Alec Lightwood liked his routine. He knew that a lot of people, his sibling included, couldn't understand how he could go through his daily return of home, work, take a break to eat, and home, excluding some Sundays when Lydia forced him to take a break as a form of repayment for forcing her do the same thing every other Saturday, but it worked for him. Regardless of what Jace said being one of the two main partners in a rather new, but already quite successful, Law firm was not a monotonous job; it was definitely challenging some days. And really, it wasn't like he didn't do anything but work. He trained with his siblings at least four times a week, usually martial arts and boxing, though Izzy had managed to convince them to try Zumba. It had received mixed reactions between the Lightwood siblings: Izzy and Jace had loved it, but Alec had most certainly not. Regardless, he was happy with his life even if it didn't offer too much variety.
That's why he was probably the only one in the coffee shop that didn’t look like a zombie. He rolled his eyes, yes, it was 7 a.m. on a Monday but really, did no one else but him like their job? He checked his email again not surprised to see that he hadn't received any new mail in the five minutes that had passed while waiting in the queue and sighed, he had promised Izzy that he would at least take the time to sit and have breakfast every day (and yes, coffee did count as breakfast) instead of eating on the way to the office but it was frankly quite boring. He looked around, trying to entertain himself with people-watching (or judging, really, but it wasn't like anyone could read his mind) when he realized that there was someone there that didn't belong. A little dark-skinned girl stood at the door, clearly not wanting to get in line for coffee and looking around with big, scared eyes. Alec imitated her, certain that he would find someone looking for her but everyone seemed too busy glaring at their cups to even notice there was a child in the establishment.
Alec approached her, slowly and making sure she knew what he was doing so as to not startle her. The girl looked even more frightened when he kneeled in front of her but made no move to leave, Alec took that as a win. "Hi there," he smiled. "Are you lost?" he asked. The girl did not answer. "Did you get separated from your parents?" he tried again but was met with the same response. "Fair enough," Alec nodded. "You must have heard at least a thousand times that you should not speak with strangers. Really, you're a very smart girl for remembering it," he praised her and that did get a reaction out of her even if it was just a tiny, shy smile. "I'm Alec," he introduced himself answering her smile with one of his own. "I've got three siblings, my favorite color is green, dark green not neon green, and I really love your pigtails and your ribbons." The girl raised a hand to touch them, her smile growing a bit. "Now that I'm not a complete stranger, will you tell me your name, please?"
The girl was silent for a whole minute but Alec waited patiently for her to give him an answer, even if it was only a shake of her head, and was pleasantly surprised when she spoke. "Madzie," was all she said, her voice a bit hoarse like she wasn't used to talking that much at all. Alec almost frowned stopping himself just in time and smiling to Madzie instead.
"That's a pretty cool name," he commented. "Way better than mine." It might’ve been silly but every time he got the little girl to smile, he felt as proud as he had the first time he had won a case. "Are your parents around?" he asked. She shook her head.
"Nana said to wait here," Madzie answered a bit unsure.
"And do you know when that was?" Alec asked softly trying to not convey his fury against that ‘Nana’ who thought that leaving a girl that couldn't be older than five alone in a coffee shop was in any way acceptable.
Madzie shook her head but then tilted it to one side, thinking, so Alec smiled at her and kept silent until she answered. "It was still dark," she offered pointing outside and Alec's blood boiled. That meant this sweet little girl had been waiting alone for over an hour. And really there was only one thing he could do.
"Madzie, would you mind going with me to meet my brother? He doesn't work very far from here," he asked the girl as gently as he could, holding out his hand for her to take.
"Nana said to wait here," she repeated and Alec could see her closing off.
"I know," he reassured her. "But that was really long ago. She doesn't usually leave you alone for that long right?" he asked, the girl considered this for a few seconds before shaking her head. "So, something may have happened to her or she may have gotten lost," Alec told her and the girl's eyes widened with worry. "My brother's work is to help people, you see, he may be able to find Nana for you if you come with me, will you?" After a few seconds of consideration Madzie nodded and took a step towards Alec taking his hand and causing the man to smile brightly at her. He was already making his way towards the door when he realized something. "Wait, have you had breakfast yet?" and he wasn't exactly surprised when he was answered with a shake of the girl's head. "I'll buy you a cookie."
He headed towards the barista who seemed to be the only awake person in the room besides Alec and as such had seen the whole interaction. "Am I bearing witness of a kidnapping?" he asked warily when Alec ordered the cookie. "Because that's not cool man," he added sending Alec a pointed glare.
"My brother is a cop," Alec explained not quite managing to reassure the man. "But if it's going to make you relax..." he looked at the tag the man was wearing on his uniform. “Simon, I'll tell you that my name is Alec Lightwood and let you take a photo of me," he offered.
Simon's eyes widened. "You're Jace's brother?" he asked loud enough that the nearest clients send him pointed glares. "I'm Clary's best friend!" he explained just as loudly.
"A pleasure," Alec said as dryly as possible. "So now that you know who I am maybe you could give me that cookie?" he asked as slowly as he could, sending an unimpressed glare at him. His face transformed into a soft smile when he turned towards Madzie. "Is chocolate okay?" The energy Madzie put into nodding told Alec that chocolate was more than okay.
"Clary was right, you are scary," Simon murmured but he gave Alec a couple of cookies. "On the house, I'm way too weak to charge a girl as cute as her," he said winking at the little one. Madzie smiled shyly at him but plastered herself to Alec's leg and tightened the grip on his hand. Simon must have noticed her discomfort because he didn't address her again while Alec led her out of the coffee shop and onto the street.
