Alec has been waiting outside the Great Hall for twenty minutes now, and not even the granitic figure of his father could make him refrain from his nervous pacing. As a matter of fact, he doesn't care what his father thinks of his current attitude, or what some of the other members of the Council are making of his clear inability of dealing with the matter at hand. He simply doesn't care.
If he thought he was at odds with the government before, now he knows those were only stupid issues. He hates what is about to go down today. He hates the reason behind it. He hates that this was the only solution the Council could find – was willing to find, that is – and he honestly doesn't know what he's going to do tomorrow, when everything will be said and done. You can't serve a government you don't trust, can you?
The news of Sebastian's pardon arrived as an official statement from the Council itself. Among others decrees and special measures concerning the situation the Nation is currently in, there was a line – almost a footnote – regarding the forthcoming pardon of former public enemy Jonathan Christopher Morgernstern, in light of his recent actions that were essential to the conclusion of the Seelie War and the salvation of our people, and in the perspective of starting anew in the name of peace, compassion and tolerance.
That's what the document said. Peace, compassion and tolerance towards a murderer. A man who did save the Nation, but only for selfish reasons and after causing said Nation's demise. A man who committed genocide.
Obviously, Alec knows exactly why this is happening. He's not stupid.
Sebastian escaped the Council's hands and single-handedly put a stop to a war. He's powerful, he's unpredictable, and he can't be controlled. He disappeared the moment he killed the Seelie Queen and they were unable to find him. Sure, he seems determined to stay away from all of them and just mourn his own sister, but they don't know that for sure. What if he still has allies among the faeries? What if he's plotting to finish what he started when he still had demon blood?
The Nephilims couldn't win against him when they were strong, they have no chance to do that now that there's only a handful left of them. The Council knows that comprising him instead of antagonizing him is the only hope they have to keep an eye on him. Besides, people need to know he's not a threat anymore, and what a better way to make them believe that if not by praising him for something he ultimately wouldn't have done in other circumstances?
But that is no reason enough for Alec. No matter how bad the people need to trust the Council again, Sebastian is not a hero nor a returning prodigal son, and he shouldn't be treated as such. If he's so self-assured to show up here, then taking advantage of it by seizing him again is the only possible option in Alec's mind. It would still serve the purpose of reassuring the people.
Sebastian's arrival is preceded by the sound of martial steps.
Alec stops pacing. He feels his body tense as his father steps forward to stand right next to him. Both stare at the end of the hall. Sebastian didn't come alone of course – Jace is with him – and Alec doesn't really know why he's so surprise to see that. They're flanked by four soldiers on each side, and they're looking straight ahead, as if the hallway was empty.
Alec is not supposed to talk. In fact, he's not even supposed to be there. His place is inside the Great Hall, together with all the Heads of the Institutes. He's been summoned like everybody else. Today he is just one among many (or one among few, considering the circumstances) and he has no right to say anything about what's going on. The Council decided and he has no voice in it. And yet, it's hard for him not to feel personally involved in the situation. It feels like Sebastian is connected to him and his family – real or extended – in more ways than one. Everything that has something to do with Sebastian seems to pass through the New York Institute and the New York Institute is Alec's to take care of, so Alec feels entitled to more anger than anybody else, despite of what that madman did to hundreds of his peers.
“I can’t believe,” he says, stepping forward before his father can do or say anything. He feels his severe presence behind his back and purposely ignores it. “You had the nerve to show your face in here.”
Jace steps up instantly, putting himself in between them. “He was invited,” he says.
Alec didn't know he could hate Jace so much. He thought their parabatai bond sheltered him from that kind of hatred, but it doesn't. If anything, it fuels it because he can't understand how his own brother by the Law can defy him and the Law this way. Sebastian killed his little brother. Forget that! The man killed pretty much everybody, and yet here is Jace playing the knight in shiny armor.
They need a knight too. They need a knight more, actually.
The whole system is falling apart over this man Jace is protecting, a man who doesn't deserve half the sympathy Jace is showing him. Alec can't accept that he has to go around and pry what little scrape of Jace's interest is left from Sebastian's unworthy hands. So, as a matter of fact, he decides there and then not to give any of his own to him.
“I’m not talking to you,” he snaps to his so called best friend, before turning to Sebastian. He thought he couldn't stand to look at his face from up close, but instead, he realizes that he wants to look him in the eyes and make him see how disgusted he is by his mere presence in the world. “It’s your voice I wanna hear. I wanna hear what you’ve got to say for yourself.”
