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Between the Shadow and the Soul

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Silken sheets wrapped around his waist. A strong, heavy arm laid across his chest. Warm breath puffing against his neck.

Loneliness. Deep, relentless, agonizing sadness.

Alec’s eyes twitch open.

Another wave of anguish shoots through his body like a bolt of lightning. Alec feels a tugging sensation in his throat, and tears spring from his eyes, unbidden. They roll down his cheeks when he blinks them away.

A thought flies into his head that doesn’t belong to him. They’re all dead because of me.

Everything hurts.

Alec pinches the bridge of his nose to try and siphon away some of the phantom pain in his head. “Shit.”

Jace has always had more nightmares than Alec, but they haven’t been this bad since… By the Angel. Since Jace first came back from being under Sebastian’s control.

Alec wants to burrow deeper into Magnus’s chest. He wants to go back to sleep, and forget this ever happened. But he can’t.

Alec gently disentangles himself from Magnus’s embrace, every muscle in his body protesting at the effort. He flips the covers off his body and gets as far as putting one foot on the ground before a hand wraps around his wrist. Alec turns his head toward the movement and chuckles softly. Magnus’s eyes are still closed. His grip on Alec’s wrist is slack, tightening every few seconds as Magnus fights a losing battle to stay awake.

Alec leans forward and smooths Magnus’s hair back from his forehead. He lifts Magnus’s hand off his arm and places it back on the bed. “I’ll be back soon.”

“Wha’s goin’ on?”

“I need to go check on Jace,” Alec whispers. “He doesn’t feel right.”

Magnus lets out a sad whine.

“I don’t feel right,” he mumbles into the pillow. “I’m being abandoned. And now the bed is cold.”

Alec chuckles. “Haven’t even left the bed yet, you know.”

“It’s antici…” He cuts himself off with a yawn. “Anticipat-ori-ally cold.”

Alec leans down and kisses him, right on the nose, just to see it scrunch up. “You know that’s not a word.”

“It is, though.”

“Go back to sleep. I’m sure it’s nothing, but I just need to make sure. I’ll be back in an hour or two, tops.”

Alec makes it halfway across the room before Magnus whispers something else.

“Promise?”

Alec turns back. Magnus’s eyes are open now, but he hasn’t moved from where he was curled around Alec on the bed. Strips of moonlight that managed to get past the curtains cover his body like silk. It makes his eyes shine in the darkness.

He’s biting his lip.

It takes all of Alec’s willpower not to dive back under the covers, emotions coming through the parabatai bond be damned.

Alec strides back over to the bed and cups Magnus’s face in his hands. He kisses him as sweetly as he knows how, just for a second. He closes his eyes, taking a brief moment to drink in the feeling of their foreheads pressing together.

“I promise.”


 

When Alec steps outside, drawing his jacket tighter around him to stave off the chill, his eyes are drawn irresistibly upwards.

It’s a full moon tonight.

 


 

 

When Alec gets to the Institute, all the lights are still off, but he has no trouble finding his way to Jace’s room. He’s walked this path so many times in his life, he’s honestly surprised that there aren't indentations in the wood shaped like his footsteps.

He takes out his stele to draw an Unlock rune on the door without thinking about it- Jace always locks his door- but his hand is met with open air.

Jace’s door is open.

Which means there’s someone else inside.

Alec feels like an idiot. Of course Clary is in there with him. She probably knew Jace was having nightmares before Alec did, if she was sleeping right next to him.

There was no reason for Alec to come all the way into the city. He could still be in bed with Magnus right now.

Alec had panicked when he’d felt the nightmare. He never would have gone to all this trouble for some bad dreams before everything happened with Sebastian. But that was how Lilith had gotten Jace- by taking over his dreams, infiltrating his thoughts, chipping him away bit by bit. And it had all happened so slowly, so much else had been going on, that Alec hadn’t noticed. He isn’t the least bit sorry for being careful this time.

But as much as Alec’s nervous mind wants to convince him otherwise, this isn’t some demonic curse. Jace has been to hell and back- quite literally -and both Sebastian and Lilith are gone forever. It was foolish to think that Jace still needs him in times like this. Sure, Jace is always there for Alec when he needs it the most, and Alec’s there even more often than that. But Jace has his own life, now, and so does Alec. They’ve grown apart.

A pang shoots through Alec’s chest at the thought. But more than anything, he wants to go back home.

Just as Alec is working up the courage to turn on his heel and run all the way back into Magnus’s arms, a soft sound drifts out of Jace’s room. Not crying, or shouting, or anything Alec expects to hear.

A voice. Singing. A decidedly masculine voice, that is definitely not Jace.

Alec inches toward the door. He grabs his stele from the holster on his belt and scrawls a hasty Night Vision rune on his wrist. He pushes the door open just enough for him to peek around it. Jace is lying in his bed, sheets twisted around his legs and tears running down his face, and-

Simon is sitting next to him .

Simon.

Of all the people in the world, Alec can say with absolute certainty that he did not expect his sister’s boyfriend to be in Jace’s room.

He’s singing something that’s strangely familiar to Alec, but he can’t quite figure out why.

 

“Picture yourself in a boat on a river

With tangerine trees and marmalade skies…”

 

Simon's pausing after every couple of words. His voice shakes slightly, but he hasn’t moved from his spot next to Jace on the bed. His face is scrunched up in uncertainty, but Jace gasps out another sob and his expression melts.

 

“Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly,

A girl with kaleidoscope eyes…”

 

Simon lifts his hand toward Jace’s face, fingers outstretched, but pulls back at the last second.

Alec doesn’t think Simon is blinking.

 

“Cellophane flowers of yellow and green…”

 

Jace’s arm twitches on the bed, and Alec feels his heart stop. He’ll have to intervene if Jace wakes up. He can’t let Simon get punched in the face just for trying to help Jace with his nightmares.

But Simon doesn’t seem to have noticed.

 

“Towering over your head…”

 

Quick as a flash, Jace reaches over and grabs Simon’s hand, his eyes not even opening.

 

Look for the-

 

Simon cuts himself off. He holds himself unnaturally still, tension coiling in his wiry frame. He looks ready to run. Or to slap Jace’s hand away. Or both.

Alec keeps his eyes on Simon and reaches for the door handle. It’s time to let them know he’s here.

But then Simon curls his fingers around Jace’s and leans forward. He uses the fingers of his other hand to brush Jace’s matted hair off his forehead.

He starts singing again. His voice isn’t nearly as shaky this time.

 

“Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes, and she’s gone.”

 

Simon taps his finger on the bed, his head bobbing with each beat. One, two, three...

 

“Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Lucy in the sky with diamonds...”

 

Jace has quieted down. The tears are beginning to dry on his face. His chest still shakes every now and then with hitching breaths, but the worst of it seems to be over. Alec lets out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding.

Simon blinks. His soft smile drifts off his face, replaced by a guarded, blank expression. Jace is alright now. There’s no reason for him to stay.

Is there?

Simon gently takes his hand out of Jace’s and crawls off the bed. He starts toward the door, and Alec scrambles out of the way. Alec is standing right against the wall in the hallway. But if he keeps quiet, Simon isn’t trained well enough to notice him.

Simon steps into the hallway, but turns back to look at Jace again. Alec can’t see the expression on his face. He doesn’t think he’d recognize it, even if he could.

Simon whispers something, so quietly that Alec can’t make it out, even with the Hearing rune scrawled on his forearm. Then, he bolts.

Alec walks back over to Jace’s room and sneaks a peek at him lying there on the bed. Jace just makes a snuffling noise and snuggles deeper into his pillow.

Alec has to resist the urge to laugh.

He leaves Jace’s door open and heads back into the night.

 


 

 

It’s only later, once Alec’s sitting on the train back to Brooklyn, blowing his eardrums out with some alt-rock playlist of Izzy’s to stay awake, that he realizes what Simon said.

Goodnight, love.

 


 

 

Alec stumbles blearily through the door to the apartment. Magnus is sitting in the high-backed armchair in the living room, wrapped in his fluffy black robe. His hair is lying flat on his head, for once, and he’s holding a thick book in his arms.

Magnus looks up at the sound of the door opening. His face splits into a grin. “Alexander! You’re back sooner than I expected. What happened? Is everything alright?”

Alec opens his mouth before closing it again. How the hell is he supposed to explain what happened when he doesn’t understand it himself?

Alec throws himself onto the couch- now overstuffed, white, and covered with pink throw pillows- and rattles off the story. Magnus listens intently, his elbows balanced on the book with his hands folded, his thumbs pressing against his lips.

When Alec finishes rambling, Magnus hums in consideration. “It’s about time.”

Alec’s eyebrows shoot into his hairline. “What does that mean?”

Magnus smirks.

“You’re not going to tell me, are you?”

He shrugs. “It depends.”

Alec climbs off the couch. He rips his jacket from his shoulders and throws it in the general direction of the closet.

“I’m going to make a pot of coffee,” he says, trudging over to the kitchen counter. “And then another pot of coffee. And then I’ll make one for you.”

“Wait,” Magnus says.

Alec turns, confused.

“It’s just that...I’ve had a brilliant idea.”

Alec drags his hands down his face. “By the Angel.”

Magnus places his book on the floor, stands from his chair, and waves his hands in what Alec now knows is an intentionally theatrical fashion. The book closes itself and flies back to its place on the bookshelf. All the furniture lifts from the floor and flies to various corners of the house. The rug nearly hits Alec in the face on its way to the kitchen.

“Sorry!”

Once everything has stopped moving, Alec shoots Magnus an unimpressed look.

“What is it?”

A sly smile spreads itself across Magnus’s face. “Sheldon, of all people, put me in a musical mood.”

Despite himself, Alec grins when Magnus gets Simon’s name wrong on purpose. “What do you mean?”

“I’m going to teach you how to dance.”

“No.” Alec tries to step away, but Magnus grabs his wrist. “No way.”

Magnus just keeps smiling.

“It’s, like, four in the morning!” Alec protests.

“Five-thirty. It’s too late to go back to sleep, but much too early to do anything that requires real clothes.”

It’s true. Alec’s mind is too full to sleep, anyway.

But Alec’s still wired to flinch every time he hears the word “dance” in the same sentence as "teach." It plunges him back into nauseating memories of arms held upright at sharp angles. Knobbly elbows banging together. Sweaty palms glued together in the air. The thin-lipped instructor from Idris smiling fiendishly at the gaggle of kids as she barked instructions. All the other boys spending the whole time pressed up against the girls, trying to cop a feel.

Needless to say, it wasn’t a very pleasant experience for Alec.

But now, in their living room, sunlight is just beginning to stream through the windows. Magnus tilts his head, his lower lip jutting out and his eyebrows raised.

Alec sighs. There’s no persuading Magnus when he really wants something. “Come on! You got me to try Ethiopian food, like, two nights ago. Isn’t that enough adventure for at least a week?”

“There’s never enough adventure, Alexander,” Magnus says gleefully.

But Alec must let some of his insecurity and panic bleed through to the expression on his face, because Magnus’s eyes soften. He steps forward and takes Alec’s hands in his own. Alec can’t pretend not to be mesmerized by how Magnus’s thumb swipes rhythmically across his wrist.

“We don’t have to if you don’t want to,” Magnus says quietly. “But I think it would be fun.”

Alec stares at him.

“And,” Magnus adds, “there’s bound to be a wedding soon. For someone, I’m sure. You’ll need the skills.”

Alec finally lets himself smile. “Yeah, I’m sure your interests are purely selfless. All for the greater good. Not self-serving at all.”

Magnus beams.

He steps away and waves his hand in a flourish at the far wall. An old fashioned record player appears on the table next to the windowsill (with one of those funnel horns and everything, really?).

Magnus squints at him. “What should I play?”

Alec considers it. He’s honestly the worst person to ask this sort of question, but…

“Something that makes you happy,” Alec says.

Magnus blinks in surprise. But after a moment, he snaps his fingers again, and a large, pink album appears in his hands. Édith Piaf, it says.

He strides over to the record player and gently slides the record out of its rose-colored sheath. Magnus places it reverently in its place of honor and lifts the needle, taking the time to press it exactly where he wants it before stepping away.

He could have done all that with magic, Alec knows. But Magnus told him once that he finds pleasure in the simple things. Sandalwood shampoo. Writing with a real, wooden fountain pen. A kiss after a long day. Placing a needle on a record.

The record player crackles to life.

What are those, violins?

Something about the way it sounds tells Alec that this isn’t some two-bit record Magnus bought from an antiques shop. This is a record Magnus has had since it was new.

Everyone playing instruments on this record is, most likely, dead now. For some reason, that doesn’t bother Alec as much as he thought it would.

Magnus must have maintained it magically, somehow, because it sounds nothing like the staticky music in  old movies. It sounds real. Relevant. And so full of love that Alec’s getting a little choked up thinking about it.

A woman begins to sing in rapid-fire French.

 

“Des yeux qui font baisser les miens,

Un rire qui se perd sur sa bouche…”

 

Alec catches only a few words. Eyes. Laugh. Lips.

 

“Voilà le portrait sans retouche…”

 

He frowns. Sure, the woman is holding the last syllable of each line so it sounds like a musical note, but this song doesn’t really have a beat to dance to.

Like he can read Alec’s mind, Magnus shakes his head. “Just wait.”

Alec waits, ready to open his mouth and complain. But all of a sudden, the music swells, and…

Oh.

Magnus holds out his hand, and Alec stares at it.

In Idris, Alec always kept his hand on his partner’s shoulder blades, eyes downcast. The teacher’s instructions had always been the only thing he allowed himself to think about.

This, though- this is different.

Alec doesn’t know how to dance with someone he actually likes, much less someone he…

Someone he loves.

To music that sounds like this.

Just as Magnus’s face begins to fall, Alec takes his hand.

Magnus will show him how.

But when Magnus pulls him close, Alec freezes again.

Which one of them is going to be the girl? He guesses it would make sense for him to be, since Magnus is just slightly taller. But does that mean Magnus’s hand is going to stay on his shoulder blades the whole time? He doesn’t want that.

“Stop worrying,” Magnus says.

Alec barks a laugh. “I’m not.”

Magnus raises an eyebrow, a smile playing on his lips. “Yes, you are. But you shouldn’t. This’ll be fun.”

“But- oh.”

Magnus takes Alec’s free hand and places it just above his waist. Not too low, but not too high, either.

Out of habit, Alec’s sticking his elbow out like an idiot. Magnus gently pulls it down and takes another step towards him, so they’re practically touching.

Dancing was never like this.

Magnus starts to lead him in a simple box step, timed to the rise and fall of the music. It’s weird, being the one led in dancing instead of the one doing the leading. But Alec thinks he likes it.

Alec matches him step for step, and Magnus raises his eyebrows again, quizzically this time.

“I may have taken dance lessons as a kid,” Alec mumbles.

A slow grin spreads itself out on Magnus’s face. He turns them every few steps, so instead of just moving in the same patch of floor, they’re spinning around the room. It’s dizzying, but Alec doesn’t think his lightheadedness is from the turns.

 

“Il est entré dans mon coeur

Une part de bonheur

Dont je connais la cause…”

 

“You know,” Alec realizes, still moving, “this really isn’t fair. You know French.”

“Well, I suppose I’ll have to translate, then.”

Magnus leans closer until their faces are right next to each other, side by side. With the slight inch Magnus has on Alec, his mouth comes up right against the top of Alec’s ear. He doesn’t even have to lean down for Alec to hear him sing.

 

“When you kiss me, heaven sighs,

And though I close my eyes,

I see life in pink...”

 

Alec lets his eyes drift closed.

“There’s no way the literal translation also rhymes in English,” Alec mumbles.

“Hush.”

Alec thinks Magnus’s eyes are closed now, too.

 

“When you press me to your heart

I’m in a world apart

A world where roses bloom…”

 

Magnus’s singing voice is deeper than Alec would’ve thought. It’s barely a murmur, a whisper of what Magnus could sound like if he wasn’t trying not to drown out the sound of the record.

