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(when i close my eyes) i dream in colour

Chapter Text

The warehouse is a wash of muted greys, from the concrete floor to the high ceilings lined with cables and industrial lights. There are five reclining seats laid out across the floor, spartan in their decoration. Lucian Graymark sits on the edge of one, attention focused on the pocket watch in his hand.

Lucian looks up at the sound of a door slamming shut, which reverberates around the entire warehouse. Valentine Morgenstern has just left, marching out the room and snapping about a job Lucian apparently forgot to do. Lucian shuts the lid of the watch and stows it safely in the inside zip pocket of his black combat jacket, then crosses the warehouse in quick strides to the seat where Jocelyn Fairchild is sitting.

“Hey,” Lucian says, taking her hands in his, “it’s gonna be okay.”

Jocelyn squeezes his hands, her eyes locked on his. “Who are you convincing - me or you?” she asks, mouth tipping up in a wry smile. The slight tremor in her voice is the only thing that belies the true extent of her nervousness.

Lucian huffs a laugh through his nose. “Me, obviously,” he says, and Jocelyn smiles before leaning her head on his shoulder and wrapping her arms around his waist.

“Five minutes,” she says, words quieted by his jacket. He puts an arm around her shoulders and hugs her back. “That’s all.”

Neither of them mentions that five minutes in real time will feel like longer when they’re several layers down in a dream. Over Jocelyn’s head, Lucian catches Maryse Lightwood watching them with an inscrutable expression; when she realises she’s been caught staring, her eyes dart away, flustered hands moving to check the PASIV device her husband, Robert, is adjusting.

“Five minutes,” Lucian repeats, sighing. He feels Jocelyn nod. “Then it’s over.”

When they wake up in the third and final level of the dream, Lucian reflexively checks his totem, pulling the pocket watch out of the zip pocket in his jacket. The second hand ticks clockwise, unremarkable. He steels himself, returns the watch to his pocket, and helps Jocelyn on with her backpack.

Rounding out their trio, Valentine slings his own pack over his shoulder and then opens his jacket, double checking the gun that’s stashed there.

“Get in, get out,” Valentine says tersely. Beside Lucian, Jocelyn nods. “We need to be finished by the time Maryse and Robert set off the kicks above. If you’re not back, you’re getting left here.”

With that, he turns and leaves them alone. In the dark of the night, Lucian can just about see Valentine’s figure crouching low as he stealthily makes his way around the perimeter of the grounds of the old colonial mansion they’re in.

“He knows,” Jocelyn says, squinting after him as he disappears into the darkness. Lucian sighs heavily and nods.

“I know.”

Together, they make their own way towards the house, staying low and under the cover of the bushes and trees that frame the grounds. The wind whips up, rustling through the bare branches of the trees, an icy chill biting into Lucian’s face.

Once or twice, he catches a flash of what look like eyes peering out of the gloom, but he just grits his teeth and tells himself he’s being stupid. There’s no such thing as monsters.

When they’re close enough to the house, they make a dash across the open lawn, then flatten themselves against the wall of one of the downstairs rooms. It’s only one storey, unlike most of the rest of the house, with a large balcony above it instead of a roof.

Jocelyn has just peeled herself away from the wall when the footsteps resound on the driveway, just around the corner from where they are. She gasps and presses herself up against the wall again, burying her face in Lucian’s jacket. He rests his cheek on the top of her head, heart thundering in his chest as the footsteps draw closer.

They’ve been doing extraction for so long that hiding in the shadows of someone’s mind is second nature to him, but this mission isn’t like any other he’s been on. Not only are they trying to perform inception on someone - planting something in their mind, rather than taking it - it’s the last time he and Jocelyn will ever work with Valentine and the Lightwoods.

His stomach churns as he counts the footsteps coming towards them. He can’t tell whether he’s more nervous about getting caught by the subject of the dream or by Valentine.

A car door opens and then closes. Lucian’s heart hammers against his ribcage. He needs to get himself together. They just have to get this last job done and then they’re gone, out of Valentine’s twisted world, for good.

The footsteps recede. Lucian blows out his breath and then the two of them move away from the wall.

Lucian unzips Jocelyn’s backpack as quietly as he can, pulling out the grappling hook and rope stored within. He paces a couple of steps away, as far as he dares into the open view of the lawn, then tosses the hook up and onto the balcony above them, tugging till it catches on the balustrade.

Jocelyn pulls on the hook and rope with gloved hands, then nods at Lucian. He cups his hands together to make a foothold for her and boosts her up so she can climb the rope; once she’s on the balcony, she tugs on the rope to let him know and he follows her up there.

He crouches down to pick the lock on the balcony door while she packs away the hook and rope. After a minute, the lock clicks and Lucian shares a glance with Jocelyn before he eases the door open. The room they come into is dark, but muffled music and a glow of light from downstairs tell them the house is occupied.

The floorboards creak as they make their way across. Lucian’s pulse ticks up, but getting into the building isn’t even the hardest part of the job. They’ve got to make their way to the study at the centre of the second floor, where the subject has a safe. That’s where they’re planning to plant the idea, locked away inside the subject’s mind, but they’ve got to get there first.

They wait by the door of the room for Valentine to trip the power. A moment later, he’s shut the lights off in the entire house. A displeased murmur rises from the crowd: some sort of party, if the clinking of glasses and lively conversation is anything to go by.

In sync, Lucian and Jocelyn rush down the landing, light-footed but hasty, until they reach the study at the end of the corridor. Jocelyn picks the lock while Lucian keeps watch, hand resting lightly on the gun tucked in his pocket in case he needs it.

Footsteps on the stairs make them both pause. Lucian grips the gun more tightly, but a familiar chuckle makes him momentarily relieved that they haven’t been caught by the subject’s subconscious yet.

“Gonna shoot me, Lucian?” Valentine asks. He sounds amused but he doesn’t spare Lucian a glance as he crosses to the study door, nudging Jocelyn aside with his elbow and finishing picking the lock.

Lucian doesn’t bother replying. He simply shares a look with Jocelyn and then follows Valentine inside the study when the door swings open.

He stays at the door as a guard while Valentine and Jocelyn crack the safe. The lights flicker back on downstairs to a rowdy cheer, and Lucian can’t help bouncing nervously on his feet.

“Come on, come on,” he mutters under his breath.

Shadows appears on the stair wall: a couple of drunk women, stumbling up the steps and giggling as they catch each other. Lucian steps back into the gloom of the study as they pass, but he needn’t have bothered. They head into one of the bathrooms without paying any attention to what’s around them and he hears the door lock behind them.

The light pressure of a hand on his upper arm makes him turn.

“It’s done,” Jocelyn says, relief visibly bleeding through her tone. Lucian knows it’s not just at the fact that they’ve completed the inception, but that the dream is nearly over.

They wait for the two women to leave the bathroom and then creep along the landing, back out to the balcony. Jocelyn pulls out the grappling hook and rope again, fixing them against the ledge and pulling. Satisfied they’re secure, she looks at Valentine.

“Val?” she asks, tipping her head down to the ground, offering for him to go first.

In the moonlight, his dark eyes flash dangerously.

“Ladies first,” he says. There shouldn’t be anything menacing about something so polite, but a shiver runs down Lucian’s spine at the look on Valentine’s face as Jocelyn picks up the rope and lets it run between her hands.

Lucian shares a look with Jocelyn as she climbs over the railing of the balcony, letting the rope take her weight. It’s only at the last second that he sees the glint of moonlight off the barrel of Valentine’s gun, and his shout of warning comes too late.

The first shot rings deafeningly loud in the night. Jocelyn’s face creases in pain; her knees buckle with it and she loses her footing, slipping on the ledge and crashing into the railing. On instinct, Lucian launches himself at Valentine, tackling him to the ground and trying to wrestle the gun from his hand.

“Lucian -!” Jocelyn cries.

With Lucian momentarily distracted, Valentine knocks him back with a fierce blow to the head. Lucian tumbles off him, rolling to the ground, and Valentine scrambles up, pulling his gun towards himself.

“Imagine thinking you two could double cross me,” Valentine says with a sneer, advancing on Jocelyn. She’s still hanging mid-air and Lucian can see her staring Valentine down defiantly, even as the blood spreads from her gunshot wound. At the close range Valentine shot her, Lucian knows she won’t be able to hold on much longer.

He takes advantage of Valentine’s attention being on Jocelyn to attack him again, throwing himself bodily at Valentine to stop him getting a clear shot at Jocelyn. Valentine tries to wrestle out of Lucian’s hold. The gun goes off once, firing wildly over the edge of the balcony, and then again, the barrel against Lucian’s abdomen.

Pain explodes through Lucian’s body, his whole side feeling like it’s burning. He stumbles into the railing, bloody hands clutching at his stomach. Valentine says something again, but Lucian’s ears are ringing and he doesn’t pay Valentine any attention, trying to stop himself bleeding out.

His legs give out and he slides to the floor, falling gracelessly in a heap. He clutches at his side, groaning against the pain, and when the gun goes off again, everything goes black.

When Lucian wakes, he’s face down in the surf of a beach, water splashing against his face. He splutters, pushing himself up so he’s kneeling in the waves. His hand drifts down to his left side and comes away clean when he holds it up, making his breath catch.

Lucian sees Jocelyn running along the shore towards him and, with shaking hands, pulls out his totem. The second hand is still ticking forwards. Jocelyn reaches him and crashes down beside him, wrapping her arms around him. He holds her while she cries, feeling his own tears roll down his face, salty on his tongue.

After a few moments, she sniffs, pulls back and wipes her face of tears. Lucian cups her cheek with one hand, pressing a kiss to her forehead.

“Are you okay?” she whispers. “Not okay , that’s a stupid question, but…”

Lucian’s throat is still thick with emotion - shock, hurt - but he nods anyway. He thumbs away a tear from her eyelashes.

“If I could choose to be stuck in limbo with anyone, it’d be you,” he says, with a sad little laugh, and Jocelyn manages a watery smile.

Together they pull themselves up and head away from the shore, walking hand in hand. It’s a twisted mockery of a romantic stroll along the beach, everything they’ve never been able to have before, and Lucian feels bile rise in his throat at the realisation. Now that he’s got over the initial shock, his anger at Valentine’s betrayal, the way he was so casual and careless about it, is spiking.

“I guess that’s why he was pushing so hard for inception,” Lucian says. He kicks at the sand, sending it spraying across the beach in a way that’s entirely unsatisfying. “God damnit! He wanted us this many layers down so he could drop us in limbo - two birds, one stone.”

“We’re going to get out of here,” Jocelyn says, coming to stand in front of him and gripping his arms tightly. The soothing cadence of her voice helps calm him somewhat. “If anyone can do it, we can, Lucian. I believe in us.”

Lucian closes his eyes momentarily, trying to find the strength inside himself to believe her words - or at least to be able to pretend he does.

“How do you get out of a dream normally?” Jocelyn asks. She drops her hands from his arms and starts pacing. “You have to die, use a kick, or wait for the timer to run down, right?”

Lucian nods, trying to let go of his frustration and anger so that they can at least come up with an escape plan. “We can’t die in limbo. If we wait for the timer...it was five minutes in real time. Robert had about two hours in level one, and Maryse a day and a half in level two.”

“Val had a month,” Jocelyn says. “That means we’ve got...two years.”

Lucian blinks at this. “So we need the kick, then.”

Jocelyn looks around. “How do we fall when there’s nothing here?”

Lucian clenches his jaw, also glancing around them. There’s nothing but sand and sea around them, stretching out for miles. He crouches down, letting the sand run through his fingers; the way it clumps together from being water-drenched gives him an idea.

“We build,” he says decisively, looking up at Jocelyn. “Normally, the architect and the dreamer control the layout together, right? Here, we’re both dreamers. Limbo is just infinite subconscious. We can create whatever we want from it.”

“How do we know when to do the kick?” Jocelyn asks. “Val could already have done his.”

“No, he hasn’t,” Lucian says. “The dream layers above us haven’t collapsed yet. We’d have felt it.”

Lucian looks at the sand running through his fingers, then closes his eyes, willing it to become bricks and mortar. At Jocelyn’s gasp, he opens his eyes, finding a circular brick tower growing before them. He’s never understood the way people’s minds simultaneously create and perceive the dream environment better than in this moment.

Jocelyn puts her palm up to the edge of the tower and a door appears under it. She pushes it open with a tentative poke, then holds out her hand to Lucian.

“You were right,” she says, lacing their fingers together. Lucian manages to smile and follows her up a staircase that’s still being constructed as the tower rises, each step taking them closer and closer to home.

They’re a way off the ground when the tower starts shaking, causing Lucian to miss his footing. Jocelyn grabs onto him, stopping him from falling.

“That’s the kick,” Jocelyn says, brows drawn together and voice threaded with panic. “They’ve already gone.”

Lucian nods. “Climb,” he tells her urgently, and together they race to the top of the tower, pulling each other along. They stumble, gasping, through a door that appears at the top. A sea breeze whips Jocelyn’s hair as they stagger, winded from running, onto the platform surrounding the top of the tower.

The tower is crumbling beneath them and Lucian doesn’t hear what Jocelyn says as she takes his hand, hair flying around her face. Together they tip over the edge of the platform, falling and falling and then -

It stops.

Lucian blinks awake, staring up at the grey industrial ceiling of a warehouse. Immediately he sits up, hand slipping into his inner jacket pocket and yanking out the pocket watch. He flips it open and sags in relief when he sees the second hand ticking backwards.

Jocelyn’s hand comes around his as she curves herself against his back, her breath warm on his neck.

“They’ve gone,” she whispers. “Valentine, Maryse - everyone. They’ve cleared out.”

Lucian looks up from the watch and glances around. The warehouse is deserted, just as Jocelyn said. The only thing left is the PASIV device that had put them under, half hidden under one of the reclining seats where it had presumably been kicked in the group’s haste to clear out before Lucian and Jocelyn woke up.

Lucian reaches for Jocelyn and pulls her close into a hug, burying his face in her neck. They’ve made it back, but now that they’re safe, the fact that a very different reality could be happening right now hits him. He draws in a shaky breath and closes his eyes.

If Jocelyn hadn’t mentioned the kick, if Lucian hadn’t thought of building in the dream, if they hadn’t had each other, if, if, if -

He holds Jocelyn tighter, trying to push away the residual panic and worry flooding his body. They’re safe. They made it back.

“We need to go,” Jocelyn murmurs, a little later. “Whatever that was - a warning, a threat - he’s gonna come after us again.”

Lucian nods, not willing to let go of Jocelyn just yet, as if by keeping her in his arms he can keep her safe. He can see the image of her getting shot clear as day; before he can stop it, his hand drifts down to her side, unbidden, smoothing over unblemished skin. It’s reassuring, but it doesn’t do much to put him at ease.

Jocelyn tucks her head into the crook of his neck, hugging him tightly. He squeezes her back. They’d come so close to losing themselves. Lucian knows, without a doubt, that they still might if Valentine has his way.

His mind whirrs, trying to run through places where they might be safe.

“We can stay with my sister for a while,” Lucian suggests, and he feels Jocelyn nod against his sternum. It’s a wisp of a plan, but it’s better than nothing. Though they should really be going, putting as much distance between the warehouse and Valentine and everything that just happened as possible, neither of them move.

He’d known Valentine would be angry when they left him - his wife and his best friend, almost laughably cliché - and he’d barked and snapped through the dream. But the weight of what Valentine tried to do is incomprehensible; Lucian can’t believe Valentine would try to kill them, send them into limbo.

The first attempt might have been a warning, but they both know that there will be another. Another chance for another bullet, one that’s not confined to the dream world.

It’s this thought, more than anything else, that forces Lucian into action. He urges Jocelyn up and they drag themselves from the chair. While Jocelyn scouts the room to find anything they’ve missed, on impulse Lucian picks up the PASIV device and stores it away inside its carry case.

“Ready?” Jocelyn asks. Lucian nods, his tightening his grip on the case like a lifeline. He doesn’t know why, but something’s telling him he might need it again someday.

“Ready.”

“Valentine!”

The call shatters the peace in the room, even though it’s slightly muffled by the antique mahogany doors that lead into Valentine’s opulently designed study. It’s taken him almost two decades of hard work and devotion to his company to build it from the ground up; he deserves a little luxury, with the hefty weight of Idris Automation Systems resting solely on his shoulders.

Valentine sighs, eyes darting to the doorway as if the interruption is little more than a pesky fly. He returns his attention to the documents in front of him on the computer screen, only to be interrupted by another call and a knock, this time.

He locks the computer screen in front of him, gaze absently falling on the photo frame he keeps beside the monitor. The two of them look so young, so full of hope and love - it’s like something from a childhood dream. The Jocelyn smiling up at him - a Jocelyn he knew, once, though not any more - is in her rightful place at his side. Even after 18 years, the memory of her betrayal still cuts him deep.

Valentine tears his eyes away, not in the mood for sentimentality.

“What?” he barks, finally answering the intruder. The man - Valentine’s head of information, Hodge Starkweather - steps into the room, a beige manilla folder held under one arm. “I told you I wasn’t to be disturbed.”

Starkweather has the grace to look a little contrite, but his shoulders are still pushed back in surety. Valentine is just about to chew him out for disobeying direct orders when he speaks again.

“It’s Jocelyn,” Starkweather says, one corner of his mouth curving upwards in a malicious smile. Valentine quirks a brow, eyes falling to the photo frame again. “After all these years, we’ve found her.”

Chapter Text

The corridors at the Brooklyn Academy of Art feel emptier than Clary Fray remembers, though perhaps it’s just that she notices less now. The only things she’s aware of recognising remind her of her mom: the smell of oil paint, the smudges of green chalk pastel on her shirt sleeve, a flash of auburn hair disappearing around a corner.

