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Desperate Measures

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Everyone in the Institute was on high alert. Something about a greater demon, something about Valentine. Max didn’t care about any of that though because to him the Institute being on high alert meant that he was allowed to do whatever he wanted.

Everyone was so busy that if Max just showed up where he was supposed to be every once and awhile, no one looked for him. They all figured he was with someone else, which was amazing timing because Max needed something and in order for him to get it, he would have to do a lot of sneaking around.

See, Max needed to get the Clave’s copy of the Book of the Covenant, the uncensored version of the Gray Book. Normally, Max was able to sneak into any classified area and get whatever he needed as long as he was smart about it. The Book of Covenant was in the basement though, which was the same room where Valentine was being held until his execution. Max considered himself very smart but even he hadn’t been able to sneak downstairs and take the book without anyone noticing.

But, like he said, the Institute was on high alert. Which, meant that the alarms were going off and everyone was scrambling to follow orders. Max just had to wait for it to happen. He just had to wait for some first level Shadowhunter to mess up and leave their post without permission.

Only, it didn’t happen for three days straight. So, Max had to take that into his own hands too.

It was easy, really. Easier than even Max had thought it would be. He simply walked by the door to the basement, when the guard was standing and he’d looked up at him with the most innocent look that Max had and he’d said, “A diplomat is looking for you in the entrance hall.”

The Shadowhunter had blinked at him and asked, “What?”

Max shrugged, “A diplomat is looking for you. They tried to call you. She seemed really mad that you weren’t following orders.” He quirked an eyebrow, like he was amused and then, after a few moments, the man had scrambled off to see why they were looking for him because really, there was no reason for an eight year old to lie about hearing something like that, not one that lived in the Institute like Max did.

Then, Max was in the room. It was a big room with Valentine’s cell yards across from him. Valentine was tied up in his chair, the black gag around his face keeping him silent. When Max walked in, Valentine looked up at him and he pulled at the bonds holding him down but Max didn’t look at him. He had found the door that opened to some of the most classified objects that were held in this Institute and the only thing he needed to open the door was a high ranking Clave members stele, which he had taken earlier that morning and which he would put back before anyone noticed it was gone.

Max slid the object out of his pocket and swiped it across the unlocking rune on the door before darting inside. The room he found himself in was nothing more than a long closet really. It was narrow and it had shelves all along the walls but Max walked straight back until he found himself standing at a podium with the book he’d come for.

It was old and fraying around the edges. Max wanted to flip through it instantly but he needed to move fast if he was going to copy down the classified runes in it and get it back in the closet and put the stele back without getting caught.

Max closed the book and tucked it under his arm before turning and sprinting back out of the room. He left the door open behind him and planned in his head that if anyone came back early, he’d simply duck into the room and then wait for a moment to sneak out again.

Max ran across the room and placed the book on the table pressed against the wall. It was near Valentine’s cell and it was scattered with paperwork and files from cases that had to do with Valentine. Max look for a few moment before taking a piece of paper that looked the least important and starting to write down the runes with his pen.

He wrote quickly, only sketching the rune and a few key words to remind him of what it did before moving on. He was making good time too, only Valentine kept distracting him. For some reason, he had grown incessantly loud since Max had reached the table and as hard as Max was trying to ignore him, it was rather annoying.

Max snapped his gaze up to him and looked at him through the glass. Valentine looked just like he had when Max entered the room, only.. He looked desperate. His eyes were pleading and Max was startled to see the tears that were welling in the older man’s eyes.

Max almost laughed. He knew what Valentine did. Everyone liked to try and hide it from him but Max knew. Valentine had tried to destroy the Downworld. He’d tried to kill all of the Downworlders and he’d killed countless Shadowhunters and Mundanes while doing so.

Now, Izzy told Max all the time that crying wasn’t a weakness but on a man who had tried to kill so many people? It seemed like it was. It seemed like the biggest weakness that Max had ever seen.

Max glanced at the book, looked at the clock to see how much time he had and then he took a few steps closer to Valentine and peered at him through the glass. In a different situation, on a different person, Max would have felt bad for the man but on him, Max just found it pathetic.

He was pulling at the straps on his arms, hard enough that they were cutting into his wrists and he was screaming behind the gag, trying desperately to say something to Max. Normally, Max wouldn’t care. Not when he had something much more important to be doing but Max was pretty sure he had another twenty minutes before anyone came back downstairs and.. Max was bored.

