Everything’s fine. Everything’s great. Perfect, even. They won. They’re alive. They’re goddamn heroes.
Jace repeats those phrases over and over and over again. To Alec and Isabelle, to Clary, hell, even to himself. Everything is fine because it has to be fine. He has to be fine.
Except he isn’t.
Because when Jace died, he didn’t just fade away into nothingness: he went to Heaven. He died, and his soul went to Heaven, and he knows it was Heaven the way you know there’s air in your lungs and blood in your veins - it’s simply a part of you, a serenity and calm he’d never come close to imagining, suddenly his reality. Jace found himself existing in a state of pure bliss, as if every weight, every burden was lifted from him at once. He’d never felt so light, so free…
And then it all came crashing down and he woke back up on the dirty ground of Lake Lyn’s shoreline. And Clary… Clary was just so goddamn happy to see him alive, and Alec and Izzy’s relief was practically palpable, so he couldn’t tell them. He still can’t. And he knows he shouldn’t be upset with Clary but he can’t help it, because he knows what he was pulled back from and now everything feels wrong, and he’s afraid that he’ll never feel whole again.
He doesn’t know what’s wrong specifically, just that something is wrong. He can feel it in his soul, in the very blood that runs through his veins. But what is he supposed to tell Clary when she asks? ‘Hey, thanks for saving my life, but I think I came back broken?’ And that isn’t even the worst of it. He tries not to think about it, about the real reason he might be feeling this disconnect, but it isn’t exactly something he can forget. If he’s really being honest, with himself and with Clary, what he should say is ‘Thanks for saving me, but all you did was tear me away from the only peace I’ve ever known.’
Over and over in his nightmares, he feels that peace ripped away from him and he’s forced to relive the loss of it. And when it isn’t that, he sees Clary held in place and about to be executed by Circle members, or he sees the face of his father as he plunged his blade into Jace’s chest, complete with the sharp, burning pain of the fatal wound.
Because it was fatal. He died. For however long it took for Clary to kill Valentine and make her own wish, his heart had stopped and his soul had left his body. Alec felt the pain of it, he saw the proof of what really happened when their rune faded from his side as the connection severed. Alec knows, but Jace avoids talking about it because he can’t tell him the truth, not now, not ever.
“Maybe my heart stopped for a second, or my body went into shock. I dunno, I’m not a doctor,” Jace tries to reason the vanishing rune away with bullshit excuses that Alec doesn’t buy, but his parabatai does drop the topic after a while.
But not Clary. Clary just won’t let it go.
On some level, Jace is aware that it’s not right to force Clary to keep the wish a secret. He tells her that it’s for her own good, and that isn’t a lie because if the Clave ever found out then he didn’t want to think about what they might do to her for using the wish, and what they might do to him as someone unnaturally brought back from the dead. He’s trying to protect her, but he’s trying to protect himself just as much, and that’s the part he doesn’t share with her. Because he can’t talk about it, or else he’ll eventually have to talk about what really happened when he died.
Except all Clary wants to do is talk about it with him, because he’s the only one she can talk to since he forbade her from telling anyone else, even Alec and Izzy. Every time he leaves a room suddenly to hide the physical discomfort and sometimes pain he feels just from existing again, every night he wakes up crying out in his sleep after tossing and turning, Clary tries to get him to open up. When he grows distant and detached Clary only gets more insistent, until one day he snaps.
“WHY WON’T YOU JUST FUCKING DROP IT?”
Clary looks started for a second but recovers quickly. “Because there’s something you’re not telling me! We’re the only people who know what happened, which means if something’s wrong, I’m the only one who can help you! So let me help you, Jace!”
“You can’t help me, Clary! You’re the reason I feel like this!”
The second the words leave his lips Jace wants nothing more than to take them back. Hurt flashes across Clary’s face, mixing with the confusion from before.
“What do you mean? Did I… did I do something wrong?”
The quiet words Jace whispers next stand in stark contrast to his previous shouts.
“You brought me back.” Jace wishes it were that simple and he could just leave it at that. But he’s opened the floodgates now and there’s no stopping this conversation. A part of him doesn’t want to stop, either, eager to finally get everything out from where it’s been festering inside of him, poorly buried under lies and distractions. “I was happy. I felt… complete. Like I’d done everything I was meant to do, and this peace was my reward. I was in Heaven, Clary. And then I was back here.”