Isn’t it stereotypical to call a voice “husky”?

Alec remembers Isabelle bursting into his room one night, laughing like a maniac. “Look!” she said between cackles, shoving a book under his nose. “Isn’t that the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever seen?”

His voice is warm and husky like dark chocolate fudge caramel...or something, it read.

But with every inch of their bodies touching, with Magnus’s breath warm and comforting against his face, there’s really no other way to describe it.

Alec drifts out of his thoughts. At some point, Magnus stopped singing.

“What are you thinking about?” Magnus asks softly. They're still pressed together, their dancing reduced to tiny sways from side to side.

“Chocolate,” Alec blurts against Magnus’s neck.

Magnus laughs in surprise. It makes the muscles in his shoulder shift and tense under Alec’s hand. “I’m trying to woo you here, you know. And much less importantly, refresh your dancing skills.”

Heat blooms high on Alec’s cheeks. He turns to bury his face in Magnus’s neck to hide it, but Magnus must be able to feel his grin. Magnus simply laughs again and holds him tighter.

 

“And when you speak,

Angels sing from above.

Everyday words seem

To turn into love songs…”

 

The song has turned instrumental now, but Magnus hasn’t moved away.

“I’m kind of curious,” Alec says. “What do you think was going on with Jace and Simon?”

For a second, Alec is terrified that Magnus’ll be angry at him. For changing the subject. For ruining the mood.

But, of course, he isn’t.

Alec has read a lot of books. He’s watched Izzy and Jace hook up with countless people in bars, fall in love more than once, and get their hearts shattered into pieces. But what no one ever told him, what he never saw in any of the relationships he’d witnessed, was how comfortable it was to be in love with someone. Alec could talk to Magnus about anything. He wouldn’t get mad, or roll his eyes in disinterest, or tell Alec he was being silly. Magnus would actually listen to what Alec had to say, no matter what it was. And every time it happened, Alec was surprised.

Just like he always does, Magnus hums, considering Alec’s question.

“You know,” he says, after a long moment, “there’s this famous quote from a man named Richard Siken. He’s a phenomenal queer poet. His writings are…” Magnus shakes his head, overwhelmed. He clears his throat. “Well. Definitely worth a read. But this line of his has always made me think.”

Alec’s eyebrows quirk up. “What’s it say?”

“‘I sleep. I dream. I make up things I would never say. I say them very quietly.’”

Alec lets the words roll around in his mind for a minute. “So...Simon doesn’t actually hate Jace, after all this? He’s just too stupid to admit that he wants to be friends when both of them are awake?”

Magnus pauses. Alec can feel his smile against his cheek. “Something like that.”

The song has finally stopped playing. The record’s still turning, though. The faint static coming from the speakers feels like a warm blanket wrapped around Alec’s shoulders. They’re still dancing. It’s really just holding each other while standing awkwardly in the middle of the room. But Alec never wants to do any other kind of dancing again.

Even so, it's been far too long since he’s looked at Magnus’s face.

Alec pulls away just far enough to look him in the eyes. “You know what all this dancing has made me want?”

The skin around Magnus’s eyes crinkles with amusement. “Chocolate?”

Alec’s confused for a minute. Then he remembers, and his chest tightens with embarrassment. Husky voice indeed.

Alec shakes his head. The grin on his face is starting to hurt, but he finds that he doesn’t particularly mind. Something about this night has made him feel giddy, almost drunk with how little he cares about what he’s supposed to be doing. “No. Something sweeter.”

Magnus’s eyes widen to the size of saucers when he realizes.

“Alexander Lightwood,” he breathes, the look on his face something akin to awe. “Are you flirting with me?”

“I’m sure it’s just the sleep deprivation,” Alec says. But when Magnus kisses him, slow and deep, he’s still smiling.

Chapter Text

The two of them are out on patrol, and the night is quiet.

That wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for any other part of the world. But in New York, silence is much more troubling than noise.

The shouts of people walking down the street drunk off their asses, the incessant blaring of car horns, the constant chatter flitting through alleyways and curving around street lights - Alec knows these sounds better than anything. But tonight, the soft onslaught of rain against the pavement drowns out the hum of life and fills Alec’s ears with white noise.

He and Jace are on the roof of an apartment building in Hell’s Kitchen. The mundanes built a concrete wall around the edge, about three feet high. Perfect for keeping little kids from falling to their deaths, and for sitting on top of.

A collapsible awning over this end of the roof keeps the rain off their heads. It slides to the ground inches from their faces, splattering against their boots.

They’ve been perched on this little wall for the better part of two hours, surveying the streets below. A couple of mundanes were murdered in this neighborhood over the past week: throats slashed, limbs missing, faces twisted in horror. It could just be particularly gruesome gang violence, but they still need to make sure.

Patrols around the city happen fairly often. It’s been a while, to be sure, after everything with Valentine, and everything with Sebastian after that. But still, to Alec, camping out on top of some building with Jace for hours is as familiar as breathing.

These moments used to be the best thing in his life. No sign of Izzy, or his parents, or whatever girl Jace happened to be sleeping with that week. Just the two of them against the world. These patrols had been Alec’s escape as a teenager. The one time he could be alone with Jace. Nothing ever happened, of course, but it was more than Alec thought he’d ever get. To sit alone with a beautiful boy, talking about anything and everything. To pretend, just for a minute, that everything was okay. That there was hope. That he could be happy.

Things are all so different now, but the fundamentals remain. The two of them, sitting on a roof, watching the streets, and talking. The difference is, this time, Alec’s furtive glances are directed at his phone. Instead of waiting for words of love that’ll never come, Alec has a man across the city waiting for him to come home.

Alec has his happy ending. But that doesn’t mean that he can’t spend time with the boy he still loves, albeit in a very different way.

Magnus thinks there’s something relaxing about the rain. He likes sitting on the couch during thunderstorms, a full mug of Daun Kopi tea in his hands and a thick blanket wrapped around his shoulders. On those nights, they sit in comfortable silence, huddled up against each other, watching lightning flash outside the windows and listening to the water pound against the sides of the building.

Like Alec somehow summoned Magnus through sheer willpower, his phone buzzes in his pocket.

Your favorite person in the world!! : Missing my warmest blanket.

He’s sent a photo, too. He’s sitting on the couch, just as Alec imagined him, his sock-covered feet poking out from under the handwoven blanket he bought in Florence. His favorite blanket. Alec can’t even lay under it with him, because of how well it traps in heat - it’s like being in a sauna. So what did Magnus mean when he said…?

It hits Alec after a second. He smiles so hard that his face hurts.

Jace bumps him with his shoulder, a little too hard to be joking. “You know, we are supposed to be keeping lookout.”

Alec bumps him right back. “Like you haven’t been daydreaming about Clary for the past hour.”

A strangely unreadable look crosses Jace’s face.

“I’m serious,” Jace snaps. “We’re working. You can’t let emotions get in the way of that.”

Alec knows Jace well enough to tell that something is off.

Jace loves patrols. He’s always itching for a fight. Times like this give him the opportunity to show off his skills, and, of course, regale Alec with excruciatingly detailed stories about Clary.

But he’s been quiet tonight. The only thing he’s done is snap at Alec for texting Magnus. Or daydreaming. Or breathing too loudly.

“What’s going on?” Alec asks.

Jace shoots him a glare before turning back to face the street.

“Did something happen with Clary?”

“This isn’t about her,” Jace says evasively. “And since when do we talk about this kind of thing, anyway?”

Alec raises an eyebrow. “You haven’t even told me what we’re talking about.”

Jace clicks his tongue in impatience. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out something small enough to be covered by the width of his hand in the darkness.

It’s a pack of cigarettes.

He flips open the pack and pulls a cigarette to his lips. A bright orange lighter appears in his hand, and he flicks it open. The harsh, sudden light makes Alec’s pupils contract painfully. Jace brings it to the tip of the cigarette until it glows, cupping his hand around the flame to keep the night air from blowing it out.

If Alec wasn’t worried before, he definitely is now.

“Since when do you smoke?” Alec asks.

Jace laughs. A puff of smoke follows the sound out of his mouth. “They’re not real cigarettes, Alec. They’re made out of cloves.”

Alec scrunches his face up in distaste. “I don’t care if they’re made out of coconuts, Jace. You shouldn’t be smoking. What happens if we have to fight, and you’re too busy hacking up a lung to aim properly?”

Jace rolls his eyes. “Sorry, mom.” He doesn’t sound sorry in the slightest.

It takes an impressive amount of willpower for Alec not to smack the damn cigarette out of his hand.

Jace takes another drag and blows the smoke out of his mouth in puffs that dissipate into the rain. From the shape of his mouth, he’s trying to make the smoke turn into rings.

Alec looks away.

The streets are empty, as they have been all night.

It always used to confuse Alec that Magnus likes the rain so much, seeing as he’s absolutely terrified of being underwater. But Magnus says that there’s something about being so close to the thing you fear without being hurt. Rain makes him feel safe, he says, because he knows that he’s in control. He’s not a little boy anymore.

“You had a crush on me,” Jace says, and Alec nearly jumps out of his skin.

Alec pauses for a moment, looking Jace up and down. He seems tense, but his expression is open and honest. Alec’s not being teased right now.

“Yeah?”

Jace’s eyes are cast downward at the street below. The dim glare of the streetlights bounces off his eyes, turning the gold there to a sallow, dull yellow.

“What’s it like? Liking guys, instead of girls? Is it different?”

Would Alec survive throwing himself off the roof to avoid this conversation? Unfortunately, even if he did, Jace would probably just bring it up again later. The universe often conspired to make Alec suffer as much as possible.

“Well I wouldn’t know, Jace,” Alec says. “Seeing as I don’t know what it’s like to be attracted to women.”

He’s doing his best to go for a tone of sarcastic nonchalance instead of complete and utter panic. Judging by the way Jace’s brow furrows even further, it’s working.

“But you, when you were…” Jace makes a broad, expansive gesture. When Alec blinks, he can still see the path the glowing tip of the cigarette made in the air. “Were you in love with me? Like, love -love? Like me and Clary love?”

Alec tips his head up to the sky. There are no stars out tonight.

There never are, in the city. All the constellations in New York fell to Earth long ago.

He sucks his lower lip into his mouth and lets it go with a soft smack. “No.”

Jace is silent for a moment. “That’s it?”

Alec’s heart seizes in his chest. When Jace said that, just for a second, he sounded fourteen again.

Alec leans forward and snatches the cigarette out of Jace’s hand, ignoring his squawk of protest. Magnus will kill him for it, but he needs something to calm him down if he’s going to say this. Alec pulls it to his lips and takes a long, slow drag.

It tastes horrible. He can’t stop himself from wincing. But there’s something soothing about seeing the smoke curl in the air when he blows it away.

Alec watches the tip of the cigarette glow a deep bronze. “It was...it was complicated. You were the first guy who was my age, who I wasn’t related to, that I was allowed to love. And I think I was just so excited about it that I got carried away. You were the only person it was safe for me to like, because no one would notice if I stuck to you like glue, and there was no way I’d slip up and tell you by accident.”

Alec turns to look at Jace. His eyes are wide, his mouth hanging open, like Alec just whacked him in the head with something heavy.

“You were totally right about the whole thing, before,” Alec continues. “It was honestly just because you were there while I was figuring all my stuff out.”

Jace only looks more confused. “Right. Thanks.”

Alec checks his phone. No new messages from Magnus. Only one more hour until Izzy and Clary show up for their shift. He can do this for an hour. As long as Jace doesn’t say another word, he’ll be fine.

But, of course, Jace isn’t done.

“How did you know, though? That you were...that you liked guys.”

Alec feels a twinge of annoyance. Is it really that hard to say “gay”? He knows he’s a total hypocrite, that it took him years to feel comfortable enough to even think that word. But Jace has always felt secure in his sexuality. Who gave him the right to feel insecure about Alec’s ?

Alec lets the cigarette drop from his fingers. It tumbles to the ground below, quickly extinguished by the rain.

“Hey!” Jace protests.

Alec ignores him.

“How did you know that you like girls?” Alec asks carefully.

Jace seems stumped by this. He blinks, slowly, and chews on the inside of his cheek.

“I just did?”

Alec shrugs his shoulders. No shit.

Jace’s face scrunches up in annoyance. Alec can’t force his grin down fast enough- he looks exactly like that picture of a grumpy cat that Magnus showed him the other day.

But he looks so confused that Alec decides to take pity on him. “Clary has a laptop, right?”

“...Yes?”

“There’s this thing called ‘YouTube,’” Alec explains. “It’s a website that has a lot of really interesting videos from queer people that live all over the world. As much as Dad wants to believe it, I’m not actually the only gay person in the universe. Look it up. Seriously.”

Jace scoffs. “I’m not…I’m not going to watch a bunch of mundanes talk about their love lives. This was a parabatai bonding moment. A wholesome interaction meant to convey the profound depth of my brotherly fondness and concern.”

“Whatever it takes for you to stop acting like an ass.”

Alec nearly does fall off the roof this time when Jace shoves him. But Jace is smiling for the first time tonight, and some of the tension seems to have drained out of his shoulders. Alec would gladly almost fall off a roof for that.

 


 

Last night we said a great many things. You said I was to do the thinking for both of us. Well, I've done a lot of it since then, and it all adds up to one thing: you're getting on that plane with Victor where you belong.”

But, Richard, no, I… I…”

Now, you've got to listen to me! You have any idea what you'd have to look forward to if you stayed here? Nine chances out of ten, we'd both wind up in a concentration camp. Isn't that true, Louie?”

I'm afraid Major Strasser would insist.”

Alec’s curled up on Magnus’s chest, with his feet hanging off the end of the couch. Magnus put a black-and-white movie on low- it’s one from his long list of mundane films that Alec just has to see if he’s going to be a fully-functional adult.

Alec hasn’t paid much attention to the movie. He doesn’t think Magnus minds.

They’d spent most of the time since Alec got home trading slow, warm kisses, just because they could, until they were both too tired to keep going. Right now, they’re in that peaceful nothing-place between wakefulness and sleep. The movie’s still playing, somewhere in the background, but Alec finds himself perfectly content to listen to the sound of Magnus’s heart beating. It’s comforting, somehow, this constant reminder that Magnus is alive. That both of them are alive, and able to be together like this.

But for some reason, even as Magnus’s breath slows, Alec can’t relax. He’s still replaying his conversation with Jace in his head, over and over again.

“You know,” Alec whispers into the thick blanket of silence that’s settled around them, “Jace was acting weird tonight.”

Magnus hums. “Weird like he’s Jace and he’s always weird, or weird er ?”

Alec pokes him gently in the side. “I’m serious. I think there’s something going on.”

Magnus groans. “Alright, I’m up. Please keep in mind that a few of the key phrases banging around in my head right now are heavenly fire, mind control, and Valentine.

Alec scrambles up. He has to shove Magnus’s legs aside, but he settles into a sitting position at the other end of the couch. “By the Angel, it’s nothing like that.”

Magnus slumps, relieved. He drags a hand down his face, smearing his already ruined eyeliner. “I’m getting too old for this.”

Alec scratches the back of his neck. “He was just asking me all these weird personal questions? Like, about...you know.”

Magnus raises a brow. “What? Sex?”

“No!” Alec shouts, practically falling off the couch. “No. No, absolutely not.

Magnus stares at him before dissolving into laughter. Alec pouts.

“I’m sorry,” Magnus says, trying to school his features back to normal. “I’m sorry, you’re just such a brilliant shade of red.”

Alec tsks at him. “He kept asking, like, how I knew I liked guys, and if it’s ‘different’ liking guys? I don’t know.”

Magnus's expression turns thoughtful.

“Do you think he…” Magnus trails off suggestively.

“What?”

Magnus hesitates.

“Come on, you’re starting to freak me out.”

“Have you considered the idea that Jace might not be straight?”