Once they were outside Alec looked around, trying to see if he could find Madzie's Nana but none of the women around them looked twice at the girl nor did they look frantic enough to have lost a child. He glanced down at Madzie and realized that she must have been looking for her Nana too because her smile had disappeared and her shoulders slumped with disappointment. And that simply wouldn't do.
"Come on Madzie. Jace usually keeps snacks in his desk and I know for a fact that he won't be able to say no if we ask him to give them to you." Madzie smiled and looked down to her hand, which was holding the two cookies she had just been given. She let go of Alec hand in order to offer one to him. "Oh, no Madzie, those are yours," Alec protested not taking the cookie. Madzie shook her head and refused to lower her arm. She looked adorable raising the cookie as high as she could, which was below Alec's waist, and trying to stare Alec into accepting it so he just smiled. "Are you sure?" Madzie nodded looking quite pleased with herself when he accepted it and took a bite of her own cookie before grabbing Alec's free hand once again.
They made the five minutes trip to the police station in companionable silence. Once they arrived Madzie stopped gripping Alec’s hand harder. She was looking the building with fear as it rose imposing in front of them. Alec kneeled by her side. “It looks scary, doesn’t it?” he asked, voice soft. “With all these people coming and going and walking so fast.” Madzie nodded, closing the bit of distance between them. “But you are a brave girl; it must have been so scary to wait alone in that coffee shop for Nana and you did it anyway. If you could do that you can go inside, I know you can, and I promise I won’t let go of your hand. Okay?” Madzie considered it for a minute before nodding and taking the first resolute step towards the building.
Alec guided her through the halls and into a room full of desks stopping before a tall, black man who smiled at them with kindness. “Luke, hi,” Alec said. “Have you seen Jace? I’m in a bit of a situation.”
“I can see that,” Luke told him staring straight at Madzie who looked down and hid behind Alec’s leg. Luke sent Alec a questioning glance taking a step towards them but stopped when Alec shook his head imperceptible squeezing Madzie’s hand to comfort her. “He’s interrogating a suspect but it should take too long. You can wait at his desk.”
Alec thanked Luke before taking Madzie towards the tidiest table in the precinct and helped her sit on the chair. “Now let’s see if we can find where Jace keeps his snacks,” he said winking at Madzie before opening the first drawer. “M&Ms,” Alec announced victorious. “Not bad, mhm?” he asked Madzie. The girl nodded but she seemed more interested in a photo that Jace kept by the sweets. “Oh, yeah, that’s me.” Alec pointed at the picture. “And that’s my sister, Izzy. The one in the middle with his arms around us both is Jace, my brother,” he explained, his voice betraying his fondness. “I can’t believe he keeps this photo in his workplace.”
“You’ve got a total of five photos on your desk, all of which feature either me, Izzy or Max so you don’t have a leg to stand on.” Jace was walking towards them, smiling broadly.
“That was fast,” Alec commented. “Luke said you were interrogating a suspect.”
Jace nodded. “Yeah, he took over, said it seemed urgent,” he said, pointing Madzie with his head. “Is that lovely lady the reason I've been receiving an alarming number of texts from Clary’s nerdy friend asking whether or not you are a kidnapper?”
Alec just rolled his eyes. “This is Madzie,” he introduced the girl who seemed as scared as she had been in the coffee shop. “Do you want to tell Jace about your Nana?” Alec prompted her but the girl just shook her head, reaching to take Alec’s hand again. “Do you want me to tell him?” at this Madzie nodded, so Alec launched into his tale about finding the girl and bringing her to Jace.
When he was done Jace was sporting an unusual serious expression. “Okay, I’m going to call child protective services and then I’ll start looking for your Nana, I promise I’ll find her,” Jace told Madzie.
“Wait, child services?” Alec asked dumbly, tightening his grip on the girl’s hand. He realized his mistake immediately when he saw Madzie tensing again.
“Someone has to look after Madzie until we find Nana,” Jace explained, and seeing the look of pure terror of the girl's face he added, “but don’t worry, they are all really nice, I swear.”
Alec frowned, unsettled. He knew Jace was right, of course, but Madzie was looking at him with an unreadable face and he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was letting her down. And Alec hated letting people down. He opened his mouth to say something, he didn't even know what, but was interrupted by his phone ringing. With his right hand being held hostage by a little girl he unlocked the phone with difficulties, answering without looking at the screen. “Lightwood,” he said.
“Oh, so you’re alive,” Lydia sounded equal parts relieved and surprised.
“Yes?” he answered, a bit distracted by Jace signaling that he was going to make a call.
“You are ten minutes late on a Monday. I just assumed you were dead,” Lydia told him and Alec could practically hear her shrugging her shoulders.
“About that, I probably won’t be able to make it until lunch at the very least.” Alec looked down at Madzie, who was carefully listening to his conversation. She smiled at him and Alec returned it. Yeah, he was staying until the CPS came; he owed Madzie that much. “I may not be able to come at all today.”
“Are your siblings okay?” and Lydia actually sounded freaked out, Alec pointedly didn’t think about what that said about him. “Is someone at the hospital?”
“Everyone is fine,” Alec reassured her. “I just found a girl.”
There was a minute of silence from Lydia’s end of the line. “A phrase your parents dream of hearing,” she pointed out dryly.
Alec couldn’t help but snort. “Oh yeah, and she is the prettiest five year old I’ve ever met.” He felt Madzie tugging his hand and when he looked at her, she showed him proudly four fingers. “Sorry, four years old, she is just so smart and big she tricked me,” he corrected winking at Madzie. “We are waiting for Jace to find her Nana.”