In an hour, when he was safely upstairs with everything back in his place, he’d have a bunch of new runes to play with but right now, Max was curious what Valentine wanted to say to him. He was pretty sure that it would be pleading or he’d be trying to trick Max into letting him go but Max wouldn’t do that. No matter how smart everyone said Valentine was, Max wasn’t stupid. Max glanced between the stele in his hand and the secure door that lead into Valentine’s cell. They were locked with the same security level. It wouldn’t hurt at all for Max to go in and see what he had to say. He was tied down.

Max turned around, ignoring Valentine’s increased screaming, and he pulled the book off the table along with his page of runes and tucked it under the jacket that was left on the chair, just incase. He couldn’t have someone come downstairs and find him in Valentine’s cell and stealing forbidden runes. He could handle getting in trouble for one but he’d rather not get in trouble for both.

After checking that it was completely hidden, Max turned around and walked over to the big metal door, pulling the stele out of his pocket again. He had to stretch up to reach the unlocking rune but after reaching for a moment, he got it.

The door clicked as it slide open and Max turned to make sure no one was coming before walking inside. Where the door was placed, Max was hidden from Valentine’s view but the man was trying to look at him anyway, not stopping his incessant noise for a moment.

Max watched him for a second and then walked over and stood directly in front of him, his face only half a foot away from the others. Far away, he wasn’t a pretty person but up close, it was even worse. His skin was bloody, sweaty and gross. There was snot coming out of his nose, probably from how hard the man was crying and trying to pull himself out of his confines.

Max wasn’t exactly sure what it was about his movement, if it was the way his eyes kept jumping to it or the way he kept trying to pull his hands like he was trying to grab it, but Max could tell that he wanted him to take the gag off.

Max raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms, looking the man over once more before looking at his face again. “You’re tied up, you know.” Valentine didn’t say anything, obviously. “Even if I took the gag off you wouldn’t be able to get out.” Valentine struggled harder, shaking his head no even more desperately than the moment before. After a moment of consideration and another glance at the clock, Max walked around Valentine and then unstrapped the gag, pulling it off none to gently.

Instantly, Valentine was speaking, his voice was cracked and hoarse from all the muffled screaming but his words made Max stop for a moment anyway. “Max! Max, please! Max-” Max hadn’t known that Valentine knew his name. “It's Magnus! Max please, It's not Valentine! It’s Magnus! Please-”

For a few moments, Max fell for it. He stood behind Valentine and for a second, he actually believed the scheme and then he’d remembered what he’d heard Jace and Alec talking about before.

“Don’t let him get to you, Alec. He’d do anything to get free.”

Oh. So, Valentine must be pretending to be Magnus. Max wasn’t too fond of Magnus but he made Alec happy and he was kind of Max’s brother now, so Max was offended on his behalf anyway.

Slowly, Max walked around the chair and stood in front of him. “I’m not going to fall for that, you know.” Max said mildly, crossing his arms again.

Valentine stopped speaking for a moment, like he was reeling from the fact that Max had said something to him and then he started again, jerking his arms in the straps as he spoke, “I’m not trying to trick you. Max, please, I’m not trying to trick you. They’re going to kill me. I’m in the wrong body and they’re going to kill me.”

Max raised an eyebrow, scoffing quietly. He wasn’t even very good at acting. “Yeah? Prove it.”

For a second, Valentine didn’t say anything. He stared desperately and then he spoke, his voice pleading for Max to believe him, the tears in his eyes already starting to fill again, the words sending a chill down Max’s spine as he spoke them. “Alec- he’s. Alec’s scared of spiders- Remember?” Valentine choked on a sob as he continued, “You told me that after your first rune party. I need to take care of all the spiders and I can’t make fun of him. You- You asked me about my wards and I made you hot cocoa. Max, please. Max.

Max’s eyes widened a fraction of an inch and then he took a step back. All of that had happened. He’d asked him about his wards and then Magnus had walked over to the bar and made him hot cocoa, while Max told him not to make fun of Alec. He’d told him that completely alone, while everyone else was still in the other room. He told him that when everyone but his family had gone.

Magnus- Valentine pulled at the straps again and kept trying to talk to him but Max closed his eyes and thought about it really hard. He thought about every moment of that conversation. He thought of Magnus’s wards, which had been up, stopping anyone besides his family from entering. He thought about watching Alec, Jace, Izzy, Mom, Clary- All of them through the glass and finally, when he could come up with no other solution, he opened his eyes. “How come your wards aren’t lying?”