Losing her mother is still an open wound. People tell her it will pass with the passage of time, but the few months that have gone by since Jocelyn’s death have done little to ease her pain.

One of the only respites she has from getting lost in a whirlwind of memories is her art. She wanders absently to her studio, dumping her bag down by a table and rolling up her sleeves.

There’s a blank canvas on the easel, a set of brushes and pens and chalks scattered on the table. Clary stares at them for a moment and then she’s moving over to the canvas, her fingers itching to pick up the pencil.

Clary starts sketching, the picture coming to life on the canvas. It’s an escape; she’s not sure what she’s creating, but it feels cathartic to just let everything out into her art. She switches to paint, swirling the brushes through different hues and just feeling . She loses herself in her art, plugging her headphones in and painting until her back aches from bending over the canvas.

She pushes herself for another half an hour, then calls it a day. Once she’s cleaned up the studio and turned out the lights, she heads outside to the front of the academy. Luke is waiting for her in his black four wheel drive, lifting a hand off the steering wheel to wave at her.

She throws her bag on the back seat, then hops up into the front beside him.

“Good day, kiddo?” he asks, as they pull away.

Clary hums. “Could have been worse,” she says. “Saw mom everywhere.”

Luke reaches over to squeeze her hand, and she holds onto him for a moment. Clary doesn’t know what she would have done without Luke; they’ve both lost the person they love more than any other, but he’s been her rock. If it wasn’t for Luke, and Simon, too, she would have been adrift on a sea of grief with no anchor.

“How about you?” she says, releasing his hand so he can change gear. “Was the bookstore busy?”

Luke shakes his head. “Just the usual,” he says. “Getting back into work was good for me, I think. Kept my mind occupied.”

Clary nods. “I know what you mean,” she says. “It‘s like, painting makes me think of mom, but it also means I can just go into my own little world and forget about everything, you know?”

Luke hums and smiles at her, reaching over to pat her arm when it’s safe for him to do so. After a while, Luke turns the radio up and they both end up singing along to cheesy pop songs, their laughter louder than the music. The hole Jocelyn left behind is never gone, but the little moments like this remind Clary that she still has people in her life that she loves and will support her.

“Hey, Simon’s invited us to his band’s performance tonight,” Clary says as they get out the car. “He texted earlier. Apparently the new manager at Java Jones is more ‘open-minded about the local acts they support’ than the old one,” she adds, air quoting around Simon’s words.

Luke chuckles. “Being open-minded is one way of putting it,” he says. “What time’s the gig?”

“Eight,” Clary says. “He said he’d pick me up if you want a ride, too.”

Luke agrees to go to the gig and promises not to embarrass her with his dance moves, even as he’s moonwalking from the hallway to the kitchen. Clary can’t help laughing and heads to her room, getting ready for Simon’s performance later.

She changes into a flowy maroon dress with lace accents and pulls her hair back into a ponytail. After searching through her jewellery box and the makeup and brushes scattered over her vanity table, she can’t find her mom’s gold locket anywhere, so she pokes her head around her bedroom door and calls downstairs to Luke.

“Can I check your room for Mom’s necklace?” she asks. Luke tells her to go ahead, so Clary pads across the hallway of their loft towards the room Luke used to share with Jocelyn.

It’s a weird feeling, being in here - it’s lived in, but deathly quiet at the same time. Her mom’s presence is still everywhere in the room, from her watch on the bedside table to the photo of her and Luke on their wedding day hanging over the bed. A half-finished book Jocelyn had been telling Clary about still lies on the royal blue cushions of the window seat, a childish bookmark Clary had made for Jocelyn years ago peeping out from its pages.

Clary grips the door frame, feeling her knees buckling slightly and her breath escaping her. It hits her with such ferocity, sometimes. Her mom’s never coming back and there’s nothing she can do about it.

Once she’s got her breathing under control, Clary takes shaky steps towards the vanity table. She lifts the lid on Jocelyn’s jewellery box with trembling fingers, gently searching through the pieces that lie within.

It’s still not there, so Clary pulls open one of the drawers in the vanity. It’s filled with old receipts and documents, and Clary’s about to close it and move onto the drawer beside it when she spots a leather bound journal with Jocelyn Fairchild embossed in gold lettering on the front.

Clary remembers seeing her mom read her journal a few times, but she’d never written in it. Usually, it was when Luke was working late at the bookstore and a much younger Clary was supposed to be in bed; Jocelyn would just sit curled up on the couch and gently turn the pages, a frown etched on her face.

Overcome with curiosity at the unfamiliar name as much as anything, Clary slips the journal out of the drawer and perches on the edge of the bed, gingerly opening it. The spine is stiff with age, like it hasn’t been cracked open in a few years. Clary’s fingers stroke the yellow pages, trying to make sense of the words and drawings within.

The first few pages are filled with what look, at first, like scribbled spiral doodles, but on closer inspection Clary realises they’re mazes. She traces from the centre with her finger, trying to find the entrance of the maze. They’re scattered over the pages, thick black lines haphazardly crossing over each other, an endless trap.

On the pages after that, there’s more sketches - things Clary recognises from her art modules on surrealism, like Escher and Penrose’s optical illusions - as well as other drawings she’s never seen before, like an engraved ring.

There are names and notes scribbled by some of the drawings, too; by one, it says, Maryse unsure?? , and by another it says check with Val.

Clary can’t remember ever hearing her mom mention a Val or a Maryse. She strokes over the drawings, then stands up, carefully cradling the journal in her palms and heads downstairs.

“Luke?” she asks. He’s standing in front of the hall mirror, fiddling with his cufflinks. Clary smiles and rests the journal on the table by the mirror, taking over doing the cufflinks for him.

Luke kisses her forehead.

“Did you find Jocelyn’s necklace?” he asks.

Clary shakes her head, and she’s just about to mention the journal when she sees Luke’s expression change, from his usual laidback smile to something almost guilty.

“Where did you get this?” he says, picking up the journal. His eyes are glued to the pages, like he knows it’s spilling secrets and can’t look away.

“It was in your room,” Clary says. “What are all the drawings? It’s mom’s, the journal, isn’t it?”

Luke is still blinking at the journal in shock and when he finally looks at Clary, his expression is tight and carefully controlled.

“It was, yeah,” he affirms, putting it back down on the table with enough precision you’d think it was a bomb about to detonate. He closes the front cover of the journal and turns away from it, adjusting his shirt sleeves.

“I used to see her looking at it,” Clary says, stepping towards the table and brushing her fingers down the leather cover. Luke is still looking the other way, though he’s stopped fiddling with his shirt. “But her name - she was a Fray. Not a Fairchild.”

“She was both,” Luke says, then hastily clears his throat.

It makes no sense to Clary.

“I don’t get it. What about the - the people she mentions, who are they?”

“It’s all history,” Luke says, voice thick with emotion. “We can’t change it now.”

Clary frowns. She crosses the hallway to where Luke’s standing and sees him blinking back tears. Clary’s never seen him like this; he’s always been strong, dependable, and though he feels very deeply and carefreely, she’s never seen him look so sad.

She wraps her arms around his waist and rests her head against his chest, listening to his heartbeat, a sound that’s soothed her for as long as she can remember. He sniffs and hugs her back, stroking her hair.

“You deserve to know,” he says, voice rough. “I wanted to tell you for the longest time, but your mom never wanted you to find out.”

“Why?” Clary asks. “What’s so bad about a journal?”

“Not about the journal, Clary,” Luke says, “not really. It’s bigger than that. It’s -”

He sighs, scrubbing a hand over his jaw, and sits down heavily on the bottom stair. Clary perches beside him, resting her head on his shoulder.

“It was a job we used to do,” he begins. “More than a job - our whole lives. There was a group of us: your mom, me, a couple called Maryse and Robert Lightwood, and...your dad.”

“You’re my dad,” Clary says automatically.

Luke corrects himself with the smallest smile. “Your biological father,” he amends. “He and Jocelyn were just kids, really, when they got married.”

Clary feels a wave of shock wash over her at Luke’s words. In every way that matters, Luke’s always been her dad and she will never think of him as anything else; to hear, for the first time, about the man who’s her biological father, she doesn’t know how to feel. To hear Jocelyn was married to him is even more overwhelming. Clary had always just assumed she was an accident from a one night stand or something.

“I didn’t know,” Clary says, voice sounding small.

Luke huffs an unamused laugh. “Like I said, your mom didn’t want you to know.”

Clary tries to take in everything she’s just heard. “What about the job?” she asks, after a pause. “You said it was a job - your life. But you run a bookstore and Mom lectured in art.”

“It was another life,” Luke says, sounding haunted. “Like...a half-remembered dream.”

He smiles without humor and stands up. Clary follows him as he heads through to his study. The room is lined with bookcases, but Luke walks over to one in particular, pulling out a leather-bound journal, just like Jocelyn’s, from a row of many the same.

“You both kept journals,” Clary says, taking it from Luke’s outstretched hand. She traces over the name etched on the front: Lucian Graymark.

“It was our way of documenting everything we were doing,” Luke says, “though Jocelyn used it to design everything and I used it to plan.”

“What were you planning?” Clary asks, opening the front cover and skimming Luke’s spidery handwriting.

Luke takes a seat at his desk and sighs. “You might want to sit down,” he says, gesturing to the chair on the other side of the desk. Clary blinks at him, sees the seriousness of his expression and the grief in his eyes, and does as she’s told.

She listens, enraptured, as Luke tells her about extraction: the process of sharing a dream with someone to steal information from their mind. It’s a form of industrial espionage, Luke tells her, used to get corporate secrets from people who don’t want to give them up.

Clary frowns. “That sounds really messed up,” she says. “You and mom used to do that?”

Luke shifts uncomfortably in his chair. “We did,” he says. He crosses his arms, wrapping them around himself. “Dream-sharing doesn’t hurt, and more often than not the people we were taking ideas from were awful people. I...guess I decided that the ends justify the means.”

“It’s still -”

“Look, I’m not saying it’s morally right,” Luke says, cutting her off. “It’s definitely not legal. But you wanted to know what the journal was about, so I’m gonna tell you, ugly past and all. Okay?”

It still doesn’t sit right with Clary. She thought she knew her parents, and now she’s realising that their entire life before her is a complete mystery. No - more than that. A secret. A past deliberately kept hidden. Clary can’t help wondering if it was out of shame or regret as much as to keep her safe.

She wants to know, though. There might be skeletons in Jocelyn and Luke’s closets but they’re still her parents.

Luke starts talking again, telling her about the different people in the team: Jocelyn, who was an architect and constructed the dreamspace; Robert, a chemist who made the compound solutions that put people into a deep enough sleep to share dreams; Maryse, a forger, whose job was to imitate people close to the target of the espionage and manipulate them.

Luke’s tone takes on a sharp, bitter edge as he goes on. “Valentine, your father, he was our extractor,” he says. “He was the leader of the team. I was his point man - it was my job to research the targets, plan out the details, make sure we had everything we needed.”

Clary narrows her eyes, tracing the grain of the wood of Luke’s desk.

“You two must have worked pretty closely together, then,” she says. But Luke doesn’t sound nostalgic, or like he’s remembering an old friend. “What happened?”

Luke looks away, his jaw clenched. “Valentine went rogue,” he says. “We used to be hired by companies and sign NDAs - we were just the messengers. We got them the information and then they used it, but Valentine started keeping the information for himself. A couple of times he took us on jobs where there was no end client; it was just a chance for him to gain information. We only found out afterwards.”

Lue’s face is drawn and he looks older than Clary’s ever seen him. Her fingers twitch against the surface of the desk, wanting to reach out, but she holds herself back.

“I can feel your judgement from here,” he says, smiling wryly, “but whatever you think of me now, back then, Jocelyn and I realised we had to do something. We had to stop your father.”

The hair on the back of Clary’s neck stands up and she swallows. “What happened?”

“Somehow he found out what we were planning,” Luke says. He grits his teeth, shaking his head as he continues. “We were on a job, several layers down in a dream, close to limbo - unconstructed dreamspace. No one goes to limbo. It messes with your mind, makes you lose all sense of who and what you are.”

Luke wraps his arms more tightly around himself.

“If you die in a dream,” he says, the words giving Clary goosebumps, “usually it just acts like a kick and wakes you up. But when you’re in a dream with that many layers, the sedatives used mean you don’t wake up. You fall another layer down.”

“He sent you into limbo,” Clary says, horrified.

Luke rubs his ribs on the left side. “He shot us both - me and your mom. He knew it wouldn’t kill us, of course - it was just a dream. But it was the message it sent, more than anything.”

Clary feels her eyes well with tears and she leans across the desk to offer Luke her hand. He takes it and squeezes it.

“I don’t think Valentine was expecting us to pull ourselves back out so quickly. But when we woke up, everyone was gone - Valentine, Maryse and Robert. Things were fine for a while - complete radio silence. But then people started following me home from work; Jocelyn kept getting phone calls at home where the caller hung up straight away.”

“It was Valentine,” Clary says.

Luke nods. “I think it was Jocelyn’s betrayal that made him snap,” he says. “I’m not saying it’s her fault - he’s a monster. But I don’t think he could handle the fact that his wife had fallen in love with someone else. That’s why we had to move around so much when you were a kid, and changed our names too.”

“You were running from him.” Clary’s tears spill over and she brushes them away. “And then...and then he finally found mom, so many years later.”

Luke closes his eyes, shaking his head in despair. The pair of them sit silently in the study; Clary loses track of how long they’re there, trying to digest everything she’s just heard. All she knows is Luke’s hand curled protectively around hers and the saltiness of her tears as they roll down her face.

The sound of the door knocker startles them both. Clary hastily wipes away her tears as Luke stands, rubbing a hand over his face and sighing.

“That’ll be Simon,” he says, heading to the door of the study. He pauses in the doorway, looking back at Clary. “I’m sorry.”

Clary shakes her head, crossing the room to where he is and wrapping her arms around him.

“It’s not your fault,” she says. He scoffs, and she hugs him tighter.  “It’s not. Valentine killed my mom.” Clary stares at the journal on the desk, heart pounding and a strange mixture of feelings swirling in her chest.

There’s fury, hurled at Valentine for the pain and suffering he’s caused them, for what he’s ripped from their lives. An odd, small sense of relief, because she finally knows the truth about what happened. Helplessness, because she knows Luke’s hurting, too, and she doesn’t know how to stop it.

But, most of all, Clary feels an overwhelming sense of grief, for the fact that her mom will never see her graduate college, or get married, or have kids, all because of one man’s twisted sense of ownership.

Luke eventually lets her go and walks away to answer the door. Clary watches him leave, still feeling weighed down with everything she’s learnt. Her father - in blood only - had her mother killed. What does she do with that, knowing someone so heartless can play with her life without a second thought?

Valentine has been holding onto that self-righteous anger for almost two decades, unable to let go of the fact that Luke and Jocelyn saw through him, tried to stop him.

But she also can’t get it out of her head that her mom and dad were a part of that. They followed Valentine, loved him, even. Clary feels sick just from thinking about it. But even in spite of that, her anger and grief spur her on to thinking about how to get back at Valentine. Even though finding out about their past has thrown her off, she knows, deep down, that her parents are good people. Not like Valentine. Never like Valentine.

The sound of Luke and Simon’s voices in the hallway startle her out of her thoughts. She heads out to join them, closing the door to the study behind her, but not before her eyes fall on the journal one last time. There’s no way she’s letting this go and there’s no way Valentine is getting away with it.

This, Clary thinks, is not over yet.

Chapter Text

Sitting in the sunlight in Central Park, Luke tips his head back, relishing the feel of sunlight on his skin. The park is perfect at this time of year - too perfect - but he drinks it in, letting himself believe for just a moment that this is how his life was meant to be.

Across the table they’re sitting at, Clary elbows Simon without malice, stealing the pot of sugar cubes from him. He squawks indignantly in mock pain and swats her away.

Something painful constricts in Luke’s chest as he watches the pair of them bicker playfully, Simon now teasing Clary for the amount of sugar she’s adding to her coffee. The pair of them have grown up too quickly before his eyes; he remembers when they barely came up to his waist, tiny kids with knobbly knees and glowing smiles, Simon’s glasses too big for his face and Clary’s hair a shock of bright orange.

Clary had come to him days ago saying she’d thought a lot about extraction after what he’d told her in the study, and that she wanted to use it to get revenge on Valentine Morgenstern. Luke had refused immediately, not prepared to return to the world that had caused him so much pain.

He’d thought that would be the end of it, but then he’d lain awake at night, unable to get the idea out of his head, no matter how much he knew he shouldn’t want to do it. It didn’t help that Clary’s righteous fury and hurt had bled into his thoughts - not only does part of him agree with her, but he can’t help feeling responsible for her feelings in the first place.

It was him who made the decision to tell her about extraction and he can’t let it take over her life, especially not in such a negative, vindictive way. It’s up to him to make sure she’s safe, and if showing her the right way to do extraction and go into dreams is part of that, then so be it.

Eventually, he’d gone up into the attic and found the box of extraction stuff he and Jocelyn had saved, blowing the dust off it and opening it with wary, reverent fingers.

The pocket watch Jocelyn had gifted him for his 18th birthday was carefully wrapped, and Luke slipped it from its packaging, wiping away a tear. He turned it over in his hands, opening it gently. It still kept time but, as usual, the second hand ticked backwards. Luke watched it go round, the metal of the watch cold against his palms, realising this was his reality now: a world without Jocelyn. A world where Valentine could get away with killing her.

