Chapter 1: prologue
I don't really know what this is. I started writing this way back in 2016 and totally forgot about it, then I found it when I was going through my hard drive. I probably shouldn't start anymore WIPs because uni right now is hectic and updates for this will probably be super infrequent, but I just can't help myself.
You don't really have to have played the game to understand this. All you really need to know is that the zombie outbreak was caused by a parasitic fungal infection (Cordyceps) and that there are different kind of infected people (Runners, Stalkers, Clickers and Bloaters). I'll try to make it clear in the fic so it'll make sense to those of you who haven't played the game :)
Because music feeds my muse when I write, I'll probably make a 8tracks mix to go along with this. Until then, these mixes really help get a feel of the atmosphere I'm going for in this fic - https://8tracks.com/marvelbae/bitten-infected# & https://8tracks.com/writingrefugee/writing-you-weren-t-supposed-to-leave#
There was a group of Infected at the base of the wall.
Alec watched them through his scope as a group of them all together stood hunched over, moaning in pain. The infection hadn’t completely taken hold of them yet, meaning they must have turned in the last day or two. Not a good sign.
They weren’t wearing a uniform, so they weren’t soldiers, making them stragglers caught on the wrong side of the wall. They weren’t trying to break through; they were just standing there, in pain. They must have come to the wall looking for help or a bullet through the head, and turned before they made it. Poor bastards. Alec sighed and lowered his gun to radio it in.
“Command, this is Lightwood.” Alec said, his eyes never leaving the group. “Got a couple of Inflected on the North side of the wall in Zone 3. Look recently turned.”
The radio crackled before the response came through. “This is Command. You know the drill.”
Alec raised his gun and peered through the scope. One of the Infected, a girl in a torn red sweater, looked no older than fourteen. Just a kid. He hesitated long enough for the girl to move, out of the view of his scope. He took a breath, steadying himself, and pulled the trigger. The girl went down and the others didn’t even notice. They soon followed, each with a bullet through the head, until the charred ground was littered with bodies. A clean-up crew would be by later to burn the bodies. Alec wasn’t looking forward to the smell tomorrow. It was bad enough being stuck in the same post day in, day out, without the smell of burnt flesh.
Alec leaned back, sighing heavily as he set his gun down beside him. It was mercy, putting them down. He didn’t struggle with it anymore, not like he used to. He used to wonder about the people they’d once been and the lives they had lived before the infection took hold. He used to even wonder if there was still a little bit of who they were left inside of them. If they could be saved. But after all he’d seen, all he’d done, he didn’t wonder anymore. He did his job, he survived, and that was enough.
Behind him, all was mostly quiet in the New York Quarantine Zone. It had been loud in the morning when the rations were being given out. There wasn’t enough go to around – there never was anymore - so there had been the stirrings of trouble. The loudest voices had been silenced, order restored under the barrel of a gun. He didn’t envy those soldiers, the ones who had to keep the peace. Putting down Infected was one thing, but taking the life out of the living, the uninfected, was another.
There were more crudely drawn messages about the Circle littering the walls inside the QZ. More than there used to be, anyway. They used to paint over the graffiti, cover it up, but they didn't bother anymore. Let them write what they want, was the general consensus, it wasn’t like it was going to change anything. Anyone who ventured outside the QZ ended up the same: infected, or if they were lucky, dead, from a bullet to the brain.
Outside of the wall was lost. The buildings were crumbling, the vegetation overgrown. The bombings in the weeks after the outbreak had knocked down a lot of the skyscrapers that once made up the iconic New York skyline. He doubted newcomers would recognise the city. It certainly didn’t look like his home anymore.
Alec’s gaze shifted to the cracked face of his watch. The hands had long since stopped turning. It was almost fourteen years to the day. Fourteen years since the outbreak, fourteen years since he’d lost his parents, his home, Max. Fourteen years of surviving. Not living, surviving. He’d learned there was a difference.
It had been six years since he’d last seen Jace, almost four since Izzy left. It felt like a lifetime. At twenty five he shouldn’t feel old, but he did. He felt every one of the years that had passed since the infection broke. Fourteen long years of hardship, grief, and fighting to stay alive. He’d been eleven, a kid, woefully unprepared for what was to come.
Alec lifted his head at the sound of the curfew announcement. Shadows were stretching across the ground, the sun starting to set. It wouldn’t be long now until someone came to relieve him of his shift. He’d climb down the ladder onto the fire escape, maybe pick up some food from the army cafeteria, and then make his way through the QZ, to his apartment in the housing district. There he’d crash on his bed and sleep until dawn. Then it would be back to the wall.
Some people – not many – had families waiting for them. Wives, partners, children. There was a guy who worked in the next zone down that had a cat. A scrawny old thing he’d found on the other side of the wall with one ear and missing half its tail. It caught mice and ate the pigeons they sometimes shot as target practice. Alec often found it sitting on his window sill at night and let it in, letting it sleep next to him on his uncomfortable army cot. It was almost always a dreamless night’s sleep when he fell asleep listening to it purring away in his ear.
“Lightwood.” Alec lifted his head at the sound of his name. His relief was stood behind him, a young dark skinned woman whose name he still hadn’t bothered to learn. She’d been part of the group who had come in a couple of months ago after the fall of the Washington QZ. She nodded to him with a terse smile and Alec wordlessly lumbered to his feet.
“Have fun.” He said and slung his gun over his shoulder. "See you tomorrow."
The woman didn't respond. But Alec wasn't surprised.
His muscles were aching from being in the same position for so long. He made his way down the wall, stifling a yawn. He picked up dinner, a meagre ration of beans and a sandwich, and ate the sandwich as he walked. The bread was stale but he was long past caring.
His apartment was on the fifth floor of the army barracks. The stairs creaked underfoot, the air filled with dust. He fished his key out of his pocket when he reached his door, suppressing a sigh when he heard the couple across the hall arguing again. It had become a common occurrence. She wanted to join the Circle, he didn’t. Alec had been there, had the same argument a hundred times with Jace. Not that it had done him any good.
When the door opened, the rusty old hinges giving a mighty creak, Alec smiled faintly at the sight of the one-eared cat sat on his windowsill.
