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The Littlest Herondale

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Blood is thicker than water, they say.

 

Alec is never entirely sure who “they” were, originally. Whether mundanes copied that particular trite phrase from the Shadowhunter, or, as is far more likely in Alec’s opinion, and far less likely if the Clave has anything to say on the topic, whether it was the other way around, and shadowhunters copied it from mundanes. Whatever the answer, those words seem to haunt Alec, every step of his life.

 

His parents love them, insist everyone in the family live by them, with an intensity of purpose and pride that only increases with each passing year. They are Lightwoods, and they will make that something to be proud of again, to be remarked at and admired, no matter what they have to sacrifice to make it so. Nothing is more important than family, to Maryse and Robert Lightwood.

 

Only, as Alec grows older, his shoulders grow heavier and heavier with the certainty that to his parents, family truly means name .

 

Never is this more obviously true than the day Jace joins their family. He is Robert’s parabatai’s son, and an orphan now, and what his parents lack in sentiment they more than make up for in duty.

 

The boy shows up at the Institute without so much as a coat to his name, even though it’s January in New York, and Alec knows that the light dusting of snow covering the Institute gardens is nothing in comparison to the veritable drifts of it left behind in Idris, visible for a moment as the portal ripples shut, depositing his parents, immaculately turned out as ever, hands the appropriate number of inches from each other to be quite proper and yet give the appearance of a united front to the world.

 

For his part, Jace stands stalk still an equally appropriate amount of distance in front of his new guardians, chin lowered and eyes downcast, back straight and shoulders tense at attention. It’s the shoulders that do it, that chip something away inside Alec’s chest, that crack something in his carefully iced over composure, his carefully suppressed sentiment.

 

Because those shoulders don’t so much as twitch. Not even once . Not a jerk of surprise when Max skids into the room, eager and bright and as much like the excitable twelve-year-old he is as he is ever allowed to be in this family . “Is this our new brother? He’s a Lightwood now, right?”

 

He directs the question at Alec, but Maryse’s voice is like a blast of ice, cutting off any potential responses that might have sounded even remotely positive, never mind friendly .

 

“Jonathan is a Wayland Maxwell. You would do well to remember that.” Robert is the one who flinches at that, at the pure acid with which that name is uttered. Alec clenches his jaw hard enough that his teeth creak. He’s never heard his father so much as mention his parabatai before a week ago, when a fire message had flared into existence at the dinner table, nearly making Alec drop a bot of quinoa all over Max, who had been “helping” with the salad.

 

My parabatai’s son has been orphaned. Prepare a room for his arrival. And while perfunctory communication was pretty much the norm between the senior Lightwoods and their offspring, even for them, that was rather succinct.

 

But what little Alec does know is enough to put two and two together and get a bit more than four. The Waylands were even deeper into the Circle than the Lightwoods, back in the day, and such connections are hardly conducive to the image his parents have seen Alec’s entire life trying to recultivate. Izzy had muttered rather uncharitably that night that it just went to show the value the Clave placed on duty to one’s oaths, that their parents were deigning to take in the boy at all.

 

Nothing about the current exchange between their parents was doing anything to sway Alec from agreeing with his sister, at least privately.

 

“Maryse, perhaps, considering the circumstances, we should–” Their mother’s voice dropped form icy to frigid. “Don’t be ridiculous Robert, the boy isn’t even our blood.

 

And that had been the end of that discussion. Max had been marched off to his lessons, Robert had departed for Idris without so much as a shoulder pat for Jace, and only a parting half-nod for his actual children, and Alec had been left staring at a skinny eight year old who still hadn’t so much as glanced about, never mind moved.

 

Alec’s knees had made a slight thudding sound as they hit the floor, not unlike the sound a blow to the head might have made, muffled through fabric or wood, and that’s what finally stirs a reaction from the Wayland boy.

 

If one can call an eye flicker a reaction, but Alec will take what he can get, bending his neck in an attempt to catch the gaze behind those flickering eyes and oh–

 

Alec swallowed. Hard. Those eyes . There was so much behind those eyes. So much in those eyes.