Alec’s thought processes have suddenly been replaced by a dull, fuzzy static. “Jace is the straightest person to ever walk the Earth. If anyone would know, it’d be me.”

Magnus looks at him again, really looks at him, and Alec feels like he must be missing something.

“...Right?”

Magnus grimaces. “Honey, you did think Helen and Aline hated each other on sight.”

Alec opens his mouth to protest, but closes it again. To be perfectly fair, he had been distracted at the time with trying to prove that Magnus hadn’t founded a demon worshipping cult. But Alec has to admit that he’s the worst when it comes to reading people.

But Helen and Aline are one thing. Jace? Jace is entirely different.

There’s no way that Jace isn’t straight. It’s just not possible.

“Why now, then?” Alec manages. “I mean, if he was…” Alec makes a vague, mildly panicked gesture. “ You know ...then wouldn’t he have known about it years ago, like I did? Why would he have dated so many girls?”

Magnus purses his lips in concentration. “He might not have necessarily known as a child. And he might not be just attracted to men.”

The static in Alec’s head intensifies to a high-pitched whine.

“This is the first time in a while,” Magnus continues, “that things have been relatively normal. I mean, you’re still roaming the streets, picking fights with demons at all hours of the night…”

Alec gets a poke in the side for that one. His whole body cringes away and he pushes Magnus’s hand back into his lap, but it does make him smile.

“But that’s about as normal as it gets, especially for people like Jace. Maybe he’s finally had time to think about things.”

All the gears in Alec’s brain start working again. Before he can even think about what Magnus just said, a terrible thought occurs to him. All the warmth seems to have been sucked out of the room at once. Alec wants to draw the blanket tighter around his shoulders, but he can’t get his hands to move.

“You don’t think…” he starts, vaguely aware of how much his voice is shaking, “Could I have made him...”

Magnus’s eyes widen in alarm. The small part of Alec’s brain not drowning in anxiety feels like laughing. Of course Magnus knows what’s going through his head, even before he says it.

“Alexander.”

A sharp pain cuts through Alec’s chest, like there’s a live wire running under his skin. He throws himself off the couch and starts to pace up and down the room. He can feel Magnus’s sad gaze burning into his skin. “What if my feelings for him screwed up the bond, and- and some of it bled through? I feel what he’s feeling all the time. What if that goes through as well?”

“I’ve seen many parabatai bonds,” Magnus starts quietly, like he’s talking to a frightened child. “Sure, some of them have been a bit more problematic than others, but Alec. That’s not how it works. If Jace isn’t straight, it has nothing to do with you. You can’t turn someone gay, or bi, or anything. That’s just who they are.”

Alec shakes his head violently. “You don’t know that.”

“So you think that if Jace had tried hard enough, he could’ve made you like women the way he does?”

That makes Alec stop in his tracks.

For a second, he tries to imagine it.

He can’t.

“No,” Alec chokes out. “No way.”

“So this is about you thinking that there’s something wrong with being gay. That you’ve messed up somehow. That you’ve decided to be gay just to ruin Jace’s life.” None of it is a question.

Alec crosses the room and settles back against Magnus’s side with minimal amounts of sighing. “Well, when you put it like that, it sounds naïve. And stupid.”

Magnus’s fingers begin to comb through his hair. He tilts his head into the touch and lets his eyes slip closed.

“You’re neither of those things, Alexander,” Magnus murmurs. “You’re just worried about your brother. And, God help me, you’re insufferably selfless. You like to take on any burden you can, even when it’s not yours to bear.”

A deep rumble of thunder shudders through the window. Alec takes a deep breath and lets himself savor it.

Chapter Text

Heat is far too broad a word.

There’s the quick burst of a fire on the stove. The lazy embrace of the sun after a long swim in an icy pool. The intoxicating burn in the moment before you kiss someone, that only gets hotter and more dizzying once your lips touch.

The July heat in New York City, though- there should be another word for that.

Alec brushes his hair impatiently off his forehead for what feels like the millionth time this afternoon.

There’s no way all this sticky, oppressive weather comes from just the sun. It seems like the kind of rotted thing that would seep out of subway grates and the exhaust pipes of trucks. A living, evil haze that’s trying to strangle all the creatures on the surface.

Alec’s not in bad shape. He’s got muscles. He’s used to physical activity. But the four blocks between Magnus’s apartment and the train station suddenly seem like the greatest obstacle he’s ever faced. His skin is cool to the touch, somehow, but he feels like his entire body is encased in moist plastic wrap.

It’s like he’s trudging through soup.

Alec turns the last corner and almost deflates with relief when he sees the train station at the end of the block. The G train almost always has functioning air conditioners.

He can’t help but jog down the block in his enthusiasm, even though it’s just making the heat worse.

He’s almost there. Angel, there’s really nothing like walking into a cool room after being in disgusting, humid weather. It’s like the first breath you take after breaking the surface.

Alec has his foot on the first step that leads down to the train when someone screams.

“Dios mío, ¿qué te pasó?”

Really?

He turns around and heads back the way he came. There’s no one else out- not that he can blame them. No one in their right mind would be walking down the block in this weather.

Alec freezes next to a gap in between two buildings.

There’s a man sprawled on the ground. Mundane, from the looks of it. There’s no injuries that Alec can see, but his legs are bent at an odd angle underneath his body, like he collapsed.  He’s sobbing, and the sounds echo off the walls of the buildings around him.

Alec scans the alleyway. There’s no one else here.

“Liliana, no me dejes. Solo agárrate, por favor…”

He’s young, around twenty-five. He’s dressed in a black tank top and cargo shorts, with curling brown hair that reaches his jawline. His hands are reaching out to something in front of him. The fingers of his right hand are stroking something Alec can’t see, curved like he’s holding something in his hand.

If Alec didn’t know better, he’d say that the man was comforting another person.

"Lili, por favor, no puedo vivir sin ti. Yo no sé cómo.”

He ducks down into a crouch right next to the mundane. He’s still sobbing, pleading with thin air.

Alec can’t help but feel intensely uncomfortable. This is Izzy and Jace’s job. They’re the ones who deal head-on with the problem- Alec’s the one who guards their backs. That’s the way it is. That’s the way it’s always been.

But Alec’s alone, now. He could call one of them for backup, sure, but he doesn’t want to.

Alec turns on his phone’s flashlight and shines it directly into the mundane’s eyes. He doesn’t flinch. His pupils don’t contract. They’re so big that Alec can’t even tell what color his eyes are.

There’s no demon Alec’s ever heard of that can cause hallucinations this vivid. If it were a glamour, Alec would be able to see through it. Warlock spells and faerie drugs always leave a signature- a tang in the air or a shimmer on the skin.

It has to be drugs, then. Alec’s run into his fair share of junkies on the streets. The ones that are high on the major stuff- cocaine, LSD, ketamine, and Angel knows what else- their eyes all look like this.

Most shadowhunters would leave this man in the alley and go on their way. It’s technically not in their jurisdiction to deal with any problem not involving demons or downworlders. It’s none of their business.

Alec should leave. He should get on the train, go back to the Institute, and forget this ever happened.

But he just can’t.

Alec takes out his stele and takes away his glamour so the mundane can see him.

“You alright?” he asks.

The mundane nearly jumps out of his skin. Alec winces. He probably should have walked away before making himself visible. It’s definitely not helping this guy’s presence of mind that a heavily tattooed man just appeared next to him out of nowhere.

But despite obviously being able to register Alec’s presence, the man goes right back to talking to the sidewalk.

"Necesitamos casarnos, ¿verdad?” he sobs. “Todavía necesito pedirle…pedirle permiso a tu mamá. No puedes morir. No puedes morir antes de eso.”

Alec sighs. Without another word, he grabs hold of the man’s arm, yanks him to his feet, and begins to pull him toward the street.

The man strains against his grip, trying to drag himself back into the alleyway.

“¡Suéltame, maldito!” he screams, hitting at Alec’s arm. “¿No ves que ella está muriendo?”

Alec stops to try and look him in the eyes. He’s still craning his neck back toward the empty alley, using what must be all his strength to break out of Alec’s grip.

“Hey!” Alec yells.

The man turns to face him, wary.

Alec swallows nervously. Despite the drug-addled pupils, this man looks just like Jace did when they first met as kids: frantic, suspicious, and utterly broken.

“Let me take you to the hospital,” Alec pleads.

The man looks at him like he’s an idiot. “¿Parezco que hablo inglés, hijueputa?”

Shit.

“Uh...hospital?” Alec tries. “You need to see a, uh, el médico?  A doctor? I think you’ve taken more than you meant to.”

The man rips one of his arms out of Alec’s grip and punches him, hard. Pain explodes in Alec’s jaw. He stumbles backward, blinking away the popping lights clouding his vision.

The man spits at Alec’s feet. “¡Vete al infierno!”

Before Alec can grab him again, he darts back into the alley.

By the Angel. This is why Alec rarely deals with the mundanes they come across on missions. He’s fucking terrible at it.

Alec probes gingerly at his jaw with his fingertips, wincing. That’s going to be an excellent bruise.

There’s no way he’s going after that man again, but Alec doesn’t have it in him to leave the guy to his own devices. He pulls his phone out of his pocket and punches in the number for the police.

The phone rings four times before someone picks up.

Alec rubs at his eyes with his free hand. Why are mundanes all so slow?

“911, what is the nature of your emergency?”

“Yeah, I’m at an alley on…” Alec turns to face the corner, squinting at the street sign. “Manhattan avenue, in Greenpoint? Right between Huron and India. There’s a guy here, I think he might be on some serious drugs. He seems really out of it.”

“Can I have your name, please?”

Alec hangs up the phone. They’ll send an ambulance anyway. There’s no need for him to get even more mixed up with mundanes that don’t think he exists.

Alec looks up at the sky. The sun is finally setting.

It’s time to go home.

 


 

“Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to sit down, untie the shoe, and then take it off?”

When Alec walks through the door of the Institute, Izzy’s standing right next to it, one hand on the wall. She’s trying to force her foot out of a tightly laced boot by hopping up and down, and it’s not working.

Isabelle sticks her tongue out at him. “Shut up. I just got my acrylics done, and these laces are a bitch to undo when I have full use of my fingers.”

She yanks her foot out of the boot with a grunt. Her hair falls on top of her face with the motion, and she hastily flips it back. She makes a disgusted expression as she pulls away the strands stuck to her lipstick.

“Why aren’t you at Magnus’s?” she asks, starting on the other shoe.

Alec shrugs. “No reason.”

Isabelle scoffs at him.

“Okay, he might have gotten a last-minute client that needs him to work late,” Alec admits. “I’m gonna sleep here, though. I was supposed to head back there once he finished, but I’m really just exhausted.”

Isabelle finally gets her other shoe off. She stands up straight and looks at him head-on for the first time since he walked in.

“You look like shit.”

Alec rolls his eyes. “You always say the nicest things.”

She squints at him. "What happened to your jaw?"

"It was an accident."

He starts to head towards his room, but Isabelle grabs his arm.

“Seriously, what's wrong?”

“I’m fine, Iz.”

Her eyes go wide. Her fingernails dig into Alec’s arm. “Is it Dad? Is he back from Idris? Did he say something about-”

“No,” Alec interrupts. “It has nothing to do with him. I just ran into a mundane junkie on the way here. I called an ambulance, and he’ll be fine. It just sucked.”

Her expression softens. “That was nice of you.”

“Anyone else would’ve done the same.”

Isabelle frowns. Her hand falls back to her side.

Her expression brightens. She claps her hands together, her scarlet nails glinting in the light. “Alright. I’ll meet you upstairs. I know where Mom keeps the imported vodka.”

Alec’s eyebrows shoot up into his hairline. “By the Angel, Izzy, I just want to go to sleep.”

She shakes her head, grinning. “You need a drink.”

Isabelle runs off toward the kitchen, nearly slipping on the wooden floors in her socks.

“Don’t worry!” she calls. “It’ll be fun!”

 


 

Alec’s barely been in his room for five minutes before the door bangs open.

Alec sighs. “Izzy, I told you I didn’t-”

Alec blinks. It’s not Isabelle in the doorway.

“Hey,” Jace says. He’s leaning against the doorway, a pillow under his arm. “Izzy said we were having a sleepover?”

“Uh, actually…” The words die in his throat. He’s never been good at saying no to Jace. And tonight, for some reason, he looks different. Softer. Alec can’t quite put his finger on why.

His eyes fall to Jace’s chest, and he can’t help but grin. “What in the world are you wearing?”

It’s a hoodie. Alec doesn’t think he’s seen Jace wear a hoodie in his entire life. Jace doesn’t wear sweatshirts. He’s all leather and v-necks and sharp edges. That’s just the way it is.

Something’s different, tonight.

On his hoodie, there's a picture of two...not swords, exactly. They look a little like ōdachis, but Alec’s pretty sure ancient samurai warriors didn’t carry weapons that glowed in primary colors. They’re more like elongated flashlights, in all honesty, crossed underneath letters reading “MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU.”

Color blooms high on Jace’s cheeks. “A hoodie.”

“Whose?”

“Uh, it’s- it’s Clary’s. It’s from some mundane movie she likes.”

Jace’s smirk returns in full force, and Alec wonders whether he imagined the caged look on his face just a second ago. “I know, it’s kind of nerdy. You can make fun of me all you want. But she likes it, so who am I to turn down a perfectly comfortable item of clothing?”

If this were anyone else, Alec would’ve dropped it. But he knows Jace far too well.

“That sweatshirt fits you.”

Jace takes his hands out of his pockets and starts cracking his knuckles. Alec would tell him to stop (the popping noise is really not helping him avoid sensory overload), but he knows Jace’ll just keep doing it anyway.

“...Yeah?” Jace draws the word out slowly, but his voice cracks at the end.

“Clary’s half your size. She’d be drowning in that.”

“She buys her hoodies big,” Jace says. It sounds like a question. “Because I like to wear them.”

Alec nods. Whatever’s going on, he’ll find out sooner or later.

“I got the vodka!” Isabelle sing-songs from the other end of the hall.

Jace hurries into Alec’s room so he won’t get mowed down. He grabs a blanket from Alec’s bed and wraps it around his shoulders like a cape. He makes himself comfortable on the floor, chucking his pillow behind him.

It’s not just Izzy in the doorway. Simon and Clary are both standing there behind her, arms filled with junk food and six-packs of beer.

Alec’s already shaking his head. “Okay, no. No way.”

“Come on!” Isabelle pouts.

“Iz! I didn’t even agree to just you . What made you think I’d be okay with everyone we know crowding into my room?”

Izzy frowns. “It’s not everyone we know. Magnus isn’t here. And neither is-”

Alec throws himself face down onto his bed and groans.

“You’re a lot like a Disney princess,” says Simon.

Alec turns to shoot him his fiercest glare. He doesn’t look the least bit apologetic.

“You know,” he continues, “like how the first thing Belle does after being imprisoned by the Beast for the rest of her life is throw herself dramatically down onto her bed instead of, like, trying to figure out how to escape, or doing anything that’s actually productive? That’s more institutionalized misogyny in the Disney corporation itself that anything else, but...”

Alec glares at Isabelle instead as Simon continues to babble. She has the decency to look slightly uncomfortable before kissing Simon on the cheek to shut him up. Jace makes a retching noise.

“Do you have to do that in public?”

“Just because you’re emotionally stunted doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t enjoy ourselves,” Izzy says sweetly.

The three of them shuffle into the room. Izzy curls up at the foot of Alec’s bed like a cat and starts to lay out all the alcohol she brought. Clary raises an eyebrow at Jace’s hoodie, but says nothing. Simon sits down on the floor next to her, takes one look at Jace, and bursts into laughter.

“What?” Jace asks, crossing his arms defensively.

“Why are you wearing my Star Wars hoodie?”

Jace’s eyes go wide. “This is Clary’s!”

“It’s definitely not,” Clary mutters.