Magnus responded instantly and his answer didn’t shake no matter how hard he was crying, “Because I’d tell them, if they asked.”  

Slowly, Max backed up and when he reached the door behind him, he turned around and ran out of it, running all the way up the stairs without looking back. Max could hear Magnus behind him, calling to him, trying to get him to come back and in the back of his mind, he knew that the door was still open and the book was still out but he kept running anyway and he ran until he met Jace and Alec in the training room.

Instantly, the words came from his mouth, not even looking around to see if there was anyone else standing there, “Alec! Magnus is in Valentine's body! Alec-” He grabbed onto his brother's shirt and held onto him, as he spoke. “Alec, he’s not lying! It's not a trick!”

Alec stared at him for a moment and then he met Jace’s eyes and frowned before looking down at him again, his voice gently, “Why were downstairs Max?”

Max blinked uncomprehendingly. “What?” Hadn’t Alec heard him? Wasn’t he worried at all that his boyfriend was going to die, shouldn’t he be the one worried about this, not Max? “Alec, you’re not listening! It’s not a trick! It's actually him!” Max let go of Alec and took a step back, watching his brothers eyes shine with pity.

“It's not, Max.” Sighing, Alec dropped the weapon he’d been using to spare with on the table. “Why don’t we go upstairs and watch a movie? We can watch that show you like.”

Max didn’t respond because he was too busy being enraged by the fact that Alec didn't believe him. A half an hour earlier, he had been offended on Magnus’s behalf and now he was enraged on Magnus’s behalf. “Alec! He knew what I told him! I told him something after my first rune party, no one else was in the room! There's no other way he could have known!”

Jace came up behind him and put his hand on Max’s shoulder, “He’s a really good liar, Max. That’s how he got this far.”

Instantly, Max shrugged his hand off and turned to stared at him in disbelief. “He’s not lying!”

Jace pressed his lips together and after a moment, he nodded. “Alright. I believe you... Let’s go up stairs, though.” Jace grabbed his shoulder again and turned, trying to pull Max towards to staircase.

This time, Max pushed him away. “You don’t! You don’t believe me!” They both turned and looked at him again and Max saw in Jace’s eyes that he wasn’t going to believe him. No matter how many times Max tried to tell them, they had already decided that Magnus was lying.

Again, Max was going to have to take into his own hands.

Glancing at the clock across the room, Max saw that his twenty minutes were almost up and then he turned and ran as fast as he could towards the basement again. If anyone got there before him, it would be all over. He wouldn’t be able to get into the cell again, they wouldn’t let him into the room.

When Max ran through the first door, he slammed it behind him and pulled out the stele, drawing the unlocking rune just as Alec and Jace reached the door. It would only take them a couple of minutes to get through it. That door wasn’t secured like the ones downstairs were but by that time, they wouldn’t be able to do anything.

Max sprinted down the stairs. The second Magnus saw him he jolted, calling Max’s name. Max ignored him. They didn’t have time. Someone was going to get the door unlocked soon and soon after that someone with the ability to unlock all the doors was going to come. They needed to fix it before that happened.

Quickly, Max grabbed the book from under the jacket. Behind him, he heard the basement door slam open. He looked up and caught Alec’s frantic eyes before he turned and threw the book into the cell. It slammed onto the ground and the back cover came off at it hit but Max didn’t worry about that. He could hear Alec and Jace running down the stairs now and he stood up on the tops of his toes and stretched until- He slashed across the unlocking rune and then he ran into the cell and slammed the door.

“Max! Max, he’s lying! Open the door, Max!” Alec ran to the door, his stele running across the destroyed rune desperately. Secure doors like these ones had built in runes that couldn't be copied with an ordinary stele. Alec’s stele did nothing.

“He’s really not, Alec.” Max picked the book up off the floor and then he walked over and sat the book on Magnus’s lap before opening it to the unlocking rune, the one that no one was supposed to have, the one that unlocked things like the cuffs on Magnus’s hands.

“Max! He’s tricking you!”

“Thank you, Max..” Magnus’s voice came out quietly and he hung his head down, his voice radiating absolute relief.

“You’re not out yet.” Max pointed out, pressing the tip of the stele against the first cuff on Magnus’s wrist before pausing. “Magnus? What happens when powerful runes are drawn wrong?”

