Chapter 6: Alleys

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He saw everything. Every hurt, every punch, every single moment of her life-everything flashed before his eyes.

His heart ached for all she’d suffered, tears pooling in his eyes as the visions continued. He felt disconnected from his body, his consciousness pulled into Clary’s mind, sharing her tiny body as if they were one.

It ended abruptly as he saw himself, though he shone in an ethereal way that couldn’t possibly be real. It was only then that he felt the cold stone against his back and the warm weight as Clary rested against his chest. Her breathing was rapid and pained, her eyes squeezed shut as tremors wracked her tiny body.

“What-” He groaned, clearing his throat as he struggled to sit up. He kicked out at the sword, knocking it from where it had slipped from Clary’s hands, sending it careening across the floor. He noticed Luke pacing restlessly around the circle, glancing at the two of them every few seconds. “What happened? What did you do to her?!?”

Calm yourself, Jace Wayland. We merely needed to test her. And we needed to test you as well.

Jace shook his head, trying to clear the fog that persisted. “Test me? What the hell for?!?”

He bundled Clary against him, his arms wrapping tightly around her as the cold seeped through his pants. He needed to protect her, from anything and everything that would hurt her.

All will be revealed in due time. For now, return to the Institute. Lucian will accompany you and the girl. Be of care, Jace Wayland. Hard times are upon us all.

With supreme effort, Jace stood. He cradled Clary to his chest and limped his way out of the circle where Luke ambushed them, checking Clary over for any obvious injury.

“Let’s go. I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.” Jace sighed as Luke led the way and Adrien followed behind, Clary’s hair a streaming wave of fire waving next to him as he walked.

x . x . x . x . x

Luke stalked down the street, knocking into the mundanes as they passed, glowering at any protests thrown his way. Jace and Clary, both invisible to the mundanes, followed slowly. She was still cradled in his arms, though her eyes were beginning to flutter.

“Luke. Slow down, please. Jace is having trouble keeping up.”

Jace cast a thankful look to Adrien, who’d swapped out his robes for more human clothing. His jeans and Abercrombie hoodie looked severely out of place to the young Shadowhunter, though he couldn’t find much energy to care.

“The Institute is just a few more blocks.” Jace nodded to the left, down an alley he and Alec had discovered when they were small.

“Yes. I know. I may be an outcast of the Clave, but I remember where the god damned Institute is.” Adrien placed a calming hand on Luke’s shoulder, though the werewolf threw it off as he kicked at a pile of garbage overflowing a dented dumpster.

Jace glared over his shoulder, rolling his eyes at Luke’s childish display. Then he pulled up short as he faced forward once again.

There was a man in his path. His face was shadowed, his lithe body bathed in moonlight that bounced off the pavement from below, making him look like something out of a ghost story. A startled shout sounded behind him, though it cut off midway through. A shiver raced up Jace’s spine and he sincerely hoped that Luke and Adrien were alright. He sure as hell wasn’t going to turn his back on this mysterious stranger. Not when Clary was in his arms.

“Good evening.”

That voice-it slithered through the night, molesting his ears as he cringed away. Jace took a miniscule step back, glad that the man’s attention was focused on the girl cradled in his arms and not on Jace himself.

“Who are you?” It was a pointless question-they both knew that Jace had figured out his identity. And yet still, the man bowed sarcastically, his arms sweeping wide as he tilted his head down.

“Why, I’m Valentine Morgenstern of course. And you are Jace Wayland.”

The boy’s golden eyes shot wide open as he staggered back another step, which Valentine of course noticed. “How exactly do you know who I am?”

A malicious grin crossed Valentine’s face, twisting his handsome features into a monstrous mask of cruelty.

“You mean, your parents never told you?” He gasped sarcastically, his hand covering his heart dramatically as he stumbled back a step. Then he straightened, taking an achingly slow step forward. His face lowered toward Jace, their noses nearly touching. “Oh, but that’s right. Your mother died in childbirth, didn’t she? And your father, well-he was an expert at keeping secrets.”