 

Alec wouldn’t call himself an expert with children, but he’d been just about this boy’s age when Max had come along, and he couldn’t remember a time when Izzy hadn’t been a central part of his world, and their family being what it was, being a big brother had had more than a portion of parenting to it for more years than he could count, so what he did next wasn’t entirely without forethought.

 

“Hey there buddy, I’m Alec.” And he stuck out his hand for the boy to shake, careful to keep his movements slow and his arm closer to the floor than his companion’s head, maintaining eye contact all the way. And so it was, he caught the slight flair of bright that shot through the brown part of Jonathan’s left eye. There was no other word for it, and Alec found it impossible to tear his gaze away from the way that brightness spread across the little boy’s face, unfreezing his delicate features from their unnatural stillness.

 

“My d-dad called me Jonathan Christopher.” There’s a brittle defiance there, and Alec feels his chest seize at the slight catch on the word dad . There’s something else there too, something that even in those first moments Alec can’t call anything else but fear. And even though he’s years off fully comprehending what is behind that fear, he’s willing to bet that anyone who was part of the Circle wasn’t exactly batting for parent of the year.

 

Just look at his own parents. And years of suppressing a subtle flinch every time Alexander or Isabelle or Maxwell is intoned through the Institute halls with just that edge of sharp reprimand and forbidding disapproval makes Alec more than prepared to offer a solution to that unvoiced sentiment.

 

“Well, it’s sort of a secret rule around here that all the best people get nicknames.” Jace positively glowed with amazement and eager trepidation. “Really?”

 

Alec nodded, hunkering just slightly closer to Jonathan, gratified when the boy didn’t so much as tense, the eager hope still right large across his eyes, if not his entire face. “Really, really. I’m Alec, and my little sister is Izzy, and my little brother who you just saw, that’s Max. We’ve all been looking forward to meeting you.”

 

Jace edged closer to Alec, his posture still stiff, his hands still carefully fisted at his sides, still not reaching out to grasp Alec’s offered one, but his face still open and heartbreaking in its uncertainty. “Really?” Alec nodded with even more vigour, “Yeah, you’ll make an excellent forth at bridge.” Alec hadn’t the foggiest idea what bridge was, actually, having only heard the term in passing on one of those mundane films Izzy liked to sneak occasionally, late at night in the Tactical center, the only place they could pilfer the bandwidth without being caught, Max dozing between his older siblings, a folded napkin of slightly overdone pop corn between them. Alec loves those nights, as much as he’ll never admit it to Izzy.

And maybe something in his face or his voice betrays that affection, because Jonathan actually giggles. Only for a moment, barely more than a chirp of sound, but it echoes in the hollowed space of the hall, and Alec feels something bloom in his chest in response.

 

Jonathan darted forward suddenly, folding up his small legs and dropping down cross legged before Alec, grinning eagerly up at him through a fringe of dirty blonde hair. The change is so sudden and complete that it steals Alec’s breath away. “What’s my nickname?”

 

The voice is eager and suddenly so very young, even as the wariness haunts those dual coloured eyes like a ghost that can never truly be shaken. Though Alec intends to try his very best to do just that, from now on. He thinks for a moment, knowing instinctively how important this is.

 

Jonathan Christopher. Well…

 

Alec offered his hand to the boy once again, his eyes focused and his voice earnest, “What about…Jace?” The small hand that grasped his and shook with startling firmness didn’t even hesitate. With a decisive nod, Jace sealed the decision, “Thank you Alec.”

 

And for a moment, those remarkably coloured eyes seemed to glow as bright as gold.

 

00

 

They say blood is thicker than water. Alec has always despised that phrase, and never more so than in the years following Jace entering their lives.

 

It’s always there, hovering at the edge of their consciousness, hanging in the air every time one of their parents visits, critiquing and commenting and frowning at every move any of the four of them make. To the Lightwood siblings, Jace is as much a part of their family as any of them.