Magnus didn’t answer for a moment and then he spoke softly, “I don’t know.” Max knew that Magnus was lying to him but this time he didn’t mind because he had the feeling that Magnus was lying for himself too.

“Actually, don’t worry about it.” Max smiled a little bit, trying to look as confident as he could before looking down again. “I think I’ve done this one before anyway.” Max could lie too.

“Max please! Don’t let him out! I promise, Max! He’s lying to you!”

Slowly, Max started the rune, glancing at the book every few seconds to make sure it was right and then- “Left! Left Max, draw that line left!” Max jumped, looking down at his free hand and quickly making the ‘L’ with his thumb and his finger.

When he finished the rune, the cuff popped open and Magnus and Max both breathed for a moment. “I’m still trying to remember my left and rights. Next time just say ‘that side.’”

Magnus nodded still breathing harshly, as if he were still scared. “Alright. The other one, please.”

Max repeated the same rune on the other cuff, all while Jace and Alec were screaming behind him.

When the cuff popped over, Magnus stretched his fingers and then stumbled to his feet, the book tumbling to the ground again as he leaned on the glass wall for support. Max took a step closer to him and Magnus laughed humorlessly as he slid back on the wall, hanging his head down for a few moments before finally looking up.

Behind them, Alec was screaming at Magnus, threatening him and telling him not to hurt Max but both of them ignored him. “Only a Clave members stele can get into this room.” Max supplied helpfully, show Magnus the stick in his hand. “I have the only one in the Institute but it's not going to take them long to send someone here. Not when it's about Valentine.”

Slowly, Magnus nodded. “Okay.. Okay.” He sat up and took a deep breath before pulling the Book of the Covenant towards him, flipping through it frantically. After a moment, he settled on a page and pointed to a very complicated rune that Max had never seen before. “I need you to draw this. Five of them on that wall over there, I’ll show you where.” Magnus stumbled to his feet again and grabbed the book before looking back in confusion as Max didn’t follow him. “Max, please-”

“You can draw them yourself, you know.” Max said, cutting him off. Magnus blinked at him and Max held out the stele. “You’re in Valentine’s body. You can use draw them.” Magnus looked between the stele and Max and Max smiled a little bit, inching the tool towards Magnus’s hand. “Take it.”

Magnus looked between his Valentine’s hands and the object before nodding. “Right..” Normally, Max would have been annoyed that it took Magnus that long to understand what he was saying but today he cut him some slack.

Behind him, Max could hear Jace on the phone with someone from the Clave. He was sure that somewhere in the Institute, there was a portal opening that would bring someone from the Clave here.

Magnus heard him too and he reached out and took the stele before quickly, faster than Max had ever seen someone draw runes, drawing five of the runes from the book on the wall; all of them creating a perfect arch, like a doorway.

Magnus stared at it for a moment, his eyes flashing like he was trying to make sure that it was right and then he looked to Max. “I need a piece of paper.”

Max looked around and then took a step forward and flipped the book in Magnus's hands to the last page. It was filled with notations and writing in a bunch of different styles and it looked pretty important but Max knew that the last page in any book was the least important. Promptly, he ripped it out and Magnus’s mouth quirked in a smile before he took it and pressed it against the wall, writing on the clear side of it frantically.

Max caught the words ‘Catarina’ and ‘now’ and then Magnus drew the fire-message rune on the corner of it and it lit into flames. They both stared as it disintegrated and then Max asked, already feeling the dread as he heard Jace say, ‘they’ll be here any second’. “What happens if whoever you sent that to is sleeping? Or what if they don’t believe you? I almost didn’t believe you, you know.”

Magnus turned to him and smiled softly, looking so much more like himself than he had when he was crying, “I’ve known Catarina for centuries. She’ll believe me. Let’s just hope that she's awake.”

Max hesitated for a moment and then he nodded. Behind them, the basement door slammed open again. Max turned and watched a shadowhunter, one who was definitely sent from the Clave, sprint down the stairs as at least twenty others followed behind her. Max caught Alec’s gaze for a moment and he stared at Alec’s sad, worried look before turning back around and taking Magnus’s hand into his.

Neither of them spoke. The woman was redrawing the rune on the door as she yelled orders at the other behind her. Men stood behind her, weapons in hand, ready to barge into the room the second the door was unlocked and grab Magnus.

Max had no doubt that they would kill him. He was being executed anyway and after such a breach in protocol and security they’d do it right there, whether Magnus struggled or not. Max tightened his grip on Magnus’s hand and Magnus squeezed back just as hard.

