and when i'm lost and can tell nothing of this earth
you will give me hope.
and my voice you will always hear.
and my hand you will always have.
for i will shelter you.
and i will comfort you.
and even when we are nothing left,
not even in death,
i will remember you.
--house of leaves
Alec didn’t remember living in Idris.
He knew their house there, and his room was comfortingly familiar from their many visits, but he couldn’t remember it ever being home. Home had always been the New York Institute.
He remembered his mother telling him once, “One day you’ll be in charge of this Institute, and you’ll have to take care of it, just like you take care of Isabelle.”
He was very young, and Izzy was only a baby then, but he’d taken his responsibility to her very seriously.
That night, when his parents had tucked him into bed and turned off the light, Alec slipped out of bed. He laid his hand on the stone wall and said solemnly, “I promise I’ll take care of you.”
And he didn’t think it was strange when the stone warmed beneath his hand.
Lydia thought the New York Institute was always chilly. Not enough to wonder if the climate controls weren’t working properly, but enough that when she was in her office she wished she had a thick sweater, even as late summer heat sweltered outside.
It wasn’t the most annoying quirk of an Institute she’d worked at, and so she did her job and didn’t think about it much.
Things were much too busy to worry about it at any rate, what with Valentine back, Forsaken attacking, and the Mortal Cup turning up and then disappearing again. Not to mention her sudden upcoming wedding.
In fact, she ended up actually being in her office so little, she didn’t notice that after Alec proposed, it was no longer uncomfortably cold.
Alec was six when he found the room.
At six he had lots to do: rune studies, and training, and all sorts of other things to study. His parents weren’t around much, which he didn’t think much about because that’s just how things were, and had always been. Hodge generally kept him busy and watched out for him. Still, Hodge couldn’t watch him all the time, and Alec was often left on his own. By six, Alec knew the Institute like the back of his hand. He knew all the rooms, all the passages, the nooks and crannies.
That day though, his parents had come back. Alec was so excited to show his dad the new hold he’d learned. But when his dad was watching, his foot slipped and Hodge flipped him over and into the mat. His dad shook his head and told him how disappointed he was, how he had to work harder, train more. Alec had nodded and kept his tears back. By six, he already knew not to cry in front of his parents. When his dad left, Alec bolted out of the training room, turning the opposite way from his parents’ quarters, ignoring Hodge’s shouts behind him.
He dodged older Shadowhunters -- they were used to him running underfoot anyway -- and turned down a rarely used corridor. There was a stairway here that was closed up at the top. These used to be servants’ quarters, back when Institutes had servants. Alec ducked into a alcove with a bench under an unlit sconce.
That’s when he saw the door. It was a small door, only slightly taller than him, and he figured maybe that’s why he’d missed it before. The knob turned easily under his hand, so he went inside and closed the door behind him.
It was a small room, but it had a high ceiling and a small stained glass window with a rune on it. There was no furniture, or even a rug, it was just stone. It was warm and filled with soft, yellow light, and Alec immediately felt so at ease that he burst into tears. He slid down the wall until he was sitting on the floor and cried his eyes out, because all he wanted was to impress his dad, and it seemed like no matter what he did, he never could.
After a while his tears dried up, and he sat quietly against the wall as the light faded. When his stomach rumbled and he knew it was almost time for dinner, he sighed and stood up.
This was a good room, he’d have to remember it.
Victor Aldertree hated the New York Institute.
New York was crowded and dirty and loud, but without the old-world charm of London or Paris. His office in the Institute was cold and dark. No matter how many lights he turned on, it always seemed like darkness pressed in on him, creeping in from the edges of the small pools of light cast by the lamps. It wasn’t a large Institute by any means, but he kept getting lost, turning down a corridor he knew went to the upstairs kitchen, only to wind up in the downstairs storage closet.
The Shadowhunters he was taking over for, the Lightwoods, were insubordinate at best and traitorous at worst. Jace was Valentine’s son, enough said there. Isabelle was beautiful, but snotty and sneaky, and Alec might have made a perfectly adequate Shadowhunter had he not decided to throw over his honor for a male downworlder.
It didn’t help that every time he asked someone under his command a question, whether it was about where the extra cleaning supplies were kept or the password for the payroll software, the answer was inevitably a shrug and the phrase, “I don’t know, Alec always takes care of that.”
The one time he had been desperate enough to ask Alec, Alec had blinked at him and said, “It’s your Institute now, you figure it out,” and walked away.
Aldertree could have disciplined him, but then the Clave would think he couldn’t handle his assignment. Aldertree might have hated New York, but he meant to make it useful.
Until then, he would just have to deal with his files disappearing, his bed squeaking, and the Lightwoods glaring at him.