He’d sat in the attic for God knows how long, just thinking, and then he’d gone to Clary the next day and told her that he’d do it - but only if she agreed to do things his way.

Luke isn’t surprised Simon’s here now. Inseparable since first grade, Clary and Simon have shared everything, so it’s only right, in a way. Simon was adamant that he wanted to join them, not only to support Clary, but for Jocelyn - she was like his second mom, a constant presence in his life, and he feels the loss acutely, too.

“Luke,” Simon says abruptly, “is Clary allowed this much sugar before we go into the dream?”

Luke chuckles, stirring his own coffee absently.

“We’re already in it,” he says mildly.

The PASIV device was in a dusty carry case at the back of the attic, hidden under a load of old junk. Luke wasn’t sure it would even work after all this time, but it had fired up just as he remembered. Maia had managed to get him a new batch of sedative compound to use, but the chemical she sent was just the same as before.

As he hooked Clary and Simon up to the device, placing the little nodes on their temples, he couldn’t help but wonder if this was the right thing to do. Now, sitting here in a shared dream, he knows it was. He watches in amusement as Simon’s eyes go wide behind his glasses at what he just heard.

“Wait, what?” he asks. “We’re already in a dream?”

“No, we’re in Central Park,” Clary says, glancing around with a slight frown, as if to confirm their setting. She returns her gaze to Luke, looking slightly concerned.

He sips his coffee. “How did we get here?”

“We took the -” Simon starts confidently, before faltering.

“We took the subway,” Clary says, nodding at him.

Think ,” Luke urges. His gaze flickers between Simon and Clary. ”How did you get here? Where are we now?”

Clary frowns, looking around again, then her eyes go wide. “We’re dreaming?”

Luke nods, sitting back in his chair with his coffee. “The three of us are all at home right now, sleeping. This is your first lesson in shared dreaming.”

“Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore,” Simon mumbles, looking around the street with new appreciation. “Who are all the people?”

“They’re projections of my subconscious,” Luke says. At Clary and Simon’s disbelieving looks, he chuckles. “It takes a while to wrap your head around it, I know.”

“All three of us are dreaming, though,” Simon says. “So why is it just your subconscious?”

“I’m the subject of the dream, so my mind is the one filling it,” Luke explains. “Clary, you’re the dreamer - you built the world we’re in.”

She blinks at him. As if on cue, the cups and plates on their table start rattling, causing Clary’s startled expression to grow more pronounced. Luke reaches out immediately to take Clary’s hand.

“Don’t think about it too much,” he says calmly. “It’s in your blood, Clary - your mom was an architect, too.”

“Mom?” she says, voice breaking. The ground starts shaking and Clary squeezes Luke’s hand tightly, looking flustered. “I’m not - I don’t know how to -”

All around them, the ground is still moving. Clary’s breathing grows more erratic beside him and right up at the top of the street a rip appears, like someone’s started tearing a piece of paper. A couple of passers by bump into Clary’s chair; other people eating at the cafe they’re sitting in turn to stare at her.

Luke watches it with some interest, though he keeps a careful eye on Clary. He’s seen this before with beginners - was like it himself, to start with, so he’s not too worried.

The jagged crack makes its way towards them, splitting the road in half.

“What’s going on?” Simon says, clearly trying to disguise the panic in his voice as he glares at the people around them.

Luke looks around. “It’s my subconscious,” he says. “Clary’s emotional response has caused the layout of the dream to change and the projections are responding to it, that’s all.”

“That’s all?” Simon asks, as someone shoves past their table and knocks his coffee cup over.

“My subconscious knows someone else is creating this world,” Luke goes on, keeping his voice steady. “The more the world changes, the quicker the projections will converge on whoever’s changing it. Clary, I need you to take some deep breaths, can you do that?”

She looks at the tear in the ground with wild eyes, stricken. “I don’t even know how I did it,” she says. “I don’t know how to stop it, I - “

Simon shares a look with Luke, then takes Clary’s other hand, ignoring the crowd that’s started to form around her.

“Hey,” he says gently. “Look at me. We’re gonna take a breath in, then out, okay? Like you taught me before Rock Solid Panda played in the talent show in eight grade, remember? You knew how freaked out I was and you came to find me and got me to breathe. That’s what we’re gonna do now.”

Clary nods quickly, following every word Simon’s saying. With Simon’s help, she gets her breathing back under control, and Luke follows Simon’s instructions, too, hoping it might get his subconscious to back off a little.

The tear in the ground slows a block or two from where they’re sitting. Clary continues breathing deeply, eyes closed, still holding Luke and Simon’s hands, and, slowly but surely, the ground starts knitting itself back together.

Finally, she opens her eyes, seeming more in control. She glances at the people dispersing around her, nibbling on her lip.

“I’m sorry,” she says, looking at Luke.

“Don’t be,” Luke says. “It’s a lot to take in. Thanks, Simon.”

Simon nods at him, thumb stroking over Clary’s hand in soothing circles. “You okay?”

Clary nods, breathing out shakily. “Yeah,” she says. She releases her grip on their hands and takes a sip of her coffee. Then, sharply, “You two didn’t get hurt, did you?” Simon and Luke shake their heads; Clary slumps in her chair. “Good.”

“What if we had been?” Simon asks. “What happens to our actual bodies?”

Luke tilts his head in thought. “Good question. Pain is in the mind, so nothing would happen to your body exactly - not visibly, anyway. But, depending on the injury and how traumatic it is, you might remember it as if it happened in reality.”

He can’t help the way his hand drifts to his side, covering the old bullet wound, a phantom ache of broken trust and lost friends.

They sit in silence for a while, Luke giving Clary and Simon time to recover. After a while, when the street has reverted entirely to how it was before and would fool anyone into thinking they were sitting in the real Central Park, Simon clears his throat.

“Those, uh, projections,” he starts, gesturing to the people milling around them, “can we interact with them the way they did with us?”

Luke nods. “Yeah, we can,” he says. “In fact, talking to the subject’s subconscious is one of the main ways to extract information from people.”

“They just tell us stuff?” Clary asks.

“When you’re dreaming, your conscious defences are lowered,” Luke says. “People give up stuff more willingly than when they’re awake.”

A pin drop silence follows his words, as Clary and Simon share a look. Luke is already aware of Clary’s feelings on the morality of extraction, but now she wants to use it to get revenge on Valentine, she seems to have been able to get over it pretty quickly. He’s tried not to think about it too much himself.

Simon runs a finger around the rim of his cup, looking perturbed. Something about his expression tugs at Luke: wistfully, shamefully, he remembers being in Simon’s place. He doesn’t like to think about how long it’s been since he’s thought about the morality of the job he used to do in such black and white terms.

Valentine had been so charming, so charismatic, quashing any doubts or questions Luke had ever voiced with impassioned arguments and, sometimes, a dismissive wave of his hand.

“If you’re not comfortable with it,” Luke says, seeing his younger self in Simon and wondering how things might have been different, “that’s okay.” With a pointed look at Clary, he says, “Clary won’t pressure you into anything, and you certainly don’t owe anything to me.”

Clary opens her mouth and then shuts it with an audible click. Simon’s still fiddling with the cup, his brow creased.

“It’s like, I know Morgenstern’s a bad dude,” Simon starts, “and I hate him for what he’s done. But if I do this, am I as bad as him? Is it justified because we’re, I don’t know, getting rid of an evil from the world, or whatever?”

“He shouldn’t dish it out if he can’t take it,” Clary says, with an air of finality, but Simon shakes his head.

“That makes us just as bad as him,” he says. Before Clary, who looks like she’s gearing up to protest, can say anything, Simon adds, “the going into people’s heads part, I mean.”

“Why don’t you take some time to think about it?” Luke suggests. “It’s a big decision - but, whatever you choose, I won’t think of you any differently.”

Simon nods, sending Luke a small smile. “Yeah, I will. I just - I wanna make sure this is the right thing for me, you know?”

After a little while longer at the cafe, Luke takes them around the city and shows them how to manipulate the dreamspace. He knows they haven’t got much longer left in the dream: they’re only down one level, so he’s going to  let the timer on the PASIV device run out so they wake up naturally, rather than introducing them to a kick this early on.

Even after all this time, it comes as naturally to him as breathing, but he knows it’s a lot to take on board the first time. Luke also knows that, even with his skill, he and Clary - and possibly Simon - can’t take on Valentine Morgenstern alone. He needs good people, people he trusts to do the job, people who can keep their head and who know what they’re doing so he can watch over his kids.

Luke watches Clary and Simon try and outdo each other in their little worldbuilding contest. Seeing the two of them together gives him an idea, but he’s not sure how crazy it is. Maryse Lightwood might have been his friend once, but they haven’t spoken in nearly two decades. As good friends as they were, that’s a long time for people to change.

Not that he can blame her for the choices she made all those years ago. She was a good woman - a childhood friend - that he’d trusted, and he knows first hand how manipulative and charming Valentine can be. She’d had two young children to think about protecting, so he’s not surprised that they stayed under the radar when things with Valentine went down hill.

He hasn’t thought about her in a long time. When he thinks about her smile now, he aches with nostalgic longing for a much simpler time. Other memories come back to him: the way she’d pinned her hair up at one of their college balls and he’d never seen anyone look so pretty. The piercing look in her dark eyes as she’d watched him and Jocelyn in the warehouse the very last time he’d seen her.

Out of the corner of his eye, he catches sight of a projection of his subconscious that looks just like Maryse. She walks past without acknowledging him, but turns back at the last moment and meets his eye.

Luke looks down, stifling a smile. It’s literally his mind playing tricks on him, but he hopes the foundation of their relationship is enough. Enough for her to hear him out, at least.

There was a time before Jocelyn when he’d thought...but then Maryse had married Robert, and had Alexander and then Isabelle. He and Jocelyn had gotten much closer by that point too, so whatever chemistry Luke and Maryse had was rendered immaterial. They were both happy - or, as happy as they could be.

The projection of Maryse disappears with a shimmer as Clary comes up to Luke, and he tears his eyes away from the spot where she was just standing with difficulty.

“I think Simon’s convinced,” she says with a smile. “He’s been bringing his D&D world to life.”

Luke laughs and puts an arm around Clary’s shoulder, hugging her to him. She’s what it’s about, in the end - Clary, his daughter, and the closure that this last mission will give them both.

“I think we’ll need more than some druids to help us, but it’s a start.”

They head over to Simon, who shows them excitedly what he’s been building. As he talks to them, Luke decides to  touch base with Maia again, too - she might have some suggestions for possible team members from people she’s seen floating around The Hunter’s Moon. Luke hasn’t been in touch with any of them for years in a bid to keep both him and his family safe, but Valentine shattered the peace Luke and Jocelyn had created.

Luke isn’t going to let him get away with it. This time, he’s not going to run - he’s sick and tired of running after a lifetime of it. This time, he’s going to stand and fight.

Chapter Text

Luke isn’t sure how he feels as he approaches the Lightwoods’ house. He’d called in a couple of favours to get Maryse’s number and reached out to her a few days ago, explaining briefly about what he was doing and why. She’d seemed delighted to hear from him, which had been a pleasant surprise, and she’d rather shocked him by inviting him to her house to see him in person.

He doesn’t know why he changed his shirt three times that morning or put on an unopened aftershave Simon had got him for Father’s Day, because it’s only Maryse Lightwood, but he had. He’s nervous about seeing her again, but excited, too, and he smooths down the lapels of his jacket as he walks up the front path.

The garden is both remarkably pretty and unobtrusive; beds of yellow and orange flowers surround a lush green lawn, all kept within an almost laughably white picket fence. Luke is under no illusion that the image of the perfectly suburban house hasn’t been crafted by Maryse herself, both a protection measure and a way of going unnoticed.

Luke jogs up a few steps to the wooden veranda. With a deep breath, he reaches forward to ring the doorbell, then shuffles from one foot to the other as he waits for someone to answer.

The heavy door - cornflower blue, with two small frosted window panes - is eventually opened after what feels like an eternity but, in reality, is probably only a minute, at most. A young woman is there, smiling widely at him, with deep brown eyes and a smart white blouse leading into a pair of tailored trousers.

She looks so much like a young Maryse that Luke has to shake his head to clear it, barely remembering to introduce himself. He holds out his hand.

“Luke Garroway,” he says.

The young woman shakes his hand, still beaming. “Isabelle Lightwood,” she says, “but you can call me Izzy. Mom’s in the back - let me take you through.”

Luke thanks her and steps over the threshold, wiping his feet on the doormat as he goes. As they pass through the hallway, he catches a large canvas print of Maryse and Izzy with two young men and a teenage boy. He assumes the oldest dark-haired boy is Alexander, who was just a young kid when Luke and Jocelyn escaped Valentine’s wrath, but doesn’t recognise the blonde guy or the teenager.

He also notes, with some interest, that Robert doesn’t feature anywhere in the photograph.

“Mom said you two are old friends,” Izzy says pleasantly, turning over her shoulder to look at Luke. Luke nods.

“Yeah, we go back a long way,” he says.

Izzy hums. “Are you an extractor, too?” Luke’s eyebrows shoot up, and Izzy sends him an amused smile. “You didn’t know Mom taught us about extraction, I take it?”

Luke shakes his head, smiling slightly himself. “No, I didn’t. I thought I’d left it all behind a long time ago.”

“What changed?” Izzy asks curiously as she opens the french doors to the garden.

Luke smiles sadly. “My wife died.”

Izzy looks over at him, expression full of shock and sorrow. “Oh, God, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.”

“You didn’t know,” Luke says, and she sends him a sympathetic smile. He follows her out into the garden, catching sight of Maryse Lightwood for the first time in 18 years.

She’s laughing at something with Alexander, her smile radiant in the spring afternoon sunshine. Her black hair falls down her back in loose waves, and her face brightens when she looks over and sees Izzy and Luke.

Maryse stands up from her chair, looking a little flushed as she smiles at the pair of them. “Lucian,” she says, striding over to them and clasping Luke’s hands in her own, “it’s wonderful to see you again. I see you’ve met my daughter, Isabelle.”

Luke nods, unable to stop the smiling rising to his face at the sight of his old friend. Any awkwardness between them melts away as he catches the hopefulness lighting Maryse’s eyes, and he squeezes her hands. Izzy clears her throat from beside them and Maryse startles, dropping Luke’s hands.

She gestures to the chairs arranged on the grass. “Please, come and sit.”

Luke takes a seat in one of the empty chairs, not missing the conspiratorial look Izzy and Alexander share while Maryse sits down again.

“Hey,” Alexander says, nodding at Luke. He reaches out to shake Luke’s hand once Luke’s got comfortable. “Nice to meet you. I’m Alec.”

Luke smiles at him, shaking his hand.

“Last time I saw you, you were this high,” Luke says, gesturing a short distance off the ground. Alec huffs a short laugh and ignores his sister, who coos beside him. “I’m Luke. It’s good to see you.”

“You didn’t tell us we’d met Luke before,” Izzy says to Maryse, who rolls her eyes good-naturedly.

“That’s a bit of a stretch,” she says, “considering you were only 18 months old.”

Izzy shoots her mom a fondly irritated look. Alec chuckles and offers to pour Luke a drink, which he accepts with a nod. Maryse watches Luke for a moment, then sits up a little straighter, her expression sharpening.

“So, Lucian,” she starts, and Luke holds up a hand genially.

“Luke, please,” he says, and she corrects herself with a smile. Luke takes the glass Alec hands him with thanks.

“Luke, you mentioned needing a team, on the phone,” Maryse says. She nods to Alec and Izzy with a proud smile. “I promise you, I have no finer extractors for you than my children.”

“Izzy’s the best chemist in the country,” Alec says, beaming at his sister. “She’s our architect, too.”

Izzy smiles, clearly pleased. “Our other brother, Jace, is our extractor,” she tells Luke. “But I guess you’d be taking the lead, if it’s your team?”

Luke nods. “And you, Alec?”

“Point man,” Alec says easily, then, with a glance at Maryse, “and forger.”

Luke hums knowingly. “Just like your mom.”

“I learnt from the best,” Alec says, shrugging easily. He takes a sip of his drink. “So, is this a job interview?”

Luke laughs slightly. “Not exactly,” he says. “I don’t doubt that you’ve got the skills you say you do. But this job, it’s…” he sighs. When he looks at Maryse, she sends him a soft smile. “I’m doing it for my daughter, Clary. She’s an 18 year old kid who’s just lost her mom.”

“So it’s personal,” Izzy says quietly, and Luke nods.

“Yeah - the stakes are pretty damn high on this one. I’m old enough and wise enough not to let that get in my head too much,” he says, “but for Clary? If you want to work with me, you need to know that it’s not just in and out. I need help training Clary and her friend, Simon, and I need to know I have reliable, experienced people who have my back when we’re in the dream.”

“Reliable is Alec’s middle name,” Izzy says, and then her lips twitch into a smirk, “and I’m very experienced.”

“Iz,” Alec laughs, rolling his eyes. Luke smiles at the siblings and then turns his focus to Maryse, who’s watching him carefully.

“Will you be part of the team, too?” he asks. She blinks at him, then her eyebrows furrowed together. “You don’t have to come into the dream,” Luke adds, “but if we’re all going under, we need someone we trust to look after us.”

Maryse’s brow smooths out and she smiles. “I’ll think about it,” she promises, and Alec and Izzy nod.

“I’d give you more details,” Luke says on a sigh, “but there really isn’t a plan at the moment.”

Alec’s eyebrows shoot up and Luke’s mouth tips into a smile at his panicked expression.