He trudged across the width of his small apartment and dragged the window open, letting the cat in. The cat butted his hand with his head and it dragged a small, rare smile out of him. He sat on the edge of his bed, eating beans out of a can with a plastic spoon, listening to the couple across the hall yell at each other, with the cat sat beside him. It was the closest he'd had to company in days.
Once, on nights like this, he would stay up late watching movies on the couch with Izzy and Jace, buried under a thick quilt. Church would be sat on Izzy’s lap, whiskers twitching, nipping at the fingers of anyone who tried to stroke him. If he closed his eyes, he could almost imagine it. But Alec did his best not to think about it. It was a cruel reminder of all that he had lost. And all that he could never hope to regain. Even if Izzy did come back, if Jace was somehow still alive, there would be no recreating that. That life was lost.
Alec set the empty can on the ground and placed his gun beside it. The cat watched, what was left of its tail twitching, as Alec rid himself of his gear and set it aside for the morning.
The couple across the hall had grown quiet by the time Alec crawled into bed. He lay on his back, a thin blanket pulled up to his chin, with the cat curled up happily on his chest. He stared up at the cracked ceiling, at the spider’s web in the corner, unable to stop his thoughts from wandering. He thought about Izzy, wondered how she was. He received letters sometimes but that was becoming more and more rare. There wasn't exactly a reliable postal service anymore.
She was in Chicago, working in the hospital there, trying to find a cure. She’d come a long way from the girl who used to play operation every day after school.
Alec closed his eyes against the bitter ache in his chest. Losing Izzy had been the final straw; it had been what had truly broken him. In the days after she had left, he’d considered laying down his gun and venturing into the city. What did it matter? No one would miss him. But then he’d watched a group of stragglers being chased outside the wall, watched them nearly get torn to pieces. A few lucky shots from the soldiers on the wall had been their salvation and they’d made it into the QZ alive. Alec still saw them from time to time, waiting in line for rations.
It gave him a purpose. It gave him a reason to keep going.
This was his life now. Wishing for anything else was pointless. It would only take him back to that dark place and he wasn’t sure if he would be able to drag himself out of it again.
Sleep found him eventually, lulled into a mercifully dreamless night’s sleep by the sound of the wind whistling outside his window and the cat’s purring. He woke at the crack of dawn at the sound of the morning announcement. He jerked awake at the sudden noise, as he did every morning, and lay there for several minutes, listening to the blaring announcement without really hearing any of the words. The cat was sleeping at the foot of the bed, undisturbed by the interruption.
It was dark in his apartment, the first light of dawn hadn’t broken the horizon just yet. He sat up slowly, muscles aching in protest, and dragged his fingers through his messy hair. Eventually he got up, floorboards creaking as he moved across the small apartment to the bathroom. He braced his hands on the edges of the sink, sighing when he caught sight of his own reflection. Sometimes he thought he didn’t know the person he saw staring back at him. There was something – a weariness – in his eyes that frightened him.
Casting the thought aside, Alec focused on brushing his teeth and getting ready for his shift. He showered quickly, the icy water leaving his teeth chattering. They’d been working on getting hot water for months now. Any day now, they said. But Alec was long past the point of believing them.
He dressed mechanically, smiling faintly at the sight of the cat still curled up on the foot of his bed. He left the window open for it before he left.
The city was quiet at that time of day. Barely any soldiers around, next to no civilians. There was more graffiti on the walls. The Circle’s slogan written in red paint. When you’re lost in the darkness, look for the light. Alec’s gaze lingered a little too long, long enough to get him in trouble if anyone was watching. Those words always reminded him of Jace and his stupid, misplaced belief in them.
He slung his gun over his shoulder as he approached the fire escape, starting the long climb up the wall. A couple of other soldiers nodded to him as he passed, making his way to his post. It was the closest to a conversation that any of them ever got at this time of day. His post was empty when he arrived – unusual, but not unheard of – the woman who had relieved him the day before was nowhere to be seen.
Her rifle was still there though.
Shrugging it off, he sat down on the old wicker chair and set his gun down on his lap. It was his favourite time of day, watching the sunrise from his perch on the wall.
Watching the sun creep its way over the horizon, and the colours bleed into the sky, chasing away the dark. When the stars were still visible, faint pinpricks of light in the pale grey sky. He leaned back in his chair, eyes scanning the cloudless sky. It was going to be a nice day. High visibility made his job easier, even if the hot sun left his skin red and blistered.
It was only once the blue had washed over the sky, the bright colours fading away, that Alec picked up his gun. He peered through his scope, scanning the charred earth and busted down buildings that lay before the wall. It was only when he caught sight of a familiar red sweater that he paused. The clean-up crew hadn’t been by. That explained the lack of smell. He lowered his gun with a sigh and saw something strange at the base of the wall. Something mangled and distorted. He raised his gun again, taking a closer look. There he saw the familiar navy uniform and dark skin of the woman who had relieved him the night before.
“Fuck.” Alec jerked back, his meagre breakfast threatening to make a reappearance. He clasped his hand over his mouth and looked back down at the woman. Had she fallen? Or worse – oh God, had she jumped? Her body was twisted, neck snapped, arm bent in the wrong direction. Her hair, matted with blood, covered what was left of her face. He sucked in a deep breath, hands shaking as he reached for his radio. “Command, this is Lightwood.”
“This is Command.”
“We’ve – we’ve got a body at the base for the wall. North side, Zone 3.”
“No,” Alec closed his eyes, steadying himself. “One of our own.”
There was a pause. “Roger that. A clean-up crew will be there within the hour.”
The apathy was what got to him sometimes. The indifference. It was what had driven Jace away from the Clave and towards the Circle. Alec could follow the woman’s lead, take one too many steps off of the wall, and his commanding officer's only lament would be that they’d lost another soldier. But Alec shook his head, dismissing the thought. This was his life. He was a soldier. The Clave was hard, unfeeling, but it kept them alive. No one else – not even the Circle – could claim the same.
