“Hey, Carrot Cake, is Simon still coming over tonight?” Luke called, carefully pouring rice into a measuring cup.
“YEAH!” Clary yelled back. She had practically crawled inside the big cabinet below their old wooden TV frame, searching through the dust for some old DVD that she wanted to watch.
Luke considered the measuring cup, shrugged, and dumped the entire bag of rice into a casserole dish. Jocelyn passed him a couple of cans with a kiss, and headed towards her daughter, who was well on her way to be swallowed by a cabinet.
“Sweetie, what movie are you looking for again?”
Clary wiggled out of the cabinet, picked a cobweb out of her hair, and sneezed. Laughing, Jocelyn extended a hand and pulled her daughter up.
Brushing the dust off of Clary’s shoulders, Jocelyn asked, “Is it not on Netflix?”
Clary sighed. “No,” she said, “it’s Speed Racer. It’s dumb.”
“Why would it be dumb?”
“I just, you know… wanted to see the colors again. It was the first movie we ever bought on Blu-Ray. It was so exciting when we splurged and got the Blu-Ray player, and we had five different kinds of candy, and Luke made cocoa, and the colors were so bright that they almost burned. Simon had a rough week, our math teacher isn’t really helping and the exam is coming up, and we’re really stressed, and I just… thought we could use that feeling again.” Clary gave her mom a half-hearted grin, and Jocelyn responded with a full smile.
“I think I saw it in the closet the other day. Come help me look.” Jocelyn led Clary into her bedroom with a gentle hand on her back.
Luke watched with a smile as his girls left the room. He put a lid on the casserole dish and slid it into the oven. As he set the old, battered egg timer that Jocelyn swore was older than Clary, he heard a small tapping noise. It seemed to come from the door, and Luke figured that it was probably Simon. Simon didn’t usually knock, but Luke’s kids had a taste for sugar, and he had heard that Simon may be bringing over some movie candy. It wouldn’t be the first time that Simon had carried too much to the Frays’ place and needed help opening the door
“Coming, buddy!” he called as he toweled off his hands. He jogged to the door and opened it, laughing.
“You bring a metric ton of...?” Luke trailed off.
In the doorway stood a tall figure hunched over, looking down, in a black t-shirt and jeans, holding a duffel bag and a backpack.
“Alec?” Luke asked, “I didn’t know you were coming over tonight.”
Alec looked up, and Luke understood. His eyes and nose were red, and he was shaking. He was blinking rapidly, and he tried to clear his throat and speak.
“I, um, th- th- the, mom, I, I she-” Alec’s chest was heaving, and he couldn’t get a word out besides mom , and Luke didn’t need to know any more. He had known Robert and Maryse since Alec was seven. There was a time when he took care of Alec more than his own parents did. Luke had watched Alec grow up, watched Alec play make-believe and care for his siblings and give Clary a Band-Aid when she scraped her knee.
Luke had also watched Alec stare at his babysitter, Magnus (“He’s only four years older than me, that isn’t very much at all!”), with stars in his eyes, draw him pictures, and hug him goodbye. He had watched Alec frown at cheesy Disney romances and get mad at Jace for “dating” a girl when they were little. He had also been the person Alec most often spoke to when he didn’t understand something (which happened to the poor kid quite a bit, as his parents would rather tell him to be quiet than actually talk to their kid).
“I, I’m sorry, Luke, I ju-just don’t, don’t-”
Luke grabbed Alec’s bags, set them down inside the apartment, and pulled Alec into a hug. The kid crumbled, abandoning his flimsy attempt to keep it together and succumbing to sobs.
“Shhh, I got you, come over here,” Luke whispered into Alec’s hair. He kicked the door shut, shuffled them awkwardly over to the sofa, and sat, Alec falling with him. He buried his face in Luke’s shirt, clutching his arms. Alec was seventeen, but Luke felt as though he were seven again, crying because he thought Jace and Izzy liked Simon and Clary more than him.
“You’re alright. You’re here now, as long as you’re here, everything is gonna be alright.”
“I try, tried, to tell them that I, I, I’m…” Alec couldn’t get the words out, and Luke held him tighter.
“I know. I know, Alec. You’re okay. Just try to breathe. Gimme a sec, kiddo,” Luke said, and eased out of Alec’s arms to go find Jocelyn and Clary.
The two were just about to head into the living room, triumphantly waving a DVD case, and he promptly grabbed their arms and spun them around, back into the bedroom.
“What’s up? Is Simon okay? I thought I heard crying,” Clary asked, and went onto her tiptoes in order to peer around Luke. She spied their visitor, and her eyebrows shot up.