 

More even than their parents , really, if you count time spent together, Max will always find a way to insert into the conversation the few times Robert or Maryse ever deign to join them long enough to be around for so much as a quick lunch. Maryse’s lips will thin, and Robert will shoot a glance at Jace’s bowed head, and then they’ll go back to Idris and the rest of them will go back to their lives and being a family.

 

But no matter how hard Alec tries, that implication that Jace is never quite enough , that he will never quite be wholly theirs , never quite be family , no matter what any of them do or say, that insinuation never quite goes away. Never ceases to haunt Jace’s every hunched posture and shuttered expression. Never quite stops causing him to throw himself into great and great feats of training and drills, fighting and sparing and studying and practicing until he’s better than any of the trainees, even those with two feet and ten years on him.

 

It was Robert’s last visit that had spurned Jace on his latest attempt at perfection, dogging Alec’s every step and begging to be permitted to go on a patrol, to go with Alec or Izzy on a patrol. To just tag along for a routine one, even during the day. “Not a dangerous one Alec, just something, please!”

 

Every time he hears this Alec silently curses his father’s absently thrown in Jace’s general direction, “your father was one of the best demon killers I’ve ever seen Jonathan, you have a lot to live up to one day…when you’ve grown up a bit of course.” The last had been more a comment on Jace’s height than an acknowledgement that the boy is still far too young to worry about such things. Or that holding him up to his father’s memory is a harmful and toxic thing to do with a well-adjusted child, never mind one with what Alec suspects with enough certainty to be prepared to swear to it is Jace’s past.

 

There’s a reason the boy is still so short and slight. And Alec has never so much as seen a picture of the elder Wayland. Nor does he have the foggiest idea who Jace’s mother even was. But he knows that reason has nothing to do with blood .

 

Alec hadn’t bothered to attempt to verbalize any of that. Robert couldn’t be bothered to learn Jace’s proper name, Alec had no interest in watching the boy’s heart shatter at the undoubted disinterest that will greet any mention of Jace’s past.

 

Instead, he had gone with an even plainer truth, “Father, Jace is ten, ” and left it at that.

 

Robert had hummed in faint disapproval and gone back to his steak.

 

Jace had positively wilted, choking down only a bite or two of food before slipping from the table without drawing so much as a glance from the eldest Lightwood. Alec had fought the urge to throw his glass of wine at his father.

 

Right now, he really, really wishes he’d thrown caution to the wind and thrown his entire meal at Robert, wine glass and all.

 

They say that blood is thicker than water. And whoever “they” were, it appears that at least at the most literal level, they had actually been right, damn them all to hell.

 

Alec gritted his chattering teeth and forced his eyes away from the sight of his baby brother’s blood slicking across the rain drenched alleyway, water droplets running into and over and heavy red liquid in a grotesque visualization of that trite phrase he has never hated more than in this moment.

 

Damn Robert for his callous disinterest, damn Maryse for her obsession with duty and name before everything, damn Jace for his foolish need to always prove he’s good enough. And damn Alec most of all, for letting his little brother follow him out here on this miserable night, the rain and the wind and the magic heavy in the air meaning Alec hadn’t even noticed his highly trained but woefully inexperienced shadow until the boy had literally jumped between Alec’s body and the flying tentacle of a greater demon .

 

“Damnit Jace, don’t you dare die on me!” The boy had long since slipped into unconsciousness, a slurred, “sorry Alec,” ripping a choked cry from his brother’s lips, one that the wind had wasted no time in snatching away into the storm around them.

 

Alec had used the pent up grief and shock of watching Jace collapse to the ground, blood and water mixing across the burnt remains of his miniature leather jacket, the one Izzy had presented to him with a proud grin on Jace’s last birthday, her declaration of, “There, now you look just like Alec,” fetching up a gigantic grin from the Jace, to throw his seraph blade into the center of the demon’s mass of tentacles, the massive body disappearing in a satisfying hiss of bright sparks.