The clean-up crew arrived eventually. Alec watched them through his scope as the woman’s body was stuffed into a body bag and thrown onto a stretcher. The movement drew in some undead but they were shot down before they could get close. The bodies were burned while the woman’s was carted into the safe zone to be buried. They burned the bodies but buried the ashes, held a proper funeral with a proper coffin for the families. They didn’t tell them that the coffins were empty except for a handful of ash and dust.
Alec spent the rest of his shift in somewhat of a daze, unable to shake the uneasiness inside of him. All day he sat there, ate a muesli bar he found in his pocket for lunch, and tried his best to ignore the smell. No one came to relieve him at the end of his shift but he wasn’t exactly surprised. Once the sun started to set, he picked up the woman’s rifle, slung his own over his shoulder, and left his post.
He walked through the QZ with the woman’s gun tucked under his arm, ignoring the looks civilians gave him as he passed. There was always an expression somewhere between anger and fear whenever they looked at him. They didn’t fear or despise him as much as the ground soldiers but the uneasiness, the distrust, was still there. He’d learned not to take it personally a long time ago.
He picked up his dinner from the cafeteria, another tin of beans and a sandwich. There were a few dots of mould in the bread. He picked them off as he made his way to his apartment building.
There was a man stood by the door to his building. He was Alec’s age or maybe a couple of years older. He was dressed in civilian clothes but had a security pass hung around his neck. Someone important then. Important enough to get given a pass through the security checkpoints anyway. He had spiked, styled hair. Something Alec hadn't seen in a while. Meaning he definitely had to be someone important, if he was getting his hands on hair gel.
The man was pacing, muttering something under his breath. He looked up at the sound of Alec’s approach. Strangely, there was a flash of recognition in his eyes. Stranger still, the man ceased his pacing and looked almost relieved. The strangeness of it all had Alec's fingers flexing around his new rifle.
“Lightwood?” He said. “Alec Lightwood?”
Alec came to a hard stop. “Yeah. Do I know you?”
“No.” The man shook his head with a tentative smile. “But I need your help.”
“Help you?” Alec’s brows drew together in suspicion. “Why should I help you? I don’t even know you.”
“No, I don't suppose you do." The man sighed wearily, something close to a smile touching his lips. "My name’s Magnus. Magnus Bane. I’m a doctor. I know your sister, Isabelle. She told me to find you if I was ever in trouble.”
Alec blinked, caught off-guard. “Izzy said that?”
“Yes. She said you’re a good man. That you always do that right thing.” Magnus said and Alec found no trace of a lie in his eyes.
As if his day couldn’t get any weirder. On any other day, Alec might have walked away. He should walk away. No good would come from this. But something about the woman’s death had rattled him. It had made him miss Izzy and Jace more than ever, ruptured the wound inside of him that had never truly healed. He wanted to believe that this man had known his sister. He wanted to believe that helping him might make him a good man, even if he didn’t know what that meant anymore.
“Alright.” Alec eventually decided. “Come with me.”
He stalked past Magnus and pushed the door to his apartment building open. He held it open and gestured for Magnus to follow him inside. The streets weren’t the wisest place to hold a conversation. Never know who might be watching.
Once Magnus was inside, Alec closed the door behind him and started towards the stairs. He’d never been very good at small talk, and he hadn’t gotten any better over the years. If anything, he was worse.
Magnus seemed to understand; he didn't try to talk to Alec as they trudged up the five flights of stairs, the man following a few steps behind him. It put him on edge, feeling the other man's eyes on his back. Made his fingers tighten around the spare rifle in his hand. He had fourteen year's worth of instincts telling him all the ways he could put the other man down if he had to.
He fished his key out of his pocket when he reached his floor, methodically unlocking the three locks on his door with the doctor hovering uncertainly behind him. No one had been in his apartment beside him since Isabelle left. He tried not to think about it.
"I wouldn't be here if I had any other options." Magnus said without preamble as he followed Alec into his apartment. His voice held an anxious note. Alec set the dead woman's rifle down on the table alongside his meagre dinner. The cat was gone; his window still half-open, letting in the cool autumn air.
"Doesn't explain why you're here." Alec kept his back to the man as he stared down at the dead woman's rifle. He didn't know why he'd taken it. He had barely given it a second thought. It would make sense to return it to the armoury, where it would be passed onto someone who needed it. But something stopped him. Something dangerously close to sentiment. He couldn't shake the idea that he needed to remember the woman. The woman whose name he never bothered to learn. Who died alone. Who, in the coming days, would be just ash in an empty coffin. "Or how you know my sister. Or why I should help you."
"I have a letter. From Isabelle. Maybe that - maybe that will help."
Alec turned, brows pulling together as he watched the man slowly pull a letter out of his breast pocket. He held his other hand up, a placating gesture. Alec stared at the faded, wrinkled envelope Magnus held out to him for a long moment, hands unable to move away from his sides.
Something inside of him knew that it was from Isabelle the moment the letter was in his hands. He removed the letter from the envelope slowly, trying to keep his face devoid of emotion, but the slight tremor in his hands gave him away. Fingers brushed across the black ink, tracing the familiar writing. Isabelle's signature remained the same, the same one she'd practiced over and over again as a kid until she'd gotten it right.
"There's a photo too." Magnus added, his voice soft.
There was no mistaking the tremble in Alec's fingers as he carefully slipped his fingers into the envelope again. He drew out an old polaroid; the edges of the photo were yellowed with age but the picture remained in tact. Even when he was expecting it, Alec's breath still caught in his throat at the sight of Isabelle. She was in her lab coat, smiling, with her arms wrapped around Magnus and some other girl. She looked young, happy. The photo must have been taken before Jace had left, then. He took in her long dark hair and round, smiling face and felt his lips twitch in a ghost of a smile.
Alec absently brushed his thumb across her face, something bitter and wistful twisting in his gut. The letter didn't tell him why the man was there, or what he wanted, but it proved that he was who he said he was. This was someone who knew his sister, who she had once called a friend. It was enough.
"You and Izzy studied together?" He wondered why she had never mentioned the man.
"I was her instructor," Magnus smiled tersely. "She has an indomitable spirit, your sister. I was sad to see her go."
That made two of them. Though describing what Alec felt when Isabelle left him as sad was the understatement of the century. Thinking back, Alec did remember his sister mentioning a couple of friends she had made at school. A couple of them had been guys she wanted to set him up with. Alec glanced over at Magnus, wondering for a brief second, before he forced the thought from his mind, if he'd been one of them.