Simon raises an eyebrow. “That wouldn’t fit Clary in a million years.”

“That’s what I said!” Alec exclaims.

Jace ignores him.

“It was in my room! I thought Clary must’ve left it there.”

“It was definitely not in your room,” grins Simon. “It’s nice to see someone loves me, though.”

Jace abruptly stands up. He goes over to Alec’s bed, grabs a pillow, and whacks Simon in the head with it.

“Hey!” Simon complains, picking his glasses back up off the floor and wiping them off.

Jace throws himself back down on the floor. He burrows far down into the hoodie until only his eyes and his mop of golden hair are peeking out.

“It’s mine now,” he says, his voice muffled. “You’re never getting it back.”

“You’re not telling me that you’ve developed a sudden affinity for Star Wars overnight.”

Jace pokes his head back out of the hoodie so Simon can receive the full strength of his scowl. Simon rolls his eyes.

“No,” Jace huffs, “I’m keeping it on because you don’t want me to.”

He sinks back down into it and mumbles something else. Alec thinks he’s the only one that can hear it, since he’s sitting right next to Jace. “Also, it’s soft.”

The four of them continue to bicker, and Alec just lets himself watch.

It’s rare that they all hang out together like this, without Magnus. But Alec has to say that there’s something he misses about having his siblings all pile up in his bedroom for a night of acting like idiots. Sure, there’s the addition of the scraggly redhead and her no-longer-bloodsucking companion, but still.

Without Magnus here, Alec almost feels like a fly on the wall. Tonight, he has the rare chance to completely remove himself from the situation. He can just slink back into the shadows and observe everyone.

It used to be something he’d do as a way to deal with everything. Izzy and Jace tell him that he’d get this glazed look on his face in the middle of conversations. His head would tilt to the side, and he’d chew at his lip- sometimes until he drew blood, totally without realizing it.

They’d ask him what he was thinking about. He wouldn’t be able to answer.

But Alec…he doesn’t want to sound cheesy, but he likes his life now. He wants to be present, to spend his time with all the people he loves. But sometimes, especially after hard days like this one, Alec takes some pleasure in being able to disappear. He’s sitting, silently, but he’s not being pulled into thinking about nothing. He’s choosing to watch. It doesn’t seem like much, but to him, it’s all the difference in the world.

And anyway, their occasional sleepovers had been one of the only parts of his childhood that he actually enjoyed. He likes being able to bask in that feeling again. Alec never had much of a role in the whole “having fun” part of it, but he always felt a sense of pride that his siblings chose his room to escape to.

It was even better once Max was old enough to join in. Max would always be the one to-

No.

Alec doesn’t allow himself to think about Max.

But Alec’s eyes drift across the room to Simon, gesturing animatedly as he tells a story, and he just can’t stop himself. Alec’s whole body aches, sometimes, with how much Simon reminds him of Max.

It’s not just the glasses, or the mess of brown hair, or the way he doesn’t seem comfortable in his own skin. It’s the little obsessions he has. The way his eyes light up with wonder at some movie about superheroes, or some Japanese comic book that you have to read back to front. The way he pouts slightly whenever he gets left out of conversations. The way he’s still glaring at Jace for taking one of his hoodies.

At least there’s one difference between Simon and Max. Max always looked at Jace like he hung the moon; Jace was his hero. Simon’s never looked at Jace with anything more positive than reluctant toleration.

Izzy elbows him in the side as Simon and Jace continue to insult each other.

You okay? she mouths.

Alec lets a small smile rise to the surface. Yeah, he mouths back.

He’s not a little boy anymore.

Izzy cuts Jace off in the middle of a retort. “Guys! Alec had a shitty day. To rectify that, you all are going to keep the mudslinging to a minimum, and we’re all going to drink. As much as possible.”

Alec grabs a beer, twists off the cap (Izzy got cheap beer with twist-off caps, really?), and downs half the bottle in one swallow. He needs to get spectacularly drunk tonight. “That works for me.”

Simon stands up and pulls three beers out of the pack. He hands one to Clary and silently slides the other over to Jace. He takes it with a bemused expression on his face. When he lifts it to take a drink, Alec notices that his hands are completely enveloped in the sleeves of Simon’s sweater. It makes him look a lot younger than he is.

“Izzy,” Alec mutters, “is there something going on here that I don’t know about?”

Isabelle just smiles at him. “Alec, the total tonnage of what I know that you don’t could stun a team of oxen in its tracks.”

“Oh my god!” Simon shrieks. The noise makes Jace nearly drop the bottle he’s holding. “You finally started watching The West Wing? You memorized a line from The West Wing?”

Isabelle shrugs. “I might have let it play in the background a few times.”

“Sorry, Jace,” Clary grins. “I know you’re in love with Simon and all, but I think your sister’s won him over. Nerdiness is his biggest turn-on.”

Simon chuckles at Clary’s antics. He pretends to swoon and falls into Izzy’s lap, his hand on his forehead like a damsel in distress. They’re both giggling.

“Seriously,” Simon jokes, “if you start watching Steven Universe, I might marry you on the spot.”

Jace throws the blanket off his shoulders and stomps out of the room.

Simon clambers off of Isabelle. His smile is completely gone. “What’s his deal?”

Alec’s not drunk enough for this.

“I’ll go bring him back,” Alec says, already getting off the bed. “We need more alcohol, anyway. A lot more.”

 


  

Alec finds Jace in the kitchen.

Jace is gripping the counter, head bowed. He’s clenching his hands so hard that his knuckles turn white.

“Hey,” Alec says.

Jace doesn’t turn, but he definitely knows Alec’s there.

“Are you upset about Simon and Izzy?”

“No,” Jace snaps. “Why would I be?”

Alec crosses over to him and leans his back against the counter, his arms folded over his chest. “I know how you feel.”

Jace whips his head around to Alec, an incredulous look on his face. “You do?”

“Don’t worry. If he suddenly becomes an asshole instead of just an idiot, I’ll help you beat him up.”

For a moment, Jace says nothing.

“She’s really serious about him, then?” he asks quietly.

Alec hums. “Yeah, I think so.”

A guarded expression crosses Jace’s face.

Alec can’t help but feel a little annoyed. Childishly, he feels like tonight’s his night to sulk. Jace isn’t even upset about anything, really- he’s just being overprotective when he knows full well that Isabelle can handle herself.

But Alec’s well accustomed to making Jace feel better about nothing.

“You know I walked in on them once?” he says. “They were going at it in my bedroom.”

Jace looks nauseated. “They…what?”

“That’s pretty much exactly how I felt,” Alec says, gesturing at Jace’s face with a grin.

Jace turns away from Alec and starts rummaging through the snack cabinet.

“You’re okay with it now, though?” he asks, an oddly stilted tone coloring his voice.

Alec scratches at the back of his neck. “Yeah, I mean, they seem really into each other. Izzy never stays with any of her hookups this long. She must really like him a lot. I’m happy for them.”

Izzy’s voice carries from the other room, startling them both. “Come back here, you idiots! And bring the cheese puffs!”

Jace and Alec share an exasperated look. Alec reaches over Jace’s shoulder, grabs the cheese puffs, and pulls a bottle of whiskey off the small liquor table for good measure.

“Coming!”

Chapter Text

Alec was having a perfectly normal afternoon.

He left Magnus’s apartment a few hours ago to head to the Institute. He got a cup of coffee at the Korean grocer on 14th Street, he picked up a small bouquet of peach-colored roses for Izzy’s room, and made it to the Institute with a skip in his step. It was lazy, slow day. He didn’t have anything to worry about.

So of course, as soon as he got to the Institute, all hell broke loose.

Right now, he’s walking down Prince street with Jace, dodging mundanes who are walking right in his path. Glamours are really a lot more trouble than they’re worth.

“It’s right here,” Jace says, glancing at his phone. “Prince and Wooster.”

The mundane police chatter had reported some unusual activity in this neighborhood. It’s probably nothing, but it’s their job to make sure.

Alec ducks around the building, pressing his back to the brick wall. At first glance, the dark alley reveals nothing.

His eyes are drawn to the back of the alley. There’s a figure huddled on the ground there. It could be a homeless mundane. It could be any number of different demons.

Alec squints through the dim light and feels all the breath leave his lungs when he recognizes the figure on the floor.

There isn’t a demon there. There isn’t a mundane, either.

He freezes in place. His feet are stuck to the concrete. He forgets how to breathe.

It’s Magnus, blood soaking the front of his shirt, collapsed on the pavement and looking very, very small.

“Is it a demon?” Jace asks from behind him. “Izzy said there was a surge of Mantid activity a few blocks over.”

Alec can’t move.

“Alec, what the hell is going on? You’re acting like you’ve seen a…”

Jace curses under his breath.

He crosses in front of Alec and stalks toward Magnus’s body, and the spell is broken.

Alec stumbles after him, tripping over his own feet. Jace crouches down next to Magnus, and Alec forces himself to do the same.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Jace gasps out. “What happened?”

Something in the back of Alec’s mind balks at Jace swearing like a mundane. The thought sinks away as a single drop of blood leaks out of the corner of Magnus’s mouth.

“I…” Alec’s tongue feels heavy in his mouth. “I don’t know. I don’t know, I...I found him like this.”

Jace tears his jacket from his shoulders and bunches it up into a ball. He presses it firmly against the wound in Magnus’s chest. A horrific, strangled sound rips its way out of his throat.

Alec never wants to hear that sound again.

“Jace, you’re hurting him!”

Jace glances at Alec, his arms like stone.

“You want him to bleed out?” Jace barks. “We need to stop the bleeding if he’s going to have any chance at all.”

Jace takes his stele out of its holster and moves to touch it to Magnus’s skin.

Alec lunges forward and grabs his wrist. “What are you doing?”

“Drawing an amissio rune,” Jace says, looking at Alec like he’s lost his mind. “And a mendelin. I know we can’t risk an iratze, but-”

“Are you insane?” Alec exclaims. Is Jace so out of it that he thinks Magnus has suddenly become a shadowhunter? “We have to…we have to call…”

Catarina. Tessa. Anyone.

Jace lifts a hand from Magnus’s chest and shoves it in his jacket pocket. He pulls out his phone and punches in the passcode- he has to redo it two or three times with how badly his hands are shaking.

Jace is thrown by this, too. He’ll never admit it, but even he thinks there’s something deeply unsettling about seeing Magnus this way. Magnus is a fact. He’s supposed to be invincible, to live until the sun winks out.

Alec has never seen him look so human.

He feels like he should be crying. That’s what happens in the movies- whenever the love interest is struck down, the protagonist throws themself onto their body, bawling their eyes out.

Dazed, Alec touches the gaping wound on Magnus’s chest. He lets his fingers drag through the blood soaking Jace’s jacket. When he lifts his hand up, it’s clean. He blinks, and the blood returns in a flash, drenching his nails and knuckles. It looks fake, almost, bright red, like what you’d see in the special effects of a Bollywood movie with a $50 budget.

Alec wrenches his gaze away from his hand. If he keeps staring at Magnus’s blood, he’s going to throw up.

He looks at Magnus’s face, instead. His eyes are half open. His hair is matted to his forehead. Alec reaches forward to brush it away, but his hand freezes in midair.

Magnus’s hair has purple streaks running through it. When Alec left, when Alec saw him just a couple of hours ago , they had been green.

Alec shakes his head to clear it. The color of Magnus’s hair doesn’t matter. He’s in shock. That’s all this is. That’s why his mind keeps wandering- his brain is trying to save him from feeling what’s actually happening.

Alec hears Jace talking, but it’s like his head is underwater; every word is fuzzy and dulled.

“Iz, thank the Angel! You need to get here now. Take Luke’s car…from…Prince street…”

Magnus’s eyes are just ever-so-slightly wrong. It’s nothing tangible, nothing he could describe to Jace without sounding like a lunatic, but they’re definitely wrong. His slit pupils are huge, but Alec can still make out the color of his irises. That’s what it is- his left eye has a solid green ring around the pupil that Alec’s never seen before.

Alec has to stop noticing random things. They don’t mean anything. He just has no earthly idea how to deal with the fact that Magnus could very well be dying, right in front of him.

“…need to…quickly…”

Alec reaches for Magnus’s hand and folds their fingers together. His grip is slack, and if Alec tries hard enough, he can pretend that this is just another lazy morning in Magnus’s loft. Magnus isn’t bleeding out in the street. He’s just sleeping.

A part of Alec can’t help but feel that he deserves this. He’s not meant to have good things in his life. What he has with Magnus is more than he ever dreamed of- there’s no future for them. The universe hates him far too much to allow him that.

There’s an opal ring on Magnus’s middle finger that catches Alec’s eye. It’s crusted with blood and grime, but there’s no mistaking it. It’s midnight blue, speckled with gold flakes, and set in a winding silver band of vines. Magnus got it from Camille, years ago.

He chucked it in the Seine the last time they were in Paris.

There’s no possible way Magnus could be wearing that ring.

There’s no way.

Alec blinks, hard, but the ring is still there.

How could that ring be there?

Magnus’s eyes fly open. Alec hears himself gasp, half shock and half relief, but he’s frozen in place. Magnus’s eyes are pure gold.

Something slams into Alec’s jaw, hard.

He crashes to the ground. Jace is sprawled a few feet away from him, his golden eyes rolled up into the back of his head.

Alec’s vision is spinning, but he forces himself up to his elbows.

Magnus is standing, eyes blazing, hands wreathed in power. His chest is still dripping blood, his clothes are still ragged shreds.

Alec’s mouth falls open. He can’t look away. He can’t blink. He’s torn between being overjoyed that Magnus can stand and being scared shitless at the look on his face. It’s Magnus’s battle face, to be sure, but Alec’s never seen it directed at him. There’s a ferocity underneath it that's completely alien.

Alec reaches for him and gets thrown backwards again.

In a split second, Magnus is on top of him.

“Magnus, what-”

Magnus draws his hand back, his fingers curled into a fist. Alec blocks it before it can ram into his skull.

Magnus goes for his ribs with his other hand, but Alec blocks it just in time.

Magnus keeps coming for him, all harsh knuckles and sharp nails and grinding teeth. His eyes are glowing like the sun.

Alec matches him blow for blow. He’s trying to stay on the defensive, trying not to let Magnus hurt himself even further, but Magnus is attacking him with all he has. For some reason, he’s not using his magic.

Magnus told him once that he would rather suffer anything than let Alec be hurt. Alec had shied away from it at the time, totally unable to articulate how strongly he felt about Magnus in return. But Magnus had meant it. He still means it. Magnus would never, ever hurt him. Alec is more sure of this than anything.

If Magnus were in his right mind, he’d never attack Alec like this, for any reason. Is this magic? Is this the work of another warlock, or a faerie, or some other thing that Alec’s never heard of?

Alec catches one of Magnus’s punches in his hand, muscles straining with the effort of holding him back.

“Magnus,” Alec begs, “snap out of it. Please.”

An intense, sudden warmth in Alec’s hand makes him break eye contact. Alec’s family ring is burning on his finger. There’s blue light pulsating around his hand, bright and powerful and painfully familiar.

Danger, it seems to say. There’s danger here.

Magnus’s magic is protecting him.

It couldn’t do that if Magnus was this incapacitated.

Magnus is strong, somewhere. He’s alive, and uninjured, and taking care of Alec, even if he doesn’t realize it.

This person on top of him isn’t Magnus.

They’re being tricked.

This is a shapeshifter.

This is a demon.

Alec twists to the side and shoves the demon off him with his forearms. He backs up against the side of the opposite building, draws an arrow and lets it fly, but the demon dodges left. The arrow impales itself in the brick wall where the demon’s head was a second ago, dozens of cracks spreading from the tip.

Before he can draw another arrow, he’s on the ground.

The back of his head slams into the concrete, and his vision winks out. When he can see again, Jace’s face is inches from his own, twisted in betrayal and grief. Jace has him pinned down, his forearm against Alec’s throat and tears dripping from his eyes onto Alec’s face.