“So you are actually taking a day off? On your own? I’m so proud,” Lydia teased. “Really, as soon as you hang up I’ll call Izzy to gush about your progress.”
“Hilarious,” Alec deadpanned. “About the meeting with the Roundel’s...”
“I’ve got it covered and I will send you the notes of it tonight,” Lydia promised. “As well as a report on any progress made in any of your cases today.”
“You are an angel,” Alec said. “I'll talk to you later?” he asked looking at Madzie as she fidgeted on her seat.
“Sure,” Lydia said and then she hung up.
Alec was pocketing his phone when he heard Madzie speak. “You are really nice,” she said, looking expectantly at him.
He smiled, that wasn't something people usually said about him. “Thank you, Madzie.” And it seemed to be the wrong thing to say because Madzie’s face fell. “You are very nice too,” he added trying to get her to smile again. Madzie shook her head.
“Jace said I have to stay with someone nice until he finds Nana,” she tried again, looking at Alec shyly. His mouth dropped open. It was a terrible idea. He had a job that didn’t allow him a lot of free time and Madzie was clearly traumatized, she needed someone that could give her all the time and attention on the world, someone who knew what she had been through and how to help her. She needed someone far better than Alec but… well, she wanted Alec. And Alec wanted to make sure she was well cared for. That had to count for something, right? He was saved from answering by the arrival of Jace with a stunning black woman in tow.
“Hi, Madzie,” Jace greeted the young girl. “This is Maia, she’ll find you a home to stay until Nana comes back.”
Maia smiled to the girl who scooted over her seat to get closer to Alec. “Jace told me you are a little shy.” She didn’t seem to mind. “I know you are scared but you don’t have to be, most foster parents are amazing people who’d love to look after you for a while.”
“How does one become a foster father?” Alec blurted out and three pairs of eyes suddenly focused on him. Maia’s were unamused, Jace’s were incredulous and little Madzie’s were hopeful. It was the latter that gave Alec the courage to repeat, “If I wanted to take care of Madzie, what should I do?”
Maia opened her mouth, her frown indicating bad news but Jace spoke first, "Maybe we could ask Madzie some questions about her Nana before we decide where she'll live." Maia nodded and Alec threw Jace a grateful look, knowing he was getting him a chance to prove himself to Maia. "Do you know what your Nana's name is?" Jace asked.
Madzie looked at Alec who nodded encouragingly and opened her mouth. She looked at Jace and Maia and closed it again tugging Alec’s hand to get him closer to her. Alec let himself be pulled and kneeled beside Madzie's chair. "Jace is good at his job but he needs you to be a brave little girl and answer those questions in order to find Nana," he told her in the softest, most honest voice he could manage. Madzie ducked her head looking intently at Alec's hand in hers. "Would it help if I asked the questions? You can pretend they are not here and talk only to me," Alec offered causing Madzie to nod timidly. He turned towards Jace and Maia for the go-ahead and they both nodded at him. "Do you know what your Nana's name is? What other people call her?"
"Iris," Madzie muttered, her gaze had fallen back into their joined hands. "Or doctor Rouse."
Jace stiffened and paled. "We need to know where she last saw her Nana, where they lived and... whether or not her Nana gave her pills or injections and if she lived with other women that were her patients," he told Alec confirming his suspicions that Iris Rouse was bad news.
"What can you tell me of all that Madzie?" Alec asked the girl.
"Nana asked me to wait in the coffee shop when it was still dark," Madzie told Alec again. "And our house was really big with Nana's adult things in the first floor, the second floor for the sad ladies and my room on the third. But I could only be in the third floor because I'm still only a little girl."
"Is that where you kept your toys?" Alec asked Madzie, trying to relax her, "on the third floor?" Madzie nodded smiling. "And did Nana give you medicines to eat? Or used needles on you?" Alec asked cautiously.
"No, I was not sick like the sad ladies," Madzie told Alec and Jace relaxed his posture, relieved.
"Do you know how to count Madzie?" Alec asked curiously and the girl nodded proudly. "Of course you do. You really are brilliant." He smiled at her. "Can you tell me how many sad ladies lived with you?"
Madzie used her fingers to do the calculations and proudly showed three to Alec. "Their babies too," she added.
"Is there anything else?" Alec asked Jace who, much to Madzie's relief shook his head. "She's done amazingly, hasn't she?" and Jace and Maia rushed to compliment the girl making her smile shyly.
It was time to discuss Madzie's future living arrangement and Alec didn't want to do it in front of the girl, so he signaled the other two to go to the coffee machine on the other side of the room. "Madzie, I need to go have an adult conversation with Jace and Maia, can you be a good girl and wait here?" he asked, the girl tightened the grip on his hand and Alec realized that her Nana must have told her something similar not four hours ago. "I'll be right there, you'll be able to see me at all times," he pointed out. "And you can make a pretty drawing while you wait, Jace always have crayons around because his girlfriend loves to draw and I'm sure he won't mind letting them to you," he told Madzie. Jace opened a drawer to get them and handed them silently to Madzie with some paper and a smile. He also left the bag of M&Ms Alec had found in front of her, giving her a wink.
Once they were out of Madzie’s hearing range, Alec turned towards Jace. “Who is Iris Rouse?”
“A mad, dangerous woman. She works with women with AIDS, forcing them to have babies so she can experiment with new drugs on them, she is trying to find a cure but most of the babies die and so do the women. We also suspect she has a prostitution ring that offers certain type of men the possibility of unprotected sex to get the women she has sick and makes money out of it. She is a monster,” Jace explained disgust and anger clear on his face. “We’ve been investigating her for years but it wasn’t until last week that we managed to find enough conclusive proof, she of course disappeared the minute we got a warrant.”