"She always spoke very highly of you. Said you were the most honourable man she'd ever known." Magnus said and snuck a glance at him. "I really hope that's true."
Alec's gaze dropped to his feet. Even miles across the country, years later, Izzy was still finding new ways to hit him where it hurt. He placed the letter and the photo down on the table and sighed, dragging his hand down his face.
"Look, I -"
"I need to get out of the city." Magnus cut in quickly, before Alec had the chance to ask him what he wanted for a second time. His hands moved restlessly when he spoke, uselessly fluttering around in the air between them. It was distracting. "No, scratch that. I need you to escort me and two others out of the city."
Alec could only stare, waiting for the punchline. When it didn't come, he turned away, shaking his head.
"You're insane. Civilians don't leave the city. That's suicide."
He'd seen it happen enough to know exactly how that story ended. People got it into their heads that things would be better outside the wall, or that the Circle could offer them a better life, and some even managed to slip through the defences. But it always ended the same way. There were more Infected roaming the city outside the wall than they could ever dream of putting down. Once you stepped foot outside the wall, you were in their territory. And they outnumbered you a thousand to one.
"We need to get to Chicago." Magnus pressed, stepping around him so that Alec was forced to look at him. "We need to get to Isabelle."
Alec's gaze snapped up and for a brief moment, he was tempted to say yes. He would brave the thousands of miles of Infected infested hell between New York and Chicago if it meant seeing his sister again. But the hope was fleeting as the reality soon set in. Even with a vehicle it would take days to reach Chicago. That was if the roads were still intact, and if the Infected didn't get them first.
His eyes narrowed, his expression darkening as he slowly edged around his small kitchen table, away from Magnus. His fingers itched once more towards the rifle that now sat between him and the other man.
"Why?" Alec gritted out, seconds away from reaching for his weapon.
"I have a friend in the Clave - he can pay -"
Alec took a step towards the table, the rifle within reach. "I don't care about money. Answer the question."
"I need Isabelle's help." Magnus still wasn't answering the question.
"Why?" Alec asked again, his fingers curling around the barrel of his rifle. Magnus' eyes flickered down, catching the movement, and his jaw clenched, his features growing pale.
"You have no reason to trust me, Alec, I know, but I wouldn't be here - I wouldn't be asking you - if it wasn't important." Magnus held onto his gaze, his dark eyes wide and beseeching. Alec's instincts told him not to trust him, but something else inside him wanted desperately to hear what he had to say. There was something close to hope in Magnus' eyes. And it had been a long, long time since Alec had seen that. He'd almost forgotten what hope looked like. "There are lives depending on me. I have to get to Chicago. I have a friend - he can get us clearance. He can get us outside the wall, and a car, but it ends there. We won't make it to Chicago alive without your help, Alec."
"I think it's time for you to leave." Alec said, his gaze flicking down to the weapon that sat on the table between them. He'd emptied the rifle's magazine before he left his post. Its bullets were stored safely in his pocket. But Magnus didn't know that. Alec slowly turned the rifle, fingers trailing down towards the trigger.
"Isabelle told me I could trust you." Magnus stalked forwards, either stupidly brave or bravely stupid, and planted his hands down on the table. "Don't prove her wrong."
"I heard you out. Now you need to leave or -"
"Or what?" Magnus laughed breathlessly, without a trace of humour. "You're going to shoot me?"
Alec's jaw snapped shut. He hadn't expected the man to call his bluff.
"Find someone else." Alec eventually sighed, the fight leaving him. He was tired and out of the corner of his eye he kept catching sight of Isabelle's smiling face and it was too much. The sooner Magnus left, the sooner it meant Alec could sink down onto his bed and sleep. Without that stupid cat, the likelihood of a dreamless night's sleep was slim, but nightmares were nothing new to him anymore. No matter what horrible, godawful things his brained dreamed up to torment him with, it was still an escape. Nothing could be worse than reality.
Magnus leaned forwards, forcing Alec to meet his gaze.
"There is no one else." Magnus said slowly, his voice catching, and Alec believed him.
There were dark shadows under Magnus' eyes. He was thinner, paler, than the young, smiling man in the photograph. The world they lived in chased the youth out of people, ripped away any chance of joy. Alec could see it in his eyes - the bone-deep weariness of someone who had somehow lived both too long and too little. Someone who had seen too much. Alec saw the same look in his eyes.
The hope in Magnus' eyes was fragile. But there was still hope. It had been a long time since Alec could say the same.
"Why?" Alec asked again, for the third and final time. His voice was lower, weariness winning out over his anger and suspicion. It had been a long day. Longer than most.
"Because..." Magnus closed his eyes. His fingers curled inwards, nails leaving scratch marks on the wooden table. "There's a cure."
Alec had been eleven when the world as he knew it came to an end.
He hadn't know it then, but Alec and his siblings had been among the lucky few who had a little bit of warning before it all went to hell. His parents, with their big important jobs, had known what was coming before anyone else. They had called from the other side of the country with news dire enough that Hodge had woken them up in the middle of the night, packed as much as they could carry, and hightailed it out of the city at the break of dawn.
They were supposed to meet their parents. But even with the warning, they had still been too late.
Alec remembered waking up in the back of Hodge's truck to the sight of the soldiers with guns and trucks and Hodge promising him that everything would be alright. It had been the first promise Hodge ever made that he didn't keep.
Outside Boston, that was where it had all gone wrong. If he closed his eyes, he could still hear the screaming.
There had been cars stopped in the middle of the road, abandoned, and people running, screaming. They never even made it into the city. There had been nothing Hodge could do when another truck slammed into theirs, sending it careening off of the road. After that, they'd been on foot. There had been so many people running, but Alec never even saw what they were running from. Hodge had led them away from the panic, into the woods, holding a gun he'd had stashed in the glovebox. Jace and Izzy had been crying, clinging to him, and he'd had to carry Max because he was the big brother, he was supposed to keep them safe.
When Alec had seen soldiers, waiting outside the trees with guns drawn, he had thought it meant they were safe. But Hodge had known better.