“Luke, what happened?” Jocelyn whispered.
“I think he came out to his parents.” Luke replied quietly, with a sadness that Clary couldn’t stand.
“What? They- they just kicked him out?!” her voice raised, and she immediately regretted it when she saw Alec flinch and clutch a pillow. She lowered her voice to an angry sort of whisper-yell. “They can’t just do that, can they? What about Jace and Izzy? They aren’t straight either, even if they’re closeted it can’t be good for them to stay there!”
Luke and Jocelyn gave each other a look, and Clary’s heart sank.
“If they come, we’ll take them in too. Clary, love, do you know where the air mattress is?” Jocelyn asked, holding her daughter’s hand and rubbing soothing circles with her thumb.
Clary nodded. “Yeah, I had it out for Simon.”
Luke ruffled Clary’s hair. “Good. I’m gonna stay with him, you make sure the food doesn’t burn and Simon doesn’t-”
“Hey, everybody, I brought-!” Simon burst in and froze at the sight of Alec on the couch, with tears on his face and an angry red nose. “...Twizzlers,” he said, and slowly lowered the candy he had been holding triumphantly over his head like a trophy.
Luke and Clary rushed into the room simultaneously, Clary hurriedly ushering Simon into her room (accompanied by angry and concerned whispering) and Luke rejoining Alec on the couch. Jocelyn headed to the kitchen and pulled out some mugs as quietly as she could.
“I’m sorry that I just came here like this. I can figure something else out in the morning, I just didn’t know where else to go,” Alec said once Simon had left the room, and Luke couldn’t help but hug him again.
“You’ve got a home here for as long as you need it, Alec. You don’t need to apologize. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
Alec laughs, a breathless laugh that’s choked with tears.
“You don’t even know what happened.”
“I can guess. Your parents don’t deserve all of you. I don’t care what happened, you’re a good kid. It doesn’t warrant this.”
Alec met Luke’s eyes for the first time since he arrived, and quickly shut them tightly.
“I don’t want to cry again,” he said.
“You can if you have to. We buy a lot of tissues, Simon’s got more allergies than he does comics.”
“I HEARD THAT!” Simon shouted from Clary’s room, and Alec barked out a laugh.
“MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS, LEWIS!”
Alec chuckled again, wiping his eyes with the backs of his hands.
“Lucky for you, we already had a bit of a sleepover planned for tonight. Clary’s got the air mattress set up in her room, is that alright?”
Alec nodded rather furiously, before catching himself and relaxing. “Yes, sir. It’s perfect.”
“Kid, I’ve known you for years. You can call me Luke.”
Alec opened his mouth to reply, and was interrupted by a mug of something warm being shoved into his hands. He looked up to see Jocelyn, who kissed the top of his head like he was a little kid again before heading out of the room. Apparently everybody had decided that Alec couldn’t handle more than one person at the moment, which he was grateful for.
“You want me to give you a minute?” Luke put a hand on Alec’s shoulder.
“Yeah, that. That would be nice.”
Luke smiled. “You know where the bathroom is when you’re ready to clean up. Clary and Simon would love to have you. I’ve got to go get a new shirt.”
Alec’s eyes widened. “Oh, my god, I’m so sorry, I-”
“It’s fine! Those two practically used me as a human tissue until fifth grade. Trust me, this is nothing. Real tissues are on the table, though.”
Luke ruffled Alec’s hair as he passed, and Alec was alone. He took a deep breath, in and out, and looked at his phone.
Five missed calls from Izzy. Two from Jace. A clumsy text from Jace that was actually from Max, that said, “I love you Alec please b safe your the best big brother even though Jace let me use his phone Mom and Dad are mean and I think their going to b sorry so when they say sorry come back Izzy and Jace stink at Risk.”
Alec smiled and laughed and only cried a little bit when Izzy sent him a snapchat of the three of them all curled up in one bed, Max asleep in the middle almost completely drowned by blankets. Jace and Izzy both looked fairly miserable and red-eyed themselves, but in the picture they had tried to smile for Alec, and it broke his heart a little bit.
Alec went into the bathroom and began running cold water. Izzy had once told him that the trick to looking like you hadn’t been crying was patting cold water under your eyes. It was Step Four in an article she read from some magazine, Seventeen or Teen Vogue.
Step One: Let yourself cry it out. When you try to stop yourself, it causes gasping and redness.
Well. Too late for that one.
Step Two: Try to breathe normally
Alec took a slow, deep breath. Luke’s company had helped his chest relax.