“Alec, stop it.” And it is Jace again, coming to stand right between Alec and him. Alec has always admired his unwavering heroic nature, but he starts to regret it now that it's so evidently misplaced. “You’re being unfair.”
“I’m being unfair?!” Alec's voice just explodes, echoing in the hall. It makes the soldiers nervous. Alec doesn't have to take his eyes off Sebastian to read the tension in the shuffling of their feet. Their order is to escort Sebastian to the Hall and, either they like him or not, they're bound to do what they've been ordered to do. But it's a head of the institute that's making a fuss about it, and they have no idea what to do. They can't attack Alec.
They get even more confused when Jace starts yelling back at him, looking straight at Alec as much as Alec is staring straight at Sebastian. He is trying really hard to make this about them and Alec won't let him. Them as in parabatai is not an argument he wants to have right now. This is about the psychopath Jace is harboring and nothing else.
“Yes, you are! He wasn’t the same as now! He wasn’t himself!”
Alec would scoff if this whole situation was even remotely funny to him, except that it's not, not even in the vaguely irresponsible way some of their earlier missions were. They would be sent to fight demons, be outnumbered three or four to one and yet laugh in the face of possible death. But this time is different: death is not a possibility, death has already happened some hundreds times and by Sebastian's hands. There's nothing to laugh about.
But he can't reply fast enough. It's Sebastian himself who answers. “I was myself!” He screams, irritated. His eyes darting to Jace before anybody else. “I was myself! You're still making the same mistake! You think you can figure me out. You can't. You're fucked up but not nearly as much!”
For a moment, Alec doesn't even know what to make of what he just heard because he can agree with Sebastian on everything and that is deeply upsetting. He hated the idea of Sebastian being another person when he was committing all those horrible crimes from the moment he heard it for the first time – when Clary came up with it, that is – and he never once believed in it. Sebastian wasn't a different person before. The demon blood in him might have facilitated his inclinations, but he was already himself by then. Whatever is coming from that he will have to face it and take responsibility for it.
Then, of course, Sebastian keeps on talking and makes Alec regret having prized him for something, even if vaguely. That's a trait he definitely shared with Clary, who had the extraordinary ability to start a sentence the right way and then end it in just the worst way possible. “And you,” he spits out, turning back to Alec, “just leave me the fuck alone. Come against me, and I won’t hesitate. You think these people care for you? You think they’d even flinch if I snapped your neck broken right here, right now? They wouldn’t. They have much more use for me than they’d ever have for you. They’d pardon me that too – shit, they pardoned me genocide! They’d pardon me your assassination – and they’d let me go. So back off, and leave me be.”
Alec's brain literally just shuts off; there are no Great Hall, no Gard, no audience to the spectacle he's about to give anymore. He might not be very proud of it, but that's what happens. It is already hard enough to deal with the idea that the Council decided to let this monster off with barely a slap on his wrist, he doesn't need to be reminded that this Nation is running on convenience instead of justice and fairness as it should be; that real victims didn't and will not count if ignoring them could lead to a more profitable situation.
He hurls himself at Sebastian with a scream. He feels his father's hands brush his shoulders and fail to grab him. His body impacts against Sebastian, and if the other man doesn't fall down is only because Jace is there to break his fall. For a few moments – that last too little for him and too much for everybody else – it's just plain chaos. His father calls his name with that mix of surprise and outrage he always has in his voice when Alec does something he's not supposed to, therefore putting the whole family to shame in his father's mind. Jace screams too as he tries to push him away from Sebastian and himself.
Sebastian himself doesn't even flinch. His arms loose along his hips, he stares arrogantly at Alec, daring him to move forward, attack him, punch him or whatever he wants to do. It's not that he doesn't care for his safety, he just doesn't believe Alec will do it for real. But he's wrong because Alec would – by the Angel he would all right – except that his father finally manages to take hold of him and three soldiers come to help as if he was the dangerous one in the hall.
Alec can see the annoyance on Sebastian's face – that bland, unimpressed expression he gives to everybody, as if he deemed them all inconsequential – and he screams so loud that his father tightens his hold on his shoulders painfully. He's still screaming, kicking and shouting as they bring him away.
The Great Hall was full, but not as it could have been. The truth is that there are barely enough Shadowhunters left in the world to fill that room, and half of them didn't want to come. It took Alec half an hour to convince his father to let him participate and almost the same time to convince himself he could do it without lashing out again.