A smirk crossed the boy’s face as he leaned close enough for his eyelashes to skim Valentine’s cheek. “You’d know a lot about keeping secrets. But then again, so did your ex-wife apparently.”

Valentine reared back, his black eyes wide. Rage coursed through him as he narrowed his obsidian eyes until they were nothing but slits.

“Watch your tongue, boy, before I remove it for you.” The low growl of Valentine’s words rushed over Jace as he felt Clary begin to wiggle in his arms. His breathing hitched, his fingers tightening minutely on her small body, pulling her even closer to him.

“Stay still.” His voice was nothing but a shadow of silence and he prayed to the Angel that Clary would hear. And not only that she’d somehow hear the desperation in his nearly nonexistent words. He didn’t dare open his mouth more than a sliver for fear of Valentine acting on the murderous impulses he could see brewing behind the cold, calculating facade he tried to maintain.

“Well, this has been a rousing good time, but now it’s time for me to be off. After all, the Clave will be aware by now of the portal we opened. Dear old Jocey was quite the tattletale.” Valentine clucked his tongue, shaking his head with an air of a disappointed parent. “I’ll just take my daughter off your hands and be on my way.”

The malicious grin that snaked across his face spoke of horrors Jace couldn’t even imagine, everything he was waiting to inflict on the daughter he was just now laying eyes on. And Jace knew he’d never forgive himself if he let Clary go now.

“You will never get your hands on her. Not as long as I’m alive.”

Valentine smirked at the fierceness etched onto the boy’s finely crafted features, the venom in his impertinent words as he spoke-even in the face of insurmountable odds. If he truly wanted the girl, he was more than capable of taking her. But he also wasn’t going to waste a valuable resource-and that’s what Jace Wayland may prove to be sometime in the future.

“A truly noble goal, I assure you.” A sharp jolt echoed behind Jace, though he knew better than to take his golden eyes off of Valentine for even a moment. “And that would be my cue to leave. I must say-those runes worked absolutely perfectly, wouldn’t you say?”

And on that cryptic note, Valentine spun, chasing the shadows further into the alley before they swallowed him completely. Jace’s eyes strained, despite their better than perfect vision-just waiting for Valentine to change his mind.

A coughed echoed in the alley behind him and Jace jumped as a hand clamped itself on his shoulder.

Luke’s haggard face appeared in front of him a moment later, his blue eyes searching the two young Shadowhunters for injury.

“You’re alright?” As Jace nodded affirmatively, Luke spun around, pinning Adrien against the grimy bricks of the alley. “How did he know?!?”

Adrien kept his relaxed stance, his brown eyes meeting Luke’s in an unwavering stare. “Luke. Think. You know what this means.”

The werewolf’s eyes widened fractionally. Clary also chose that moment to become fully aware, her emerald eyes shooting open as her head whipped around spastically.

“Jace?! Luke?!” Then her eyes focused on the third member of their party. “Adrien?!?!?”

Luke abandoned his friend, his arms flinging themselves around not only Clary, but Jace as well. His dark mop of hair fell over his eyes and mingled with Clary’s fiery tresses as he bent over her small frame still encased in Jace’s arms.

“I was so afraid. He was going to take you and-” Her small hand shot out, resting gently on Luke’s shoulder. Her eyes shot to Jace and she nodded slightly toward the ground. Though he instantly set her on her feet, he refused to part with her completely, his hands still resting lightly on her waist. Her small, deceptively strong arms wrapped around her father, who clung to her as if he thought she’d disappear. Jace backed away slowly, trying to give them a moment to themselves, only to be stopped when a hand grabbed his wrist lightly.

His golden eyes rose, meeting Luke’s stormy blues as the werewolf clutched his hand. “Don’t.”

One word, four letters-such a simple utterance. And yet, in that one simple moment, Jace felt the pieces of his life falling rapidly into place. Without a thought, he wrapped his arms around Clary’s back and she sighed at the contact.

Adrien leaned silently against the wall, watching with a satisfied smirk. This was everything he knew had been coming and everything he’d ever dared to hope for. His best friend and the girl who had become like a daughter to him were finally finding their happiness. He only hoped that they could hold onto it.

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