“You think Madzie may be one of those babies?” Alec asked and started to panic.
“No, from what Madzie said she hasn’t been experimented on and Iris didn’t abandon her at the house like she did with all the others. My guess is that Madzie is actually family to her, not a guinea pig,” Jace reassured him.
“Anyway, it’s very clear the girl is traumatized,” Maia cut in crossing her arms defiantly and Alec jumped, for a moment he had forgotten her presence. “And you don’t seem the type to have any experience with kids, traumatized or otherwise. I’m sorry but she’ll be better off with a family that knows what she needs.”
“I disagree,” Jace told her, crossing his arms too and frowning in what Alec knew to be his 'you may be stubborn but not as stubborn as I am' way.
“Of course you do, he is your brother,” Maia rolled her eyes at Jace. “But I won’t jeopardize that girl’s future just because he has decided he wants to play family.”
“That’s not it,” Alec exclaimed affronted. “I care about her, and I know that I may not be the most experienced person around but I have the means to provide for her and I can offer her my undivided attention which she won’t be able to get from a big family.” Maia pursed her lips considering this. “She asked me to take care of her so she clearly trusts me. I don’t want to break that trust so soon after Iris.”
“You saw she only speaks to Alec, she is clearly comfortable around him,” Jace pushed and Alec felt extremely grateful to have him at his side.
“Doesn’t change the fact that Alec doesn’t know what a traumatized kid needs.”
“But he does,” Jace sighed and Alec had an ink he knew where this was going. “He’s taken care of one before and helped him adjust to a normal life and that kid turned out fine,” he said smiling shyly at Alec who shook his head with an answering smile.
“Really? Which kid?” Maia asked unimpressed, clearly not believing a word Jace was saying.
“Me,” Jace told her and Maia frowned, intrigued. “You helped with the Morgenstern case so I suppose someone told you he had been my guardian until I was ten?” Maia nodded. “Did they tell you he was abusive, both physically and emotionally? That he told me that to love is to destroy and then faked his own gruesome death in front of me to drive that point home?”
“Jace…” Alec tried to interrupt, not wanting his brother to recall all that but Jace stopped him with a gesture, his attention still on Maia.
“No, I didn’t know that part,” Maia admitted and there was something close to pity in her tone that made Jace flinch a little.
“Well, he did and afterwards I was placed in the Lightwood’s care and while I will always be grateful to Maryse and Robert for giving me a place to live and feeding me and all that, it was Alec, and to a lesser extent our sister Isabelle, who took care of me and helped me through it.”
“I didn’t do that much,” Alec protested a slight blush on his cheeks.
“You realized that people raising their voices made me flinch so you ensured no one did it around me. You took the blame for things I’d done because you knew I was terrified of your parents sending me away. On my first night at yours you found me shivering on my bed because of a nightmare so you climbed in there with me and made me feel safe. You allowed me to climb into your bed every time I had a nightmare after that day and convinced me I wasn't weak for doing so because Izzy did it too and she is... well, she is Izzy. You broke some guy’s nose because they called me a family-less freak and told everyone I was your brother and that if someone messed with me they'd answer to you. You made me feel like I had a family for the first time in my life,” Jace listed completely serious not breaking eye contact with Alec.
“He broke a guy’s nose for insulting you?” Maia asked, eyebrows high.
“I was twelve!” Alec defensed himself. “I know better now.”
“Don’t worry, Alec, she approves.” Jace told him and Maia nodded reluctantly. “I’m just saying that if you want Madzie to be safe and cared for, Alec is your best shot.” And surprisingly Maia nodded, seeming to trust Jace judgment. “And you won’t know if Madzie has a family until we find Rouse and ask her and that could take weeks.”
“You are right. I suppose she could stay with him till then.” Maia sighed and Alec beamed at his brother who clasped a hand on his shoulder. “This is very irregular, usually you'd have to spend a period of 10-12 weeks with surprise visits to your apartment to make sure everything is safe but I suppose this does count as an exceptional circumstance. I’m going to need all your information, I’ll visit your flat the minute I’m out of here and send you a list of everything you need to change so it’s child friendly. I also need someone to do a background check on you right now. Not you,” she said pointing at Jace who was already opening his mouth to volunteer. “Maybe Luke has some time? Go ask him,” she ordered Jace who complied without a protest much to the astonishment of his brother. He looked at Maia wide-eyed, maybe she could teach him how to do that? “Take a seat.” Maia pointed at a chair. “You have questions to answer.”
“Can we do it over there?” Alec pointed towards Madzie that still looked relentless, checking every minute that Alec hadn’t disappeared.
“Yes.” Maia sighed again and followed Alec to the table where Madzie received them with a shy smile, mostly directed towards him, which made Alec feel lighter. He took a seat by her side, looking at her with fondness.
“Hi, how’s that drawing going? Can I see it?” he asked smiling at the girl. Madzie shook her head. “Okay, then,” Alec accepted easily. “You can keep drawing, Maia is going to ask me some questions.”
The woman took a seat in front of him and made him write down his contact information before starting. He took the red crayon that Madzie had gracefully lent him and filled it as fast as he could, handing it over to Maia who scanned the page with her eyes before asking “I see you live in a flat in Brooklyn, do you have enough space for two people? And who has access to your apartment?”
“Yes, I do. I have a guestroom I could easily transform into a kid’s bedroom. And only my siblings, Jace, Max and Isabelle Lightwood, but Max is studying abroad so he won’t be dropping by till Christmas, and my business partner, Lydia Brandwell,” he explained unable to keep the fondness out of his voice.