“If you’re open, I’d appreciate your input,” Luke adds. “I need to visit one more person, but if he agrees to join us, I can get the whole team together and we can come up with something.”

Izzy and Alec share a look, then they both turn to Luke.

“Just name the time and place.”

It’s almost impossible to miss Magnus Bane in a crowd. Luke spots him straight away at the end of the bar of The Hunter’s Moon, talking animatedly to Maia about something. His brocade jacket is a rich wine red that shows off the sharp lines of his shoulders, his black hair spiked and the ends tipped with gold.

It’s been months since he last spoke to Magnus, but whenever they see each other, it feels like nothing’s changed.

They’ve been good friends for many years. Magnus was young and cocky when he ran across Luke for the first time - now he’s a little older and a lot more self-assured, with the experience and style to back it up. Luke knows Magnus’ history with the dreamworld, and he can’t help but be impressed about how much Magnus taught himself and just how good he is at the job when he does it.

Luke surveys the room and finds, unsurprised, that he’s not the only one paying attention to Magnus. The person he’s most concerned with is slouched in one of the booths at the back of the bar, a half empty pint glass in front of him. He has long straggly hair and his eyes dart to Magnus seven times in the time it takes Luke to stroll along to Magnus’ seat and make himself comfortable on the bar stool next to him.

“You have an admirer,” he says lowly to Magnus, who doesn’t startle in the slightest. Maia’s lips curve into a smile and she nods at Luke in greeting.

“I have many,” Magnus says, with the hint of a smirk, “but I believe the delightful man you’re referring to is Rufus.”

Luke half smiles and asks Maia for a drink.

“Does Rufus work for someone?”

Magnus takes a sip of his martini. “Rufus works for anyone for the right price,” he says, unruffled. “No sense of loyalty.”

“I heard his latest employer might be the Seelie Queen,” Luke says.

“A terrible nickname.” Magnus finally looks at Luke, a true smile taking over his expression as he surveys him. “You know better than to believe everything you hear, Lucian,” he adds.

Luke tips his glass in acquiescence. “Some rumours deserve more consideration. Especially those involving threats to my friends.”

Magnus raises his glass in a toast at Luke’s words. Maia joins them again, bringing Luke’s beer, which he accepts with a smile and then hands her over a tip.

Maia lingers on the pretence of picking up some empties.

“How’re you doing, Luke?” she asks.

“Holding up,” he says honestly. The loss of Jocelyn is a still a raw wound, and he knows Maia well enough to know he won’t get away with bullshitting her. “It gets a little easier every day, but it’s never easy.”

Maia nods. “We’ve missed you,” she says. She looks him over, as if double checking he is alright, and then nods to herself.

When she’s gone, Luke clears his throat as Magnus sips his martini.

“So: your last employer.”

Magnus raises one eyebrow. “I may have some unfinished business with the Queen,” he admits, playing with the stem of his martini glass.

“Is it the type of business you can go back and finish?” Luke asks bluntly. “There’s a price on your head, Magnus.”

Magnus hums. “Life is terribly boring without a little danger.”

Luke sips his drink, a bitter smile rising to his face. “Life without danger means you stay safe.”

Magnus’ expression loses any amusement it had, his eyes softening. “I heard what happened to Jocelyn,” he says, covering Luke’s hand with his own. “I’m truly sorry, Luke.”

Luke nods, trying to chase the lump in his throat down with a gulp of his beer.

“How’s Clary doing?” Magnus asks.

“She’s…” Luke hesitates. “You know, the one big disagreement Jocelyn and I always had was whether or not to tell Clary about extraction. I thought she deserved to know as she got older, but Jocelyn wanted to shield her from it all - and Valentine.”

Magnus nods. “I know it wasn’t easy for you, raising her in hiding.”

Luke sighs. “It wasn’t,” he admits. “But she knows now. She knows Valentine targeted Jocelyn deliberately and she wants to get him back.”

Magnus’ eyebrows shoot up. “She wants to kill him?”

Luke traces a finger through the condensation on the side of his beer glass. “I’d be lying if I said no,” he says tentatively, “but she’s young, she’s just lost her mom. I don’t think that threat was serious.” He pauses, licks his lips. “What she was serious about was wanting to destroy his business with extraction.”

Magnus fiddles with the martini stirrer in his glass, clearly thinking as he pops the olive from the end of it in his mouth.

“She’s got a plan?” he asks.

Luke snorts. “She doesn’t even have a team.” Magnus smiles. “I told her I’d do it - one final job. To get him back for what he did. But she has to play by my rules, which means working with whoever I choose.”

Luke lets the unspoken question bumble along in the air for a moment. Magnus purses his lips and returns the stirrer to his glass.

“I reached out to an old friend who helped me find good people to work with, but they’re kids. I need a point man, Magnus. Someone I can trust.”

“And yet you’re here asking me,” Magnus says, grinning. “At least, I assume that’s what you’re asking.”

“I am,” Luke says, regarding Magnus seriously. “One job. No plan. Two rookies on the team. What could go wrong?”

Magnus laughs. “Well, it’s potentially preferable to her Highness interrupting my cocktail nights on a regular basis.”

“You’ll think about it?” Luke asks, surprised.

In all the years he’s known Magnus, they’ve never actually worked together - Magnus dips in and out of their world, and Luke thought he’d left it all behind for good. He was expecting Magnus to put up more of a fight.

“My schedule is pretty open right now,” Magnus says with a shrug. “Besides,” he adds idly, playing with the stirrer in his martini glass, “I don’t know whether that price on my head was dead or alive.”

Luke tries to appear very interested in the liquor selection behind the bar to stop himself glancing back at Rufus. “Me either. Let’s see if he starts shooting.”

“He better not start shooting in my bar,” Maia does, sliding into view with a cloth in hand as she wipes down the surface of the bar. Luke chuckles and Magnus’ lips tip up into a smile.

“Perhaps you should vett your clientele more thoroughly,” Magnus suggests.

Maia shoots him a wholly unimpressed look. “Then you’d be out on your ass, wouldn’t you, Magnus?”

Magnus laughs loudly.

“You wound me,” he teases, and Maia rolls her eyes, though she’s smiling.

He glances around at Rufus and then back to the bar.

“I’ll take the trouble with me, my dear,” he promises, sliding her a few bills’ tip and then draining the last of his drink. He looks at Luke. “Shall we?”

Luke nods. “Night, Maia. And thanks.”

“Take care,” Magnus says to her, then slips gracefully off his stool and straightens up his smart brocade jacket.

He scans the crowd, a nonchalant tilt to his chin, before spinning on his heel and striding out the front entrance of The Hunter’s Moon. Luke lingers for a moment, sharing a glance with Maia, and he waits until he feels someone brush past him before he stands up himself.

With a nod at Maia, he exits the bar, too, following Rufus with an ease he doesn’t feel. He tries to slow himself down; he doesn’t want to make the wrong move because he’s too on edge and alert Rufus to the fact that he’s there.

Up ahead, Rufus is gaining on Magnus. He reaches him with two large strides, grabs him by the shoulder to spin him around and punches him across the face with a left hook. Magnus stumbles but quickly rights himself, dropping into a low fighting stance and elbowing Rufus in the stomach.

As Rufus doubles over in pain, Magnus slams the heel of his hand into Rufus’ face and uses the distraction to get a hand around the back of Rufus’ neck, shoving him bodily to the floor. Magnus rifles through Rufus’ pockets until he finds what he’s looking for and straightens up.

When Luke reaches him, Magnus is inspecting the gun he’s just taken from Rufus with slight disdain.

“I guess the price was dead, then,” he remarks, and Luke rolls his eyes.

“Come on. Let’s get out of here before -“

The blow to the head takes him by surprise, body jerking forward and a winded noise being punched out of him. Luke staggers, and Magnus steadies him for the briefest moment before he has to fight off an attacker of his own, the men seemingly appearing out of nowhere.

Luke runs at the guy advancing on him, kicking him in the chest and sending him sprawling before dodging several punches from another guy. He jabs the man in the throat and then punches him in the stomach, then pushes him out the way.

Beside him, Magnus pivots gracefully on the ball of his foot, ducking under the arm of his assailant and then matching him blow for blow, holding the attacker at bay with lightning reflexes. He’s light as a boxer on his feet but his sheer strength means it doesn’t take him long to get the guy dropping to the floor, writhing on the ground in pain.

Luke’s fighting two guys on his own, both of them trying to back him against the wall. He pushes off from it and uses the momentum to pack a punch that takes one down, then elbows the other in the face.

Momentarily, he and Magnus share a glance. It should be triumphant, but the hair on the back of Luke’s neck stands on end and from the corner of his eye he sees the guys they’ve fought dragging themselves up from the ground.

In wordless agreement, Magnus and Luke come together, back to back, keeping their eyes on their attackers.

With a yell, the first attacker comes at Luke with a left hook. Luke uses his hand to slam the attack away, already ducking and weaving away from punches thrown by another assailant. He keeps the two of them at bay, kicking and punching and dodging.

Their assailants take longer and longer to come back when they’re knocked down and Luke almost thinks that they stand a chance of winning when, out of nowhere, another man charges them and tackles Magnus, arms around his hips.

Magnus throws him off, holding the guy’s arms down and kneeing him in the face, before sending another guy flying backwards with a powerful kick to the throat. He jumps on the first guy, wrapping his legs around him and, with their newly unbalanced weight, pulling them both down to the ground. Using their momentum Magnus rolls them, kneeling over him and punching him in the face.

Luke catches his eye and Magnus shrugs, grinning easily. Luke’s rolling his eyes when he hears a shout - he turns to see a guy racing towards him. He side-steps out the guy’s path and grabs his wrist, then curves his hand around the back of the guy’s neck to push him into the nearest wall.

Both panting heavily, the two of them survey the bodies lying on the floor around them. Magnus wipes the back of his hand across his face, eyes flashing, and he’s just about to say something when Luke spots movement up ahead at the end of the street.

“We’ve got company,” he says, eyes widening at the pack of men sprinting towards them.

Magnus sighs, glancing at the unconscious bodies surrounding them. “Run?”

Luke nods, already backing down the alley. “Race you.”

The pair tear off down the street, back past The Hunter’s Moon and away in the opposite direction. They’ve not been running for long when the first shots are fired; Luke ducks on instinct, shielding his head with his arms.

“If I join your team,” Magnus shouts, a little out of breath, “what are my odds of being shot at?”

“I can’t make any promises,” Luke yells, “but much better than right now.”

They reach a low wall that’s crumbled in some places and vault over it with perfect timing. A shot hits the bricks behind them, releasing a cloud of dust. Magnus looks back, eyes wide, and then he turns to Luke.

“You’ve got a deal,” he says. “I’m in.”

Chapter Text

A couple of weeks after Luke’s visit to their house, Alec and his siblings get invited round to meet the rest of the team.

Alec’s not worried about it, exactly. Even though he’s only met Luke once, there was something trustworthy about him, and Alec knows his mom would never let her kids work with someone she didn’t value.

No, it’s Luke’s own admission that at least one of the people he’s bringing on the job with them will be a loose canon. That’s not what you need when you’re doing extraction - precision, care, patience; these are the tools that are stock in trade for an extractor. When you’re going into someone’s mind, you can’t just stomp around until they give you the answers you want.

Alec feels sorry for the girl, sure. She’s just lost her mom. But it still sets him on edge a little bit. He and Izzy and Jace work like a well-oiled machine, and disrupting that with not just new people but people new to the whole dreamworld is asking for trouble, in his opinion.

“Alec,” Izzy says, not looking up from her phone, “stop over-thinking this.”

“I’m not over thinking,” Alec stresses, watching out the window of their cab as they drive through the Garroways’ neighbourhood.

“I can hear you thinking from here,” Jace chimes in from the front seat.

“This job is dangerous,” Alec says, apparently going ignored. “I’m just taking it seriously.”

Of course, it’s the danger that gives it a thrill, too, but Alec has to think of his siblings before that. It’s up to him to protect them. Jace thinks up a plan, then Alec pours over it until his back aches and his fingers cramp from scrawling notes over every inch of paper available to him, going over every possibility until it’s watertight. The thoroughness is how he works; it calms him down, knowing he’s covered all their bases.

With this, it’s different. He’s always Jace’s right hand man, but Jace will - mostly - listen to him. Here, Luke is older, more experienced, and it’s his job. He’s recruited another point man, someone neither Alec nor his siblings know. They’re being kept at arm’s length, and while Alec can understand it - would do the same, if he was in Luke’s position - he doesn’t like it.

Izzy rifles through her purse to find some money as they pull up outside Luke’s house. Once she’s paid the driver, the three of them get out the cab and walk up the front path to Luke’s house. Izzy loops her arm first through Jace’s, then Alec’s, comfortably bracketed by the two of them.

“Mom wouldn’t have given her approval if she didn’t trust Luke,” she points out. Alec sighs.

“I know,” he says, a little irritated. It’s nothing he’s not thought himself. Maybe he is being irrational.

The front door opens before they reach it, effectively cutting their conversation off before it begins. A young redheaded woman in a pretty summer dress is standing in the threshold, waving at them.

“Hey, you must be the Lightwoods. I’m Clary. Come in.”

Izzy breaks away from her brothers and strides forward, clasping Clary’s hands in hers and pressing kisses to both her cheeks.

“I’m Isabelle,” she says, and Alec notices a faint red blush on Clary’s cheeks as she smiles brightly at his sister. “Why don’t you show me round?”

Jace and Alec share a look, then Jace chuckles. He wanders into the house first and Alec follows him, shutting the front door.

“Luke!” Clary calls. “They’re here.”

The girls giggle as they disappear off into the house; Alec can hear Clary’s voice as she shows Izzy around. Jace shrugs and they head into the living room together, where Luke’s set up a projector and flipchart. He’s talking to a boy who doesn’t look much younger than Alec with curly brown hair and tortoise-shell glasses, who waves when the two Lightwoods enter the room.

“Hey, guys,” he says. “I’m Simon.”

“I’m Jace,” Jace says, throwing himself into one of the armchairs and making himself comfortable. “This is Alec.”

Alec nods at Simon, then at Luke, who seems pleased to see them.

“Glad you could make it,” he says. “Where’s your sister?”

“With Clary,” Alec answers as he sits down, and Luke and Simon share a knowing look with a grin.

“Well, Magnus isn’t here yet, so we have some time anyway,” Luke says. “Alec, your email said you’d done some research?”

“That’s an understatement,” Jace laughs, throwing Alec a teasing glance. Alec rolls his eyes, not responding to his brother’s comment and addressing Luke and Simon.

“I have my USB,” he says, pulling it out of his bag. “Here.”

Simon connects up Luke’s laptop to the projector and then plugs in Alec’s USB stick, opening some of the files once he’s done it. Alec talks them through his research on Valentine Morgenstern and his company very briefly, not wanting to have to repeat himself again when the others arrive.

While Luke knows Morgenstern personally, of course, Alec always starts every job with research. It’s a process that’s as natural to him as breathing, and since he and his siblings, at least, are coming at this job with no knowledge whatsoever, it felt like the right thing to do.

Simon has a lot of questions about how extraction works, too, which Luke, Alec and Jace field fairly evenly between them. Luke’s in the middle of explaining about the different roles each team member takes when the door knocker goes, so Alec volunteers to go and get it.

He can see a vague dark-haired figure behind the glass panes of the front door, but it doesn’t prepare him in any way for the sight that greets him when he actually opens it. The man standing in front of him is gorgeous , tall with dark eyes that look a warm, deep brown, the kind of eyes Alec wants to drown in. The man’s lips curve up into a smile that’s both surprised and pleased.

“Who are you?” he asks, his voice curling around the words like honey. Alec’s knees are weak, honest to God. “I was expecting Luke Garroway, but I’m not complaining.”

Alec opens his mouth to say something, but he’s currently struggling to remember any words he once knew. He’s seen attractive guys before, but never a man this stunning.

The man’s hair is amazing, swept high off his head, and his black leather jacket only serves to accentuate his already broad shoulders, the sleeves tapering down to show ring-covered fingers. If there’s ever been a time that Alec has felt gayer in his life, he can’t recall it.

“I’m Magnus,” the man says, after a pause. He looks expectantly at Alec, holding out his hand, lips twitching into a small smile.

“Alec,” Alec manages weakly, once his brain reboots. “Hi.” He reaches out to shake Magnus’ hand. Magnus’ skin is soft and warm and -

“Hi,” Magnus says, still smiling. “Can I come in?”

“Oh,” Alec says, remembering that he was supposed to be letting Magnus in, not just staring longingly at him. “Yeah, of course,” he says. “Luke was busy so I said I’d get the door.”

Magnus hums, his free hand fiddling with a cuff around his ear that Alec hadn’t noticed yet. Alec didn’t realise he had a thing for ear cuffs.

“They’re, uh, in the living room,” he says. Magnus nods, still smiling at him, and the way he brushes against Alec as he steps into the house has, Alec notes with delight, nothing to do with a lack of space. He smells incredible and Alec counts to five very slowly while he shuts the door.

Get it together, Lightwood .

There’s a thud of footsteps on the stairs as Izzy and Clary return from their house tour. While Magnus is taking his shoes off he gets accosted by Clary, who greets him with a wide grin and hugs him tightly. Magnus wraps his arms around her, laughing, and Alec swears his heart lifts at the sound.

Izzy stands at the bottom of the stairs watching the exchange, and she tries and fails to hide the way she’s laughing at him behind her hand. Alec glares at her and leads them into the living room.

He sits back down while everyone introduces themselves and tries to act cool when Magnus comes to sit beside him on the couch. Izzy, of course, notices this, and wiggles her eyebrows at him from across the room.