"We're not infected! They're kids. Kids." Hodge had kept yelling, over and over again, waving his gun in front of him. Jace and Izzy had hidden behind him, hands clutching the back of his shirt, and Max wouldn't stop screaming, no matter what he did.
Alec hadn't even been looking when the guns started firing. He had been looking back at Jace and Izzy, telling them it was okay. But he had felt the impact. It had thrown him back, knocking Jace and Isabelle down as well.
Hodge had shouted something and then there were two more shots. When Alec had opened his eyes, the two soldiers were on the ground and Hodge was standing over him, shouting his name. And Max -
Max, who was only four, and still wearing his Naruto pyjamas, had felt so tiny in Alec's arms. His head had been tucked under Alec's chin, his soft black hair tickling his chin. Behind him, Jace and Izzy had both started sobbing, too young to even come close to comprehending what they had just seen. Alec would never forget the moment when Hodge realised; the sudden, sharp intake of breath that sounded so loud in the silence that had settled over them.
"Don't look. Jesus, fuck, don't look." Hodge had said and reached down, hands shaking, to pry Max carefully from Alec's arms. Alec hadn't understood why, not until...
Alec shook himself.
"That's - that's not possible." Alec turned away, dragging his fingers through his hair. The memory, dredged up from the darkest place inside of him, physically hurt him. It had been a long, long time since he let himself think about that day. His hands were shaking when he lowered them to his sides, his heart rate picking up. Breathe, a voice inside of him urged. Now wasn't the time for a panic attack. With his back to Magnus, Alec was able to take a moment to close his eyes and just breathe. In and out, in and out, until the tremor in his hands was gone.
"I know it must seem hard to believe, but..." He was suddenly aware of Magnus speaking, his words breaking through the haze that had fallen over him.
"There is no cure." Alec said as he turned back around, his tone harsh and derisive enough to make Magnus flinch, because he had been down this path so many times before. He knew where it ended.
He knew better than to hope.
But Magnus shook his head. That hope - that dangerous, dangerous gleam of hope in his eyes refused to fade.
"The cure is real. But we have to get it to Chicago. You're our last hope, Alec."
Alec knew better than to hope, he had seen where it led. Hope was a dangerous thing in the world they lived in. Hope had taken Jace and Isabelle away from him. Hope had led his parents, like so many others, to their deaths. Alec knew better. He lived, he survived, he waited for the inevitable, and he didn't hope for anything more. But there was something about Magnus, and the way he was looking at him, that made him want to - he wanted to believe. For the first time in a long time, he wanted to have hope in something.
But Alec knew better.
"I'm sorry." He said and he meant it, he really did. "But I can't help you."
Alec couldn't look at Magnus' stricken expression. He couldn't watch the hope fade from his eyes and know that he was the cause. Call him a coward, but he couldn't do it. He wouldn't.
He turned away, busied his hands with opening the can of beans which would serve as his supper, vehemently ignoring the man who stood only a few feet away from him.
Alec kept his back turned until he heard footsteps. His shoulders tensed, though he wasn't sure what he expected. His instincts kept him on edge, holding his breath until the door slammed behind Magnus on his way out. The sound made him jump and he sliced his thumb on the edge of the tin he was opening. The pain barely registered.
Alec stared at his thumb, watching blood ooze from the cut. The red stood in stark contrast against his pale skin.
He'd been bleeding the night Izzy left, knuckles torn and bloody, and his gear had been stained with blood and gore that wasn't his. He had been on the ground team then, venturing beyond the wall looking for survivors. Izzy used to wait up for him, her nerves the only thing that kept her conscious after a long day at the medical centre.
"They're sending me to Chicago." Isabelle had said, her eyes shining with tears as she bandaged his hands. "I want you to come with me, big brother."
But Alec had shook his head. "I can't. You know I can't. What if Jace comes back?"
"Jace isn't coming back." Isabelle had known before Alec did. Accepted it before he could ever even let himself think it.
Alec hadn't found out until after she was gone that Isabelle had volunteered to go to Chicago. The confession had come in a letter weeks later, but it was already too late. Lydia had, unintentionally, been the one to tell him the truth. Isabelle had left because she believed a cure was out there. Hope had driven her to leave. And hope had kept him from going with her. Hope for a day that would never come.
Sometimes he thought, maybe - just maybe - Jace was out there. If anyone was going to survive out in the world, it was Jace. But deep down, he knew. He knew he was never going to see his brother again.
Alec looked over his shoulder, gaze settling on the polaroid on the table.
Maybe there was a cure. Maybe there wasn't. All he knew was that his sister - the only family he had left - was in Chicago. And hell, maybe it would get him killed. But Alec was terrified he'd seen a glimpse into his future that day. He would rather die fighting, trying to get to Izzy, than end up like that woman, broken and alone at the bottom of the wall. He would rather be torn apart by Clickers than end up as ashes in an empty coffin, at a funeral no one would attend.
Alec could hear his neighbours arguing. They were fighting about the Circle again. The sounds of their raised voices followed him as he turned on his heel and raced out of his apartment after Magnus.
He didn't know where the man had come from, but he knew he couldn't have gotten far.
In the end, he didn't have to look far. He found the doctor where he'd found him - pacing on the pavement outside Alec's building.
"Okay." Alec said as he burst through the doors, out of breath from running down five flights of stairs. Magnus stopped, his hands freezing mid-motion. He peered at Alec through his lashes, their roles suddenly reversed. Magnus was the suspicious one while Alec was painfully sincere, praying for him to trust him. "Okay. I'll - I'll do it. I'll help you."
Magnus smiled, a faint, tentative thing.
"Then I suppose you'd better come with me. There's some people you need to meet."
Alec wasn't sure what - or who - he expected, but Clary and Simon weren't it.
"They're kids." The words slipped from his lips the moment he laid eyes on them. The words were harsh in the quiet of the room, hardened with disbelief.
Because that was what they were. Kids. Neither of them could have been any older than fifteen or sixteen. The girl, with a shock of red hair and freckles, was tiny. She would barely made it up to his chin. While the boy, with his baggy clothes and oversized glasses, was skin and bones. They were probably still in school, too young to have ever ventured beyond the wall. They stood together in the centre of the room; the girl was holding a knife she obviously didn't know how to handle, with the boy pushed ever so slightly behind her. At the sound of his voice, they looked away from each other, and at Alec with wide, disbelieving eyes.