As he thought, the whole procedure was a farce. There was no real pardon to give and nobody who wanted to give it, but they all pretended very well. Jia made a heartfelt introduction and a moving recap of their recent history which triggered a long moment of composed silence, and then proceeded to discard everything she just said with what passed for forgiveness in the light of recent events and was merely the government's last resort to keep their seats instead. Alec gave them ninety minutes of mental slow applause.
He was appalled.
Sulking in an empty room more than an hour later, he's still appalled, but the feeling is weighed down by a sense of futility. What's the point in fighting if nothing really matters beyond the Council's own gain? Has the Clave ever made any sense at all or it's just an exercise in style, so to speak, to give the people the illusion that they really matter? Has the Clave really ever decided anything the Council hadn't previously already approved?
“I could feel the little gears in your head spinning from down the corridor,” Magnus says, entering the room with those perfectly silent steps of his. “Indeed the Angel might have heard them. Or does he hear everything at any time no matter what? I might be confusing religions here.”
Alec doesn't have the strength to do anything but turn his head towards his husband, so he can see the state he’s in. He knows it will be enough for Magnus to understand the situation. Whether he'll decide to try and fix it or ignore it altogether, that's another question. Alec is really hoping for the second option, he is in no mood to talk.
But whenever he's in no mood to talk, Magnus is sure to show up with the sole purpose of talking, and that is what he does this time too. “Uh, you're reduced to non-verbal interaction. It is worse than I thought.”
Alec sighs and straightens up from the ball he had turned in on the couch; an action as unprofessional as it was needed. “How did you expect to find me?” He asks, tiredly. All that rage has left him spent. He couldn't be angry even if he wanted to, his body can't stand another fit of burning fury.
Magnus wears a long black jacket with bright green leaves embroidered into it, and he pulls it up before sitting on the couch right next to him. “Quite busy with an anger-fueled pacing around the room, mostly.” He says it as if he had spent quite some time mulling it over, which he probably did. “Overthrown tables and chairs were in the realm of possibilities.”
“That was twenty minutes ago. I put everything back.”
“A very wise decision,” Magnus nods. “Even though it's a pity I missed all the teenage angst.”
If Magnus was expecting at least a chuckle here, he doesn't get it, but Alec places his head on his shoulder and curls against his chest, which the warlock counts as a victory. “How can you be so calm?” Alec asks.
“Yoga. Although I admit it was the promise of flexibility who attracted me at first.”
“I highly doubt yoga is helping you deal with the situation at hand.”
Magnus shrugs. “It certainly would help a lot of the people inside this place to be a little more chilled, you know? I swear, there were so few Shadowhunters today and yet so much electricity! You could have put a power cell in that room and power this city for ages to come.”
Alec growls irritably. “How come you're not mad? Why is none of your people mad? You get angry for every single thing, talk our ears off before agreeing on anything, but when a mass murderer gets pardoned and re-instated in the very same community you're trying to deal with suddenly everything's okay?”
Magnus backs off a little and for a very very long moment he just looks at him, his expression unreadable. “First of all, I thought there was no you and us anymore, what with all the endless meetings that I have been forced to attend to to talk about everything and decide exactly nothing, but I see now that I was under the wrong impression.”
“Magnus, come on! I didn't mean—”
“No, no, it's fine. Very well. I will answer your question, but I want to point out that what you refer to as none of mine are, in fact, three different peoples, none of which specifically belongs to me, not even the warlocks, as we don't think of ourselves as a people, but I will gloss over this detail because it's a very complicated question that doesn't pertain to this discussion. Now, Sebastian's pardon didn't go unnoticed to any downworlder and I can assure you nobody is happy with the decision. The point is we've had centuries – some of us literally – to get used to the Council's reasoning or lack thereof. And although unusually aimed, this unfairness, I'm sorry to say, comes as no surprise to none of mine, as you eloquently put it. The difference is that we've learned to suppress rage for as long as we can since uprisings don't usually go very well for people like us.”
“Alright. Fine.” Alec stands up and raises both arms in surrender. “I get it. I was out of line. I'm sorry I used the wrong words. In no way I meant to create a divide between the individuals that populate the Shadow World.”
“That's better.” Magnus visibly relaxes. The fact that he was so quick to take offense is proof enough that tension got to him too, which is never a good sign.
“What I meant was that Sebastian's actions didn't only affect the Nephilim. Vampires, werewolves and warlocks were killed too. That guy hates everybody. I can't believe all the downworlder groups are okay with it.”
“They are not. But, in all fairness, he killed more Shadowhunters than Downworlders, so in some cases there might be some, how can I put it, mixed feelings there.”
