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Familiar Faces, Quiet Thoughts

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Jace leans against the wall of the elevator, watching absently as the numbers rise. It’s early afternoon and he shivers a little, still cold from his trek here. It’s the tail end of January and New York is in fine form this time of year.

Hazily, he remembers the time he persuaded Alec to join him at the park across from the Institute. It had been one of the few times he’d ever known Alec to skip his training and they’d spent a few hours playing like the kids they never were.

It was one of his first memories of New York. When he’d first been taken in by the Lightwoods, he’d felt constantly on edge. He didn’t know anyone and from his first ten years, he’d assumed every step was a minefield waiting to explode.

Maryse and Robert had introduced him to a precocious Izzy and stoic Alec. Even so young, Alec had been serious, cautious. Jace hadn’t been so sure of him at first. He’d thought Alec a dreadful stick in the mud, really, and Jace shakes his head a little now at the memory.

Alec’s still a bit of a stick in the mud if he’s being honest with himself. His brother worries more than he should and his shoulders have carried weight that Jace knows he himself would have collapsed under long ago.

Still, Alec was the one who showed Jace where the sweets were kept in the kitchen and he was the one who comforted Jace the first time he had a nightmare. He still remembers that night-- he hadn’t been in New York long and he’d woken up, hoarse from shouting and shivering with a cold sweat.

He’d been remembering one of his father’s lessons and even so young, Jace’s most notorious boogeyman had been Valentine, long before he knew the name.

Disoriented and afraid, his head had whipped up at the gentle touch on his shoulder. Alec had been staring at him in the way only his parabatai could-- dark eyes studying him with an intensity that was far too astute for someone so young.

That had cemented their friendship and all these years later, Jace still thanks Raziel regularly for bringing Alec into his life, for giving him the chance to learn the boy under that earnest gaze.

It's been a few years, but Jace has always been a little more introspective than he likes people to think. He’s carefully cultivated his image as a devil-may-care shadowhunter and he takes great pride in it. It keeps people at arm’s length and that’s always been his greatest wish.

Except for Alec of course, Jace concedes to himself.

Alec’s always been able to peer into Jace’s damned soul. As parabatai, it’s both infuriating and a blessing. But for all that Alec is intimately acquainted with Jace’s biggest demons, Jace knows Alec’s right back.

He figures he’s the only one who knew Alec’s tragic habit of self-flagellation, knew just how deep it ran, just how much it tainted Alec for the longest time.

He was the person who drew an iratze on Alec’s busted knuckles and bleeding hands. He’s the one who lay awake at night when Alec’s self-hatred and despair and futile fury washed over them both. He’s always been the one to stand beside Alec, steadfast and sure, even as he was helpless to stop his brother from breaking from the inside out.

The elevator slides open quietly and Jace pushes off from the wall, striding out towards the door to the Penthouse.

Isabelle had sent him over to get a file Magnus had on a specific species of water demon and while Jace had grumbled-- it was fucking cold outside-- he really hadn’t minded all that much. He was always a little more stuck in his head when the anniversary of his move came around and he’d welcomed the chance to leave the Institute on such a small errand.

He’s lived in New York for fifteen years and he still gets caught up sometimes in the City-- the crowds of people that had been jarring to a boy who had only known one other soul for his first decade, the contrasting smells that changed several times a block, the always changing scenery. It all called to him and Jace knows this is his home.

Really, Alec was home. Jace knows that Alec stretches himself thin-- to breaking-- for those he lets in and Jace has counted himself lucky to be one of those people for years. He’d never tell Alec so explicitly, but then they both know each other well enough to recognize the bond that isn’t merely a ritual or rite of passage but a part of themselves that will never come undone.

As Jace approaches Magnus and Alec’s front door, he feels the wards wash over him, prodding gently. He’ll never understand how but the wards have always accepted him with hardly a bother. The magic feels like a summer breeze and Jace wraps a hand around the door handle, pushing the door open wide.

He’s just set to yell an obnoxious greeting-- it’s what people expect after all and who is Jace to disappoint-- when he freezes, biting his tongue to keep the words in.

He barely dares to breath. Still holding the door, Jace feels something in him calm, like waves lapping at a silent shore.

It probably shouldn’t be so surprising but, then, Alec’s always held his cards close to the vest. Jace knows his brother likes to maintain his aloof, intimidating facade. Only a handful of people know Alec’s soft side-- that he can recite most of Shakespeare’s sonnets, has a weakness for flowers, and that he can be the most comforting, supportive person in the world capable of selfless forgiveness and love.

Jace knows all of that and he’s rolled his eyes more times than he can count at the fact that Alec hides all of that behind brooding eyes and a frowning mouth.

Not such a hardass now, are we, Jace thinks.

There’s a fire crackling in the fireplace and Jace can see the dusting of snow falling outside on the balcony. The loft smells like cinnamon and something he can’t quite identify, even if it is overwhelmingly familiar.