“So, Magnus is gonna be my point man,” Luke says, gesturing towards Magnus, “but Alec was talking us through some of his research earlier. Who wants to start?”

Alec gestures towards Magnus immediately.

“Force of habit,” he explains. “I’m just here as a forger, I don’t want to overstep.”

Magnus waves Alec away.

“We can do it together,” he says, with an innocent smile. “Talk us through what you found, and if I have anything to add, I will.”

Alec can’t find any reason to disagree, so the two of them stand up and wander to the projector screen Simon set up. Considering they’ve not rehearsed anything, they present their information surprisingly well together.

Alec’s information is more impersonal in nature. He charts Morgenstern’s rise through the aerospace and transport industry as CEO of Idris Automation Systems, the product types he specialises in and what his expected moves are for the coming months, especially as the company’s finances have stagnated over the last quarter. Though there’s been some rumored dissent in the ranks over the direction of Morgenstern’s leadership, the fact that Morgenstern has made himself executive chairman of the board means there’s not a lot they can do.

When he’s finished, he stands aside and lets Magnus takes over.  He starts with Morgenstern’s adopted son and CFO, Jonathan. According to the profile of him Magnus has put together, he’d been to an out of state prep school and then graduated from Yale, first with an undergraduate degree in Economics and then with an MBA from the School of Management, all bankrolled by his father.

He walked into a job at Idris and has since risen to become one of the youngest CFOs after a series of suspiciously fast promotions. Apparently, this is something that Jonathan is both grateful for and irritated by; by all accounts, he doesn’t get on with his father at all, and the fact that he’s gunning for Valentine’s job is pretty much an open secret.

Magnus rounds out the picture with personal details and information that they can use to their advantage. Starkweather - Jonathan's godfather - Conrad, Blackwell. By the end of it, they all know which employees have worked for him longest in the inner circle, who’s most loyal and who holds a grudge.

When they’ve finished sharing all the intel they’ve found, Magnus and Alec sit down and Luke suggests they brainstorm ideas about how to take Morgenstern and his business down.

One of their first contenders is simply the game they’re all good at: industrial espionage. Jace suggests stealing some trade secrets from one of the inner circle and selling them to a competitor, but Clary dismisses it on the basis that it wouldn’t ruin Morgenstern’s life.

Alec can’t help sharing an exasperated glance with Jace at that.

Luke suggests extracting some evidence that implicates them in a crime, corporate or otherwise, to dismantle the business, but Magnus just shakes his head. Apparently, lawsuits have been thrown at the Morgensterns and Idris before, but nothing ever sticks. It wouldn’t be enough - they’d need another plan, too.

Jace writes everything they come up with down, even the more outlandish suggestions, but after half an hour or so it feels like they’re just going round in circles.

Eventually, Simon blurts out, “What if we give him something, instead of taking it?”

Jace blinks twice at Simon. “What?”

Simon shrugs lopsidedly. “You know, like, if you can steal an idea from inside someone’s head, why can’t you put one there? I know it sounds crazy, but you’re literally talking about going into someone’s mind while they’re dreaming , so don’t look at me like that.”

Alec stares at Simon while Jace makes a half-hearted attempt at writing the idea down.

“What?” Clary asks them both. “It’s not that weird. What Simon’s saying makes sense.”

Alec rubs at his temples.

“Right, so I’m going to put an idea in your head,” he says, a little impatiently. “Whatever you do, don’t think of an elephant.” He waits for a beat, then looks at them both. “What are you thinking about?”

“Elephants,” Simon says. “Dumbo, specifically.”

Clary and Izzy stifle a laugh and Alec closes his eyes momentarily.

“Okay, whatever you want. Anyway, the point is that I put my idea in your head, but it’s not yours.”

Jace clears his throat. “That’s the problem with inception,” he says to Simon. “Whoever’s dreaming can always remember that it’s not their idea. True inspiration, it’s impossible to fake.”

“No, it’s not,” interjects Luke, his expression both wary and thoughtful.

Alec and Jace turn to him, surprised.

“Luke’s right,” Magnus says, causing Alec to look at him immediately. “It’ll be hard...but I love a challenge, don’t you?”

Six faces stare back at Magnus, the Lightwoods skeptical, Clary and Simon intrigued and Luke grimly determined.

Magnus guards his expression, deliberately keeping his tone light when he talks. Inception brings unwelcome reminders for him of a painful part of his life he’d rather forget, but it could be the only way for them to deal with Valentine Morgenstern once and for all. He has to - wants to - do this. For Luke and Clary, if nothing else.

“Jace is right,” Magnus says. “The tricky part with inception is making the subject think the idea is theirs. First, you have to refine the idea to its most basic concept - get to the emotional core of the thought. Which feelings is it motivated by? That’s what the subconscious responds to.”

“Subconscious?” Alec asks, brows drawn together as he studies Magnus intently.

Magnus nods. “That’s the second part. It’s not enough to go one or even two layers into the dreamer’s mind. Even if they can’t let go of the idea, they’ll feel the foreign influence. You have to go deeper.”

“Three levels down?” Jace asks incredulously.

Magnus and Luke share a look, then nod.

Alec clears his throat. “When you refine the idea, how do you know if you’ve gone too basic? If you make it something so broad that they could act on it in any number of ways, you won’t know what it prompts them to do until you’re out of the dream.”

Luke acknowledges this with another nod.

“There’s always an element of risk. The best we can do is plant clues on the way down, influence the dreamer to think a certain way. It’s not foolproof, but thought patterns are hard to undo. Once you see something a certain way, unless you have a reason to actively change it, most people won’t. We have less control over our perception than we think we do.”

Alec nods thoughtfully and sits back in his chair. Magnus takes a moment to admire him, from the olive green shirt he’s wearing that picks up the flecks of colour in his hazel eyes to the long legs stretching out in front of him.

“Izzy,” Luke says, turning to her, “what do you think?”

Isabelle shrugs gracefully.

“I’ve never made a compound that lets you go down more than two levels before,” she says, but her tone isn’t defeated. In fact, she gets more animated as she goes on. “Do we have a timeframe we’re working to? It might take me a while to test out the different compounds, but I’ve got all the equipment in my lab at home.”

Luke smiles at her. “We’ll go when you’re ready,” he says, and Isabelle beams at him.

“Inception is possible, then?” Clary asks, looking at Magnus and Luke. “Can we do it to Valentine?”

Luke shakes his head immediately. “Even if we could get close enough to him to knock him out for a few hours, there’s no way we’d get even a level down in his mind. It’s too well protected. He’s trained himself for years.”

“You can do that?” Simon asks.

“It’s like having bodyguards for your mind,” Luke explains.

They fall quiet for a moment before Isabelle says, with narrowed eyes, “What about Jonathan Morgenstern?”

Jace snaps his fingers, pointing at her. “Magnus said earlier he doesn’t like his dad. Maybe we run with that - he already wants to take over, so we get him to push his dad out and break up the company. The emotional core of the thought is sending a big ‘fuck you’ to his old man.”

“No,” Magnus says slowly, shaking his head. He stands up, crossing the room to the projector, and clicks onto a photo of Valentine and Jonathan Morgenstern. “That kind of anger and resentment is usually a symptom of something else - frustration, even hurt.” He frowns at the photo, fiddling with his rings while he thinks. “I think it’s his misguided way of getting approval. A desire for acceptance.”

Luke nods. “Giving him even the possibility of reconciliation, catharsis - that’s what we need to tap into. Positive emotion trumps negative emotion every time.”

“So, what does approval for look like for him?” Isabelle asks, clearly thinking aloud. She narrows her eyes at the photo on the projector screen. “He’s been handed everything, I guess partly because Jonathan’s success reflects well on his father. But they both know that he hasn’t earned any of it.”

Magnus nods, privately pleasantly surprised at how smart the Lightwoods are. Luke hums, pointing at Isabelle in agreement.

Alec clears his throat.

“How about,” he starts, with a glance at Isabelle, “something like: ‘My dad will approve of me taking my own path, rather than following his’?”

“That could work,” Magnus says thoughtfully, sharing a glance with Luke.

“So, we plant the idea that by breaking up his old man’s company, he can make something better, something that will make him worthy of his dad’s approval?” he says, and Alec nods. Jace whistles lowly. “It’s gonna be tough.”

“No one said this was gonna be easy, though,” Luke points out. “I think this is a great starting point for a plan that needs a little refinement. Let’s take a break and come back after lunch.”

His tone leaves no room for argument but isn’t impolite. Clary stands up, offering to lead the Lightwoods to the kitchen and make lunch for everyone. She grabs Simon by the hand and pulls him along with them, leaving Luke and Magnus to talk alone in the living room. She closes the door behind her with a smile at the two of them.

“Still think doing this is a good idea?” Luke asks with a wry chuckle, rubbing a hand over his face.

Magnus rolls his eyes fondly. “I’m doing this for you, Luke. It’ll take more than some wrinkles in the plan to make me back out.”

Luke nods, staring at the picture of Morgenstern and his son with his brows drawn together. Magnus watches him for a moment, then asks, “Do you still think doing this is a good idea?”

Luke sighs heavily. “Yeah,” he says, then, at the look Magnus is giving him, amends with a smile, “I do. I was doing this for Clary - for Jocelyn - at first, but now it’s more than that. I want to take Valentine down for myself, too. It’s just...complicated.”

Magnus nods.

“Your crew had already broken up by the time I properly started working,” he muses, “but what he did to you was still a hot topic. Sent shockwaves through everyone, I think.”

“He’s an absolute bastard,” Luke says, shaking his head. “It means a lot having you here.”

Magnus smiles at Luke.

“Wouldn’t be anywhere else,” he says. Then he shrugs nonchalantly, trying to sound uninterested. “Certain others in the group might make it worth my while, too.”

Luke clearly sees right through him, if the amused glance he shoots Magnus’ way is anything to go by.

“Alexander Lightwood,” Luke murmurs, standing up and brushing down his pants. Magnus takes his cue and also stands up, following Luke out to the kitchen. “I remember once when he was younger - only about two or three - I was looking after him. We were playing hide and seek and he was there covering his eyes with his hands, facing the wall, screaming with laughter when I pretended I couldn’t see him.”

While Luke laughs fondly at the memory, Magnus tries to hide how adorable he finds the story, though he’s not sure how good of a job he does.

They reach the kitchen and join the others, helping themselves to the food Clary has prepared with thanks, and the group sit around the table eating together.

The two girls are chatting animatedly at the end of the table. Jace and Alec, according to the tail end that Magnus catches, are regaling Simon with a story of one of the jobs they’ve been on. Magnus takes the seat beside Alec - entirely innocently, of course, though Luke seems to think otherwise given the way he laughs at Magnus when no-one’s looking - and the conversation flows easily between all of them.

After a leisurely lunch, Luke gives them all jobs to do before they meet again. He starts with Jace, who’s sitting beside him, and asks him to help him refine the plan while Isabelle develops a compound to use in the PASIV device that will allow them to go into a multi-level dream.

“Clary - you’ve got a lot to learn about being an architect,” Luke goes on. “I can teach you a little, but Izzy, would you be able to help me? Alec mentioned you’re usually an architect.”

Isabelle nods immediately. “I can do that,” she says, flashing a bright smile at Clary.

“Simon,” Luke says, turning to him, “chat to Alec about being a forger. Like Clary, you’ve got a lot to learn, but the Lightwoods know what they’re doing.”

Luke looks to Magnus and Alec.

“Magnus, research Valentine, Idris and its employees again - the full works. We need something to give us an edge. Alec, liaise with Magnus.” Magnus doesn’t miss the way the brief, conspiratorial look Luke sends his way. “You need to get into Idris and study the most important people in Valentine’s inner circle.”

He also asks to meet regularly with Magnus and Jace so they can go over the logistics of the job, then finally sits back, surveying the group. None of them have any issues with their tasks; in fact, everyone is sharing energised glances and Magnus can’t help smiling at his old friend. He has a good feeling about the people Luke’s chosen for this job.

Simon pushes his glasses up his nose and then grins crookedly at Luke.

“So, I guess now’s the time that we start an epic training montage to inspiring rock music,” he says, sending laughter and groans up from everyone around the table.

Chapter Text

Simon’s back is beginning to ache, hunched as he is over the counter in the kitchen. He’s been staring at layouts that Clary’s tentatively put together for the different dream layers, hoping that if he studies them hard enough, he’ll finally work out what he’s meant to be doing.

It never really worked for him at school, his mind always skipping to other things, but this is important. He’s doing this for Jocelyn, for Clary and Luke, and he doesn’t want to be the weak link in the chain this time.

“What’re you doing?”

The deep voice comes from the doorway, and Simon looks up to see Alec leaning against the frame, watching him with a curious expression.

“Just looking at Clary’s designs,” Simon explains, turning back to them.

Each of the three design drafts in front of him has a distinctly different feel: according to Luke and Izzy, who’d been helping Clary with them, the architecture of the dream is one of the most subtle, but key, ways that they can plant clues in Jonathan’s mind. Clary had decided to make each layer reflect a different part of Jonathan’s life, based on the research Magnus and Alec had been doing.

“It’s late,” Alec says, crossing to the fridge and pouring himself a glass of cold water from the dispenser on the front.

“I wanna get them down,” says Simon, shrugging. Alec comes to stand beside him, looking at the plans, too.

“How many dreams have you been in?” he asks bluntly, though his tone is more curious than condescending.

Simon curls his lip in thought. “Four, now.”

“You learn this from experience, but even if you study these layouts, when you actually get in the dream, you don’t know what the world is gonna look like. We’re talking about people’s minds, here. Things never go to plan.” He sips his water, then sighs. “It’s a pain in the ass.”

“Why don’t dreamers just rehearse the architecture of the dream until they can do it in their sleep?” Simon asks, then smiles slightly. “Pun not intended, but it was a good one, right?”

Alec just blinks at him, though Simon likes to think he’s smiling behind his neutral expression.

“Because if every member of the team knows the exact layout of the dream, they know where the weak points are. They know how to manipulate it.”

Simon must look confused, because Alec’s lips curve upwards.

“If you go into a job with anyone who has some unresolved issues - guilt, anger, whatever - and those demons come out in the dream, they know the layout, too. There’s no way to hide from your own mind.”

Simon frowns. “What do you mean?”

Alec hums thoughtfully. “Okay, well...say you had a bad relationship with someone. When you’re dreaming, you have less control over your mind, so every part of your consciousness gets free reign to wander round the dreamspace. Your projections of anyone who might hold a grudge or worse, they can sabotage the dream.”

Simon takes his glasses off and rubs at his eyes. “‘Cause that doesn’t sound fucking awful,” he mutters, and Alec actually laughs a little. “So, how do you stop that from happening?”

“If you’re the dreamer, don’t share the exact layout with anyone. Telling them the general idea is fine - in fact, for a forger, it’s pretty important, because I have to look like I know what I’m doing - but make sure you keep some elements of the dream’s architecture secret.”

Simon nods, putting his glasses back on. “Because if you know everything about a layout, so do any of the projections who want to - you know, sabotage it, or whatever.”

“Right,” Alec nods. “It’s also why it’s important for you to have a totem. A totem gives you control in the opposite situation - if you’re in someone else’s dream.”

“Yeah, Luke mentioned something about that,” Simon says.

Alec puts his glass of water down. “You don’t have a totem yet?” he asks. He reaches to the pocket of his jeans and pulls out a dice. “This is mine.”

Simon reaches out to take it, but Alec holds it to his chest.

“It’s weighted,” Alec explains. “If I let you hold it, you might work out how. Then I wouldn’t be able to use it to tell me if I’m in your dream.”

Simon stares at Alec’s closed fist, then shakes his head. “Nope. You’re gonna have to go over that again.”

Alec smiles.

“A lot of people think a totem tells you whether you’re in a dream or in reality,” he says, “but, actually, it only tells you if you’re in someone else’s dream. With a totem, you want to pick an object that works in a predictable way and alter it in reality - but don’t tell anyone how you’ve altered it.

“Then,” he continues, “if you think you might be in a dream, you look at your totem. If it’s working in a predictable way, you’re in someone else’s dream - they’re assuming it works the way it’s supposed to. If it’s behaving uniquely, that either means you’re in reality, or in your dream.”

“Okay,” Simon says slowly, “because you know its unique behaviour. So you could dream that it’s working the way you know it’s supposed to work.”

Alec nods. “For example, people would assume that my totem, a dice, would roll randomly, but it’s actually weighted. If I roll it and it’s random, I know I’m in someone else’s dream. But if it consistently rolls my number, I’m either in my dream, because I know the number, or not in a dream at all, because it’s weighted in reality.”

“You know what?” Simon says. “That actually makes sense.”

Alec sends him a look that clearly means well, obviously .

“What are you gonna use as your totem? You want something small enough that you can keep it on you all the time.”

“Isn’t that a bit, you know, paranoid?” Simon asks.

Alec shrugs, the hint of smile playing at his lips. “How do you know you’re not in a dream right now?”

“But I’m not,” Simon says, and then he stops, squinting at Alec. “I’m not,” he says again. “You’re hot and stuff, but I wouldn’t dream about you. No offence. This is a very boring dream. I’m not dreaming. Am I?”

Alec chuckles.

“Now you know why you want your totem on you all the time,” he says. “When you’ve been in the game for a while, it gets harder to tell dreams from reality. Why do you think Luke was so reluctant to go back in?”

Simon absorbs the information with a nod, feeling oddly guilty. He watches Alec carefully, who’s got his palms down on the table as he scans the plan documents with an absent air.

“You’re not that much older than me,” Simon says. “How many years have you ‘been in the game’?”