"You brought a soldier here?" The girl exclaimed, moving so she was situated even more in front of the boy. "Magnus, are you crazy?"
"This is Alec." Magnus said and his eyes flashed to the ceiling when he saw the blade in the girl's hand. "Biscuit, it's alright. Put the knife down. Alec's here to help us."
"Help us?" The boy repeated and his eyes shifted to Alec, something hopeful in the way that he looked at him. More hope. Alec wondered if it was contagious. "Help us how?"
Alec ignored him. He grabbed Magnus' forearm and dragged him back through the door they'd just come in from. Magnus spluttered in protest but Alec ignored that too. It was only once they were in the alley, with the door closed firmly shut between them and the two kids, that Alec released Magnus' arm.
"They're kids." Alec said again, lowering his voice to a whisper. As pissed as he was, he knew better than to raise his voice. Just because there wasn't anyone around, it didn't mean no one was listening. "Are you seriously telling me you want me to help get those kids all the way to Chicago? And why them? What the hell do they have to do with the cure?"
"They are the cure." Magnus told him as his gaze lingered on the closed door between them and the kids. There was something rueful in his clenched jaw, a regretfulness that spoke louder than words. He didn't want it to be true, Alec realised. "There's something in Clary's blood that's the key."
"And the boy?"
"Simon?" One corner of Magnus' lips twitched, the hint of a smile chasing away the melancholy that had settled over his features. "They're... kind of a package deal. Wherever Clary goes, Simon goes too."
Alec inclined his head in understanding, even if he didn't like it.
"So why Chicago? There are hospitals here, surely -"
"I tried to tell the Clave, but no one wants to listen." Magnus cut in, shaking his head. "They're not even trying to find a cure here anymore."
"The only cure around here is a bullet to the brain." Alec repeated the Clave's unofficial motto dryly, following Magnus' gaze. "Have they ever been outside the wall?" Magnus shook his head and Alec wasn't surprised. He saw kids who had been born in the QZ, born after the world had gone to shit, who had never seen what the world looked like beyond the wall. Alec crossed his arms over his chest, eyeing the security passes hanging around Magnus' neck speculatively. "You said you had a friend in the Clave. He can get us out?"
"Yes, Ragnor's good for his word. If everything goes to plan, in a few days, your CO will tell you that you've been chosen to go on an escort mission. High risk, low security, that sort of thing. And with resources stretched so thin, they probably won't even question why you're the only soldier assigned to protection duty. They might ask for volunteers to go with you, but who on Earth is going to volunteer? They think you're taking me and a bunch of medical supplies to Chicago; they don't know anything about Simon or Clary."
Alec was probably going to regret this. The plan had more holes than a sinking ship; it was going to get them all killed.
They were going to need weapons, supplies, and it wasn't like the Clave was just going to hand them over.
A supply run while they were out on the road would be a surefire way of getting them all killed. The cities were overrun with Infected, but they were the best places to scavenge for supplies. Smaller towns, communities out in the middle of nowhere, didn't attract the Infected as much, but they were almost always picked clean of anything useful. A small group would attract less attention, but without the weapons to defend themselves, they were dead. But, the way Alec saw it, that would be inevitable unless he found a way of getting them what they needed in the QZ.
Alec dragged his hand through his hair, sighing deeply. There was a way. He just didn't like it.
"I should go." Alec sighed again, his plan slowly coming together in his head. "Give me a couple of days. There's... some things I've got to take care of."
Magnus frowned and glanced over Alec's shoulder at the closed door. "Don't you want to meet Clary and Simon first?"
Alec followed his gaze and after a beat, he shook his head.
Alec didn't want to learn those kids' names. He didn't want to know them, end of story. That wasn't the mission. The mission was to get them to Chicago alive, and that was what Alec was going to do. If he let himself feel something for Magnus, or for those kids, he wouldn't be able to do his job properly.
As a soldier, the first rule Alec had been taught was to leave his emotions behind on a mission. Pity, sentiment, guilt - they would get you killed. If they caused even a fraction of a second of hesitation, of doubt, they would all be dead. Because the Infected wouldn't hesitate.
"You know where to find me, Magnus." Alec called over his shoulder, already walking away.
When Jace left, Alec lost his only connection to the Circle. He didn't know who they were, where they operated, or who their leader was. He didn't know how to find them.
But he knew where to start.
Taki's bar had changed a great deal in the years since he and Jace used to frequent it. Business used to be booming, once upon a time. But like everything in that part of the QZ, a strange quiet had fallen over the bar. What had once been an overcrowded part of the QZ was now a ghost town. The streets were empty, the shops boarded up.
Only Taki's was left. But it wasn't the drinks that kept the lights on in that place.
Jace had put him in a difficult situation when he left. As a soldier, and as a loyal member of the Clave, it was his duty to report any information he had on the Circle. Alec's name - his rank, his regiment - was known around Taki's. Just as Jace was known. Alec couldn't turn in the Circle members that frequented Taki's without also implicating Jace.
The bell above the door jingled when Alec stepped inside. The falsely cheerful sound cut through the silence, drawing every eye in the room to him. In this part of town, with its ties to the Circle, Alec stood out like sore thumb in his military gear.
There were only a few patrons, lowlives and drunks, who watched him with open hostility in their eyes. Alec was alone, outnumbered. Not the wisest of choices, but it was the only one he had.
For a bar, there wasn't much drinking going on. There wasn't beer on tap anymore, and the few drinks lining the shelves were watered down, weak imitations of what they were supposed to be. Alec remembered trying his first shot with Jace, remembered how the moonshine burned its way down his throat and left him bleary-eyed. That stuff'll make you go blind, Kaelie had called over the noise, smirking when Jace looked her way.
There was an older man at the bar, grim-faced and unfamiliar. He was playing cards on the bar top, doing a piss-poor job of pretending he hadn't noticed Alec come in.
"I'm looking for Kaelie." Alec said without preamble as he approached the bar.