“Do you have a job that allows you the time and means to take care of a child?” Maia asked and Madzie tensed, realizing what that question meant and sending Alec a hopeful look. Not for the first time Alec marveled at how quick the girl was.
He smiled at her. “I am a senior partner, co-owner and cofounder of the Brandwell & Lightwood Law Firm, it's doing quite well so money won't be an issue. And I haven’t taken a vacation since we started the firm three years ago so I can take several weeks off to take care of Madzie until Jace finds Rouse.”
“Won’t your associate mind?” Maia asked raising an eyebrow.
“Nah, she’s been nagging me about taking a vacation for months if not years.” Alec smiled fondly. “And I will still help with consultations and reviews, things I can do from home. Maybe I can go back to work half-time in a couple of weeks if Madzie feels comfortable with going to daycare.” He saw Madzie tense clearly not on board with that idea. “But only when you are ready,” he reassured her. “And I promise not to let my siblings come home until you want them to, okay? I know strangers can be scary.”
“You’ve marked your civil status as single but I need to know if you have a girlfriend so we can make a background check,” Maia continued and Alec frowned.
“I’m single,” he started and then sighed, aware that his next words could cost him Madzie just like they had cost him his parents. “And if I were in a relationship it wouldn’t be with a woman.”
“Oh, sorry I assumed.” Maia didn’t even bat an eye. “Well, you can expect several surprise visits during the following weeks, but if nothing turns out on your background check you are officially Madzie’s guardian till Iris Rouse is found.”
Alec smiled at her. “Thanks.”
Maia rolled her eyes. “Just give me the keys to your place so I can go take a look, you should wait here until Luke gives you the green light and then take Madzie to be tested, I agree with Jace that she’s probably clean but better safe than sorry.” Alec hesitated. “If you want you can call a family member or friend to come with me, I wouldn’t want a stranger alone in my flat either.”
“Can you take Jace? And tell him to bring me back the keys to Izzy’s lab?” Alec asked aware that Jace wouldn't mind doing this for him. Maia made an inquisitive sound. “My sister is a pathologist, I know a pediatrician would be better but I think Madzie will be more comfortable with her than in a hospital full of people,” he explained, Madzie nodded at him and fixed his big brown eyes on Maia pleadingly.
Apparently Maia wasn’t immune to her puppy eyes either since she nodded at her. “I’m going to go find the idiot then.” She sighed in frustration but Alec was starting to get the feeling that Maia and Jace were far better friends than they wanted to let on.
Before leaving she smiled and waved Madzie goodbye. The girl didn't wave back, instead she waited until Maia was far away enough not to be able to hear them and tugged at Alec’s sleeves. “She’s scary,” she whispered a bit in awe.
“Yeah,” Alec agreed. “But a nice kind of scary, right?” Madzie pondered it for a second before nodding. They waited for Luke in silence while Madzie finished her drawing and Alec replied to his emails and tried to reassign all his ongoing work for the next weeks to interns, maybe Raj could handle the difficult ones? He did look like he would enjoy the challenge...
About an hour later the captain walked towards them and crossed his arms in mock admonishment staring down at Alec, who sat straighter. There was something about Luke that inspired respect and made Alec terrified of disappointing him, even when he knew he was just joking. “Did you actually break into a pet store drunk to ‘free’ the kittens?”
“It was Jace’s fault?” Alec tried looking extremely sheepish. Madzie looked at him with surprise, unused to see him so unsure, so he reassured her with a smile.
Luke shook his head in faux disappointment. “See usually I’d believe you, god knows that must be true about 90% of the time. But I know for a fact that Jace was at the Academy by then, not even in the same city.”
“Fine, Lyds and I decided to not be boring for once and celebrate the end of finals by getting wasted. And apparently I have very strong opinions about cats when I’m drunk,” Alec admitted with a wince, that had been some hangover. “But don’t worry, after waking up in jail we both decided that boring suited us just fine.” Then something horrible occurred to him. “That’s not going to cost me this guardianship, is it? You know me Luke, you know that was a onetime kind of accident. You can’t take Madzie away for that!”
“Calm down, kiddo,” Luke said cutting straight through Alec’s freak out. “I’m not going to take the girl away for a single mistake you made a decade ago.”
Alec relaxed and turned towards Madzie realizing he must have scared her. He cursed himself when he saw her looking between him and Luke with big, frightened eyes, her little hand reaching out to take Alec’s. He tightened the grip to give her courage and it worked better than he had expected because Madzie pressed her lips in determination and fixed her gaze at some point above Luke’s shoulder. “You promise?” her voice was scared and so low it barely reached Luke but it filled Alec with pride either way; it was the first time Madzie had chosen to talk with someone who wasn’t him.
And Madzie had made a flawless choice on Luke because he only smiled at her not making a big deal out of it and leveled her with the most serious and reassuring look he could muster. “I promise,” he said simply but with a warm and certainty that comforted even Alec. “Now, I have to go back to work but call me if you need anything, and I mean anything.” Alec smiled frankly at him, regardless of his own opinions on Clary, no one could ever fault Luke’s parenting. Those words were a safety net and while Alec wasn’t used to having those he appreciated it, especially for Madzie’s sake.
Once Luke had said his goodbyes Alec got out of his chair and kneeled in front of the girl. “Madzie, I know the last thing you want to do right now is meet another person but I need to know if you are sick so I can take care of you properly. That’s why I need to take you to my sister and have you tested. Do you understand?” he asked looking Madzie in the eyes. Madzie bit her lip but nodded resolutely, folding her drawing and giving it to him for safekeeping.