“What the hell are you doing?” Jace screams. “You’ll kill him!”

This is not the time for explanations.

Alec jerks his leg up and knees him, hard, in the stomach. It gets Jace to loosen his grip just enough for Alec to roll aside. In a second, he’s on his feet.

A sharp pain explodes in his right side, making him stumble. Was that Jace? The demon? Alec pushes it to the back of his mind. There are too many other things he needs to focus on.

“It’s not Magnus,” he says to Jace, weakly, hoping that will shut him up long enough for Alec to kill this thing.

Alec draws an arrow and the demon attempts another dodge, but Alec’s prepared this time. He jerks his bow to the side at the last second and the arrow impales itself in the demon’s leg with a sickening squish . It collapses to the ground.

Alec hears the demon cry out in Magnus’s voice, but he doesn’t allow himself to look at its face for a second.

He strides over to the demon, now huddled on the ground, and inspects the wound. He feels something in his chest loosen at the sight of the bubbling black ichor spilling onto the ground instead of blood.

“Jace, look,” Alec gasps out. “Look at where I shot it.”

Jace rushes forward, his face still twisted in betrayal and rage. His face goes slack when he sees the ichor. Alec reaches out to him through the bond, but it’s like banging on cement wall.

Without another word, Jace draws a seraph blade.

“Uriel,” he rasps, and the blade glows white.

Jace raises the sword, tears rolling down his cheeks, and stabs the demon, cutting clean through its chest.

The illusion melts away. The demon shifts into a writhing mass of charred limbs and screaming mouths, disintegrating outward from the wound Jace’s sword left.

After a few seconds, there’s no evidence that a demon was there at all.

Alec can still see it.

His eyes slip shut as another wave of pain in his side overwhelms him. He yanks his shirt up, ripping it in his haste, but finds nothing. He runs his fingers over his skin, but there’s definitely no wound. So what…?

The realization rushes through Alec’s veins like ice water.

“Jace,” he croaks out.

It takes Jace a second to understand.

Jace’s hand moves slowly to his own rib cage. When he lifts it up, it’s drenched in blood.

Jace stares at Alec, his eyes wide, his mouth hanging open in a caricature of surprise.

Alec wants to cry out to him, but his mouth feels filled with cotton.

Jace takes one jerky step toward him before collapsing to the ground like a marionette with cut strings.

Alec lunges forward to catch him, but he’s already down, blood pooling from his side and staining the concrete scarlet.

 

 


 

 

Alec tries to step in time with his heartbeat, but he can’t quite manage it.

His feet slam into the pavement out of sync with the pounding in his ears. He can’t even get them to step on a proper downbeat. It just sounds wrong. Off-kilter. It bothers him.

There’s a cold breeze on his face once he kicks the front door open. Distantly, he hears a girl screaming for help. Fingernails are digging into his arm, the one that’s wrapped around Jace’s torso-

No, Izzy, he can’t let go-

He needs to get Jace to safety. He needs to heal him. He needs to find Magnus.

Where is he-

“Stop screaming!” someone shouts.

Alec is confused. He’s not screaming.

Oh. That’s what that sound is.

“You don’t understand!” he hears himself say, from very, very far away, “I need to find him, I need to-”

There are more hands on him now, trying to tear him away from Jace.

“Simon, help me-”

Jace is ripped out of his arms. He falls to his knees.

His chest pulses with pain. He can’t tell if it’s for Jace, bleeding out in his arms, or for Magnus, bleeding out in the street. He can’t tell if it’s for himself. He can’t tell anymore.

Someone with soft hands is cupping both sides of his face. Alec lets them tilt his face up without resistance.

Magnus’s lips are moving, but he’s speaking softly, he’s not yelling, and Alec can’t hear such a quiet sound over the banging in his ears. Alec wishes he would yell. He wants to hear what Magnus has to say.

Magnus looks more worried than Alec has ever seen him. Magnus shouldn’t be worried. Who made Magnus worried?

Magnus is okay, he realizes. That’s all that matters.

Alec lets the darkness creeping at the edges of his vision take over. He sees the ground rise up to meet him, but never feels himself land.

 

 


 

 

Alec’s arm is burning.

He cracks his eyes open and glances down at it. Someone’s marked him with a hastily drawn awareness rune, and recently. The skin around it is still red.

He touches it and hisses in pain. His hands are clean- someone’s washed Jace’s blood off of them.

“Alexander?”

Alec’s head whips up, his vision blurring dangerously at the movement.

Before he can even think about what he’s doing, he’s on his feet and in Magnus’s arms. Alec’s chin collides painfully with his collarbone, but he couldn’t care less.

You’re alive, he thinks. You’re alive, you’re alive, you’re alive-

Magnus holds him close. “Yes, dear, I’m alive.”

His shoulders are broad and strong under Alec’s shaking hands. Magnus seems indestructible, now, and it’s so ridiculous that Alec has to force down a hysterical giggle.

Magnus smells like sandalwood and cheap hair dye and his cherry-stained bookshelf. His skin is soft, but when Alec’s fingers go to that little strip of skin behind his ear, it’s rough like it always is, because Magnus always misses that spot when he slathers himself in moisturizer.

Alec doesn’t realize he’s crying, finally, until the sound of his own hitching breaths reaches his ears. His tears spill from his eyes, falling hot against his cheeks. It’s like someone’s reaching into his chest and strangling his heart with their bare hands.

“You were dying ,” Alec chokes out.

“Hey,” Magnus soothes, “it’s okay, sweetheart. Everything’s okay. Everything’s alright.”

He sounds hysterical. He should be quiet. He can’t stop. “You were dying, but I had to kill you, I - I had to, I’m so sorry, I knew it was a demon, but I just-”

Magnus stiffens under Alec’s hands, but relaxes after a second.

“I’m here,” he breathes against Alec’s neck. “I’m right here.”

Alec closes his eyes. Magnus’s hand is rubbing up and down his back. Up, down. Up, down, up.

Alec turns his head so he can rest it on Magnus’s shoulder. He’s clinging to him like a child, and he knows it should feel humiliating, but he can't get himself to pull away. He can hear the thrumming of Magnus’s pulse in his throat. He can hear the soft sounds Magnus’s lungs make when air passes through them. It sounds like home.

After a long moment, Magnus asks, “Do you want to go see Jace?”

And just like that, Alec is fully awake.

Jace.

He jumps away from Magnus like someone shocked him.

“I…I’m so sorry,” Alec stutters, “I need to just- I should go make sure he’s alright. He got hit really badly.”

Magnus- sweet, unruffleable Magnus- just nods. “Of course.”

Alec turns to run out of the room but stops before he reaches the door.

“Don’t- don’t go anywhere. ” he says. “Don’t move. Don’t breathe. Well, you can breathe. Actually, please don’t stop breathing. I need you to breathe. That’s kind of important.”

Magnus blinks at him once in complete confusion before nodding.

“I won’t stop breathing,” he says, rather slowly, like Alec’s saying something completely ridiculous. Hell, he probably is. Alec doesn’t even know if he’s speaking English right now. He could be rambling at Magnus in Latin for all he knows.

“I’ll stay right here and wait for you to get back,” Magnus finishes.

Alec nods frantically. “Thanks. Thank you. I appreciate it. I’ll just…”

Alec gestures incomprehensibly at the door before bolting down the hallway at a full sprint.

In only a couple of seconds, he reaches the infirmary. He throws the doors open, barely registering how they bang against the walls.

There are hands on his shoulders.

“Hey!”

Alec stops trying to pull away. It’s Isabelle.

“Hi,” he says lamely.

Isabelle cocks an eyebrow at him. “Hi. How are you feeling?”

“...Fine?”

“Fine,” she repeats. “You barge into the building covered in blood, Jace half-dead in your arms, screaming to high heaven about how Magnus is dead when Magnus is standing ten feet away, and you’re fine?”

Alec winces. “Yes?”

Isabelle opens her mouth to give Maryse a run for her money, he’s sure, but he holds up a hand to stop her.

“Is Jace alright?”

She closes her mouth, jaw working, and the blazing look in her eyes tells him that he’s going to wish he was dead when she gets through with him later.

“Magnus fixed him. Once he wakes up, he’s free to run out the doors and get stabbed again to his heart’s content.”

She gestures behind her with a thumb.

Alec grins at her in relief. He can tell she’s happy, too, but she’s trying to hide it behind a mask of annoyance.

He squeezes her hand in gratitude before brushing past her and into the room.

Jace is in one of the beds, looking pretty damn good for someone who got stabbed in the stomach. His face is a little pale, and there’s a bandage wrapped around his torso, but...Alec was definitely expecting a lot worse.

Behind him, Izzy chuckles. “I don’t know how they ended up like that. Simon just wouldn’t leave him.”

Alec blinks.

What?

He takes a closer look. Jace is definitely, absolutely not alone.

Alec doesn’t know how he missed it before. There’s someone sitting in a chair that’s been pulled up to Jace’s bedside, completely asleep.

Alec moves closer and nearly chokes on his own spit when he realizes it’s Simon. His glasses are dangerously close to falling off of his nose. His clothes are in disarray, and he’s drooling a bit, but his right hand is firmly wrapped around Jace’s left. The two of them are out cold, but somehow, they still have enough mindfulness to hold hands. Or lack of mindfulness- Alec doesn’t think these two would be caught dead within ten feet of each other if both of them were awake.

“Right,” Alec says. “Okay. That’s…”

Alec doesn’t think he’ll be able to finish that sentence if he spends the rest of his life looking for the right adjective.

He turns, and Izzy is smiling at him.

“Get out of here. He’s in good hands.”

"Where's Clary?" he asks. "I thought she'd be here."

"I made her go back to her room," Izzy explains. "You should go rest, too. I’ll yell for you if anything changes."

Alec nods. "Thanks, Iz."

She looks away.

"Really," he insists, grabbing her arm. "Thank you."

"You know he'd do the same for me. For any of us." Izzy clears her throat. "Now go make out with your boyfriend."

 

 


 

 

Before Jace wakes up, there’s nothing to do but wait.

Alec’s sitting on his bed, cross-legged, a cup of tea in his hands and an honest-to-god china saucer resting on his knee.

He’s just gotten through a robotic retelling of what happened, and Magnus looks much less surprised than he should.

“Have you run into these demons before?” Alec asks.

Magnus takes a long sip of tea before answering. “They’re called Maeroris demons.”

Alec’s brain is still fuzzy, but Hodge burned enough Latin into his skull for him to translate the word without thinking about it. “ Of grief. Really?”

Magnus’s lips twitch. “Shadowhunters are not known for their creativity in the field of demonology.”

Alec opens his mouth reflexively to defend the Clave, but closes it. Magnus is right, after all.

“I’ve only seen them once before, but apparently they’re much more well-known in Persia.” Something flickers behind Magnus’s eyes. “I knew a girl once who would call them mejazat asemanha. The punishment of the heavens.”

“Who was that?” Alec asks before he can stop himself.

Magnus hesitates.

“That’s okay,” Alec hurries to say, “you don’t have to-”

“Cordelia Carstairs.”

Alec’s mouth falls open.

“Well, Cordelia Herondale,” Magnus amends, “once she married. But I knew her as a Carstairs.”

“Was she like Emma?” Alec asks, once he regains the power of speech. Little Emma Carstairs, with that huge sword strapped to her tiny back and her chin jutting out in pride. Her parents were killed during the Dark War, he knows, but Emma still has that fire.

Magnus smiles. His lips don’t move very much, but his eyes glow with the echo of some long-gone happiness. “She was like Jem.”

A face flashes in Alec’s mind. Young, scarred, and eyes filled with wisdom beyond their years. A streak of silver running through inky hair. Once more a Herondale is the subject of my deliverance. I should have anticipated. The only other shadowhunter Alec knows of who loves a warlock, without apology and with his whole heart. Brother Zachariah. Jem.

Alec takes another gulp from his teacup. He has to ask. “How do they work?”

Magnus’s expression becomes pained. “Maeroris demons are mildly psychic. They root through your mind for someone you deeply love, and then assume their form before…”

Magnus swallows. “Before pretending to be gravely wounded. The victim becomes understandably distraught enough not to fight back when they’re attacked, or even notice that they’re being killed.”

Alec stares down at his tea. It doesn’t seem as appetizing anymore.

“Jace was trying to draw healing runes. I didn’t understand why, I thought he was just confused and out of it, but…he must have seen Clary. That’s why he was so upset.”

Magnus shrugs. “Maeroris demons aren’t much for expectations. They don’t pick the person you’re expected to love, or even the person you say you’re in love with. They just skim the surface of your thoughts for the one you think about the most. There’s really no way to tell who he saw without asking him.”

How could Alec have never heard of these before? How could he have never run into them?

And then he remembers.

The murders in Hell’s Kitchen. The mundane man near Magnus’s house, pleading with thin air.

That couldn’t have been this demon, Alec weakly argues with himself. He wouldn’t have seen nothing- he would’ve seen Magnus.

“Darling?” Magnus prods softly.

Alec picks his head up. His expression must betray his thoughts, because Magnus sits up a little straighter. “What is it?”

“Is it possible…” Alec begins. “Is it possible for these demons to turn invisible? I mean, I saw this mundane a while back, and I didn’t understand what he was saying, because it was in Spanish, but it all lines up. I mean, I just- I couldn’t see anything, but he looked like he was talking to- to someone he loved, you know? I thought he was on drugs, I called a mundane ambulance…by the Angel.”

Magnus sets his tea aside. “Alec-”

“Could it have been one of these demons?” Alec demands.

Slowly, Magnus nods.

The teacup falls from Alec’s hand. Instead of smashing into pieces, it falls onto Alec’s mattress with a dull thud. He wishes it would shatter.

Magnus reaches forward, but Alec stops him with a gesture.

“Why couldn’t I see it before?” Alec croaks.

Magnus sighs. “Think of it like- like a gear shift. When you and Jace found it, it was tuned to your physiology. But it can’t differentiate. It can’t form a psychic bond with two different species at the same time. So, it chose the mundane.”

Alec laughs humorlessly. “I thought he was on drugs. I left him.”

“You couldn’t have known. These demons have claimed thousands of lives, and they will likely claim thousands more. It’s truly remarkable that you managed to defeat this one.”

That man is dead. The emergency responders Alec called, maybe even a couple of police officers? All dead. On Alec's watch.

Alec’s only job in life- the whole reason he’s alive- is to protect people. If he can’t do that…

If he can’t do that, then what’s the point of him? What’s the point of anything?

Alec rises from the bed and stalks out of the room. He hears Magnus call after him, but doesn’t turn back.

 

 


 

 

He ends up in the infirmary.

Jace is alone, now- Simon has skulked off to Raziel knows where.

Alec inches forward. Jace definitely knows he’s here, but he hasn’t picked his head up.

Jace is holding his hands out in front of him. They’re trembling. Alec wonders if he can still see Clary’s phantom blood caked in the grooves of his fingernails.

When he catches Alec looking, he clenches them into fists and drops them into his lap.

“Hey,” he says hoarsely.

“Hey.”

Alec crosses the room and gingerly sits down in the seat next to Jace’s bed.

“Magnus says the demon shows you whoever you’re in love with about to die so it can distract you. That’s why I saw him when I looked at the demon.”

Jace’s eyes widen in alarm.

“Clary’s fine, Jace,” Alec says. “I just saw her in the hallway. She was here before when you were unconscious. She’s absolutely fine.”

Something flickers in Jace’s eyes. He opens his mouth, but closes it at the last second. He clears his throat and looks away.

Alec can’t help but feel like he’s missed something.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Jace chokes out.

Alec nods.

“Well, uh…” Alec’s never felt lost for words with Jace. For some reason, he can’t think of what to say, now.

“The only one other person who knows how horrible that was is me,” he says. “I’m here if you…you know.”