"Yeah?" The man laughed once, without humour. "And whose askin'?"
"I am." Alec replied brusquely, setting his hand down on the holstered gun at his hip. He'd never been very good at charming people. Buttering people up, playing nice, that had always been Jace's forte. "Kaelie used to know my brother, Jace. Jace Lightwood. You tell her I'm looking for her. She'll know who I am."
"Jace. huh?" The man leaned back, forgoing his feigned interest in his cards to eye Alec speculatively. "You don't look much like him."
Alec's lips twisted in a faint, bitter smile. "He was adopted."
"Been a long time since Jace's been around here." The man said, grabbing a bottle of some murky, amber liquid from under the bar. He poured Alec a glass and slid it across the bar. "How's he doin'?"
"I wouldn't know. He ran off to join the Circle." Alec replied and went against his instincts by throwing back the drink. It burned worse than the moonshine. He spluttered, unable to control his grimace, and the man opposite him laughed. He poured himself a glass and threw it back, coughing hard. The man slammed the drink down onto the bar and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
"Kaelie's out back, Lightwood."
Kaelie, unlike Taki's and the downtown, was almost exactly the same as he remembered. She was sat at a desk in the back room, feet up on the table, with her long curly hair piled on the top of her head in a messy bun. Her clothes were the same, right down to her black combat doors. The leaf tattoos trailing down the side of her face were the only difference Alec could see in her, in the six years since he had last stepped foot in Taki's.
"Alec Lightwood." Kaelie said when her gaze settled on him, surprise colouring her tone. "Now that's a face I didn't expect to see again."
"Kaelie." Alec inclined his head in greeting. "It's been a long time."
"That it has." Kaelie's eyes ran slowly down him, taking him in with a slowly growing smirk on her lips. "Look at you, pretty boy. All grown up. It really has been a long time, hasn't it? You've done well, away from Jace's shadow."
Alec's eyes flickered away, irritation flashing across his face. Perceptive as she was, Kaelie noticed and leaned forward in her seat. Something glimmered in her eyes, something which promised trouble.
"Jace isn't here. But you knew that already." She eyed him again, her curiosity winning over her desire to tease him. "So, what brings you to this neck of the woods?"
"I'm looking for Hodge." Alec told her and watched the smirk slip from her lips.
"Very funny." Kaelie said with a hard edge to her tone that hadn't been there moment's ago. Her feet slid off of the desk as she sat up, those heavy boots hitting the ground with a thud. "Why would I know where Hodge is?"
"Because you're in the Circle. The same as him." Alec clasped his hands behind his back and kept his posture straight, refusing to bend under her withering gaze.
"You're with the Clave. You know what they do to anyone they even think is loyal to the Circle. Jesus, are you trying to get yourself killed?" There was a knife in her boot. Alec watched as the wheels turned in her brain, her eyes shifting from her foot to the gun at Alec's hip. She wouldn't be able to reach it before Alec drew his gun and they both knew it. "Even if I was with the Circle, why the hell would I tell you anything?"
"I'm not here 'cause of the Clave. No one even knows I'm here." Alec glanced over his shoulder at the creak of a floorboard behind him. The man from the bar was stood in the doorway, eyes narrowed as he looked from Alec to Kaelie and then back. One of his hands was hidden behind his back, no doubt concealing a weapon of some kind. "I'm not here to cause any trouble," Alec said as he returned his attention to Kaelie. "I just need to talk to Hodge."
"Why?" Kaelie asked, her narrowed eyes never leaving his face.
Kaelie was a great deal smarter than she let on, disguising her shrewd, cunning nature behind a playful, flirtatious demeanour. That was what Jace had liked most about her, and what had made Alec roll his eyes every time his brother ended up with a drink thrown in his face. Alec knew she would see through any attempt at a lie. He would need to play this carefully, come as close to the truth as he could.
"Because I'm getting out of the city." Alec told her, the words torn from him reluctantly. He hadn't wanted her to know that. "And I need his help."
Kaelie leaned forward in her seat to plant her elbows on the desk, her head tilting to one side as she searched Alec's face for any hint of a lie. She didn't want to believe him, Alec realised. He saw it in the way that her gaze lingered too long on the Clave's emblem on his chest. She didn't see him, she saw only a soldier. So Alec stepped forward, ignoring the man who was no doubt under orders to kill him if he made the wrong move, and pulled the polaroid Magnus had given him from his breast pocket.
"This is my sister, Isabelle." Alec said, holding the photograph out for Kaelie to see. "She's in Chicago."
"Isabelle." Kaelie repeated, her brows drawing together in recognition. "Yeah, I remember Jace mentioning her. She's a doctor, right?"
"Yeah. She's a pathologist." Alec slipped the photo back into his pocket. He'd taken to carrying it with him everywhere, tucked safety in his pocket next to his heart. It was stupid - illogical - but something about it made him feel closer to Izzy. "She's all I got left."
And God, wasn't that just the raw, honest truth.
Kaelie's jaw unclenched and she let out a soft breath, her face softening ever so slightly.
Alec wasn't the only one with a sob story. Everyone had lost someone. But it was always hard to hear. Kaelie - who just saw his uniform - would probably like nothing more than to put a bullet in his head. Yet, it wasn't so easy when your enemy hurt the same as you did. It was the reason Alec had chosen to take an overwatch position over being part of a ground team. The Infected didn't feel anything; if they'd had families once, loved ones, they didn't matter to them anymore. It took the guilt out of putting them down, knowing no one would miss them. Knowing it was the kindest thing to do.
"I'll get word to Hodge." Kaelie eventually decided, and fixed him with a glare. "Don't make me regret this, Lightwood."
"He'll find you." Kaelie smirked knowingly, and waved her hand like she was shooing away a fly. "Now please leave, before you chase away all my customers."
Hodge didn't keep Alec waiting long.
Just two days after visiting Taki's, Alec walked into his apartment to find Hodge waiting for him.
In the days since his meeting with Kaelie, Alec had taken to leaving his window open, knowing Hodge would never risk using the front door. He knew Hodge would turn up eventually, he just had to be patient. And it wasn't like he had anything worth scaling five flights of stairs on a rickety, old fire escape for.