 

If Hodge had seen that he would have had a heart attack on the spot. But Alec hadn’t spared the blade or the disintegrating demon more than a hurried glance, already sliding to his knees on the asphalt, tentatively reaching for Jace’s wound, trying to see through the blood and rain, wind biting at his face and snatching the tears from his cheeks before they could so much as fall.

 

Jace? ” Alec’s voice was hoarse with shock and pain, his limbs growing heavy with the cold. He couldn’t think . Jace wasn’t supposed to be here. This wasn’t supposed to have happened. Clumsily, Alec fumbled for his phone, his hand leaving streaks of blood across the sodden leather of his own jacket.

 

Even as his fingers met empty pocket, he remembered with a bitten off curse that he’d lent the bloody thing to Raj, because he was going to Idris and just had to have something with a decent camera on it, what would the Clave archivists say if his pictures of those unidentified relics were blurry , really Lightwood, have you seen the budget for technology around here, it’s like the bloody stone age.

 

Alec bit down on his tongue so hard he tasted blood. He grabbed for his stele, almost slamming it against Jace’s small chest in his haste, for the first time ever actually grateful that Jace had come to them as covered in runes as he was in scars, years too young for such things even by shadowhunter standards be damned apparently, if you’re a Wayland.

 

The chest under his hands seized, Jace’s raspy and wet breathing becoming loud and rattling, audible even over the howling of the storm. Alec felt his own lungs seize in response, “Jace!”

 

“Who dares make such a racket outside the residence of the High Warlock of Brooklyn?!” Alec’s head snapped up at the booming voice that suddenly invades his every sense. Through the water in his eyes he can only make out a vague shape coming towards them out of the storm, somehow glowing and glittering at the same time. “This alley is taken, find somewhere else to enjoy the storm!” Up close the voice is softer, more command than shout, but no less dramatic. No less captivating.

 

Alec suspects he could drown in the strength of that voice. Most of the time, that thought would send him into a spiral of quiet panicking and cold sweat.

 

Right now, the whole thing just makes him angry . “Your precious alley had a greater demon in it, and my little brother just half killed himself helping to get rid of it, so either help us or go the hell away!” Izzy has always said that Alec is at his most impressive when he’s defending his family.

 

Well actually, she winks at him and says, “Easy there papa bear!” But Alec knows how to google, and he certainly knows how to parse Izzy by now.

 

And in any case, she’s right. Alec is well aware that he’s rather protective of those under his charge, his siblings making the top of that list every single time. And feeling protective has always given him courage to do without a thought things that he normally would never dare to attempt.

 

Such as, now that all that glowy glittering has solidified into a predictably dry and startling handsome figure in a long silver and black coat and matching eye shadow and hair highlights, yell at one of the most powerful warlocks in the world.

 

Magnus Bane blinks at him for a moment, his eyes flicking down to the slumped form resting against Alec’s knees, stele still running uselessly over a dimly glowing rune, blood dripping down his fingers to land on the sodden ground. There is so much of it, more even than a moment ago. Alec feels his chest seize with the first stirrings of panic, because he doesn’t know what to do .

 

And then the warlock is just there , crowded into Alec’s space, apparently uncaring of the blood and water and who knew what else soaking into the knees of his undoubtedly very designer trousers. Alec hadn’t even seen him move .

 

A ringed hand ghosted over Jace’s rattling chest, stopping inches from the gaping wound. Amber eyes flicked up to meet Alec’s, oblong pupils slitted with an intense fire that is impossible to read in the urgency of the moment.

 

“What’s his name?” Later, much, much later, Alec will look back on this moment and think huh, so that’s when I fell in love with him.

 

In that moment, he just swallows a stunned sob at the sudden burst of calm that shoots through his chest, and chokes out, “His name’s Jace.”

 

And hunched over his baby brother’s bleeding body, the rain suddenly not so heavy, the wind suddenly not so icy, watching a strange warlock’s magic lick at the edges of the open wounds on Jace’s chest, Alec is struck with the bizarre certainty that somehow, everything is going to turn out okay now.