging you, please let me help you."
The Shadowhunter lifted his arm as if to ward off a blow he expected from me. "Help me?"
"I can block some of the memories," I said quietly, reaching for him.
Alec shoved my hand away. "You don't think I'm strong enough."
"It's nothing like that."
"So what, then? You're just tired of dealing with me? Am I too much for you to handle, Magnus? Am I too broken, too damaged, for your tastes? Let me guess what's next: You're going to give me an ultimatum. Either I let you wipe my memories or you walk."
I reached for him again. "Alec, I would never do that to you."
Alec recoiled. "Don't touch me. You're supposed to help me get through this, Magnus, not change me."
I stretched my arm out to grab Alec's hand, to assure him that I loved him the way he was. But before my fingertips could touch his skin, he snatched my wrist and yanked. Caught off guard, I flew across the kitchen and slammed against a far wall. My head cracked against the wall and blurred my vision, but I managed to remain on my feet. I blinked through the haziness and gaped at Alec, who was staring at me the way an attacking Shadowhunter stares at a demon: determined, emotionless.
Suddenly Alec's body was pushing me against the wall and his lips were sealed over mine. His mouth moved desperately and hungrily. I stood still at first, overwhelmed by desire, confusion, and anger. But I soon surrendered myself to him and moved my lips to match his vigour.
Alec sighed as I kissed his neck and under his jaw. "I need you, Magnus," he whispered. "Please don't leave me."
I held his face between my hands. "I won't ever leave you."
His fingers twined through my hair as our mouths molded together. He moaned against my lips as my tongue brushed against his. As I kissed him I felt his hands slide down my neck, over my shoulders, and down from my chest to my abdomen. I shivered under his touch. I tried to switch positions, but Alec pushed my body firmly to the wall before I could move him. My belly fluttered with anticipation. Without breaking the kiss, Alec's hands slithered down to my belt buckle. It clinked as he unfastened it. I could feel one of his hands on my zipper while the other popped open the button of my jeans.
I broke away and caught Alec's wrist in my hand before he could go any farther. "Alec, wait."
Alec's eyes glowed as he pulled away to catch his breath. "Did I do something wrong?"
"No, no. You did everything right," I all but groaned.
He moved for my zipper again. "Then why are we stopping?"
"Alec." The sharpness of my tone stopped him. I continued more gently, "I just can't do this right now."
Hurt and understanding swam in Alec's sea blue eyes. "You don't want me."
"Believe me when I say I want you very badly, Alexander. I just don't feel comfortable using sex to solve an argument."
"I'm sorry I yelled at you. And I'm sorry for throwing you into a wall."
"Apology accepted." I ruffled Alec's hair. "But I'm still not having sex with you."
Alec offered a half-smile. "Can't blame a guy for trying."
"Come with me."
I twined Alec's fingers through mine and pulled him into the living room. A buzz of electricity crackled through me as I concentrated. A familiar warmth spread through the palms of my hands. Releasing Alec's hand, I pushed my palms outward on either side of me. Blue sparks flashed as the furniture slid against the walls. I snapped my fingers and turned on the stereo while subtly letting magic button my jeans and refasten my belt.
Alec watched me with a quirked eyebrow as I turned to face him. A slow tune hummed around us. His cheeks brightened with splashes of color as I moved his arms up to my shoulders and then placed my hands on his hips. We swayed in perfect rhythm with the song. I pulled him tighter against me, more intimately than seductively. I smiled at Alec's embarrassed expression, and when he buried his face against my shoulder I pressed my lips against his hair. He turned to place his cheek against my chest. I, in turn, rested my cheek on top of his head. We danced for the entire length of the song, neither of us speaking. When it ended I turned the volume to a near whisper and pulled Alec down onto the sofa. He sat cross-legged, twiddling his fingers with my arm draped over his shoulders.
"Do you really think it would be better for me to block my memories again?" he asked suddenly.
"How about we avoid the topic where an argument and rigorous nude activities ensue?"
"I can't catch a break, can I?" Alec smiled at me.
"You know," I purred, "maybe there's another way get rid of those memories."