Alec’s expression shifts, his brow furrowing.

“Mom used to take me into dreams sometimes when I was a kid,” he says, with a nostalgic smile, “just to play around. But she didn’t start training me and Iz until we were, like, twelve, thirteen.” He looks at Simon, his smile broadening. “That’s nothing compared to Magnus. He’s been constructing dreams since he was little, all on his own. He’s amazing.”

Simon lifts an eyebrow and returns to the plans, trying to hide his smile at Alec’s obvious crush. Alec clears his throat and stands up straight, picking up his glass of water.

“Anyway,” Alec says quickly, “do you wanna go into dream number five?”

Simon turns to him, surprised, and Alec shrugs in response.

“I said to Iz I’d help her test her compounds,” he explains, “and dreams are no fun on your own.”

“Okay,” Simon says slowly. “But why are you asking me? I thought Magnus would be your first choice.”

Alec rolls his eyes, but Simon can see the hint of pink on his cheeks.

“I already asked him,” he says simply. “Plus Luke asked me to help you learn about forging, so, you know.”

The fact that Simon does not, in fact, know, must show on his face, because Alec huffs a laugh through his nose.

“My little brother, Max,” Alec continues, “he’s only 10. Izzy mostly trains him, but sometimes I do, and one of the things it’s taught me is that there’s only so much you can learn in theory. The best way is to put it into practice by going into a dream.”

Simon blinks.

“Sure,” he says, a little thrown that Alec’s reaching out to him like this, but it’s not a bad feeling. He knew there was more to Alec than his frosty exterior. Simon straightens up, back cracking with the movement. “Okay then. Let’s go, dream Yoda.”

Alec stares at him, then turns away without saying anything. Biting back a grin, Simon follows him into the living room, vowing to get Alec to laugh at one of his jokes if it kills him.

Izzy’s watching TV with her mom when the doorbell sounds throughout the house. Maryse glances up at the sound, smiling over the rim of her wine glass, and she squeezes Izzy’s hand as Izzy passes her on her way out the room.

“Have fun,” she says, and Izzy smiles back at her before leaving.

As she wanders down the hallway to the front door, she can’t help the sudden wave of emotion making her chest feel tight. Things haven’t always been like this between her and her mother; for many years, they hardly saw eye to eye at all, Maryse criticising her every behaviour and holding her up against Alec’s standard.

Not that Alec had an easy time, either. Robert and Maryse were as demanding of him as they were of Izzy, but she’s always seen the extra glint of pride Maryse’s gaze held for him, her firstborn son, even after he came out to her.

In the past year or so, though, Maryse has taken steps to work on herself: to improve, for both her and for her children, and to apologise for the way she’d acted in the past. Though Izzy no longer implicitly trusts her mom to be there for them - not in the way she trusts Alec, anyway - their relationship is slowly mending. Just the fact that Maryse was gently teasing her during dinner about having Clary over shows how far they’ve come.

Izzy reaches the door and draws in a breath before she opens it. Clary’s on the other side, wearing a loose white vest under a leather jacket, a black velvet choker looping around her neck. Izzy’s breath catches on seeing her, a broad smile already pulling at her lips.

“Hey,” Izzy greets, standing back to let Clary in. Clary beams at her and steps inside, giving Izzy a quick hug. Her hair smells lovely and the way Clary’s lips brush briefly against Izzy’s neck makes a shiver run down her spine.

As they pass through the hallway towards Izzy’s lab, Clary notices the photo of Izzy, her mom and her brothers on the wall, and comments on it.

“That’s Max, right?” she asks. Izzy nods.

“This is, like, the last photo we have where I’m not the shortest one in the family,” she says, and Clary laughs.

Izzy takes Clary on a quick tour of the downstairs of the house, finally leading her to the large garage space that Maryse had renovated into a lab when it became clear their kitchen counters wouldn’t survive another of Izzy’s experiments.

“Holy shit,” Clary breathes. “This is so cool.”

Izzy smiles widely, holding up her arms.

“My favourite room in the house,” she says, running her hand along one of the lab benches. She gestures to the area at the end of the lab, which is set up with a few padded reclining seats. “We’ll set up over there.”

Clary nods, eyes wide as she surveys the lab while making her way to the seat. Izzy slots the two vials of her trial compound into their place in the PASIV device used to sedate everyone going into the shared dream and carefully carries it over to the seats.

“Okay, so I’ve made a couple of different variations of the compounds to test,” Izzy explains, uncoiling the wires of the device so that she can place the little nodes at each end on Clary’s temples and her own. “Alec took Simon into a dream the other day to test one, and he’s doing a dream with Magnus tomorrow, too.”

“They’re, uh, spending a lot of time together, aren’t they?” Clary asks, smiling knowingly as she watches Izzy work.

Izzy grins excitedly, letting the wires drop into her lap.

“Oh my God, I know. I’ve never seen Alec crushing this hard on anyone before. I’m surprised he hasn’t started writing poetry about Magnus’ eyes or something.”

“Alec doesn’t strike me as the poetry type,” Clary laughs, and Izzy tips her head in agreement. “It’s nice that they’ve gotten close, though. Having someone to help make sense of this whole dreamworld thing, it’s…” she trails off, meeting Izzy’s gaze. “I really appreciate you helping me, Iz.”

“Hey, no worries,” Izzy says. “We’ve all gotta start somewhere. Besides, I love my brothers, but it’s nice to have another girl to talk to.” Clary smiles at her, and Izzy soldiers on, trying not to think about how her heart is fluttering behind her ribs. “And, apart from us testing the stability of the dreams now, I thought it’d give you a chance to practice building a dream with multiple levels.”

Clary groans and runs a hand through her hair. Izzy smiles reassuringly and, on impulse, reaches out to take Clary’s hand. Clary glances down, then back at Izzy, cheeks stained with faint pink.

“I’m right here,” Izzy says. “I’ve got you.”

Clary nods at her, a smile curving her lips. Izzy grins back at her, then pulls her hand back so she can finish untangling the wires. When she’s done, she places the PASIV device between the two seats she and Clary are sitting on.

“So you know the basic premise: the architect creates the world of the dream, then when the subject is brought into the dream, they fill it with their subconscious, right?”

“Yeah, it’s represented by projections that look like people,” Clary says. “But if the projections can interact with the world, what happens if they realise that it’s fake? How can I ever make a world detailed enough for the subject to think it’s real?”

Izzy hums. “Well, remember that the subject will be dreaming. How many weird dreams have you had that felt real at the time? It’s only after, when you wake up, that you realise something was strange.”

Clary nods. “You’re right.”

“We can use that to our advantage,” Izzy continues. “In a dream, you can manipulate the world to suit you, which means you can create architecture not possible in reality. Did you ever study Escher?”

“Yeah,” Clary says. “He did a lot of optical illusions.”

Izzy nods. She fiddles with a couple of settings on the PASIV device to make sure it’s ready and then turns to Clary. “You’re gonna take the lead on this one. The trick with dreaming up locations is to use somewhere you know a little, not a lot. If it’s too familiar, it’s easy to forget it’s not reality.”

Clary nods, a determined look passing over her face. “Okay. I’m ready.”

Izzy settles back on the seat. With a final glance at Clary, who’s already got her eyes closed, her chest rising and falling in even breaths, Izzy pushes a button on the PASIV device and closes her own eyes.

When she opens them, she’s no longer in her lab; instead, there’s glaringly bright sunshine lighting everything around them, the bustle and noise of a city rushing over her. Izzy looks around in wonder, taking in the tree-lined promenade they’re standing on.

Clary is standing a few paces from her, watching Izzy with a soft smile.

“Where are we?” Izzy asks, and even as she does so she picks up on the Spanish words dancing in the air around her.

“Barcelona,” Clary says. “I came here on an art trip in junior year.”

Izzy nods, gesturing for them to walk. As they stroll along La Rambla and then head east, Clary tells Izzy about the art trip with her friend Maureen. They stop for a while in Plaça Reial in the Gothic Quarter and Clary tells her about Gaudi’s work in the city.

The plaza looks beautiful in the sunlight, but no sooner has Izzy scrunched her face up against the sun’s glare than a pair of sunglasses appear in her hand, much to her delight and Clary’s slight bashfulness.

“Have you ever been here?” Clary asks as Izzy slips the glasses on and they wander to the fountain in the middle of the plaza, perching side by side on the low wall surrounding it.

“No. My parents got engaged here, though,” Izzy says, feeling slightly wistful. She can’t help wondering what it was like when her parents were in love; whether they once treated each other with tenderness, or whether the foundation of her family was always nothing more than polite interest.

“Your mom’s, uh, good friends with Luke, isn’t she?” Clary asks, sounding tentative as she looks away and tucks a ginger curl behind her ear.

Izzy laughs softly.

“Yeah, she is. I’ve not seen her like this before. She dated a little bit, after the divorce, but she lights up around Luke.” She winces, turning more to face Clary. “Sorry if that’s insensitive. I know your mom just passed away.”

Clary sighs.

“I’m glad Luke has someone to lean on, I guess,” she says, mirroring Izzy’s position. “Maybe one day that’ll lead to something more. Do you still see much of your dad? I noticed he wasn’t in that photo in your hallway.”

“Even though I was always closest to him growing up, I haven’t seen him in years,” Izzy says. “When Alec came out, neither of them were very accepting. It was all thinly veiled homophobic remarks about how he needed to think about his future and everything. But after mom and dad’s relationship broke down and she discovered he was cheating on her, it kind of made her reevaluate, I think.”

“How so?” Clary asks, brow furrowing.

“She started trying to make amends,” Izzy says with a shrug. “I mean, Alec wasn’t under any obligation to forgive her, in my opinion, but she apologised to him - to all of us - and she meant it.”

Izzy licks her lips, glancing sideways at Clary. It’s strange how, despite how confident she is, her pulse still ticks up with residual nervousness when she thinks about telling someone new that she’s not straight, even though she’s fairly sure Clary isn’t either.

“It’s what gave me the courage to come out to her myself,” Izzy says, watching Clary for her reaction. Clary narrows her eyes, nodding thoughtfully. “But dad’s still the same as ever, so I don’t want anything to do with him, you know?”

Clary sighs. “That’s really shitty,” she says, voice soft and sympathetic. “I’m sorry.”

Izzy shrugs, squinting out into the distance. “Thanks.”

“I was lucky, I guess,” Clary goes on, looking out across the plaza herself. She clears her throat. “My parents were cool with it when I came out to them.”

Her eyes dart sideways, meeting Izzy’s, and she smiles a little before looking away. Izzy can’t help the light feeling that starts behind her ribs and spreads throughout her body; that was a deliberate admission if ever she’s heard one, and the possibilities of what it means set both her mind and heart racing.

They stay by the fountain for a little while, their conversation drifting away to other, lighter topics. Eventually, Izzy suggests they should get practicing. They wander to the edge of the plaza and duck under the arches, heading through a door that opens easily when Clary tries it.

“Remember what you said before about optical illusions?” Izzy asks as they climb an old staircase. Clary nods. “Well, they don’t have to be illusions here.”

They come out on the flat roofs of the buildings around the plaza, able to see a beautiful view out over the city. Clary looks lovely in the sunshine, cheeks dusted with freckles and her hair flying loose from its messy bun. Before Izzy really knows what’s happening, Clary’s taking her hand and walking them towards a new set of stairs that have appeared to the left of where they’re standing.

They walk together up the stairs to a half landing, turn right and then walk up another set. They keep going like this until they reach their starting point back on the rooftop, but they’ve only ever walked up the stairs, and Izzy can’t help but be proud of Clary’s ability to pick up mastering the way illusions work.

“Penrose’s steps,” she says, impressed. Clary smiles slightly, but it seems sad around the edges.

“I saw it in my mom’s journal,” she says. “Crazy to think that was only a few months ago.”

They come to a stop on the landing at the top of the stairs, surveying the city. Izzy stands beside Clary and covers her hand with her own. Clary turns her palm up and laces their fingers together, making Izzy’s heart skip a beat.

“See the buildings there?” Izzy asks after a beat, nodding towards the Gothic Quarter. “That kind of labyrinth-like layout works really well for dreams. It gives the dreamers lots of places to hide from the subject’s subconscious.”

Clary nods, then cocks her head. “Your subconscious doesn’t seem so bad,” she says, gesturing with her free hand at the people milling around in the plaza below.

Izzy laughs. “The longer you’re in my mind and the more you change things, the uglier it’ll get,” she says, “so, come on: we have training to do.”

Over the next couple of days, Simon bumps into Alec more often. Alec and Magnus still spend the most time together under the pretence of going over important information for the job, but Simon’s pretty sure their dinner plans for another date-that’s-not-a-date aren’t really a crucial part of getting revenge on Valentine Morgenstern.

Still, Alec comes to find Simon when he’s camped out in the shed, weighting his totem. Inspired by his conversation with Alec, he’d gone home and found a dreidel he and Rebecca used to play with during Hanukkah. It’s small enough to fit in his pocket, like Alec recommended, and Simon likes that it’s something that holds meaning for him. It seems fitting that it’s the object he’ll use to ground himself and keep track of reality.

“Izzy’s got an update for us,” Alec says, after knocking on the open door, illuminated by summer sunshine. Simon glances up; when Alec’s eyes land on the dreidel Simon’s holding, his face lights up. He holds his hand out for it, but Simon shakes his head.

“Sorry, man,” Simon says. “Can’t let you touch it.”

Alec sends him an approving smile. “You coming?”

Simon nods, brushing down his pants.

“Can you believe this is the first time the whole Dream Team is going under together?”

“The Dream Team,” Alec repeats flatly. Simon shrugs, grinning, and follows Alec inside. Everyone else on the team is gathered in the living room, sending Simon back to the first time they’d all met: Luke is lounging in his comfy armchair and Alec goes to sit on the couch beside Jace, who’s rocking back on the legs of his own chair. Across from them, Magnus and Izzy have their heads bowed in conversation.

Clary grins at him from her own place on the other couch and pats the seat beside her, so he heads over to sit next to her.

Luke clears his throat, immediately commanding the attention of the room. “Isabelle,” he says pleasantly. “Please start.”

Izzy nods, smiling at him. Simon notices how Clary sits up minutely straighter, already focussed on what Izzy is about to say, and can’t help smiling at his best friend.

“So,” Izzy begins, “the good news is that I’ve successfully made a compound with a sedative strong enough to stabilise three levels. Thank you to all my unwilling volunteers, by the way,” she adds, flashing Alec, Magnus, Simon and Clary a grin in turn.

“The clever part is that I’ve made it so that the sedative doesn’t affect inner ear function,” she continues. “That means that, no matter how deep we are, we can still feel falling, so we can still have a kick.”

Simon waves a hand in the air. “What’s a kick?”

“This,” Alec says, placing his foot under one of the raised front legs of Jace’s chair, “would be a kick.”

Alec nudges the chair so it tips backwards, Jace’s arms windmilling with his sudden lack of balance. He slams his feet down on the ground and glares at Alec, who grins back at him, unrepentant, while everyone else chuckles.

“The feeling of falling wakes you up,” Luke tells Simon. “You know like when you nearly fall out of bed?”

Simon nods. He’s woken up naturally from all the shared dreams he’s been in before, just waiting for the timer on the PASIV device to run down, but having a way of waking up early makes a lot of sense.

“Do we need a kick?” Alec asks. “That many levels down, it’s gonna be hard to synchronise them all with so much time dilation.”

Jace nods. “Yeah, Alec’s right. Wouldn’t it be easier for us to pull ourselves out once we’ve made the plant by, you know, dying?”

Izzy’s smile fades and she glances down. Simon doesn’t miss the look Luke and Magnus share, either, which doesn’t bode well.

“Iz?” Alec asks, frowning.

“I believe that’s the bad news, Alexander,” Magnus volunteers, resting a reassuring hand on Izzy’s arm. He looks at Izzy and tips his head towards the rest of the group. “Tell them.”

Izzy sighs.

“The sedative,” she starts, “because it’s got to be strong enough to stabilise so many levels, it affects the way the dreams work. Dying in this kind of dream...it won’t wake you up. It’ll send you into limbo.”

There’s a sharp intake of breath from Clary at her words, and Simon tries not to swallow too audibly. From everything Alec and Luke have told him about limbo, it’s definitely in his top five destinations to never visit.

“Shit,” Jace mumbles under his breath, rubbing at his temples.

“I’m sorry,” Izzy says. “It’s the only way we can go that many layers down.”

“Hey,” Jace says immediately, looking at her, “it’s not your fault. We can work around it.”

Clary nods too, though her eyes linger worriedly on Luke.

“None of us are going to limbo,” she says decisively. “We can do this.”

“If anyone doesn’t want to carry on now we know this,” Luke says, “that’s fine. But if we go forward, we all go knowing the risks.”

The silence is sombre but still determined. Simon looks around at every one of them, and sees no-one ready to back out.

They’re doing this.

Chapter Text

The Lightwoods’ living room is cosy and comfortable. Jace is curled up on the couch with his feet tucked under a blanket; the flames in the fireplace cast a gentle glow over the room. One of the perks of extraction, he supposes, is being able to work from home.

He’s on a call with Luke and Magnus as they iron out the finer details of the plan to take down Valentine and Jonathan Morgenstern. It’s tricky, making sure they’ve covered all their bases. But he has faith in their team, because Maryse wouldn’t have recommended Luke if she didn’t think highly of him.

Maybe that’s putting it lightly. Jace hadn’t realised quite how much was going on between his mom and Luke until now. Maryse walks into the living room, cutting herself off mid-question when she spots Luke on the computer screen in front of Jace.