Step Three: Blow your nose well. Make sure all of your sniffling is done.
Alec plucked a tissue from a Star Wars box that was sitting on the toilet and blew his nose. He looked into the mirror.
“Alright, Izzy, this better work,” he whispered, and put his fingers in the cold running water and dabbed them under his eyes. He flicked the faucet off and dried his face with a towel. Alec lowered the towel and looked into his own eyes in the mirror. His nose was red.
Step Five: Don’t try and cover the redness with makeup! The redness will go away on its own, trying to cover it will only draw attention.
Luckily, Alec hadn’t packed any makeup in his duffel anyways. Unluckily, he was a pretty pale guy, and he didn’t think Step Six, flipping your head over and mussing your hair to imply that your flushed face is just an extension of your windswept beauty, would work very well for him. Alec realized that he hadn’t washed his hair in a couple of days, and it looked just as pathetic as the head it grew on. He sighed. His face was still a damned mess, but he supposed it didn’t matter. Everyone in the apartment had seen him snotting up Luke’s shirt.
Alec closed his eyes and just breathed for a moment. He didn’t know if he would ever be able to go back home, or if Jace and Izzy would be able to stay. He had brought his backpack, but one of his textbooks was still on his bookshelf. He would have to email his physics teacher and let her know that he couldn’t do the homework until he was able to get the rest of his things from his siblings. The assigned reading for AP Literature would have to wait, too, and his-
Alright. Alec opened his eyes and decided that he could brave the living room.
“You kids want-”
Luke stopped himself. Clary’s bed was empty. Down on the air mattress, which was really only meant for one person and was not created to ever fit more than two, all three of them were out like a light. He had never seen Alec willingly be so close to anybody but his siblings, but there they were, cuddled up like they were kids again.
They had apparently fallen asleep watching something on Clary’s laptop, and Luke carefully extricated it from their laps to shut the poor thing down before it got hot enough to burn down the apartment. He laughed when he saw the screen- Speed Racer’s girlfriend Trixie was using car-fu to knock her opponents off of a very precarious racetrack. He paused the movie and shut the laptop, setting it on Clary’s desk. The kids had left their plates on the floor, and Luke decided he could compromise on his no-cleaning-up-after-teenagers rule for one night.
“Nighty-night. Don’t let the bedbugs bite,” he whispered, and settled Clary’s comforter over the three teenagers. Alec stirred, and Luke made his retreat with a stack of dirty plates and a mug full of something that he hoped was paint water that he had found on Clary’s nightstand.
He found Jocelyn in the kitchen, washing a mug in the sink with a deep frown. He walked to her back, deposited the dishes on the counter, and wrapped his arms around her waist, resting his chin on her shoulder.
“What are we gonna do, Luke?” she sighed, turning off the faucet and setting the mug down so she could spin to face him.
“Well, first, we should make sure the landlord isn’t going to kick us out for having an extra teenager or four over here at once.”
Jocelyn laughed and wrapped her arms around Luke, so that they were in a proper embrace. “Seriously.”
“I am serious. You and I both know that the Lightwoods don’t fool around, and the only thing they could do now to hurt these kids even more is keep them from each other. It’s only a matter of time before the others leave, and they’re even younger than Alec.”
Jocelyn bit her lip and hugged Luke close.
“Then I guess we should at least consider getting a futon or something. Blowing up and deflating that air mattress can get annoying. I’ll get some extra pillows tomorrow when I go out.”
Luke smiled into her hair as they held one another.
Jocelyn sighed. “God, I’m exhausted.”
“Hi, Exhausted, I’m-”
“Single if you finish that joke,” Jocelyn threatened.
“We can finish the dishes in the morning. I’m headed to bed. Join me?”
“Presumptuous of you, Mr. Garroway. I’m a respectable woman. Besides, I’m almost done.”
Luke rolled his eyes, adjusted his hold on Jocelyn’s waist and lifted.
“What’s the point of kids if they don’t wash dishes for you? They’ll be there in the morning.”
“See if I’m still here in the morning. You make one more dad joke, I’m gone.”
“Oh, look at that! We’re in the bedroom and you’re not protesting.”
“Why bother arguing when I’m sneaking out at 4 am anyways?”
“Jocelyn, no! I can’t raise three children all by myself!”
“What, and you think I can?”
“...That’s fair. You’re even worse at wrangling them than I am.”
“Rude. I won’t even give you a wistful look when I take my hidden bag of money and leave.”
“I can live with that… Give me a goodbye kiss?”
“...Of course, I’m not a monster.”