Alec didn’t really fancy taking Madzie to the morgue, so he texted Izzy to tell her to meet them at the criminal lab instead. It wasn’t her domain but she was on friendly enough terms with the head of their CSI division, a guy named Meliorn, that she could easily get access to it even when she wasn’t using the equipment stashed in there. Luckily the lab was in the same building they were at so it didn’t take them long to get there. Alec paused in front of the door. “You ready?” he asked Madzie who just tightened the hold on his hand. “Don’t worry, my sister is very nice,” he promised. “Nicer than Jace and he was okay, wasn’t he?” Madzie nodded without pondering and Alec smiled. “And I won’t leave your side, I promise.” And that more than anything else seemed to convince the girl.
“I can’t believe you are so afraid of dead bodies that you made me come here instead of visiting me at the morgue,” Izzy teased when he opened the door only to stop when she saw Alec was not alone. “Who is this?” she asked taking a step towards them.
Madzie hid behind Alec’s leg and Alec sent a look to his sister, signaling her not to come any closer. “This is Madzie,” he answered. “She’ll be staying with me for a while.” His sister’s eyebrows rose high and Alec knew she had a million questions so he kept talking before she could start asking them. “Her nana, Iris Rouse, is missing and I need to know if she is healthy,” he continued, praying his sister would recognize the name and understand the situation without him having to explain it in front of Madzie. The fury in Isabelle’s eyes told him she did.
“Of course,” Izzy agreed calmly. “Let me get ready”
And just like that she slipped into professional mode, picking out all the things she needed for the test. Alec was looking at her with pride when he realized that Madzie was trying to get his attention by pulling at his pant. He sat her on a high table and leaned close so he could understand her whispers. “I don’t like needles,” she confessed, her voice scared.
Alec frowned, fighting the instinct to promise Madzie she didn't have to subject herself to one if she didn't want to, utterly hating he couldn’t protect her from this. “I don’t like them either, I don’t think anyone actually does,” he whispered back making sure his tone came out sympathetic instead of condescending. “But sometimes you have to be brave and do things you don’t wanna do so nothing bad happens. I need to know if you need medicines Madz, otherwise you could get really sick,” he explained as softly a he could.
“Is it going to hurt?” Madzie’s voice sounded as scared as before but far more resigned and Alec wasn't sure how he felt about that.
“Only a little,” Alec promised firmly. “Izzy is very, very smart so she’ll do it as painless and fast as possible. You just make sure not to look at it okay? Don't take your eyes away from me.” Madzie nodded, her eyes shining with a trust Alec didn’t know if he deserved.
“And I’ll give you a lollipop if you are a brave little girl,” Izzy said approaching them, needle already in her hand.
“No,” Alec protested, getting a pout from both girls. “I’m sorry but she’s had a cookie and some M&Ms already, no more sweets until after lunch at least.” While bribing Madzie with food had proved handy, being her guardian meant he had a responsibility to keep her healthy and that included not giving her too much junk food. Even if it meant getting the kicked puppy look Madzie was throwing him. He sighed, it was the first day after all... “but maybe Izzy can give me the lollipop and I’ll let you have it mid-afternoon?” Madzie nodded approvingly.
“Well, that’s settled then. Can I grab your arm, Madzie?” Izzy asked, holding a cotton in her right hand to clean that region. The kid nodded, unconvinced, and fixed her gaze on Alec like he had told her to do.
“So, what’s your favorite animal?” Alec asked, watching his sister preparing his wards’ arm to take the sample. He wasn’t surprised when Madzie didn’t answer. “Mine are cows, aren’t they just great?” Madzie sent him a quizzical look and that wouldn't do. No cow-hater would live under Alec's roof, that girl clearly needed to be educated. “Come on, Madz, they are so cute! And they give us milk which is pretty neat, isn’t it?” When Isabelle started drawing blood Madzie flinched but kept her gaze steadily on him. “Do you know that they only have teeth in the bottom of their mouth? And that they are red-green colorblind? That means they can’t differentiate between the two. Silly, right? I mean they are two totally different colors! But if you ask a cow they may tell you the grass is red.” Madzie giggled and Alec relaxed, seeing that Izzy was already starting to retract the needle. “And once, a cow was accused of starting the Great Chicago Fire and I find that completely unfair because the poor cow was innocent but they framed her because she couldn’t defend herself!” And Alec may have been rambling at this point but Madzie was smiling and Iz had the sample so everything was as it should.
“We get it, Alec, you’ve got a lot of feelings about cows.” His sister sighed longsuffering. “Here," she threw a lollipop Alec's way which he caught just before it hit his head. "Remember it's for you, not him, don't let him eat it," she told Madzie very seriously, she held her gaze until the girl nodded and then smiled before turning towards Alec. "Now leave, I have tests to run. I’ll text you the results in a couple of hours.” She gestured to the door dismissively before turning a bright smile towards the girl. “It was really nice to meet you, Madzie. I hope we’ll see each other again soon.” Madzie nodded offering her a shy smile in return. She let Alec raise her from the seat but then refused to let go once he was placing her on the floor. Alec shrugged, it wasn’t like Madzie weighed that much anyway so he rearranged her to rest on his hip.
Izzy was already engrossed on her machines and Alec stood there a bit awkwardly, not knowing how to tell his sister that he had to wait there until Jace came back with his keys. Luckily, he didn’t have to because their brother chose that same moment to arrive. “Hi guys, Madzie,” he greeted throwing the keys to Alec.