“The faeries too have mixed feelings?”
“I wouldn't go that far. They are, obviously, the exception to the rule,” Magnus grimaces. “Speaking of which, we don't have any contact with them as of now, but I fear they're going to take this way worse than you did.”
“We need to speak with a representative.”
“I'm moving in that direction, but they're even more diffident than they used to be. Also, acting without the Council's direct approval is not making it any easier.”
The Council's way to deal with the faeries issue is not to deal with it at all and that is simply the wrongest choice they could ever made. Alec tried to convey to Jia the importance of initiate a dialogue with the faeries before it's too late and she claimed to understand it, but her hands are tied. The Council's priority is the Nephilim. Nobody wants to hear about anything else. They are already struggling to include the allied groups in the discussion, there is no way they're going to waste even a minute of their life to try and be civil with the enemy.
Point is, the Faeries are not the enemy right now – they are a defeated, headless people, struggling as they are to keep itself alive – but what they lack in resources, they have in rage, and rage can be powerful. Nephilim have just had proof of that on their own skin, but they don't seem to realize that. Sooner or later the Faeries will retaliate and the Shadowhunters simply won't have the numbers to defend themselves. So, it's better to talk with them before they decide they don't want to do that anymore.
And if the Council won't do it, Alec will; through Magnus, and also acting as a liaison between the Downworlders and the Shadowhunters, a role he already had before the New York Institute fell temporarily onto his shoulders and that everybody was too busy to take away from him. This way, at least, he's still got some authority to do what he's trying to do if it'll ever come down to explain himself in court.
Or at least that is what he really hopes.
“What do we do with the other groups?”
“Honestly? We let them regroup and discuss the situation by themselves. I will try to facilitate that,” Magnus says, checking the time on his watch and realizing that he should have been somewhere else at least ten minutes ago. Managing to be late even when you can literally portal yourself everywhere in seconds is an art. “The Council must understand that everybody needs space and time to process the new situation. Then, I suppose we call for another meeting and carry on from when we left before Sebastian was pardoned. Hopefully, we will have heard from the faeries by then. And even more hopefully, nothing major will happen in between. I'm really counting on that.”
Talking everything through helped Alec clear his head. Now the situation is still horrible, but at least he knows exactly how they are going to face it and that is something. “What if he tries anything?”
“How can you be so sure?”
Magnus gives him the most charming smile he can summon. “Call it an inkling.”
Lying has always come natural to Magnus. When he was younger, it was his only mean of survival. He would lie about what he was, about where he was from, about his age. In the beginning, he pretended he was older than he looked, because everybody was uncomfortable having a kid around. Then he started pretending he was way younger than he really was, because nobody would believe he was over seventy when he looked no more than twenty. Later, saying he was three hundred years old became both a way of flattering himself and hiding his power from people he didn't know. Lies has kept him and the people he loved alive for a very long time.
But now it's different.
Okay, he's not exactly lying to Alec – that would make him bad, which he's not – but deceiving him, yes. He purposely avoids to give him any answer that would force him to say how well he knows Sebastian and why. He's doing it only because he knows for sure that telling the truth now would do more damage than good and he's determined to tell Alec everything when the right time comes, no doubt on that, but he's still hiding something from his husband and it doesn't feel good.
It's getting harder and harder too, so he really hopes things calm down enough for him to speak with Alec and explain to him when, how and why he did what he did.
“I knew you would still be here almost two hours after the meeting with no apparent reason,” someone says, and Magnus knows that voice too well to turn around with a good disposition.
He tries to smile politely to the man, but the wall that is Robert's expression makes any pleasantries nearly impossible. You usually just want to punch him in the face with a chair. “I would say apparent is the key word here, Robert.”
“Inquisitor Lightwood. “
Magnus just stares at him for a very long time. He would like to say that he's surprised to find out that his marriage didn't give him the right to call his father-in-law by his first name, but he has known the Lightwoods since 1800 – and this particular one for over five years – and he just knows that they cling to their self-entitled superiority when they can't attack you on any other level. He just ignores him, which is usually the best thing to do to make them understand you don't care what they think of themselves. “Can I help you with something?”
“I was looking for you.”
“Well, you have found me.”
Robert and Alec look very much alike; they've got the same strong features and long straight nose, but years of rigid posture and snobbish attitude carved on Robert's face some ugly lines that make him look a little bit older and uglier than he actually is. And he looks always angry, even when he's not facing what he deems the ruin of his son and family. Looking at him makes Magnus want to protect the roundness and joy and beauty that are still on Alec's face instead. He knows sons are not their fathers, but they are quick to turn into them if someone doesn't stop them.