And there’s his brother wrapped around his home.

Magnus is laying on the couch, face turned away. Alec’s a long line over him. His face is pressed against Magnus’s neck, arms buried around Magnus’s middle between his back and the couch.

He’s wearing a hoodie that makes his face barely visible but Jace can hear the snores from here. They’re soft, muted against Magnus’s throat, and Jace wonders how Magnus manages to sleep so soundly.

For his part, Magnus has one hand flat against the bare skin of Alec’s back, resting low under the hoodie. His other arm is wrapped around Alec’s shoulders, pulling him closer even in sleep.

It’s an intimate position and one that Jace has never seen Alec in. Jace taps into the bond a little more deliberately and feels the calmness in Alec’s presence, the warm contentedness that feels like a spring morning and blooming sunflowers.

Jace watches the pair for long minutes, caught up in the clash between past and present. It makes him feel disoriented, a little unmoored. Oh, he’s well aware that Magnus and Alec share something special, something so intense that outsiders can’t even fathom the depth of feeling. He’s caught the edge of that crest-- when Magnus tells Alec he loves him, when Alec worries about Magnus’s magic depletion, when he catches a burst of emotion that he knows isn’t his but feels so strongly nonetheless.

Still. It makes Jace think back to all those days it was just the two of them-- Alec and Jace-- against the world. They’ve seen each other at their lowest, when they were both swamped in such despair and anger and desperation that it’s a wonder they made it out alive.

Jace can’t count the times he woke up, gasping, and was halfway to the training room-- or roof-- before he even woke up completely. He doesn’t know just how many nights he spent standing silent sentry as Alec dreamed-- his parabatai completely unaware of the person who kept watch, keeping the demons away.

Parabatai isn’t just a word. It’s an obligation, a responsibility that Jace feels in his very bones. As Jace watches Alec, sleeping in Magnus’s arms, face relaxed and posture boneless, he feels something in him shift.

He’s known for awhile now, but it’s different to see it. Jace is no longer Alec’s home, his safe place. They may still share a piece of their souls, but Alec’s given his heart to Magnus and Jace can feel the way everything in Alec reaches for his boyfriend, the way Alec draws such strength and happiness from this person neither of them ever saw coming.

Jace also sees, plain as day, the way Magnus seems to curve around Alec, opening himself up for Alec to burrow into. Their hearts are intertwined and Jace knows that bond is just as irrevocable as the parabatai connection.

No, Jace thinks. He will always be a harbor for Alec-- and he knows as well as he knows his own name that the same is true for Alec-- but his brother has found someone else.

Something else.

He’s found a home, a place to lay his heart and know without a doubt that it will be cared for, without reservation. He’s caught the looks lately, the worry and anticipation and hope and grief.

Jace doesn’t think anyone else has caught the way Alec’s been studying his surroundings. He doesn’t think anyone else has a clue to what Alec, ever impenetrable, has been considering.

But he has and Jace knows that Alec’s heart-- his soul-- will be taken care of long after Jace is nothing but dust and shadows in the City of Bones.

He settles, and with a deep breath, takes a step back. He won’t interrupt Magnus and Alec’s nap, their afternoon away from the outside world, doesn’t want to intrude on this private moment. Izzy can damn well wait for that report and he’s just set to turn and leave as silently as he entered when he freezes for the second time in as many minutes.

He doesn’t know how long, but Magnus has turned his head and is staring at him with a calm intensity that makes Jace feel sliced open.

The two of them study each other for a moment that feels stuck in time before Magnus slowly blinks. He smiles a little and Jace returns it with a sharp nod. He watches the absent way Magnus sweeps a thumb over Alec’s back and the way his brother shifts, just a little, and burrows deeper into Magnus with a noise of sleepy happiness.

Magnus tilts his head down and kisses the top of Alec’s head before closing his eyes and returning to sleep.

Jace shudders and swallows the lump in his throat as he takes his cue and leaves.

There was a time-- an eternity-- when Jace thought both he and Alec were doomed to hell. He never could have foreseen the man that makes Alec the best version of himself, the man that makes Alec dream, that gives him such peace and security.

Closing the door carefully, Jace heads back to the elevator lost in thought.

Alec had found his own home and Jace rests easy in the knowledge that his brother is safe and sound and loved as much as he deserves. He sinks into the happiness and muted joy that soaks into him through the bond and thanks the Angel that they’ve both found their way through the darkness.

No, Jace doesn't mind that he's no longer Alec's person-- not when his brother has found his soulmate. Really, it's all Jace could ask for, his parabatai's heart safe and sound. Alec doesn't feel like a maelstrom any longer and Jace can't remember the last time that he felt his brother coming undone, drowning in desperation and quiet despair.

It's Magnus and Alec against the world now and Jace couldn't be happier about it. Distantly, Jace hopes that he can find a similar happiness for himself one day but lives content in the knowledge that they'll both be just fine, regardless.