Alec let them fall, not wanting to risk trying to catch them and dropping Madzie who seemed quite comfortable sitting on him. He stared at them, then at Jace, then pointedly at the keys again and finally at Jace, raising an unimpressed eyebrow towards him. Jace sighed in exasperation and picked them up handing them to Alec like a normal person. “Thank you, Jace,” Alec said half to annoy him, half because he had to start showing Madzie manners even if she was already better behaved than either of his siblings. “Do you want to see your new home?” Alec asked Madzie who nodded, eager to get away of all these new people. “Okay, guys, I’ll see you later?”
His siblings said their goodbyes and Alec and Madzie left. The minute the door closed after them Isabelle punched Jace arm. “Why didn’t you tell me we have a niece?” she demanded.
“It’s been barely two hours,” Jace protested rubbing the attacked spot. “And she’s not technically Alec’s,” he pointed out cautiously.
Izzy rolled her eyes. “I give it a week before he officially adopts her.”
“It’s not that easy,” Jace sighed a tad worried. “We don’t know if she has any blood relative, if she does Alec may not have a choice on keeping her.”
“That would kill him.” Izzy bit her lip, concerned. “I mean, he may not have admitted it to himself yet but it’s clear he already sees her as his and it’s only been hours.”
“I know, Izz, believe me I do. But as for now, all I can do is find Iris as quick as possible so if Alec has to give her up it’s sooner rather than latter,” Jace told her. “Because telling Alec not to get too attached…”
“Would be like telling rain not to be wet, I know.” Izzy sighed. “Is it bad that I kind wish her parents are already dead?”
“Think of it as you wishing Alec doesn’t have to lose a daughter, this way you avoid all the moral repercussions,” Jace advised and the two shared a worried smile.
Already outside the precinct Alec was still carrying Madzie when he heard her speak. "Fish," was all she said.
Which was kind of random? Maybe she was hungry? "Fish?" he repeated keeping the perplexity out of his voice.
"Yes," Madzie answered like they were having a normal, two-sided conversation. "They can breathe under water, that's cool. And they are of all the colors and shapes in the world. Cows are only white and black."
That was not correct but at least now Alec knew what they were talking about. "Cows can also be brown, red or grey."
"Not yellow or purple. Those are my favorite." Madzie pouted, clearly upset Alec couldn't see the superiority of fishes over cows. "Fishes can."
"That they do, they are pretty amazing, you’re right." Alec said because the girl’s happiness was way more important than winning a silly argument about favorite animals. Even when he was obviously right. "And their gills are really cool." Madzie brightened up visibly. "Have you seen Finding Nemo?" Madzie nodded enthusiastically. "I take it it's one of your favorites?"
"Uh, I haven't seen Mona," Alec commented causing Madzie’s eyes to widen in pure horror. "Maybe I can buy it and we can watch it together some night?" Madzie nodded smiling but she was still looking at him with something similar to pity. "I like the Aristocats," he offered and Madzie made a confused face. "You haven't seen it?" Madzie shook her head. "Well, I'll get it too, you have to see it, it’s so much fun." Madzie smiled at him, distracted enough by their conversation that she didn't notice they were passing near the coffee shop from that morning. "You know, Izzy and Jace usually come over to my apartment on Saturday nights to watch movies and eat pizza," he explained, Madzie smile dimmed a little. "That’s in five days and I promised they won't come if you don't want to but if you feel ready maybe we could all watch Finding Nemo?" Madzie looked unconvinced. "You can decide on Friday, don't worry."
After that the conversation died a bit, and they kept walking in silence. Madzie seemed more at ease and Alec really didn’t mind the quiet, it was comfortable. They were already on Alec’s street when he realized something that made him stop. Madzie tugged at his jacket, demanding an explanation. “I don’t have any clothes your size,” Alec blurted out, it was such a small thing but for the first time he was realizing how unprepared he was. He didn’t have clothes for Madzie, or toys, or children’s books, hell even his fridge was half empty since he usually ate at his office. And now he was freaking out in the middle of the street with a frightened four years old in his arms quickly picking up on his distress. Had Maia been right? Maybe Madzie would be happier with someone else. Maybe it had been selfish to even think he could take care of her. Maybe...
“There.” Madzie was pointing towards a shop Alec had never even noticed. A children’s clothes shop. Well, at least one of them was a solver. “But quick, okay?” she pleaded with those big eyes of hers. Alec was starting to realize that those would soon become a problem.
“Yes, of course, we’ll just buy some pajamas and a couple outfits and we’ll be out in five minutes. We can go shopping properly once you’ve settled,” Alec promised and Madzie smiled at him. True to his word, it took Alec no time to find a blue, fish-themed pajama for the girl as well as a sunny, yellow dress, a purple t-shirt and jeans. “Do you like these?” he asked showing them to Madzie more anxious that he cared to admit. She nodded, going to touch the yellow dress with a tiny smile that made Alec feel extremely smug. “Do you know your sizes?” he asked and was not surprised to receive a blank look in response. “That’s okay, I usually forget mine as well. Do you want to try those on?” She shook her head violently, clearly wanting to leave as soon as possible. “Okay, then I need to go talk to an assistant so she can help me get you the right size. Do you want to come with me or would you rather I put you down and wait here for me?” Madzie considered it for a couple of seconds before tightening her grip on his jacket. “Okay, then.”
He approached the shop assistant who smiled professionally at him. “Good morning, how can I help you?”
“I need these on her size, please.” Alec gave her the clothes he had picked out.
“Those are really beautiful, aren’t they, sweetheart?” the girl, Maureen her tag said, tried to speak to Madzie who just stared at her in response.
Seeing she was about to talk to her again, Alec interjected. “I don’t mean to be rude but we are in a bit of a hurry.”