Jace flashes him his signature smirk, but there’s none of the usual arrogance and cheerfulness behind it. It looks more like he’s baring his teeth. “Don’t worry about it. Go see your person.”

Alec has a faint memory of hearing that phrase in one of the crappy mundane shows Isabelle watches.

“Magnus might be my...my person,” Alec fumbles, “but...you’re- you’re also my person. You know that, right?”

Jace just keeps smiling that hollow smile. “Get out of here, you sap.”

Alec nods. He can’t blame Jace for wanting to be alone right now.

When he opens the door to leave, he nearly slams right into Simon.

“Sorry!” Simon cries. “I didn’t know you were there. Please don’t kill me. You look like you want to kill me.”

Alec blinks at him. “I’m not going to kill you.”

Simon laughs nervously. “Phew! Ok, well, uh...can I see Jace? I heard he was up. I’ll leave if you two are-”

Alec steps to the side. “He’s all yours.”

Simon rushes into the room. Alec closes the door behind him, but stops with his hand still on the door handle. Sue him. He wants to figure out what the hell is going on between those two.

He lifts up his shirt and scrawls a quick hearing rune on his hip before pressing his ear to the door.

“Hi!” comes Simon’s cheerful voice. “So I know you’ve been a bit banged up.”

A pause.

Simon chuckles nervously. Alec can practically see him running his hands through his already messy hair, adjusting his glasses on his face when they don’t need to be adjusted. “Wow, I sounded vaguely British, there, didn’t I? It wasn’t on purpose. You have to blame it on all the Downton Abbey Clary’s been making me-”

He cuts himself off with an oomph.

Alec’s eyes widen in alarm. Did Jace hit him? He knows they’re not the best of friends, but surely Jace wouldn’t punch Simon in the face just for being an awkward mess.

Alec cracks the door open as quietly as possible.

Simon and Jace are…hugging. 

Well. Alec definitely didn’t expect to see that in his lifetime.

Jace’s shoulders are shaking. He has his arms wrapped tightly around Simon, who’s flailing his limbs like an octopus.

“I still hate you,” Jace chokes out. “Asshole.”

For some reason, those words make Simon relax. He lets his arms curve around Jace’s back and tucks his face against his shoulder.

“Love you too,” he says, so quietly that Alec has to strain to hear it.

Jace swats his arm, but he’s laughing.

 

 


 

 

“Is Jace alright?” Magnus asks, when Alec runs into him after walking through the Institute in a daze.

“Yep,” Alec squeaks. “He’s, uh, he’s totally fine.”

A curious smile graces Magnus’s lips. “Did something happen?”

Alec shakes his head to clear it. He grabs Magnus’s hand and interlaces their fingers. “Let’s go home.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Alec’s earliest memory is of his father in battle.

Weapons of all size and shape strapped to his belt and shoulders. Heavy, pounding boots laced tightly up to his ankles. Gear layered over his body and turning his very self into a weapon.

Alec’s father never fought demons like other shadowhunters did. Fighters like Izzy, or Jace- they’re all fire. Swords swinging, whips twirling, grins on their faces even when they’re dead on their feet and covered in grime.

Robert was stoic. Silent. A fighter because he needed to be, not because it was what he wanted.

And yet, when he fought, it was like music.

Alec was only rarely able to see him in action. When he was little, he wasn’t allowed out on patrols, and when he got older…

Well.

But the image of his father darting left and right, guisarme heavy in both hands, slaughtering demons by the dozen- it stayed with him.

Ever since he was small, Alec wanted to be just like his dad.

Even off the battlefield, Robert Lightwood had an intangible presence- a kind of gravitas- that would fill up entire rooms.

Other shadowhunters disagreed. Alec would hear them whispering at meetings:

No place running an Institute.

His wife does all the heavy lifting.

Even his children are misfits.

Always living in Valentine’s thrall.

But Alec never agreed with them. He’d gotten into a few fistfights with kids who were rattling off something they’d heard their parents say about Alec’s father (on the one day out of a million when he actually got to talk to other kids.)

Alec has a vague, half-formed memory of his early childhood. Robert, lifting him up by the armpits and swinging him around the room, his rumbling laugh so loud that Alec could feel it in his bones while he giggled.

Alec thinks that’s probably a dream he had. Not a memory at all.

He doesn’t think his father has laughed since before he met Valentine, and that was a good twenty or thirty years ago.

Alec tries to concentrate on those few good memories. They’re much better than all the rest.

But it’s very hard not to think about the bad ones. The Bad One. On late nights, when Alec is exhausted to the brink of oblivion, his mind wanders.

It’s not even a Bad night. Nothing happened today- he trained at the Institute, he went out on patrol, killed a few lesser demons in Central Park, and even had a mind-meltingly relaxing dinner with Magnus. It was a good day.

But it’s bound to be at least two in the morning by now. Alec can hear Magnus’s deep, slow breaths beside him. He can hear the low buzzing noise the air conditioner makes when it’s been left on too long. Hell, he can even hear the hum of electricity running through the refrigerator, which is pretty bad, considering the refrigerator is on the other side of the apartment.

Alec feels like throwing the lush, fluffy comforter off his body. He feels like getting up, going into the shower, and letting cold water numb his body until it’s all he can think about. He feels like his skin is too tight. He’d probably be on the other side of the city by now, picking a fight with some poor unsuspecting mundane, but he doesn’t want to wake Magnus up. Magnus deserves his sleep. He’s earned it.

So Alec lies there. He stares at the ceiling. And he thinks, despite how much he doesn’t want to.

 

 


 

 

He hadn’t even done anything wrong.

He’s not sure how old he was- six? Seven? Alec only remembers how much bigger everything else was. At his full height, he only came up to his father’s belt.

Hodge had just started going over the rules of the parabatai ceremony in his and Izzy’s lessons. Alec had spent the afternoon wandering the halls, a skip in his step, daydreaming about what having a parabatai would be like.

He remembers the sunlight streaming through the windows, illuminating the spots of dust dancing through the air. He remembers the sounds of his sneakers squeaking against the tiled floor as he skipped down the halls, feeling like king of the world.

For the first time in his short life, Alec had been given hope. He was born knowing that his life was planned out for him: learn to fight, kill demons, protect mundanes, and die in glory. He didn’t get a choice in any of it. But now he knew that there was something he could, finally, choose for himself: a parabatai.

Alec wanted a parabatai so badly. The whole idea sounded magical to him. A boy he could spend all his time with. Someone who’d know him better than anyone else in the world. Someone he could stay up late with, fight alongside, learn things from.

He’d never even had a friend. Izzy didn’t count. She had no choice but to spend time with him. And if he was being honest, he thought girls were icky. Even ones he was related to. He’d much rather be best friends with a boy. Alec’s whole self just ached to be able to choose a boy- and for that boy to choose him, too. They’d be the best of friends, and no one would ever come between them. When they got older, they’d live together, too, because that’s what the oath said you had to do. They’d spend their whole lives being an unshakeable team, and all the demons in the world wouldn’t be able to break them apart.

Alec always got a funny feeling in his chest when he thought about the nameless, faceless boy who’d be his future parabatai. But that’s probably what everyone felt when they pictured the person they’d spend the rest of their life with.

(Alec almost laughs out loud when he remembers the naïveté of his childhood. But then he feels like crying.)

His wandering stopped in the weapons room, where his father was sharpening his throwing knives.

Alec hopped up on one of the empty tables, swinging his feet.

“Hi Daddy!”

His father raised a hand in greeting, but said nothing.

That was alright. His father wasn’t the chatty type. He’d usually avoid eye contact unless it was absolutely necessary, and keep to himself unless he was needed. But he’d still make an effort. He’d visit Alec and Izzy before they went to sleep at night, sometimes, and spend hours reading them one of his favorite books. Alec hardly ever understood what he was saying, but liked it nonetheless.

Alec occupied himself with banging his feet against the legs of the table as hard as he could. He liked the sound his sneakers made on the wood, for some reason.

After a while, his father sighed and put down the knife he was holding. “Shouldn’t you be in your lessons?”

Alec shrugged. “Hodge let me go. Izzy needed to take her nap. Hodge said I should, too, but I’m not sleepy.”

He kept banging his feet against the table.

His father rose from his chair and strode over to him. He lifted Alec up by the armpits and placed him on the floor. “That noise is very disturbing. You can sit here quietly, or go somewhere else.”

Alec pouted, but sat down anyway on the cool white tile.

A thought occurred to him. “Daddy, what happened to your parabatai?”

“I don’t have one,” snapped his father.

Alec laughed at that. His father was testing him. “Yes you do! I know what the rune looks like, Daddy. I saw it on your arm. The left one.”

His father turned and went back to sharpening his knives.

Alec rolled his eyes. His father could be so stubborn sometimes. “What’s his name?”

“Michael,” his father said after a moment. “Michael Wayland.”

(In hindsight, his voice was strangled. Barely controlled. But at the time, all Alec was concentrating on was the half-formed fairytale dream in his head of his knight in shining armor; his parabatai, the boy that would come to rescue him someday.)

“Wait,” Alec began, brows furrowing, “is Mister Wayland still alive?”

His father paused. “Yes, he is.”

Alec made a face. “Why’d you leave him, then? Hodge says parabatai are supposed to stay together forever.”

“I can never see him again,” he said quietly. “Our family is needed in New York, not in Idris.”

“Why can’t he just come over?”

His father dropped the knives he was holding with a clatter. He turned away from Alec, his clenched his hands into fists. “Michael got sick. Very sick. There was a problem with his brain, Alec- he developed a perversion.”

Alec tilted his head. “What’s a perversheeun?”

(It would only be a few months before Alec learned to pronounce it correctly. It became his father’s new favorite word to use in conversation.)

“His brain stopped working correctly. He tried to disobey the Law. He wanted to do things that were very, very bad.”

Alec nodded to himself. Perversion sounded like just a fancy word for getting sick. There were plenty of shadowhunters that he’d read about that had gotten sick before.

But if Mr. Wayland was sick, why wasn’t Alec’s father there with him?

“That’s not good that you left him alone, Daddy,” Alec scolded. “He’s probably really sad without you. If he’s sick, can’t you make him feel better, since you’re connected? If he could just come visit, we can give him medicine to fix his perversheeun. And it would be really cool to have somebody new here. You could have more grown-up friends than just Mommy and Hodge.”

His father turned. His face was shadowed, so Alec couldn’t see the expression on his face.

Before Alec could register what was happening, he was being lifted into the air. His upper arms were being held in a death grip. He was shoved backwards against the wall, his shoulders and the back of his head twinging painfully. His feet were dangling helplessly above the floor.

“You need to watch your mouth,” his father snarled, his voice pitched lower than Alec had ever heard it. “There are some things that you’re too young to understand. Do you hear me?”

Alec was too shocked to move.

“Do you hear me?” his father repeated, giving Alec a little shake.

“Yes,” Alec managed. “I’m sorry.”

His father had stormed off, letting Alec fall to the floor.

After an eternity, Alec wandered to his room in a daze.

He didn’t mean to make his dad so angry. If only Alec could do better in his lessons, if he were a better shadowhunter, then they wouldn’t have to stay in New York. His dad could see Mr. Wayland and give him the medicine he needed to fix his perversion.

His parents had never told him why they couldn’t go back to Idris, but Alec knew it was because of him- what else could they mean by “stains on our family name”? They were obviously disappointed in him, and just didn’t want to make him feel bad.

When Alec got to his room, his mother was there, making his bed.

He’d made it that morning, right after he woke up. She was making it again.

After watching her for a moment, he inched forward and laid a hand on her arm. She didn’t pull away, but he could feel the muscles in her arm tense.

His mother smoothed down the already-perfect blanket she was fixing and turned to face him.

“You shouldn’t talk to your father about his parabatai,” she said without preamble. “It’s a tragedy, what’s happened between them. But there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Alec felt himself nod. He could hear his mother’s voice, feel the floor under his feet, but it all felt very far away, for some reason. He couldn’t get his eyes to focus.

(Dissociation. That’s what Magnus called it when Alec finally had to mention it to him. Knowing there was a name for it shouldn’t have helped as much as it did.)

“You need to be strong, Alec,” she continued, her voice shaking slightly. “Stay loyal to your family. Obey me, and obey your father, and I promise you that we’ll all be very happy.”

Alec had been right. This was about him. He was the reason they could never go back to their homeland. It was all his fault.

He would do better. He had to.

His mother cupped Alec’s face in her hands and tilted it up towards her own. Her hands were surprisingly warm.

“We are your blood,” she said, smoothing his hair back from his forehead. “We will never abandon you. You need to do your part.”

Her eyes were shining. Alec had the strangest feeling that she was about to cry.

“I will.” He drew himself up to his full height. “I promise. I’ll be good. I’ll do anything I can to help.”

The smile that lit up his mother’s face made it all worth it. Even the sting he could still feel on his skin.

 


 

 

Despite himself, tossing and turning, Alec eventually falls asleep.

 

 


 

He wakes up confused.

Alec feels relaxed. And comfortable. There’s faint light seeping through the cracks in velvet curtains that are hung artfully over a window. There’s a featherlight blanket wrapped around his body. The air smells like sage and coffee.

Where is he?

Alec rubs his eyes, blinks a few times, and sinks back into himself.

He’s in Magnus’s bed. His bed. It’s Sunday morning. Magnus is in the kitchen, dutifully making coffee with Alec’s coffee maker (even though he can easily steal it from the nearest diner) and listening to Breakfast with the Beatles on the radio.

Alec stumbles out of bed and shuffles out the bedroom door. He almost steps on Chairman Meow, who hisses at him reproachfully. Alec murmurs an apology to the Chairman before trudging over to the kitchen. He hums delightedly when he catches sight of Magnus standing by the counter.

“...He likes to keep his fire engine clean- it’s a clean machine…”

Alec moves over to him, blindly, rubbing a hand down his face as he yawns. He presses himself up against Magnus’s back and wraps his arms around his torso. Magnus jumps a little in surprise, but Alec doesn’t budge. Magnus brings one of his hands up and interlaces his fingers with Alec’s.

If you asked him later on, Alec would completely deny the fact that he purred like a cat.

(He did.)

“Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes…”

He presses a kiss to Magnus’s neck. “Morning.”

Alec feels Magnus chuckle more than he hears it. “Good morning to you too, love.”

“There beneath the blue suburban skies…”

Alec childishly wishes for time to be frozen like this forever. He would happily stay here, tucked against Magnus’s back while he fiddles with the cheap coffee maker Alec got at the dollar store, swaying to the music and letting himself melt.

Alec sighs contentedly. “You know, if you didn’t make such good coffee, I would happily elope with Paul McCartney, circa 1963.”

Magnus laughs. “Honey, a few weeks ago, you didn’t know who Paul McCartney was.

“So? I can…” Alec yawns, but keeps talking through it. “I can still wanna marry him and his teeny little bowl haircut. I bet you I could seduce Paul McCartney.”

Magnus is trying to keep a straight face, and failing miserably.

Alec digs his face deeper into Magnus’s neck. He smells so good.

“I’m sure you could seduce Paul McCartney, sweetheart.”

Alec makes a pleased noise. “Thank you very much.”

“You’re very suave,” Magnus continues, “and poised. I distinctly don’t remember you falling down the stairs after our first-”

Alec tickles him. Magnus yelps and pushes him away, giggling.

“I don’t know about me, though,” Magnus says, his voice bright with humor, “if I had to pick between the four, I think I’d definitely go with-”

A loud, staticky song starts blaring over Penny Lane. It’s Isabelle’s ringtone.

Alec groans. Much more loudly than the situation warrants, but he’s more than earned the right to be annoyed.

“It’s just Izzy,” he tells Magnus. “I’ll be back in a sec.”

He stomps back into their bedroom and picks up the phone before Halsey can make his ears bleed.

God, Iz, I really, really hate that ringtone you set for yourself. You couldn’t have picked someone who sounds a little less autotuned?”