Clary doesn’t speak for a very long time.
“I just wanted to save you,” she says quietly.
“I know,” Jace says, but the words come out bitter and far from understanding. “And you used a wish meant to benefit all of humanity to do it - to save me from a place I didn’t want to be saved from.”
Jace can practically see his words sinking in as the expression on Clary’s face morphs from hurt to muted horror. When she doesn’t reply Jace just keeps talking, the words tumbling out with nothing left to stop them.
“We’re Nephilim. We’re meant to die in battle, it’s what we do! Sometimes I forget how far removed you are from everything we stand for… how obvious it is you weren’t raised a Shadowhunter. Because you don’t feel guilty for what you did at all, do you?”
This time Clary only shies away from the accusation for a moment before doubling down and growing defensive. “Of course not! I love you, Jace! I had a chance to bring you back and I took it. Maybe Nephilim are used to dying in battle, but that wasn’t a battle. That wasn’t some greater cause to martyr yourself for, and you didn’t deserve to die like that!” Clary’s voice shakes a little but she remains resolved, and under any other circumstance, it’d be that typical Clary Fray stubbornness that Jace usually finds endearing. Now, it only serves to push him that last step off the ledge of frustration he’s been building up since that night.
“Maybe I did! Maybe that was my cause, my purpose, did you ever think about that? I sure as hell don’t deserve to be alive at the cost of The Angel’s wish, and now I’m the only one living with that guilt because all you care about is yourself and that you got what you wanted!”
“I care about you!” Clary shoots back. “I’m… Jace, I’m so sorry. If I’d known, known where you went… I didn’t think-”
“You never do,” Jace says, shaking his head. “That’s the problem.”
The charged emotions shift to something softer, something decidedly more sad than angry.
“Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to lash out like that. I didn’t tell you because I know your heart was in the right place. I just thought I could hide it better - or longer, until it didn’t feel so…” he trails off, not wanting to put words to that numb sense of longing he feels inside. The wrongness of it all. He knows Clary feels bad enough already without all of that, too, if she hasn’t pieced it together already.
“How do I fix this?” Clary asks. “Just tell me what to do. Because you’re right - I saved you because I didn’t want to lose you, and I still don’t. I can’t lose you now, not like this. So tell me how to fix this.” Clary pauses, the hands previously on her hips dropping to her side in defeat as tears well up in her eyes before spilling over with every blink to trail down her cheeks. “Tell me how to fix us.”
“I don’t think you can,” he admits, swallowing the lump in his throat that threatens to stop the words entirely. He doesn’t cry, though. “I think I just need some time.”
Clary opens her mouth to immediately protest. Jace watches her slowly force it closed again, hands clenching into fists at her side as she takes a deep breath before speaking. “Alright. Whatever you need.”
He can tell she only half-means it, that it’s the last thing she actually wants to do, but the fact that she’s willing to do it anyway is a good sign that she can see how serious he is.
“You really never planned on telling me, did you?” Clary frowns.
“No,” Jace admits since they’re well past the point of lying to spare feelings now. “Because I knew you’d feel bad and want to try and fix it.”
“Of course I want to fix it!”
“But you can’t. There’s no undoing this, I just have to take some time to figure out how to live with it.”
“Okay. Okay, fine. But promise me,” Clary says, reaching out to take his hands in her own. “Promise me you aren’t going to keep me out forever. Promise me if there’s anything I can do, even if it’s just to be there with you, you’ll tell me.” She gives his hands a squeeze, the tears returning to her eyes. “Promise me you’ll be okay at the end of all this.”
Jace nods. He wants, more than anything, to believe in a future where he adjusts and settles back into the life he’s always known, with no unsettling feeling that something is wrong, with the belief that he was always meant to be here still. He wants to believe in a perfect future with Clary by his side, raising kids they put through the Academy and teach everything they know. He wants to believe that there’s an ‘okay’ at the end of this for him - for both of them - even if he can’t imagine it now.
It feels like an impossible promise to make at the moment, but he makes it anyway because he thinks it’s one they both need to believe in.
He hopes more than anything that it’s a promise he can keep.