The door opened behind him and Max clenched his eyes shut as he heard the men rushing in.

It happened with not a second to spare. The men took a few steps into the room, only a couple of yards away from him, only moments away from grabbing Magnus, and then the portal in front of them exploded with power. It swirled with purple magic and Max let go of Magnus’s hand, only he didn’t move. Magnus looked at Max and then looked at the men who were barging in, their weapons drawn.  

He didn’t want to leave. Not with Jace and Alec a wall away from him, not with the Clave standing there, ready to kill. It didn’t matter that they had done all of this to get Magnus free, Max saw that he wasn’t going to leave. He didn’t trust them. He didn’t trust the Clave not to hurt Max and Max was starting to realize that he didn’t trust them either but they didn’t have time for this. Max wasn’t going to let Magnus die. Not after all they’d gone through, not know how happy he made his brother.

Max felt someone grab the back of his shirt and start pulling him back and then he reached out and pushed Magnus, hard. Magnus fell into the portal, scrambling to catch himself on the wall that wasn’t there anymore. The second he disappeared, the portal blinked out and Max was thrown off his feet as he was ripped back.

He was only off the ground for a second and then Alec was there, drawing his weapon on the man that was holding Max and Jace was there too, catching him as the man was ordered to let Max go.

The ten minutes after that were filled with chaos. Jace picked him up and ran out of the room as Alec screamed at the Clave members behind them, his voice roaring through the room, loud and angry, “He’s a child! Why wasn’t anyone down here!?”

The entrance hall that they ran into was filled with Clave members too and Jace darted across the room, sitting the farthest away from everyone as his arms stayed locked around Max. “Max! Are you okay? Did he hurt you?” Jace grabbed his face hard, forcing Max to look up at him but Max wasn’t upset because he knew that Jace was worried.

“I’m fine, Jace! Magnus wouldn’t hurt me!” They continued like that for a few moments until Jace finally just held Max close, his hand never leaving the weapon at his side.

They sat like that for maybe a minute and then the counsel was there, stalking across the room. Max heard her screaming as she was walking over, “He’s old enough, Alexander!” And then Jace stood up and shoved Max behind him, hold the sword up.

In the momentary pause that Jace’s movement cause, Alec ran in front of her and stood with him, both of them, trapping Max between the wall and themselves.

They stood armed and Max could see already what was going to happen. Izzy and Mom were both out of the Institute. Dad was back in Idris. Magnus was probably halfway across the world. Then, Max realized that it had been for nothing. Magnus was safe but Alec was going to die here, refusing to let the Clave take Max away.

“Alexander Lightwood. Jonathan Lightwood. Stand down. Now. ” Her tone held the warning that she didn’t need to say outloud. It was their last chance. When they refused, she was going to give the order to kill them.

Max caught the back of Jace’s shirt and then pulled before reaching out for Alec’s when Jace didn’t respond. “It’s okay! Just let them take me, It's okay! Alec, please! They’ll know that I was right when Magnus shows up, Jace please! ” They didn’t listen to him. Max pushed, trying to get by both of them but instantly he was shoved back again.

“It's okay, Max. Everything’s going to be alright.”

Alec’s voice was low and Max knew that he was being lied too. This time, he wasn’t okay with it. This time it wasn’t okay. Max screamed, “No! It's not! Alec, please. You’re not listening to me again!”

“Kill them.” The counsel said it evenly, as if she’d just given the order for some mundane mission that had nothing to do with killing his siblings. The men started forward and Max screamed so loud that he didn’t hear it at first.

He didn’t hear the hush that fell around the room and he didn’t hear the men stop moving, not by order, but in pure shock. Max looked through tear filled eyes as the body of Valentine, either dead or unconscious, landed in the center of the room.

They stared, not a single person daring to moving as everyone struggled to understand what that meant. Then a moment later, Magnus was there. He marched into the room, wearing clothes that looked nothing like Magnus would wear.

Max pushed and this time Alec stumbled forward. Max didn’t look back, he didn’t look to see if anyone was following him or if the men had started towards his siblings again, he just ran until he landed in Magnus’s arms.

The man caught him instantly, falling to his knees as he held Max tight against him.

Max sobbed into his neck and Magnus whispered to him as everyone finally started move around them, “Everything’s okay, Max. You saved me. You saved everyone. Everything’s okay.” And Max closed his eyes and let himself be held because he knew that it was true this time.