“Video call,” Jace explains, waving vaguely at the screen. “You okay, mom?”

Maryse nods, smiling at him as she discreetly smooths down her hair. She takes a couple of steps closer and bends down beside Jace so she can wave at the screen.

“Luke,” she says. “Magnus.”

The two men wave back at her, Luke’s smile far brighter than Magnus’.

“How’re you, Maryse?” Luke asks.

Maryse bites her lip to tame her smile. “Good, thank you,” she replies. “You?”

Jace can feel the laughter bubbling inside his chest at how adorably hopeless the two of them are, and when he sees Magnus hiding his own laughter behind his hand it doesn’t help. A chuckle escapes Jace and he tries to disguise it with a cough, but he’s unsuccessful if the way Maryse’s attention snaps to him is anything to go by.

She gives him one of those looks that used to send him scampering away with his tail between his legs, but he just shakes his head, smiling at her.

“Love you, mom,” he tells her, grinning impishly. She rolls her eyes and then clears her throat.

“I’ll leave you three to it.”

Magnus is first to start laughing and that sets Jace off properly, at which Luke looks highly unimpressed.

“Hey,” Jace laughs, palms up in surrender, “I’m happy for you, man. For both of you,” he adds, nodding at Magnus.

Magnus hastily smothers his laughter and raises an eyebrow, attempting to look nonchalant.

“You think we haven’t noticed you and Alec?” Jace asks, still grinning. “I guess it’s a bit depressing, though - I’m the only single one. It’s like no one likes me anymore.”

“As riveting as this discussion is,” Luke intones drily, “can we get back to it?”

Somewhat abashed, Jace glances down at his notes again, running a finger along to where they’d got to.

“Right,” he says. “Alec called the tip in to the fraud squad earlier. He texted half an hour ago to say the cops picked up Morgenstern’s financial reports right where he left them.”

“Great,” Luke says. “Hopefully that’ll set the police on Idris Automation. Magnus, what about you?”

Magnus nods, clearing his throat.

“I’ve got some op eds about corporate crime and CEOs defrauding ordinary people, etcetera, etcetera, as well as tweets aimed at the Idris account ready to go. It won’t prompt the cops to do anything, but it’ll hit Morgenstern’s brand image.”

“Okay. What about Jonathan?” Luke asks.

This was one of the riskiest parts of the plan. When they’d got into discussing the details of the plan, they’d realised that taking Valentine Morgenstern out wasn’t enough: none of them wanted to help his son springboard off breaking up Idris and make the Morgenstern name even more money by building a new business.

So, although they need Jonathan to take out his father, they’ve also been trying to come up with ways to remove Jonathan from his post when the dust has settled. It’s been a nerve-wracking wait, trying to find the information they need - all the while relying on Jonathan Morgenstern to have committed a crime his father couldn’t - or wouldn’t - take the fall for.

“He’s good,” Magnus says, shaking his head. “He covers his tracks and never does anything the company couldn’t take liability for.”

“Well, if he’s covering his tracks, he knows his behaviour is illegal,” Jace points out. “Would a blackmail threat be enough?”

“That might be Plan B,” Magnus says, nodding. “But, first, I think I’ve found something.” There’s a moment of silence while he rustles some papers offscreen, then holds them up so the others can see.

“To start with, I thought he went straight to Idris from college - that’s what it says on his CV and all the articles on him. But he worked at a smaller company for three months, and less than two weeks into his job at Idris, they made moves to buy the company he worked for previously. Jonathan negotiated the deal and is named as the main signatory on all the relevant documents.”

Magnus puts the papers down and shrugs. “It might be nothing, but the owner of company took early retirement and bought a one and a half million dollar home in the Hamptons. Now, there’s nothing illegal about that. But he did it while the deal was going on, not after the sale.”

“Right,” Jace says slowly. “Did he get an advance on the payment for the company?”

“No,” Magnus says, the beginnings of a smile on his face. “All the public documents state the exchange being finalised months later. I think Jonathan either paid him off with his own money, or used the company’s money and kept it off record.”

“Either way, it’s a kickback,” Luke says, nodding. “I reckon it would convince the fraud squad to look into both of them, not just Valentine. Great work, Magnus.”

It really feels like they’re getting somewhere now, with a plan as concrete as it can be when you’re going into someone’s mind. Jace wants to make sure all their bases are covered - more than usual, because Izzy’s warning about dropping into limbo rings in his ears. He’s not going to let anything happen to his siblings on his watch.

“I have a question,” he says, and Luke nods for him to go on. “How do we get to Jonathan to put him under?”

“Good point,” Magnus says. He flips through his notes. “He hasn’t got any appointments scheduled - no surgery, no dental. And we’d need a good ten hours, at least.”

Luke rubs a hand over his jaw, clearly deep in thought. “What about a flight?” he asks. “Hasn’t he got a meeting booked with some investors in China?”

Magnus scans his notes. “You’re right - he’s flying to Shanghai on the 28th. That’s over 14 hours from New York. But I don’t have any record of the booking.”

“So he’s flying private,” Jace surmises, as Maryse reenters the room and sits beside him on the couch.

“What if there was unexpected maintenance with his plane?” Luke asks. “He’d go first class.”

“It’d have to be a 747,” Maryse says. When the three of them look questioningly at her, she explains, “Because the pilot’s up top in a 747. First class is in the nose. That way no one will walk through and disturb you.”

“Good to know,” Luke says, smiling at her. “We’ll have to buy out the cabin and the attendants.”

Jace glances at her, the beginning of a plan forming in his mind. Maryse had volunteered to help however she could, and he’d feel safer knowing she’s the one to put them under rather than a flight attendant who’s never used a PASIV device before. Besides, it’ll be one less loose end for them to tie up.

“Maybe not,” Jace says. “Mom, you’ve always wanted to go to China, right?”

Luke is waiting in the living room with Clary and Simon for the others to arrive when the doorbell goes; even though he’s expecting it, he still starts. Clary laughs lightly and he leaves her teasing behind him as he wanders to the hall to greet their guests.

He’s not expecting Maryse to be on his doorstep, but it’s a welcome surprise. She’s smiling at him, her hair catching the light, and she looks radiant as she greets him.

“Lucian,” she says, then shakes her head and sort of laughs and says, “sorry, Luke .”

Luke waves her away. “Somehow, I don’t mind it when you say it,” he says conspiratorially. “But don’t tell the others.”

At that, he glances up and notices there are others: Izzy, Jace, Alec and Magnus are all standing behind Maryse on the doorstep. He feels his face heat up and stands aside to let them in. He doesn’t see Maryse that much, but when he does, it’s like the whole world falls away.

He hasn’t felt like this in a long time.

Maryse holds her hand up and shakes the car keys she’s holding. “I just came to drop the kids off. And - to check you were okay.”

“I’m fine,” Luke says, then nods, meaning it. “I’m good, actually.”

“Great,” Maryse says, smiling again, “good. I’m glad to hear that.”

She pats his arm and then looks back to her car. “Well, I’ll leave you all to it.”

Luke nods. “Don’t stay away too long,” he tells her. For a moment, she sways forward into his space as if to hug him, before she pulls back with a little wave and turns to go.

He feels a sudden pang of regret, wishing he’d reached out to hug her, but the moment has passed. Still, the scent of her perfume lingers in the air.

Shaking his head at himself - he’s acting like a teenager with his first crush, honestly, he’s a grown man - he makes his way back through to the living room and ignores the knowing looks of all his friends.

They’re already hooked up to the PASIV device, ready to go, so Luke joins them without saying anything and then hits the button to put them all under.

When he wakes, he’s in New York - or, at least, that’s what it feels like. The others join him in the dream and between them, Jace and Alec start explaining the plan.

“I’ve been observing Starkweather, adopting his physical presence, studying his mannerisms and so on,” Alec explains. “In the first layer of the dream, I can impersonate him and suggest ideas to Jonathan’s conscious mind. Then, when we take him a level deeper, his own projection of Starkweather should feed the idea right back to him.”

“So he gives the idea to himself?” Simon asks.

“Right. It has to seem self-generated. It’s the only way it will stick.”

“No elephants here,” Simon says. Luke stifles a laugh, remembering Alec and Simon’s exchange the first time they’d all met, and marvels at how far they’ve come. Simon and Clary have picked up extraction with frightening ease, and the team is really starting to work together.

It gives him hope that everything will work out okay.

“On the top level, we open up his relationship with his father and say, ‘I will not follow my father’s path’. Then, on the next level down, we feed him: ‘I will make my own way’. By the time we hit the bottom level, we bring out the big guns.”

“I don’t need to be my father to get his approval,” Magnus says.

“Exactly,” Alec says, with a nod at Magnus. Then he waves a hand in Clary’s direction. “Clary’s designed the levels to reflect these steps.”

“Each level relates to the part of Jonathan’s subconscious that we’re trying to access,” she explains. “For example, the bottom layer is a holiday cabin Valentine took Jonathan to when he was a kid. He’ll bring in his father without realising it.”

Luke notices, but doesn’t comment on, how Clary refers to Valentine as Jonathan’s father. He wonders how closely she’s interrogated the fact that Jonathan is her half-brother, but he knows her stubbornness as well as anyone and has no doubt that she’s steamrollering on with the plan to get back at Valentine regardless of this fact.

“Great work, biscuit,” Magnus says to her, and Clary smiles at him.

“Everyone’s comfortable with each layer?” Luke asks. “Clary, you’re the dreamer in level one. You stay and do the kick for us. Izzy, same for you in two. Simon will stay with you. I’m taking level three. Magnus, Jace and Alec will come with me. Magnus finishes the inception on Jonathan. Jace and Alec, you’re on extraction about the bribery he was involved in.”

“Sounds so easy when you put it like that,” Simon says, pushing his glasses up his nose. Clary laughs lightly and takes his hand.

“If anyone can do it, these guys can, Si,” she says. “We’re working with the best.”

Luke smiles at her. “Looks like we’re ready to go, then. As soon as news breaks about Jonathan taking over at Idris, we’re on.”

Even though Magnus and Alec have dinner plans for straight after the practice dream, Alec insists on nipping home first so he can get changed.

“Gotta make an effort, haven’t I?” Alec tells him, a smile tugging at his lips as he regards Magnus.

Magnus rolls his eyes but his heart skips a beat anyway, knowing how much thought Alec is putting into - well, whatever it is that they’re doing. He means to come back with some witty retort, but his voice is much softer than he plans when he responds, “I’m all for effort.”

Alec’s smile grows and he ducks his head. After a quick conversation, they agree to meet at Magnus’ loft at seven; Alec leaves him with a small wave that he looks adorably embarrassed about a moment later, and Magnus feels giddy with excitement for his entire journey home.

It doesn’t take him long to get ready - he just needed to touch up his hair and makeup and then tidy the loft a little. He wipes away a smudge of eyeliner as he stares at his reflection in the mirror, then prods at his hair.

He’s not nervous, exactly - more anticipatory, and eager, and why is it only 18:59? He had given up reading his book fifteen minutes ago, and since then has been hovering in the hallway, waiting for the door buzzer in his loft to go off.

God . Magnus hasn’t been like this in a long time, but something about Alec just makes him so - so hopeful. He’s bowled over by Alec’s good heart and devotion to those he loves, and his wit and sharp mind make every conversation Magnus has had with him come alive.

It doesn’t hurt that Alec’s beautiful, with a smile that could put the sun to shame and those bright hazel eyes. Magnus is weak for pretty boys who can match him play for play, so what?

He’s just trying to coax a stubborn strand of hair back in place when the buzzer goes, sending a rush of excitement through him.

At first, both he and Alec tried to keep it both professional and low key; they really did talk about the plan to take down Valentine Morgenstern. But somewhere along the way - and, hand on heart, Magnus can’t truthfully say he did much to stop it - those conversations made way for something more personal.

Magnus is sure he’s not reading too much into it. When they’re in the same room, he and Alec can’t seem to keep their eyes off each other, and they keep finding more outrageous excuses to spend time together. It’s such a long time since he’s let anyone into his life like this that he’d forgotten how much he loves this part of a relationship: slow glances that charge the space between them, playful back and forth causing tension that’s just waiting to ignite, lingering touches full of promise.

They’ve been dancing around each other, waiting for that moment. Despite both of them knowing their not-dates are totally dates, Magnus hasn’t minded taking things slowly, dragging out the delicious tension between them.

He’d thought it might happen last time they met up. Alec had booked them a table at a restaurant Magnus mentioned off-handedly he’d been thinking of trying - Magnus would have swooned, if he was the swooning type - and on the walk home, their hands kept brushing each other, sending tingles shooting up Magnus’ spine.

Alec had lingered in the entryway to his apartment, leaning on the uncomfortable door frame even as he laughed at another of Magnus’ stories. Magnus had caught Alec’s gaze dipping to his lips a couple of times but didn’t comment on it, merely quirking a brow. Alec just smiled at him, unabashed, in return.

Magnus hadn’t wanted the evening to end, but it had. He walked away from the apartment, turning to wave over his shoulder at Alec, who didn’t know he’d managed to nestle ever deeper into Magnus’ heart.

Now, Magnus crosses the short distance to the front door and opens it with a smile. Alec beams on seeing him again and holds out a gorgeous bunch of summer flowers - cerise gerberas, golden yellow chrysanthemums and bright green geraniums to round out the bouquet.

“These are for you,” he says, then shrugs a little lopsidedly, still wearing, Magnus notices, the shirt he was in earlier. “They were out of roses.”

Magnus stares at them, then at Alec, then back at the flowers. Alec had put off meeting Magnus just so he could buy him flowers . He feels so hopelessly charmed that it takes him a moment to react and take them from Alec’s outstretched hand, mouth working over words he doesn’t say. He can sense Alec’s eyes on him, but Alec doesn’t seem to mind his sudden inability to speak.

“I, uh, got Chinese. I hope that’s okay,” Alec goes on, holding up a bag of take out in his other hand. Magnus clears his throat, not bothering to tamp down on the smile threatening to spread across his face.

“Well, I’ll admit, I’m feeling rather outdone,” he teases, stepping back to let Alec into his apartment. “You bought flowers and food - how am I going to top that?”

Alec rolls his eyes affectionately.

“Just your company is enough,” he says, with a little smile, and Magnus is grateful for the fact that Alec busies himself with taking off his shoes and blazer so that he doesn’t see the helpless adoration that Magnus is sure is written across his face.

He leads Alec through to the kitchen and Alec dishes up the food while Magnus finds a vase for the flowers, easy conversation striking up between them as always. They decide to eat on Magnus’ balcony; the summer evening is balmy and gentle, a pleasant breeze ruffling Alec’s hair while they chat, the sounds of Brooklyn drifting up during a lull in conversation.

It’s so nice . Magnus regards Alec, who looks back at him, a smile tugging at his lips.

“What?” he asks, sitting back in his chair.

Magnus plays with the stem of his wine glass, then takes a sip, the fruity sweetness of the white wine refreshing on his tongue. A pause stretches on languidly.

“I’m really glad we’re doing this,” Magnus says. Alec’s eyebrows rise slightly, then he smiles.

“Me too,” he says. Neither of them clarify what this is, but the moment doesn’t need it. With Alec, it’s easy, and the delightfulness of discovering each other is enough for now.

When Magnus stands up to clear the plates, Alec volunteers to help, but Magnus waves him away.

“It’s alright,” Magnus says, gathering up the dishes. “Sit there and look beautiful. I’m rather enjoying the view, after all.”

He drops Alec a wink as he heads inside. When he returns, he takes a moment to admire the sight of Alec relaxing on his balcony. He’s leaning back in his chair, mindlessly tipping something from hand to hand as he gazes out at the city. It’s only as Magnus draws nearer that he sees the dice that Alec is playing with: his totem.

“I didn’t have you down as a gambling man, Alexander.”

Alec glances up, then his mouth settles into a smile that hints at suggestiveness.

“I can be,” he says, putting the dice down, “for the right incentive.”

A slow smile spreads across Magnus’ face, sparks of heat bursting through his body. Alec holds his gaze as he stands up and moves closer. Something in his expression changes, the sultry edge melting away as he reaches Magnus.

“I was just making sure this isn’t a dream,” Alec says softly.

It should be nothing more than a line, but there’s something in the way he says it, sincere and hopeful, eyes fixed on Magnus, that makes Magnus’ breath catch.

In two steps Magnus has closed the distance between them. He smooths his hands over Alec’s chest and when he tilts his head up to kiss Alec, Alec is already there, his lips soft and warm against Magnus’. Alec puts an arm around Magnus’ waist to tug him closer and he doesn’t stop kissing Magnus, his other hand gripping Magnus’ bicep.

Magnus feels like he’s floating on air, his heart tripping joyfully along in the wake of the heat inside him. He kisses Alec warm and deep and weaves his hands into Alec’s hair, tugging on the dark brown strands, eagerly drinking in the small noises Alec makes in response.

They’re both breathless when they finally break apart. Magnus leans his forehead against Alec’s and slowly blinks his eyes open to find a love-drunk smile spread dopily across Alec’s face.

“Wow,” Alec mumbles, and Magnus thinks he might just burst with how lovely Alec is. Magnus kisses him again, then once more, just because he wants to, sweet kisses that are freely gifted rather than stolen.

Magnus laces his fingers through Alec’s and leads him over to the rattan loveseat on the balcony, Alec pressed up close behind him. As Magnus turns, Alec gently nudges him back until his knees hit the edge of the loveseat; Magnus sits down and pulls Alec into his lap.

Alec’s hands find purchase along Magnus’ shoulders, his eyes darkening with desire as he maps out the strong lines of Magnus’ body.