“I do not approve of what's happening here,” Robert says without even flinch and as if that could explain everything that there is to explain. He's usually under the impression that people should know what bothers him, maybe because he's always bothered by everything.
“I can't say I do either,” Magnus says in his usual tone. This is a game two can play.
Something shifts in Robert's eyes and they become darker. “I really start to find your constant snark insufferable, warlock,” he warns him, spitting out every word as if it was nasty.
They haven't even started to talk yet and the man is already openly despising him. Here goes Magnus's idea of a relaxing afternoon. “If you have to tell me something, by all means do because I honestly don't know what you're talking about. The only thing that happened here today is that Sebastian Morgenstern was pardoned, something a lot of people didn't approve of. But I thought you did, since you were literally the only person who could do something about it and didn't. I just assumed you simply thought proceeding with the pardon was the best thing to do.”
“I won't discuss a Council's decision with a downworlder,” Robert snarls, almost outraged. “As much as you people think that everything concerns you too now, this is and will remain Nephilim's business.”
“Psychopaths of a feather should flock together,” Magnus nods. “I can understand that.”
This enrages Robert enough that he takes a few steps forwards and stops just a few inches away from Magnus's face. “Alec was fine before he met you,” Robert hisses, finally clarifying what this is all about.
Magnus makes a point of not even flinch. “Fine as in straight or otherwise?”
“Alec was a proper Shadowhunter! He was smart! Sharp! He knew his place and he knew the Law,” Robert growls in his face. “He respected our government and tradition! Now he openly disagrees with the Council! He attacks people like an animal, forgetting his status and role! He shames his people and his family name with his conduct! And this is all your fault, warlock!”
Magnus knew he was going to be taken into account for Alec's choices in life, it was inevitable and he wouldn't have dreamed to avoid that. But the fact that he's being held responsible for Alec's current anger and tension is unacceptable and unfair. “Your son is one of the best Shadowhunters I have ever known, and I'd like to remind you that I've known many of them because I was here well before your ancestors were. If he's been losing control lately is not because of me. You, the Consul, your whole government is to blame here, because Alec still has a conscience and you forcing him to ignore it is tearing his heart apart! Don't blame me just because your son can see very clearly what kind of people you are and doesn't like it!”
“He could have been anything, Magnus!” This time Robert raises his voice and there's an edge to it that makes this conversation all about something else entirely. “Anything he wanted! Inquisitor! Consul even! But now?”
Magnus can see Robert's desperation in facing something he wasn't expecting at all – his son being so different from himself, so removed from the idea he had of him – and that is well beyond his control, but he has no intention of acknowledging it. He won't make him that favor. He won't justify Robert's closed-mindedness and refuse of Alec just because it causes him pain too. “Now he is the Head of the New York Institute,” he says.
“Just temporarily! Because there was literally no one else that could fill in the role! But once this state of emergency will be over, then he will be relieved of his duty right away! The Council cannot have him rule an Institute, let alone one so important like the one in New York, if he keeps going down this path!”
“Meaning? Say it.”
“His lifestyle! This farce of a marriage! You!” Robert finally says it. “Do your really believe that we will let a downworlder rule an institute through the back door? But I don't care for you, Magnus. I care for my son and I know he will lose everything. Once order will be restored in this Nation, it's going to be over for him.”
Magnus feels the rage fill his body like water and he knows that, if he doesn't control himself, it's going to be very ugly in this hall. Robert says he cares for Alec, but all he cares for is his family name and what will happen to it in the aftermath of what he considers a shameful thing. He's been clawing his way up the social ladder on his son's shoulders for years now, trying to come out of that hole in the ground that being in the Circle had put him, and now he says he cares for Alec?
Sure, what he says is true, the Council won't leave the New York Institute to Alec easily, but Alec will fight for it and Magnus with him. He is the one stepping forward now, forcing Robert to step back. “Listen to me, Inquisitor Lightwood. I don't know what is going to happen once this madness is over, but I can tell you this. Next time you or anyone else questions my husband's ability to do his job based on our marriage, you'll see what the High Warlock of New York is capable of. You have been warned.”
“Is that a threat?” Robert really sounds outraged.
Magnus starts walking away from him and, possibly, from the whole city if he can. “It's a statement,” he says without either stopping or looking back at the other man. “Do with it as you please.”
Then he turns the corner and he's gone.