Isabelle pauses for a moment. “Okay, first of all, Halsey is amazing, and not at all autotuned.”

Alec rolls his eyes before remembering that Izzy can’t see him. “I want you to know that I’m rolling my eyes!”

Izzy barks a laugh, but it sounds forced.

The sated, happy warmth running through Alec’s veins disappears entirely. He stands up a little straighter. “What’s going on? Was there another attack?”

Izzy takes a deep breath. “Are you in close proximity to anything breakable?”

“Isabelle.”

“Okay, okay, fine,” she tsks. “Dad’s coming back from Idris. Today.”

Alec drops the phone.

He picks it up and holds it, staring at the screen.

He can hear Izzy’s tinny voice, shrill with alarm. The noise makes him cringe. “Alec? Are you okay? Did something-”

He ends the call. 

Alec opens up his messages and texts her instead.

 

I’m completely fine. What time is he getting in?

Black Widow: He told Jace 11:00, but I’d be here before then.

I don’t understand. Does he want a report on the Maeroris attacks? I sent all the paperwork to Idris last week. Why would he be coming in person?

Black Widow: No, he told Jace he’s coming back “to spend quality time with his children.” Don’t ask me why.

Black Widow: I know you and Magnus must’ve had plans. I’m so sorry.

Isabelle, it’s not your fault. I’ll be there at 10:30.

Black Widow: Hey, listen, though- maybe this is a good thing? I think he might be trying to make an effort for the first time since he--

 

Alec tears his eyes away from the screen in the middle of reading Isabelle’s text. He locks his phone, takes a deep breath, and hurries into the bathroom before the sound of Magnus humming in the kitchen makes him want to punch a hole in the wall.

Alec breathes deep.

Silence. 

He strips his clothes off methodically and turns on the shower faucet, cringing at the squeak it makes. He steps in, not particularly caring that it’s cold, and reaches for the shampoo.

It’s not there.

Not bothering to hide his frustrated sigh, Alec tugs the shower curtain open and reaches to open the mirrored cabinet. He catches sight of himself in the mirror and freezes in his tracks.

His arm is outstretched. Curving out from his chest, stretching almost all the way to his elbow, are angry, vicious red markings.

Alec’s stomach lurches.

He grabs the shampoo, finishes his shower as quickly as possible, and steps out onto the mat, pools of water forming on the floor anyway. He snatches up a towel, dries himself off just enough to prevent a flood, and grabs his clean pair of boxers and pulls them on. He doesn’t turn the shower off- this’ll be much easier if Magnus thinks he’s still in there.

Ordinarily, he’d steal Izzy’s. She’s much closer to his complexion, and she has so much of the stuff that she never noticed he’d been using it, too. But Alec hasn’t been sleeping at the Institute for weeks. If he went there now, just to take makeup out of Isabelle’s bathroom, someone would definitely raise an eyebrow. And his father could show up early, before Alec had the chance to swipe it.

He really doesn’t have a choice. That doesn’t make him feel much better.

In a blind daze, hating himself for doing it, Alec cracks open Magnus’s makeup cabinet. It’s filled to the brim with bottles and tubes and brushes that Alec couldn’t name for a million dollars. He picks one up at random, screws off the top, and finds a bright green powder. Great. That’s really, really helpful.

The concealer has to be at the front. There’s no way it could be lodged in the back of the cabinet somewhere- Magnus wears it nearly every day.

Alec curses his boyfriend’s expensive taste. Why couldn’t he have bought his makeup at Rite Aid, or Walgreens, with brightly colored bottles that have clear, simple labels in large print?

After a few more tries, Alec finds it.

It’s a lot darker than he’s used to. It might be difficult to blend into his skin, especially the near-blindingly pale flesh on his legs, but he has to try.

He’s gotten quite good at this, after all these years. He’s been wearing makeup since he was fourteen, after all. He wears it on the insides of his thighs. On his hips. On his lower back. Behind his knees. And as of today, the once-smooth skin of his upper arms. 

Alec dips his finger in the little tub, dabs the cream onto the skin of his opposite arm, and gets to work.

 

 


 

 

On the day he started wearing makeup, Alec was going about his daily morning routine in the Institute’s shooting range. It was unusually hot for September. Alec was wearing a pair of Jace’s basketball shorts, and an undershirt that must have belonged to Izzy- it was like wearing a straightjacket. It kept riding up over his hips, and the straps kept falling off his shoulders, but it wasn’t like he could just go change. His father was watching him today.

After he got through his workout and went to pick up his bow, his father spoke up.

“Alec, what happened to your hips?” 

Alec stopped immediately. “What?”

His father strode across the room and examined him critically. “Are those cuts?” 

Alec followed his father’s gaze to his side. It was just those Things- they looked a little bit like veins, or scratches, and they had just shown up one day out of the blue. When he touched them, it felt like someone had carved little grooves in his skin. He’d had much more pressing things to think about, though, and supposed it must be nothing. 

“No. They’ve been there for a few weeks. They don’t, uh, hurt or anything, though.”

His father raised an eyebrow. “Your mother had those when she was pregnant.”

Alec laughed nervously. “Yeah, I guess they can happen for other reasons, too.”

His father was silent for a moment. Was that it?

“Has your mother seen these?”

Fuck.

“Uh, yes, I think so? Why?”

“They don’t look right to me.” 

“No,” Alec shook his head. “Dad, it’s totally fine.”

“Men don’t get those markings, Alec.”

There’s something wrong with you.

“Let’s see if they disappear on their own. If not, I’m sure Brother Enoch won’t mind bringing you to the Silent City for evaluation.”

Alec couldn’t repress the shiver that rolled down his spine.

“Okay, Father.”

His father crossed his arms. “Well, let’s see you shoot, then.”

Alec took a deep breath. This was something he could do.

Methodically, he slung his quiver over his shoulder, lifted his bow, and tried not to fret about whether his stance was exactly right. He drew an arrow from his quiver and pulled the string taut.

Inhale. The target was only thirty feet away. He’d hit bullseyes much farther away from this in his sleep.

He could feel his father’s eyes on the back of his skull.

Exhale. He let go.

Thwack.

Even from this distance, he could tell the arrow struck just slightly left of where he needed it to go.

His father hummed disappointedly behind him. “I wish you’d miss the target entirely. Better to have tried and failed spectacularly than to fall just short of success without trying at all.”

Alec flexed his fingers, hard. He’d get them to stop shaking. Eventually.

His instinct was to apologize, but

I don’t want you to say you’re sorry, I want you to change your behavior-

“Yes, Father,” he said instead.

Inhale. Exhale.

Alec let two arrows fly at once. He didn’t need to look to know they both struck dead center.

After that day, he taught himself how to cover them up. He never talked to anyone about it- there was too much of a risk that they would tell his father, and Alec would never see daylight again.

He couldn’t go to the Silent City. Not just because of whatever these markings meant. The Silent Brothers could look into your mind, flip through your thoughts like the pages of a book whether you wanted them to or not. They could see everything. Your deepest fears. Your true thoughts about those closest to you. Your feelings of loyalty to the Law, or lack thereof. Your most buried desires.

If that happened, Alec would lose everything.

He’d just have to make do. He was good at that.

 

 

“Why d’you have red veins?” Max asked one day, when Alec was fifteen. “I think it could be a mutation. Maybe you have superpowers.”

Alec was sitting in one of the overstuffed armchairs in the library, poring over a book on obscure demon poisons. He could hear Jace and Izzy wandering around, their lighthearted bickering bouncing off the walls. Max sat on the floor next to Alec’s feet- not because there weren’t any other chairs, but because he liked to be able to lay all his toys out in front of him.

Max got a lot more time to play than Alec and Izzy did at his age. Alec was happy for him. He deserved to remain a kid for as long as he could.

“What’re you talking about?” Alec asked, bemused. “Blood is red, but veins are blue when you look at them.”

“No, there.” Max tapped the back of Alec’s knee.

Alec turned his leg to get a look at it.

By the Angel. He’d covered up all the usual ones, but he hadn’t bothered to check for more. There were more of them, today.

Alec clapped a hand over the skin.

“It’s nothing. I just scratched myself with my feather staff the other day.”

Max gave him a searching look. It was a strangely mature expression- it didn’t look right sitting on his tiny face.

“Really, Max,” Alec said, forcing his tone to sound more relaxed. “Not veins. Just scratches. They’ll go away in a day or two.”

Max turned back to his toys. “Okay.”

Alec went back to his book, already calculating how much more concealer he’d need to steal in his head.

 

 


 

 

He’s done with his arms, his back, and the inside of his thighs. All he’s got left is the backs of his knees and his hips. He sits on top of the closed toilet seat, hikes his foot on top of the sink, and tries to contort his leg enough to get at the Things.

“Alexander,” comes Magnus’s soft voice from behind him. “What’s going on?”

Magnus is staring at him with a perplexed expression on his face, both mugs of coffee in his hands.

Alec forgot to close the door.

He can’t meet Magnus’s eyes. “My father’s coming back from Idris today.”

Magnus scrunches his face up. “So...that translates to you putting my foundation all over your body how, exactly?”

Alec sighs. “It’s 95 degrees outside. I’m gonna have to wear shorts, probably an undershirt, or less. And he’s definitely going to watch me spar with Jace or Izzy to check up on our performance. Are you getting it now?”

“No?”

Alec turns his leg so Magnus can see the Things and gestures at it.

Magnus still looks confused.

Alec sighs. “You’re one of the kindest people I know, Magnus. But it’s okay. I know you’ve seen them. You don’t have to pretend like they’re not there anymore to protect my feelings.”

Magnus is silent for a long while. He puts their coffees down on the little table in the corner of the bathroom and looks Alec up and down. Alec tries not to squirm.

“Are you talking about your stretch marks?” he asks quietly.

Alec’s heart stops. “My what?”

Magnus points at the Things. “Those little red lines? Why are you trying to cover them up?”

Alec flushes. “I told you. My father’s coming.”

Magnus looks pained. “But I still don’t get why-”

His face goes slack with realization.

“Please, please tell me,” Magnus says, his voice getting louder with each word, “that your godforsaken, asinine father doesn’t have a problem with your stretch marks. Tell me that’s not what’s happening right now.”

“It’s not that,” Alec defends weakly, “he just thought they were something serious and wanted me to be taken to the Silent City for evaluation when he saw them. And I couldn’t do that, you know, for obvious reasons, so I started hiding them and told him they disappeared.”

Magnus looks at him in disbelief. “He just thought they were something- Jesus. Darling, I’m sure your father knows what stretch marks are. He was likely just trying to scare you.”

Alec blanches. “What?”

Magnus presses his fingers against his temples in an effort to calm down. “Okay. Okay. Okay, so, you know I have those too, right?”

Alec’s brain short circuits. “No you don’t.”

“Yes, I do. Look.”

Magnus and hikes his shirt up to his collarbones.

All Alec can see is perfection. After all this time, his mouth still runs dry at the sight of Magnus’s naked chest. “Magnus, you don’t…”

Magnus takes one of Alec’s hands and touches his index finger to a spot on his side. Alec blinks in surprise- the skin is slightly uneven there. If Alec squints, he can make something out. There are very faint white streaks, like tiny lightning bolts, creeping their way up Magnus’s abdomen.

“But those are white,” Alec says, stupidly.

Magnus nods and lets his shirt drop back down. “They can turn white after a while, especially if you spend time in the sun. I got mine centuries ago because I suddenly started eating properly after starving for almost a decade. You probably got yours from the absolutely insane amount of training you do every day. Or for some other reason, like something with hormones. Bodies are strange like that. Sometimes they do things that defy explanation.”

“Will mine ever turn white?” Alec asks in a small voice.

Magnus shrugs. “Probably. It might take a while, though, because you’re always covered up, and your skin is pretty light.”

Alec almost laughs. He covers up so no one will see the Th- the stretch marks. And now he knows the only way to get rid of them is not to cover up. It makes sense that life would royally screw him like this.

“But my point,” he says, taking Alec’s hands, “is that they’re completely normal. And, if you’ll let me be frank, your father just has a big ol’ stick up his butt and doesn’t know how to properly relate to other human beings.”

Alec bursts into laughter. Magnus grins at him.

“He just wants what’s best for me, though,” Alec says quietly.

Magnus presses his lips into a thin line, like he’s trying to force himself to stay quiet.

“I believe,” he says after a moment, “that your father thinks he wants what’s best for you. But my experience with that man has been that he wants his children to fit his idea of perfection instead of embracing who they are.”

Alec swallows. There’s no response to that; it’s true.

“So,” Magnus claps his hands together, “we have two options. One, you let me help you clean all this makeup off and you walk into the Institute, head held high. Or, I get you concealer that actually matches your skin tone so you can go there today totally stretch mark-less, but without looking like a disgruntled giraffe.”

Alec hesitates.

“There’s no shame in wanting them covered, Alec,” Magnus says gently. “I just want it to be what you want.”

“I want to cover them,” Alec says, and the light winks out from Magnus’s eyes.

“Just this time,” he adds hurriedly. “If that’s okay.”

Magnus gives him a smile that doesn’t reach his eyes. “Of course it is.”

Magnus magicks up a bottle of pale foundation- he probably stole it, but Alec’s far past caring- and a container of makeup remover wipes. Together, they get to work.

 


 

 

When Alec walks into the Institute, it's silent.

He wanders around the building, looking for Jace and Izzy, and hoping to God he doesn't run into anyone else.

He finds Jace in his bedroom.

Alec knocks lightly on Jace's half-open door. "Hey. Is Father here yet?”

“Nope." Jace shakes his head. "He’s not going to be here until twelve. He said he's running late.”

Alec sighs. “Of course he is.”

Jace regards him suspiciously. “What’s got your panties in a twist?”

Alec gives him a look.

Jace rolls his eyes far beyond what normal human eye muscles should be able to accomplish. “Oh come on, it’s not Robert, is it?”

“No, Jace,” Alec deadpans, “it’s my other father who’s coming over for lunch, totally uninvited.”

A strange look crosses Jace’s face. If Alec didn’t know better, he’d say that Jace looks guilty.

“You know,” Jace says hesitantly, “you never used to have a problem with him.”

Alec glares daggers at him. Jace throws his hands up in a placating gesture. His expression is genuinely concerned, and that more than anything makes Alec falter.

“I’m not attacking you,” Jace begins, “or accusing anyone of anything, but is it possible that you hate Robert so much now because of what Magnus has told you about his time in the Circle?”

Alec slaps his hands over his face. Maybe if he just pretends Jace isn’t there, this conversation will be over.

“Alec.”

Alec peeks at him through the gaps between his fingers.

“Just...tell me one thing you like about him,” Jace pleads. “Or do you even remember what he was like when we were kids?”

Alec takes his hands away from his face. He’s a good three seconds away from punching Jace’s lights out. “Do you think I’m a child? Of course there are things I like about him. Why can’t you trust that I know my own mind?”

“Then tell me one,” Jace says stubbornly.

Alec opens his mouth, and closes it again. If he tells Jace something he likes about Robert, Jace will take it as permission to pretend like their relationship is fine. Jace’ll think that because Alec has a few good memories of their father reading him bedtime stories as a toddler, he can’t still feel the sting of every single harsh word he’s ever said to him.

“What about what he told you at Jocelyn and Luke’s wedding?” Jace persists, when Alec doesn't respond. “Didn’t he say that-”

“That your-” Your father, Alec almost says. “That his parabatai fell in love with him? Yeah. So?”

“He said he saw himself in you. That he respected everything you’re going through. It’s not like he’s some homophobe. He’s your father. If you just gave him a chance, you’d see that he-”

Alec’s self-control goes taut.

“That he what, Jace?” Alec snaps. “That not only does he think I’m disgusting, but he thought the same thing about his parabatai?”

Jace rolls his eyes. “He doesn’t think that.”

“Yes,” Alec says quietly, “he does.”

“He’s never said anything like that! I know you two don’t get along, but if you just talked to him for once instead of running off to Magnus’s place-”

And that small thread of self-control snaps entirely.