Two days later, he found a nest of mice in his drawer that absolutely had not been there that morning. He gritted his teeth and went to find some gloves.
As the months went on, Alec’s secret room acquired cushions and blankets. It had a stack of his favorite books, some crayons and paper, and some candy he’d snitched out of the kitchen when Hodge’s back was turned.
Alec called it his secret room only in his head, because he didn’t tell anyone else about it, and he hoped that it was out of the way enough that no one else would ever find it. He thought he’d probably tell Izzy about it when she was old enough to need it, but for now, it was all his.
He went to the room when he needed to be alone. When Hodge yelled at him, or his parents voiced their disappointment. It was where he went when one of the other Shadowhunter kids teased Izzy and made her cry and, when Alec stepped in, shoved him in the dirt.
Over the years, he ate the snacks and replaced them. The books got longer and more complicated. He added pillows and a sleeping pad he found in the back of a closet, only a little dusty.
He never did end up telling Izzy about the room. When he was 10, Jace came to the Institute to live with them, and very soon he had a person to go to when he needed comfort, instead of an empty room. By the time he hit 14, he had almost completely forgotten about it.
Which is why he never noticed when it disappeared.
“Thanks for doing this, Alec,” Catarina said as she bustled Madzie into Magnus’ loft. “There was a subway accident, they need everyone they can get.”
“It’s not a problem,” Alec said. “Magnus should be back in a few hours too. I think Madzie and I can entertain ourselves ‘til then, right?” He looked at Madzie and winked. She smiled a little and looked down at her shoes. Catarina shook her head, and Alec shrugged. Madzie had become shy with him again after Valentine had her attack the Institute. Alec was working on it.
When Catarina was gone and Alec had filled Madzie’s special Tiana cup with juice, he set them up in the living room with lots of soft blankets and Magnus’ special, illegal Netflix account that could get pretty much any program ever made.
“What do you think, Madz?” he asked. “What do you want to watch?”
Madzie shrugged and fiddled with her stuffed frog. Alec stifled a sigh.
“Madzie,” he said. “You know I’m not mad at you, right?”
Madzie shrugged again. “I hurt people,” she said quietly. “I was bad.”
“It wasn’t you fault, Madzie, and I don’t blame you, okay? Us adults, we’re supposed to protect you. And we didn’t, so you did what you had to do to protect yourself. I don’t want you to be hurt.” He slowly reached an arm around her shoulders, wary, but Madzie let herself be cuddled into Alec’s side.
“I don’t want you hurt either,” Madzie said into his shirt.
“And you made sure I wasn’t,” Alec reassured her. “You put me in the elevator and made it go upstairs. You saved my life.”
Madzie tilted her head up to look at him. “I put you in the elevator,” she said. Alec nodded, opened his mouth, but Madzie kept talking. “But I didn’t make it go upstairs,” she said. “Something else did that.”
Magnus stepped out of the portal in front of the New York Institute. He took a deep breath of New York air, not usually considered particularly invigorating, but welcome after three days in Beijing, and hurried up the stairs to the door. The wards of the Institute were due for their bi-annual maintenance, and Magnus was making it a priority as of now. The fact that it meant he could see Alec sooner was just a bonus.
The doors opened easily, and Magnus passed through the wards with only the slightest vibration against his skin.
Magnus had never really cared for the decorating choices of Nephilim, but when he walked into the Ops Center, he was struck by its beauty. Warm evening light came in through the stained glass windows and made the room glow. Shadowhunters on duty spoke quietly and worked efficiently. Magnus remembered Alec mentioning that with Lilith and Sebastian taken care of, he was setting up long-term maintenance projects that included cleaning all of the windows, refurbishing the tapestries, and restoring some of the paintings. It had really paid off. The room looked … well, angelic, for lack of a better term.
“Magnus,” he heard, and turned to Katya, one of the newer Shadowhunters assigned to New York.
“Hello, Katya, dear. I had an opening in my schedule and thought I’d get that ward maintenance done today.”
“Sure thing,” Katya said. Then, with a shrewd sideways look, “Alec’s in a meeting. Should I interrupt him?”
“No need,” Magnus said. “I’ll find him when I’m done.”
Katya shrugged and went back to her station, leaving Magnus to do his work.
Even just a year ago, he would have had an escort of a suspicious Shadowhunter, but Alec, Jace, and Isabelle had been methodically cycling out personnel who couldn’t handle the Institute’s relationship with downworlders. Now most of them let him go about his business in peace. Some even smiled and waved hello.
Magnus set himself up at the first keystone and centered himself. He gathered his magic, reached out into the wards, and found something he wasn’t expecting.
The wards hadn’t deteriorated at all.