“Of course,” she said redirecting his attention towards Alec. “Which size is she?”
“I don’t know.”
“You usually go shopping with mommy, don’t you?” cooed Maureen, again addressing Madzie and frowning when she remained completely still.
“She doesn’t like talking to strangers,” Alec said a bit sharper than he had intended making Maureen physically recoil. “And she doesn’t ha…” he cut himself out not wanting to say anything that could hurt Madzie. “I’ve just started fostering her. By myself.”
“Oh,” the girl actually looked sheepishly and Alec almost felt bad for his tone. Almost. “Sorry, I’ll go get these, and maybe a couple of basics?” Alec nodded gratefully. “Just wait for me at the cashier counter." Five minutes later she was back with the clothes Alec had picked and several other that did look practical, including a black comfortable-looking hoodie that Madzie stared longingly at. “Any interest in one of these?” she asked showing them to Alec.
“Yeah, we’ll take it all.” He said and handed his card almost as anxious as his girl to leave the shop. Madzie smiled and Maureen looked a bit surprise but she folded the clothes and bid them goodbye without addressing Madzie directly again.
“Well, that’s one less thing to worry about.” Alec sighed once they were back in the street. “I really hope that she’s gotten your size right.”
“They are pretty clothes,” Madzie commented shyly.
“Well, of course, I wasn’t going to buy you something ugly, was I?” Alec told her playfully rolling his eyes. Madzie laughed. “I’m sorry I don’t have any toys, I’ll get you some but you’ll have to come with me to the shop to pick them and I assumed you wouldn’t want to do that this morning.” Madzie shook her head making him smile. “That’s okay, god knows it takes me a week of psyching myself up to go shopping,” he confided, pausing before his door. “Here we are,” he told Madzie “We live in this building; it’s quite safe, see?” He pointed at David, the guard. “Dave, this is Madzie, she’ll be living with me for a while,” he introduced the girl. The guard nodded, astonished, but didn’t say anything. Alec got into the elevator with Madzie. “We live in twelfth floor.” Madzie pointed towards the button. “Yeah, that one, do you want to press it?” he asked and the girl answered by doing so, turning a pleased smile towards Alec. “Well done,” he praised and Madzie’s smile grew.
Alec didn’t have a lot of opinions about his own flat. He didn’t spend enough time in it to have them. It was affordable, with a nice bathroom, two rooms, a study and a living room slash kitchen, practical and a bit spartan. He was renting it already furnished and it served its function, namely giving him a place to sleep. Everything was practical and impersonal with the only exception being the big comfortable couch his siblings had forced him to acquire after deciding, without his input, to set up mandatory movie night’s every week at his place. It was a nice apartment but it wasn’t a home.
That was the revelation Alec had when he crossed the threshold, Madzie still in his arms. He sighed, the girl really deserved better. She didn’t seem to mind though, squirming in Alec’s arms until he let her go and running towards the couch the moment her feet touched the ground. “It’s comfy,” she said pleased.
“Yeah?” well, maybe Izzy and Jace had had a point, then. Not that he was going to admit it to them in a hundred years. “Do you want to see your room?” and then winced, remembering how coldly decorated that room was. Madzie was already nodding so he had no choice but to take her there. “I know it’s not too nice but I’ll get you new things,” he promised realizing that besides a bed and a closet, both too big for the girl, the room was basically empty.
“Can I keep the bed? It’s much bigger than mine!” Madzie said and Alec felt a pang of sympathy, realizing that Madzie would probably never sleep on that bed again.
“Of course,” he promised, looking around the room. He would need to buy so many things, he realized. Maybe Madzie would agree to go shopping that afternoon? But until then… “Do you want to see the study?”
Madzie nodded and Alec took her to his favorite room of the apartment. It was small, with only a desk and his computer in it, but there was a bookcase in every single wall. Madzie gasped. “Are all those books yours?”
Alec smiled a bit sheepishly. “Yeah, and I have some more in my room,” he confessed. “I really like to read.” Madzie nodded, still stunned so Alec grabbed the first Harry Potter. “Do you want me to read to you?”
Madzie nodded shyly and let him guide her towards the couch. They both took off their shoes so they could sit more comfortably in it and Alec started reading. From the first chapter Madzie was entranced, gasping at all the right places while Alec tried to use his best soothing voice. She kept moving closer to him to hear better and by the time Hagrid announced Harry was a wizard she was practically sitting in his lap. Alec smiled and closed the book, deciding that it was time for lunch, but didn’t speak, relaxed in the calm, private atmosphere they had created.
“I miss Nana,” Madzie confessed out of the blue.
“I know you do, Jace will find her, I promise.”
“But she left me, she doesn’t like me anymore.” Because of course being abandoned in a coffee shop had left her with that impression. Alec really hated Rouse with passion.
“Maybe she had a reason to.” Like running from the police because she is a fucking monster who doesn’t deserve your concern. “All I know is that anyone with a brain would like you. I do, very much.”
“So, you won’t leave?” she asked voice trembling.
“No, not if you don’t want me to,” he promised and very slowly, allowing her time to reject it, he moved his hand to pet her hair. Madzie allowed it leaning toward the touch a bit and Alec realized that she may have needed the physical reassurance that she wasn’t alone. “Can I hug you?” he asked and the girl nodded so he did. She held herself completely still for a couple of seconds before returning the hug, clinging to Alec and starting to sob on his shirt, the emotions of the morning finally catching up with her. Alec held her close, allowing her to let it all out and realizing that for better or for worse he was now Madzie’s guardian and he was going to live up to that name even if it killed him.