"I thought we were avoiding the subject."
"You know, for someone who's upset about not getting any tonight, you sound awfully opposed to me stirring up the fire in your loins."
Alec's lip twitched. "Are you trying to talk dirty to me?"
"I'm giving you oral."
"No you're not!"
"I'm talking to you, aren't I? Oral. Moving on." I flicked my wrist. "Now, I know you don't like me pinning your wrists down. I have a possible solution."
"And that is...?"
I winked at him. "How do you feel about fuzzy pink handcuffs?"
Alec threw his head back and laughed, genuinely. I hadn't seen the broad smile he was wearing for such a long time; seeing it now summoned an ache deep within my heart. An ache filled with longing. Seeing Alec so happy was such a rarity.
"I don't think pink is really my color," Alec chuckled.
"We could just get standard silver ones."
"Let me get this straight. You're saying we should try to replace my nightmares with kinky fantasies?"
"Wouldn't that just piss Sebastian right off?"
Something flashed in Alec's eyes again, but, like before, it was too fast for me to interpret. His smile twisted into a grin that was almost malicious.
"Yes," he said, his voice low. "Yes it would."
I watched Alec through the corner of my eye as he crept up the staircase to the balcony. He had his seraph blade out, and, though it was steady in his hand, his movements were fidgety. He did not appear to be nervous in the dark and unfamiliar surroundings, but his eyes jerked left and right, and he looked over his shoulder far too often.
Magnus was on the floor below, searching locked rooms in the back. He hadn't said two words to me since he agreed to come with us to track down more demons. I figured he was still pissed at me from our previous conversation in the tunnels. Most likely he was waiting for me to grovel at his feet with an apology, but at the moment I was not willing to admit that he was right. I trusted my own heart more than the warlock's word.
"So, Alec," I said, my voice hushed as we rounded a corner. "How are you feeling?"
Alec peered behind a leather sofa before turning to face me. "What do you mean?"
"Your stab wound. Has it healed well?"
"That doesn't really matter, does it, Jace?"
His answer caught me off guard. "Of course it matters. Why wouldn't it?"
"It doesn't matter how I'm feeling because you don't believe me about what happened." Alec's eyes were dark in the shadows cast by my witchlight.
"I never said—"
"You didn't have to," Alec interrupted. "I can read you, Jace. I don't care if you don't believe me, but don't pretend that you give a shit."
"I care about you, Alec."
"I know you do. But just now when you asked how I'm feeling? It felt like you were insulting me. So how about we just forget it ever happened and move on?"
I snapped my mouth shut. Thoughts and words were swarming in my head, but I knew anything I had to say would only make the situation worse and Alec would only get more defensive.
Alec moved away from the sofa, his head cocked to the side. I retraced his steps to stand in front of the small table at the sofa's foot. Magazines were sprawled across its surface. I bent down the touch the glossy covers and noticed dark splatters on the brighter-colored magazines. Timidly I touched my fingertip to the spatter. The liquid was thick, warm, and sticky. I wiped my hand on my gear.
"Do you hear that?" Alec whispered.
I held my breath, listening hard. At first there was only silence, but then I caught faint slithering noises. I turned in a complete three-sixty, eyes searching for an unseen foe. Alec and I looked at each other. He shook his head and gave a shrug.
Something dark suddenly dropped from above and landed on Alec's shoulders. Alec let out a shout of surprise and dropped his seraph blade. His hands reached up to pull the creature off of him.
The lights in the club abruptly blazed to life. I shielded my eyes against the blare before starting toward Alec. More slithering stopped me in my tracks. At the same moment I looked up, another creature fell from the roof and landed squarely on my shoulders. I dropped my witchlight as tentacles wrapped around my neck. Before it could cut off my air supply, I stabbed at the creature with my seraph blade. The demon squealed and loosened its grip. I bent forward and, seizing the demon with both hands, ripped it from my shoulders. It slammed against the floor with a screech. My seraph blade sliced through its head before it could get up. The demon burst into a reeking pile of ash.
I straightened and turned in time to see Alec rushing at me. His face was twisted into a snarl and his seraph blade was poised to kill. I raised my own weapon to parry his attack...