In fact, they were stronger than before and more firmly rooted around the Institute. That was basically impossible, as far as Magnus knew. Wards deteriorated over time. Complicated wards like the ones on the Institutes were more volatile and deteriorated faster. They required constant maintenance. That very fact was what had often kept the relationship between the Clave and the warlocks on the right side of civil for centuries.
Magnus probed deeper and realized that these weren’t even his wards. The structure of the wards was his, but what was on top certainly wasn’t, and was woven in with his magic in a way he’d never seen before. The whole thing had the glow of angelic magic.
Magnus eased out of the wards and frowned at the wall in front of him. Perhaps Biscuit had been experimenting with new runes again. There was only one way to find out: he moved on to the next keystone.
By the time he checked the last keystone, located in a barely used back hallway, Magnus was starting to suspect that not even Clary could have rearranged the wards this way. There was no doubt that the wards were stronger, more adaptable, and most importantly, self-sustaining. But not knowing who had done it or how was definitely concerning.
He was still glaring at the blank wall when Alec found him.
“Hey,” Alec said. Magnus didn’t have time for even the shortest reply before he was being thoroughly kissed. All thoughts of wards and keystones promptly flew from his brain, and the only magic he was interested in was the magic of Alec’s lips and how they made Magnus’ insides melt. “Missed you,” Alec mumbled into his mouth, and Magnus clung to his shoulders in response.
Magnus really meant to talk to Alec about the wards, or ask him how his week had been, or tell him that Magnus had missed him terribly. But it just didn’t seem as important when Alec was backing him into the wall and tugging his shirt out of his pants.
Alec seemed to remember they were in a somewhat public area when Magnus pushed his jacket off and stripped him of his t-shirt.
“Wait,” Alec said. He looked around, smiled, and promptly pulled Magnus around a corner and through a door that hadn’t been there 10 minutes ago. “I can’t believe this is all still here,” he laughed, not noticing how disconcerted Magnus was. Magnus had the brief impression of a stack of folded blankets, some books, and other detritus that a Shadowhunter child might collect before he was being kissed again.
He couldn’t quite lose himself in it this time, not with all the questions he suddenly had. He managed to pull back, valiantly ignoring the little whine Alec made when he did.
“What is this place?” he asked.
Alec leaned his forehead against Magnus’ and took a breath, visibly bringing himself under control. “I used to come here when I was a kid and didn’t want anyone to find me.” He straightened and looked around. “I can’t believe no one’s found it and taken all this stuff back.”
Magnus could believe it, considering it hadn’t existed when he walked past this space 20 minutes ago. Magnus probed a little with his magic, but found nothing out of the ordinary, just the warm, stable feeling that characterized the rest of the modified wards.
There was a small stained glass window high on the wall, and the room glowed with colored light but, Magnus realized, the sun should be almost completely set by this time, and there were no electric lights in the room.
Alec knelt by the books in the corner and picked one up. “Huh,” he said. “This is where this was.” He reached out and placed one hand on the wall. “I can’t believe I forgot this was here.” It was a gesture Magnus had seen Alec make dozens, maybe hundreds of times before. A little personal tic, like he was reassuring himself that he was present in space, or that there was something to hold him up if he needed it. But Magnus had never been plugged into the wards when he’d done it before; never felt the angelic magic rise at his touch and settle into something very like a purr at his absent little pat at the stone.
Alec put the book down and moved on to the blankets, taking the top one and spreading it out on the floor. “It’s a little dusty, but not bad,” he said. He smiled up at Magnus, completely unaware that he was the center of a magical conundrum that Magnus didn’t know how to explain.
Magnus let himself be tugged gently onto the blanket-covered floor, his mind scrambling to figure out what was going on.
The New York Institute, like all Shadowhunter Institutes, was built on consecrated ground and powered by an angelic core that the Clave did not disclose the nature of. But most Institutes were waystations for Shadowhunters. Temporary assignments while they tried to work their way up to more prominent positions, with Idris being the most desirable. Alec’s upbringing was unusual for a Shadowhunter. Alec’s dedication to a single Institute was unusual as well.
“Hey, you okay?” Alec’s hand on his cheek brought Magnus into the present.
“Yes,” Magnus said and leaned forward to press their lips together gently. Alec hummed happily and slid his hand into Magnus’ hair.
Around them, the light shone a little brighter and the wards hummed a little stronger.
We’ll both do our best to take care of this one, Magnus told the Institute. He’s special. Angelic magic pulsed against his own, in what Magnus was taking as agreement.
He pulled Alec down onto the blanket, on a floor that wasn’t as cold as it should be. There was so much magic left to discover in the world, and he planned to discover it with Alec.