“You okay?” Magnus asks, tracing along the curve of Alec’s jaw with his thumb, then cupping his cheek.

Alec’s answering grin is bright and happy.

“So good,” he replies, licking his lips, his gaze dropping to Magnus’ mouth. “You?”

Magnus smiles at Alec, a flush sitting high on his cheeks and his hair is tousled from Magnus running his hands through it, and nods, leaning forward to kiss him again.

Chapter Text

The bedroom is quiet apart from their soft breaths, a peaceful stillness washing over them. Alec sighs contentedly and pulls Magnus closer, tucking an arm around his waist. Magnus lets his legs tangle with Alec’s and rests his head on Alec’s chest, listening to his steady heartbeat.

“I wasn’t expecting you, you know,” Magnus says, as Alec starts tracing idle patterns over Magnus’ hip. “I said yes to Luke to help out a friend, but never in a million years did I think I’d get to have something like this with someone like you out of it.”

Alec kisses Magnus’ temple, letting his lips linger there. “I wasn’t either,” he admits, “but I’m so glad it’s happened.”

Magnus smiles, tilting his head up so he can kiss Alec properly. He shifts, propping himself up on one elbow and hovering over Alec, who kisses him back fervently. His hands roam Magnus’ back as Magnus curls a hand against Alec’s cheek, cradling his face.

After a while, their kisses lose some of their heat, turning slower, sweeter. A whisper of Magnus’ lips against Alec’s jaw, Alec’s fingers working in slow circles against Magnus’ lower back.

Magnus settles against Alec’s shoulder again, though he can’t help brushing his lips down Alec’s neck. Alec shivers in response, his hand clutching at Magnus’ hip.

“Can I ask you something? I’ve been thinking about it for a while,” Alec says after a pause, looking down at Magnus. When Magnus nods, he goes on, “How did you know inception was gonna work?”

The question isn’t meant to hurt but it does make Magnus’ heart stop for a moment, a sudden wave of anxiety hitting him. When the idea had been suggested back in Luke’s living room, Magnus had thrown up a lighthearted facade; it had been easy enough to brush away the team’s concerns and pretend inception was a trick like any other.

But it wasn’t - couldn’t be. Not when the spectre of Camille Belcourt lingers over every part of the plan because she’s intimately intertwined with everything Magnus knows about inception.

Magnus rolls onto his back and settles against the pillows, necklaces brushing against his bare chest with the movement. He clears his throat, his eyes dart across the ceiling as he tries to gather his thoughts into a coherent answer.

“You don’t have to tell me,” Alec adds a moment later, as if he can sense Magnus’ uneasiness.

“I want to,” Magnus says truthfully, “it’s just...difficult. It reminds me of a part of my life I try and forget about.”

Alec takes his hand and draws it to his lips, pressing a kiss to Magnus’ knuckles. “Like I said,” he murmurs, lips brushing Magnus’ skin, “you don’t have to.”

Magnus chances a glance at him: he’s regarding Magnus with warm, serious hazel eyes, a slight crease in his brow. The messy sheets around them create their own little world and in it, with Alec, Magnus feels safe. He turns onto his side, cheek tucked in his palm, so he can face Alec.

“My last relationship wasn’t particularly pleasant,” Magnus starts. “That’s the main reason why there hasn’t been anyone in my life, not until I met you.”

Alec smiles, his lips quirking up into a soft, unguarded thing. Magnus licks his lips, looking away.

“It wasn’t pleasant, but it was...intense. For you to understand why Camille meant so much to me, you should know: my mom killed herself when I was little.”

“God, Magnus,” Alec says, his expression stuttering. He squeezes Magnus’ free hand. “I’m so sorry.”

“Thank you,” Magnus murmurs, swallowing around the lump in his throat. “Afterwards, I went to live with my father, Asmodeus.” Magnus’ mouth twists. “He’s a businessman. Years ago, someone owed him a lot of money. They couldn’t pay what they owed, but they had access to a PASIV device, so they offered him that instead.

“My father thought it was useless, but I was curious.” Magnus can picture it vividly now, seeing the dreamworld through his child’s eyes, having all that immense, raw power at his fingertips. He could let his imagination run wild. “I hooked myself up to it and went into a dream for first time. It was...breathtaking. I mean, it’s amazing now, but when you’re a kid, being able to literally create worlds? I loved it.”

Alec nods, his lips curving upwards into a smile. “I remember the first time I went into a dream, too,” he says. “I know exactly what you mean.”

Magnus nods, momentarily distracted by thinking about a little Alec, big hazel eyes full of wonder as he took in the dreamspace around him. Alec is still smiling at him now, kind and understanding.

“Anyway, Camille was an extractor too. Mostly we used to try and push the limits of our own dreams, rather than doing jobs for other people. Then she told me she’d always wanted to go into limbo.” Magnus shakes his head. “I didn’t agree at first, but she was sharp. She knew how to manipulate people.”

He fiddles idly with his necklace. “She knew how much my mom’s death had affected me, how I feel about - about losing people. She said that with a few hours of real time, we could have a whole lifetime - more than that - in limbo. She promised me forever and said she was the only one who could do it. So we went.”

Magnus looks away from Alec’s gaze, feeling vulnerable.

“How long were you down there?” Alec asks. He doesn’t sound judgemental, but his brow is furrowed, his expression worried - worried for Magnus. Magnus would be lying if he said that didn’t make something warm flicker to life inside his chest.

“Fifty years, maybe sixty,” Magnus says, frowning. “Something like that. But Camille grew restless. It wasn’t - I wasn’t enough for her. That life, she said she ran out of patience with it in the end. So she tried to get us out.”

“What?” Alec asks. His eyes are wide, darting across Magnus’ face.

“I thought inception would work, Alexander,” Magnus says heavily, “because Camille tried to do it to me. It was just luck that meant she didn’t succeed.”

Alec gapes at him, apparently speechless. “But - how could she betray you like that?”

“She didn’t see it as betrayal,” Magnus shrugs. “Afterwards, when I confronted her about it, she said she was saving us from ourselves. With all that time stretching out in front of us, she said she’d realised the truth: that everything was fleeting, love most of all.”

“That’s -” Alec breaks off, shaking his head. “What the fuck? How did - what -?”

“She changed her totem regularly, depending on what took her fancy at a given moment. She always did have a wandering eye.”

He wonders if Alec understands the implication, and from the way Alec’s mouth presses into a thin, unhappy line, Magnus thinks he does.

“While we were in limbo, she was using a necklace I’d gifted her as her totem. It had an inscription on the back: amor verus numquam moritur . ‘True love never dies’ . She destroyed it, once, after we broke up the first time - she liked the irony, I guess. When we got back together, she got the necklace repaired, but it always had a crack through the silver on the back.”

“Most people would assume the necklace was never broken in the first place, so it would appear perfect in a dream - if it was cracked, she’d know she wasn’t in anyone else’s dream,” Alec surmises.

Magnus nods, running a finger along the cord of his own necklace.

“Unfortunately, I knew how her totem worked. She started letting me see the totem as it appears in reality - never outright, of course, but she wanted me to believe we were no longer dreaming. Then, one day, I saw it and it was perfect again.”

“She tried to trick you into thinking you were dreaming,” Alec says, his expression barely concealing his fury.

“She told me I’d lost my grip on what was real and what was a dream - that I’d got lost in limbo and limbo had become my reality. She said she was showing me the truth, by making me remember we were dreaming, and that she could save me by making us wake up. I went along with it because I’d realised the truth, too: she didn’t love me. In her own way, perhaps, but whatever we had wasn’t healthy.”

“You said it was luck that stopped her succeeding,” Alec says, voice tilted with the inflection of a question.

“She didn’t know that I had my totem with me,” Magnus says. “She said we didn’t need them, and I trusted her more than anyone. But I’ve been going into dreams since I was five years old. Despite how this story may make me seem, I’m not an idiot.”

“You’re not an idiot,” Alec says firmly. “She took advantage of your trust, your loyalty, and your love.”

Magnus sends him a small smile. The way Alec has responded to the story makes him feel safe, accepted, reminding him that letting his walls down is worth it more than he realises.

“What happened when you woke up?” Alec asks, softly curious.

“It was hard, you know,” Magnus says, shrugging his shoulders. “We were old souls, thrown back into youth. But none of it was real. The life we had...it was a fantasy. One she outgrew.”

Alec shakes his head, as if he can’t believe what he’s hearing.

“How come she stayed in limbo with you?” he asks, then his expression flickers with guilt and he adds, “if that’s not rude.”

Magnus hums. While they were in limbo, it was a question he asked himself a million times, and one he’d hurled at her when he’d confronted her when they woke up.

“Isn’t that how the great romances always go?” he asks bitterly. “She didn’t want to stay with me, but she couldn’t bear to leave me there alone.”

“She doesn’t realise what she’s missed out on,” Alec says, after a moment’s pause. He tightens his grip on Magnus’ hand and shuffles closer, tucking his head into the crook of Magnus’ neck. “If she did, she wouldn’t have let you go.”

Magnus marvels at Alec’s words in silence, unable to stop himself smiling. He lifts his free hand to stroke Alec’s hair and entwines their legs under the covers.

“That’s very kind of you to say.”

“S’just the truth,” Alec mumbles, pressing a kiss to Magnus’ collar bone. Then, “Thank you for trusting me with this.”

At his words, Magnus realises they are true. He does trust Alec, implicitly, even though they’ve only known each other for a couple of months. It’s not long in the big scheme of things, but Alec has touched him in a way that he hasn’t felt in a long time. He makes Magnus want to tell him things and let down his walls.

“Thank you for listening,” Magnus says softly. He kisses Alec’s temple and wraps his arms around him, and the two of them soak up each other’s presence in the silence of the night.

Jonathan Morgenstern strides into Idris Automation Systems’ boardroom with purpose, taking a seat at the head of the table. A few of the other board members clock the gesture and mutter to themselves, but he pays them no mind. They’re the ones who voted to oust Valentine, after all.

They clearly don’t have the stomach for good business.

Valentine arrives, impeccably on time as always. He sees Jonathan as he walks in and raises an eyebrow, but before Valentine can say anything, Jonathan clears his throat to command the attention of the room.

“Gentlemen,” he says pleasantly, peering out at the sea of pale faces in front of him, “thank you for joining us.”

Valentine looks at Jonathan, his expression thunderous. Jonathan stares his father down. Oh, how he’s waited for this moment. He can’t hide the relish in his voice when he says, “I believe we have an announcement to make.”

And what an announcement it is: a unanimous vote of no confidence in Valentine Morgenstern, to have him removed from his post as CEO and executive chairman of the board, effectively immediately. His replacement? Of course, there’s only one logical successor - Jonathan.

Jonathan glances to the side, lips curving upwards. “Shall we begin?”

A knock on the bedroom door startles Clary awake, the last traces of her dream slipping through her fingers before she can register what had been happening. All that lingers is a vague memory of Isabelle.

“Just a sec!”

As she swings her feet over the side of the bed, she remembers Luke telling her about how going into too many artificial dreams can mean that the extractor can’t dream naturally after a while. He hadn’t given her a clear answer when she asked whether he could still dream.

“Clary?”

She pads over and opens the door. Simon’s there, rubbing at his eyes behind his glasses.

“We’re up,” he tells her. “News of the takeover at Idris Automation Systems just broke this morning.”

Clary feels a thrum of electricity go through her, excitement followed swiftly by apprehension. This is what they’ve been training for, what she’s wanted since she found out the truth, but now the moment is here she’s struck with fear for her friends and for herself.

“You okay?” Simon asks, taking her hands in his.

Clary worries her lower lip. “We’re doing the right thing, aren’t we, Si?”

Simon’s face softens and he nods at her. “It would have been more convenient for you to have your freak out about this at the same time I did.”

Clary can’t stop the short laugh that escapes her. “I don’t care about that,” she says. “Valentine deserves everything that’s coming to him. But what I’m asking you all to do, it…”

“It’s dangerous,” Simon finishes. He squeezes her hand. “We’re going in with the best. Your dad’s not gonna let anything happen to you, Fray.”

Clary nods, smoothing a wayward curl looping over Simon’s forehead. “You’re right.”

Simon grins. “Besides, what could go wrong? It’s only someone’s mind.”

With that cheery thought, he leaves Clary to get dressed.

She forces down breakfast even though her stomach is jittery with nerves, and once she, Simon and Luke have finished, they make their way to the airport to catch the flight to Shanghai.

Once they’re on the plane - each acting like they don’t know the other - they take their seats in first class. Alec is already onboard, and when Clary sits down, she can see Magnus in front of her, his legs elegantly crossed at the ankle.

Across the aisle, Jace saunters into first class just ahead of Jonathan. He makes a big show of taking off his suit jacket, holding Jonathan up from getting in his seat. As Jonathan pushes past him, Jace deftly pickpockets his passport and then subtly hands it to Luke.

Izzy is the last one on the plane, and she strides confidently to the front of first class in a pair of towering heels. Clary’s heart races just from seeing her, and she wishes Izzy would turn to catch her eye - she knows it won’t happen, because they’re playing the part of strangers, but a girl can dream.

Clary watches from the corner of her eye as Luke engages Jonathan shortly after take off. He hands him his passport, conversing with him lowly. Clary knows Luke’s planting a seed about Valentine, and is more than glad that it’s not her who has to talk to him. She wouldn’t be able to do it without feeling sick.

Maryse, dressed in a flight attendant’s uniform, enters first class just after their exchange. She offers each of them a drink, adding a sedative to Jonathan’s water before serving him. Luke raises a toast to the Morgensterns, and Clary notices that he refrains from drinking as Jonathan sips his water.

From there, it’s a painstaking wait until they’re sure Jonathan’s asleep. Once they know he is, Maryse sets up the PASIV device and they all hook themselves up to it. Each taking their own sedative-laden drink, the team prepare to go under.

Simon looks back at her from his seat, eyes growing heavy. Clary tries to smile at him, and then the darkness takes her.

“Are you okay, biscuit?” Magnus asks when they wake up. He has a gentle hand on her arm, a point of reassurance.

Clary nods, glancing around the dreamscape. It’s New York, a city they all know like the back of their hand - but Jonathan, who’d grown up in a boarding school out of state, is far less familiar with it than they are. It’s tipping down with rain and she pushes back her wet hair.

“Just like home, right?”

Magnus raises his eyebrows as he scans the road in front of them for their ride. “Dangerous thinking. We’re dreaming, Clary. You’ve got your totem?”

Clary nods, patting the fountain pen in her pocket. An SUV pulls up alongside them and they hurry into it when the horn honks. Luke is in the driver’s seat beside Alec, and Izzy and Jace are in the next row of seats. Simon is nowhere to be seen.

“Did you have to drink so much before we got on the plane?” Jace teases her as Magnus slams the door shut.

“What?” Clary glances at Izzy, confused by Jace’s question and distracted with worry for Simon.

“The rain,” she says, swatting Jace. “It doesn’t matter. We know he’ll be looking for a cab now.”

Luke makes a noise of acknowledgment as he pulls away. They drive through New York, rain pelting down, all searching for a taxi. Jace spots one and points towards it; Luke pulls in behind it smoothly and then chases it down, bashing into the taxi’s rear bumper.

The irate cab driver gets out of his car, waving and yelling, but Luke pulls a gun from his jacket pocket and points it at the driver.

“Walk away,” he says firmly.

Jace, Magnus and Izzy get out of the SUV and dash through the rain into the taxi, then quickly pull away. Luke tails them until the taxi pulls up. On the corner of the block, Clary can just make out the rain-blurred figure of Jonathan Morgenstern getting into the cab.

Alec takes this as his cue and jumps out the SUV, running to the taxi and slipping inside. The taxi moves off again. Clary just hopes everything goes to plan.

“Luke, where’s Simon?” she asks urgently. She keeps her eyes on the roads as they pass through New York, searching desperately for him. It’s almost impossible to see clearly through the rain, and there are so many different projections of Jonathan’s subconscious milling around.

“I’ve been looking for him. Don’t worry, we’ll find him.”

Clary tries to be reassured by the unwavering certainty of Luke’s voice. She cranes her neck, watching for Simon, but the figure she catches a glimpse of isn’t the familiar sight of her best friend.

Valentine Morgenstern.

She can’t take her eyes off him, rage boiling within her.

“Hey,” Luke starts, “Simon’s over -”

Luke’s sentence gets cut off as he turns the wheel sharply, swerving to avoid the massive crack in the road that’s opened up right in front of them. He flings his arm out to stop Clary being thrown forward against the dash.

“What the -” He floors it, driving them away from the jagged tear in the road towards Simon. He winds the window down and slams on the brakes as they pull up alongside him. “Get in!”

Simon dives into the back of the SUV and Luke pulls away before the door’s even shut, racing away from where the city is contorting around them like metal in a collision, roads twisting and buildings folding in on themselves.

“Clary, you have to calm down!” he shouts. “He’s not real. It was just a projection.”

But she can’t. White hot fury burns through Clary’s veins. This man, this monster , murdered her mother.

“Luke, what’s going on?” Simon asks. He leans forward and rubs Clary’s shoulders, telling her to breathe, but he can’t disguise the panic in his voice.

Clary tries to focus on what he’s saying, but all she can see is the man’s face, etched indelibly on her brain.

“You remember our first shared dream?” Luke shouts, as Simon’s fingers dig harder into Clary’s shoulders. “Clary’s reaction is changing the dreamscape.”

“Reaction to what?” Simon asks, then counts in breaths for Clary. She concentrates as hard as she can on the press of his fingers against her, breathing in deeply through her nose.

“Jonathan’s projection of Valentine. Clary just saw her father.”