“He tried to stop me from going to Europe with Magnus.”

“We were in the middle of a war!” Jace spreads his hands wide. “I was happy for you guys, but I didn’t want you to go either!”

“He’s asked me what I think turned me gay!”

Jace has the decency to pause at that. “I’m sure he didn’t-”

“Do you know,” Alec shouts, far past caring how much his voice is shaking, “how many times he’s told me how much better it would be if I lived a lie and settled down with some nice girl from Idris? It’s about safety, he says. It’s about being happy. Really happy, and not ‘living in a fantasy world.’ Let’s ignore the fact that he threw his own ‘happy ending’ in the garbage when he cheated on Mom.”

“He wants what he thinks is best for you,” Jace says, eyes pleading. “He loves you.”

Maybe he and Jace can read each other’s minds after all, because Alec might as well having this argument with his sixteen year old self.

“I never said he didn’t. But after all this time, I’ve finally learned that there’s a difference between loving me because I’m his son and loving me for who I am.”

Jace scoffs and looks away.

How many times has Jace come to him with a nonsense problem? How many times has Jace ranted to him about all the drama with Clary or paced up and down Alec’s room fuming at Valentine? This isn’t right. Alec deserves to be treated better than this.

Alec’s going to have to tell him.

“One night, I heard him talking to Jia Penhallow’s husband in the library. I was outside the door just long enough to hear him tell Penhallow that he was happy I had ‘turned gay’ after Max died.”

All the blood drains from Jace’s face. Alec’s having trouble getting air into his lungs.

They don’t talk about Max.

“Because if it had happened before,” Alec continues, the words like bile, “Dad knew that I would’ve ‘corrupted’ Max. Or at the very least, my ‘demon-blooded whore’ would have.”

Jace doesn’t move.

Alec swallows. His courage is gone.

"Nevermind the fact that I'd been gay for eighteen years before that." Obviously. He didn't need to tack that on. But the silence between them is like a chasm; Alec's desperate to fill it.

“I don’t believe you,” Jace rasps. “There is no way he said that.”

Alec hesitates. Jace is angry, now, and so fucking stubborn. But Alec can sense that underneath it all, he’s just scared. Desperate to keep the one father figure he still has up on a pedestal.

Alec can’t lie to him. And he shouldn’t have to. He’s spent his entire life doing what’s best for Jace instead of what’s best for himself. He’s done.

He feels a tugging sensation in his throat. He’s laid himself bare, this morning. But if Jace sees him cry, he’s going to lose it for good.

“I’m gonna…” Alec points behind him. He can’t be bothered to come up with an excuse.

He turns to go, but Jace calls after him.

“Wait!”

Alec stops, but doesn’t turn around. “What?”

“What he said was horrible, and I’m really sorry that you had to hear it. But I’m not sorry about inviting him here. This is exactly why I did it.”

“You…what?”

“Yeah, I asked him to come over so you guys could talk to each other.”

Alec feels like he’s going to be sick. He’s been betrayed. By Jace, his brother, the person who’s supposed to know him better than anyone else in the world. How could Jace possibly have thought this would be okay? How could he have thought that Alec would be okay with it?

Alec’s no stranger to having his flimsy boundaries knocked down without a care. But Magnus helped him realize that when he drew a line in the sand, when he said no to something, it mattered . Alec treasures his ability to make his own decisions above everything else in the world. Maybe that’s childish. Maybe it’s stupid to be so furious with Jace that he can’t think straight. After all, Jace was trying to help him. He was trying to make Alec’s life better. He only wanted what was best for him.

But Alec’s heard that phrase before.

Robert wanted “what was best for him” when he threatened to have Alec taken away to the Silent City over some goddamn stretch marks. He wanted “what was best for him” when he told Alec to marry someone, anyone, as long as they belonged to the gender that Alec wasn’t the least bit attracted to. He wanted “what was best for him” when he made Alec feel like the entire job of restoring honor to their family rested on his shoulders since the moment he was born.

“Don’t pretend you wouldn’t do the same for me.”

Alec laughs, more than a little hysterically. “You think I’d invite your abusive father over for lunch after you explicitly told me you wanted nothing to do with him?”

Jace purses his lips in an expression that Alec knows all too well. He’s annoyed. The bastard has the audacity to be annoyed at Alec for what he’s said.

Jace opens his mouth, and Alec holds up a hand to silence him.

“Go to hell,” he mutters. Jace doesn’t deserve to be screamed at.

He turns and wrenches the door open, relishing the way it slams against the concrete wall. He hopes it cracks.

 

 


 

 

The most horrifying part of Alec’s day was, in fact, the only part of his day that mundanes would find normal.

It’s 12:30, and Alec is sitting at the kitchen table, eating lunch with his entire family, minus his mother, and wishing desperately that he had never gotten out of bed.

They never do this. Alec can’t remember a single time in his life where they’d all sat down and ate together, struggling through awkward conversation. Everyone was always far too busy for that. It was all about training, and fighting, and oh look you have a new baby brother, and oh look you have a parabatai coming to stay, and Clary and Valentine and Magnus and Sebastian and Edom and war war war war-

Until it all stopped.

They still fight demons. Their lives still have ups and downs. But it’s all relatively quiet. Everything has settled.

Alec knows it’s not going to stay like this. But for the moment, for today and the foreseeable future, they have downtime.

Is that why Robert’s insisting on all of them eating together like this? Because he doesn’t really know how to handle a life where he has the chance to relax?

Robert looks as uncomfortable as Alec feels. He takes a little pride in that.

Alec’s not talking to his father, for obvious reasons. He’s not talking to Jace after the argument they had in his bedroom. He’s not talking to Isabelle, either, because if he does, she’ll start encouraging him to talk to their father about his feelings and Alec will burst into tears of pure frustration.

Alec’s picking at the sandwiches Isabelle picked up at the deli around the corner and wondering if it’s possible to slit his throat with a colorful toothpick.

They’ve been sitting in silence for so long now that Alec almost doesn’t hear the sound coming down the hallway.

Someone’s singing. Badly.

“...We were never welcome here, we were never welcome here at all…”

Simon walks into the kitchen, drumming his fingers on his thighs, completely oblivious to the four Lightwoods staring at him.

“Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh…”

He’s got a huge pair of green headphones over his ears, and Alec can faintly hear the song blasting out of the speakers. Simon opens the fridge and starts to pull out cold cuts in time with the little shimmying dance he’s doing.

“It’s who we are, doesn’t matter if we’ve gone too far…”

Alec and Izzy exchange equally horrified looks.

“Doesn’t matter if it’s all okay, doesn’t matter if it’s not our day…”

Jace cups his hands around his mouth and yells, “Simon!”

Simon reaches up to get at the bread on top of the fridge, still singing. His shirt rides up to reveal high-waisted boxers with little green aliens on them. Would Magnus be willing to permanently burn this memory from Alec’s mind?

Izzy gets out of her chair and taps Simon on the shoulder.

He turns, sliding his headphones down to his neck. “Oh, hey Isab-”

He catches sight of Robert and promptly drops the wrapped cold cuts onto the floor.

“Oh!” he says, his voice much higher than usual. “Hi. Mr. Lightwood, it’s nice to see you.”

Robert nods in acknowledgement. “Quite.”

When none of them say anything else for a few long, excruciating seconds, Simon sheepishly picks the cold cuts off the floor and starts to make himself a sandwich.

Isabelle gasps theatrically and plasters a terrifying smile on her face. “Simon, why don’t you join us for lunch?”

Simon looks terrified. “I’m sorry, what?”

“That’s a great idea,” Alec says, catching on. “You should definitely have lunch with us, Simon.”

Robert looks unhappy with this new arrangement, but Isabelle smiles at him and he lets it go.

Hopefully this will bring some relief. If anyone’s good at filling awkward silence with nonsense conversation, it’s Simon.

Simon finishes making his sandwich and sits gingerly, glancing between the four of them like he’s expecting an attack.

Isabelle’s the one to break the silence.

“Oh, you know what?” she says, her tone shrill with forced enthusiasm. “I got a call from Anna Bridgestock the other day. You know, mom’s cousin Andromache’s daughter? Her brother Chris and his wife had a baby. A little boy. She sent pictures, he’s absolutely adorable.”

She whips out her phone and shoves it under Alec’s nose. “They named him Dmitri. Jimmy for short.”

Alec squints at the picture. All he can see is a frankly huge blanket bundled around a small figure, with the hint of a tiny, wrinkled face poking out the top.

He’s always been a sucker for kids. Izzy’s trying to soften him up.

Unfortunately, it’s working.

He smiles, tentatively, and then Jace takes the phone out of his hands.

“Let me see.” He starts scrolling through the pictures. “Ok, I have to admit, that is an adorable baby.”

“He looks just like his dad,” Izzy says, with a genuine grin.

Robert glances at the phone and hums noncommittally. “He certainly has Christopher’s eyes. I always say, Alec, it’s a shame that no one will inherit those blue eyes of yours.”

And just like that, the tension is back.

They’re just looking at baby pictures. This is so simple. This is what regular families who don’t hate each other do over lunch. Why can’t Robert just shut his mouth, for once in his goddamn life?

Alec takes a gulp of his water. He knows better than to expect one of his siblings to jump in and defend him. All he can do is wait for the storm to pass on its own.

“Do you actually not know how genetics work?”

Alec whips his head up. What the hell does Simon think he’s doing?

“I’m sorry?” Robert threatens.

“Well, what about Izzy? She doesn’t have blue eyes. She and Alec have the same genetics. It’s a balance of probability.”

Isabelle’s watching with wide eyes. Even Jace looks worried. None of them dare to move a muscle.

“What are you talking about, ‘probability’?”

“Oh, a concept discovered by my good friend Gregor Mendel. Let me introduce you to the beauty of Punnett Squares.”

Simon leans across the table and grabs a fistful of napkins. He takes a pen out of his pocket and starts clicking it excitedly, like a nervous twitch, before setting it to a napkin. He sketches out what looks like a windowpane, a big box with four little boxes inside, and starts to label the edges.

Robert turns his head, squinting at the napkin. “Are you attempting to draw a pentagram? You have the angles all wrong.”

Isabelle forces a laugh. “Yeah, Simon, you’d better leave the artwork to Clary.” It falls flat. Unsurprisingly.

Simon ignores them both. “There are things called dominant and recessive genes. Alec got blue eyes because you have the recessive blue gene somewhere in your genetic code, and Mrs. Lightwood has the same. Izzy has the blue-eyed gene lying dormant in there, somewhere, because it’s present in both her parents. If she decides to have biological children someday, they could definitely have blue eyes, as long as the recessive trait was also present in her partner.”

He slides the napkin, covered in upper and lowercase Bs and percentage markings, over to Robert. He looks at it like Simon just handed him a pair of dirty underwear.

“But,” Simon continues, “none of this encompasses my main point, which is that I don’t think you actually care about blue eyes at all. You’re just mad that Alec’s gay. There are a million different ways he could have biological children, if he wanted to. Ever heard of artificial insemination?”

And Robert grows. His anger fills up the room, and Alec only resists the urge to run away by clenching his hands on the arms of his chair.

“We don’t partake in mundane medicine,” Robert fumes. “It goes against the will of the Angel.”

Simon cringes. “I...I’m not even going to try and explain how staggeringly stupid that is. Just, know this: there’s nothing wrong with being gay. And your children don’t exist to procreate.”

“It is a shadowhunter’s duty,” Robert says, his voice rising, “to provide the Clave with a new generation of soldiers.”

“Your kids are human beings,” Simon counters, totally unperturbed. “You either accept that, or fuck off. They’re better off without you, then.”

Alec picks up his water again and stares at his uneaten sandwich. Maybe if he avoids eye contact entirely, his father will forget he’s there.

“Simon has a point, you know,” Jace interjects. “You should get off Alec’s back. He hasn’t done anything wrong.”

Alec chokes on the water. He coughs hard enough to hack up a lung, and Isabelle thumps him on the back.

He stares at Jace, his mouth hanging open in shock. Jace isn’t defending him. It’s just not done.

But then, instead of leveling the kitchen, Robert deflates . His shoulders slump, his eyes lose their predatory gleam, and his fingers unfurl, lying limp at his sides.

Without another word, he turns and storms out of the room.

 


 

 

The rest of the day goes much more smoothly.

Before long, Robert's heading back to Idris, and Alec can breathe again.

He's in his room, grabbing a few things he forgot the last time he was here, and getting ready to go back to Magnus's loft.

There's a knock at his door.

"Yeah, Iz," he calls over his shoulder, "I looked for your blue mascara, but I think you must've left it somewhere else."

There's an awkward, male laugh. "It's not Izzy."

Alec looks up. It's Jace, hanging out in his doorway like he's unsure about whether he's welcome.

“I realized that I’ve been an asshole to you," Jace says.

“What?”

Jace looks extremely uncomfortable. A torrent of words shoot out of his mouth at once. “I minimized your feelings about Robert. I was projecting my own trauma onto your relationship with him, and I didn’t listen to you when you tried to set me straight. And I disrespected your boundaries when I invited him over without asking.”

“Did you swallow a psychology textbook or something?”

Jace reddens. “No. I’m just- I just wanted to-”

“You don’t need to tell me what I want to hear,” Alec admits tiredly. “I get it. You don’t believe me.”

“I’m sorry!” Jace shouts.

Alec's eyes widen in alarm. “I...I don’t think you’ve ever apologized to me.”

Alec can count on one hand the amount of times that Jace has looked this small.

“I must have," he says quietly.

Alec shakes his head. “Nope. Never.”

“Well it’s about time, then, I guess," Jace says, scratching the back of his neck.

“Yeah. It is.”

Jace nods.

Alec should really still be angry at him. But, of course, he isn't.

"I'll see you around, man."

"You going to Magnus's?" Jace asks, uncharacteristically hesitant.

"Yeah."

If Jace asks him not to go, Alec's going to lose his mind.

"Text me when you get there?"

Alec can't help but grin in relief. "What are you, my mother?"

"I am older than you," Jace smirks.

Alec lets out an incredulous laugh. "No, you're not."

"Well, you're my responsibility, anyway," Jace says, more seriously. "And I'm yours. We have to make sure neither of us does anything stupid."

Alec knows Jace isn't talking about getting home safe.

"Yeah. You're right."

 

 


 

 

On his way out of the Institute, Alec passes Simon, reading a book on the floor.

Alec squints at him. “Simon."

Simon looks up at him. "Yeah, what's up?"

"Did you say something to Jace?”

Simon looks back down and idly turns a page in his book. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

So he did, then. Alec knows there's no way that Jace came up with that whole spiel on "minimizing" and "projecting" all by himself.

“Jace listened to you?”

Simon shrugs. “I’m an extremely charismatic person. It would make sense for Jace to listen to me if I hypothetically told him to get off his hypothetical ass and stop being a hypothetical dick.”

Alec is at a loss for words. He's been trying to get Jace to listen to him for his entire life, and Simon does it in a day?

And then there's what happened with Robert. Isabelle always tried to redirect their parents' attention onto her, and Jace just made a surprising turnaround, but Simon's the first person to actually fight Alec's father and win. He's truly touched. No one's ever done that for him before.

"Thanks for...for talking to him. And for throwing my father out on his ass earlier."

Simon glances at him, unsure. "Was that really okay? It's almost impossible for me to shut my mouth when someone's acting like that, but if I overstepped-"

Alec silences him with a hand. "Thank you."

Simon nods. "Yeah. Anytime."

Alec knows it sounds silly, but before today, he honestly hadn't ever considered putting Robert in his place. But Simon did. He cursed at him, and nothing bad happened. The world didn't end.

Next time Robert says something, Alec's going to take care of it.

Alec leaves the Institute with a skip in his step. On his way to the subway, he dials Magnus's number.

"Hey, you know that concealer you got for me? I'm not going to need it anymore."