Over the years, he'd thought a lot about what he might say to Hodge if he ever saw the man again. He was in two minds about it. On one hand, Hodge had put them all at risk with his ties to the Circle. If he'd been caught, Alec and his siblings would've become wards of the state. They would've ended up at some orphanage until Alec was eighteen. Their guardian - the only adult figure they had left - could've been caught and executed, yet he knowingly led Jace down the same path. He had filled his head with talk about the Circle and given him everything he needed to join them.
But Hodge was also the reason Alec was alive. He'd gotten them out of the city, kept them safe. Even if he hadn't been able to save Max, Hodge had taken care of them. They never would have made it without him. That still counted for something, even if the sight of him made Alec see red.
Hodge looked older, more weathered, than Alec remembered. He certainly didn't look the part of a revolutionary - his hair was longer, hanging shaggy and unkempt around his gaunt face, and his clothes hung off of him, loose and threadbare. The Hodge stood before him was a far cry from the man Alec remembered.
It made it easier to hate him when he looked like a stranger, and not the man Alec had known since the day he was born.
"Alec." Hodge was staring at him with a mixture of shock and disbelief in his eyes, as if he hadn't expected to see him, even after knowingly seeking him out and breaking into his apartment. His eyes searched Alec's face frantically, as if trying to catalogue every little detail as quickly as he could. "Jesus, I can't believe it's really you." He took a small, stumbling step in Alec's direction and Alec jerked back on instinct, his hands balling into tight fists at his sides. "Sorry - it's just - been so long, you know?"
Alec didn't ask him whose fault that was. They both knew the answer.
"I assume you know why you're here." Alec settled for saying instead, the words laced with derision. He crossed his arms over his chest and looked away at the sight of Hodge's affirming nod.
"You shouldn't have gone to Taki's. That was reckless, Alec." Hodge told him and Alec scoffed. As if he had any right to be concerned.
"Well, you didn't exactly leave me with a forwarding address when you left." Alec snapped, getting a momentary satisfaction from the flicker of guilt that crossed Hodge's face.
"You're right," Hodge sighed. "But I couldn't risk -"
"What?" Alec gritted out, his eyes narrowing. "You couldn't risk what? Did you think I'd turn you into the Clave?"
Hodge looked away, meaning Alec had hit the nail on the head in one go. It hurt more than it probably should have.
Alec had been drafted at seventeen. The notice shouldn't have come until Alec was eighteen but so many people were dead, were dying, that conscription at the time became mandatory for any able-bodied man or woman above the age of seventeen. For Alec, there had never been a choice. The Clave demanded unconditional loyalty, service, and he had showed that again and again. But for Hodge to suggest -
"That's funny." Alec said, but there was nothing funny about it. "You talking to me about betrayal."
"Alec -" Hodge started towards him and Alec threw up his hands.
"Don't." He turned away, striding over to his kitchen to put some space between them. He unslung his rifle and set it down on the table to be dismantled and cleaned later. "This is not - this isn't why I wanted you to come here."
A sad, bitter smile crossed Hodge's face. "So why am I here, Alec?"
"I need a favour." Alec didn't like asking for help - he especially didn't like asking help from Hodge - but it wasn't like he had any other options.
"Okay?" Hodge said slowly, and gestured towards the table. "Mind if I sit?"
"Knock yourself out."
"So, this favour." Hodge waited until he was sitting down to broach the question, elbows planted on the tabletop and fingers steepled against his lips. "I don't really see what I could do for you. Unless it's - I don't know where he is, I'm sorry."
Alec's fingers curled around the back of one of his chairs, his jaw clenching. He didn't need to ask which he Hodge was referring to. If he didn't need his help so badly, Alec would've thrown him out on his ass for even thinking of mentioning Jace.
"The Clave is sending me to Chicago." Alec eventually said, the words difficult to get out. "Escort mission."
"Chicago?" Hodge repeated, his eyes growing wide with surprise."But that's - Jesus, Alec, that's a two day drive. At least. How many soldiers are they sending?"
"None. Just me." Alec replied, curious to see the other man's reaction. To see if even a small part of him still cared. Hodge didn't quite give him the reaction he wanted. He just stared at him for a long moment, his eyes searching his face. Alec could see the cogs turning his head. Trying to work out if I'm lying, Alec realised. "It's a low priority mission. I volunteered."
"Why?" Hodge was still watching him closely, trying to work him out.
"'Cause Izzy's in Chicago." He said, and with that, Hodge's expression shifted from bewilderment and suspicion to outright anger.
"Are you trying to get yourself killed?" Hodge erupted, slamming his hands down onto the tabletop. The couple across the hall were silent for once. No doubt everyone on his floor had heard that. It had been a mistake to meet Hodge here. It should have been at Taki's or somewhere else, far from listening ears. Hodge seemed to realise that too and pinched the bridge of his nose, lowering his voice when he spoke again. "If the Clave's sending you out to Chicago without backup, someone has it out for you, Alec. That's a suicide mission."
"Which is why I need your help." Alec relaxed his grip on the back of the chair, flexing his cramped fingers. "I need weapons, supplies. You owe me, remember?"
Hodge leaned back in his seat, exhaling heavily. "Yeah. Yeah, I remember..."
"So can you help me or not?" Alec asked, knowing better than to have hope. Hodge had been disappointing him for a decade, he didn't expect that to suddenly change. His expression must have given away some of his doubt because Hodge, whose gaze had never strayed from Alec's face, suddenly sighed, a weary, resigned sound.
"I'll help you, Alec." Hodge decided after several long minutes of silence, looking conflicted. "But on one condition."
Alec sighed. He should have known there'd be a catch. "And what's that?"
"You gotta bring me with you."
Just a note - I played with the ages a bit in this. Simon and Clary are both seventeen but Alec has his big brother goggles on, so to him they're like twelve.
I want to give a big thank you to everyone who left a comment/kudos on the first chapter. I've really been blown away by the reaction to this. I was super nervous about posting this fic but you guys have really encouraged me to continue. So thanks! I really appreciate you guys <3
The chapter title is from the song This Bitter Earth by Dinah Washington, the On the Nature of Daylight version.