Alec's arm slammed into bicep, knocking me aside. His body flew past me. I regained my balance and whirled in time to see his seraph blade impaling another demon. The two of them crashed into the sofa and tumbled to the floor as it tipped over. I watched in a stunned stupor before racing around to help.
Another demon dropped on my back. I cried out as pain exploded in my shoulder. The demon sunk its fangs into my skin and snaked its tentacles around my throat. I tried to pry the tentacles away, but the demon tightened its grip and began pulling. The maneuver threw me off balance and my feet moved backward to compensate. The seraph blade fell from my hand as I began to wheeze. I clawed at the tentacles to loosen them, but they were suctioned against my skin. The demon gave another yank and I automatically backed up again.
The small of my back suddenly hit something hard. The force of my overcompensation sent me teetering over the railing of the balcony. I tried to rebalance myself but the weight of the demon pulled me over. My feet flipped over my head and I reverse-somersaulted over the railing. The demon, in its panic, slackened its grip. As I flipped through the air I instinctively reached out with my hand and caught the ledge of the balcony. My body gave a jolt and the demon slipped from my shoulders. It screeched as it tumbled down and crashed against the floor below with a splat. I reached up to grab the balcony with my other hand, but the pain in my shoulder was too sharp to hang on. I dangled there, calculating the height of the fall. If I was lucky, I'd survive the fall with only broken legs.
I could not hear my parabatai or any remaining demons. I fought back a surge of panic as I pictured Alec laying on the ground, asphyxiated. Then a more alarming thought occurred to me: Alec sitting nearby, waiting for me to fall, waiting for an "accident" to injure me or claim my life. I looked below, searching for Magnus. The movement caused my fingers to slip.
Two hands slapped around my wrist just before I fell. I looked up and expelled a relieved breath. Alec grunted as he struggled to pull me up. He lifted me high enough to grab the posts of the railing and, while he supported me, I managed to swing my legs up onto the ledge. Finally back on my feet, I swung myself onto the other side of the railing and sank back down to the floor, breathing hard. Alec slumped down beside me and wiped his face in the nook of his elbow.
"Thank you," I said.
Alec looked at me. "Don't ever do that again."
I laughed just as Magnus came bounding up to us. He visually inspected Alec thoroughly before glancing at me.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
Alec gave his boyfriend a thumbs up, despite the bleeding puncture wounds in his neck.
I held Magnus's gaze and clapped Alec on the back. "I am. Thanks to him." I hoped the warlock caught my subtext: You were right.
Magnus folded his arms and flashed a crooked, cocky grin in a look that clearly said: Told you so.
The darkness was always waiting for me, whether I was asleep or awake. It was a haunting, tormenting darkness, but I welcomed it when it blanketed me in sleep. At least when I wasn't awake, I couldn't feel the pain in my muscles or the nausea in my stomach. My fingers were numb from the lack of circulation and every limb felt weak and atrophied. My mind was foggy, and often there was a pounding behind my eyes that matched the cramping in my stomach. I knew I was dehydrated and entering the first stages of starvation, but my main concern was how much oxygen I had left in the box. Unless there was some sort of filtration system, I knew that eventually I would suffocate. Only being able to breathe through my nose limited my oxygen intake, but I'd already suffered one panic attack. If I lost control again, I'd be that much closer to death.
I could hear voices inside the box. Part of me chalked it up to be hallucinations from dehydration, while another part considered the possibility of resurfacing memories floating around inside my head. I didn't care either way. Jace's laughter and his babbling on about girls was comforting. Magnus's voice was consoling, but every time I heard him it felt like a hole was being ripped through my heart. I wanted nothing more than to see him, but I did not even know if he was still alive.
I closed my eyes and prayed as I'd done so many times before. At first I'd prayed to be rescued, to be brought home and reunited with those whom I loved. But in the darkness I'd come to accept the inevitable possibility that I was going to die. The thought of death changed my prayers. All I prayed for now was to be in someone's arms when my time finally ran out and the shadows smothered the flickering light of my life.