It was a rainy Tuesday evening, the cars sloshing puddles out on the Brooklyn streets, overpowering any other noise of the city. The streetlights hadn’t turned on yet, and with the light fog, they wouldn’t do much to brighten the street anyway. Alec didn’t have another client until 7:00pm, just after sunset, so he busied himself organizing his inks and tidying up his work-spaces.
He had one in the front, where he took drop-in clients, mostly mundanes, and then he had a backroom for shy clients and downworlders who wanted to keep a low profile. Raphael Santiago— his 7:00— was one of those downworlders, not wanting to draw unnecessary attention to the fact that his tattoos needed to be touched up every few weeks so that they wouldn’t fade. The ink didn’t stay well in vampire skin, which was a challenge Alec was determined to fix. His tattoo parlor was downworlder-friendly, so he put extra effort into making sure his practices were inclusive.
Some standard tattoo inks contained silver nanoparticles— for werewolves this would be at best an inconvenience, at worst, a death sentence. For vampires, certain religious iconography signs could cause skin burning once they were completed, but Alec learned his way around this by very carefully leaving gaps between lines. Seelies wanted plant, crystal or mineral derived inks, allowing them to harness their power more effectively in an urban environment. Anything animal derived or overly ferrous was considered uncivilized by the fair folk.
While it made things more complicated, catering to downworlders had an added advantage. Deruned shadowhunters often found themselves targets for demon and rogue downworlder attacks. Without the power of their runes and weapons or the support of the Clave and the Accords, they were completely vulnerable. Building a strong rapport with the downworlder community ensured that Alec had a network of protection. It kept him in their good graces.
In the back of the shop, Clary was practicing on some pig leather, testing out some of her latest flashes. Alec loved it when she practiced— it meant she wasn’t bothering him with questions or watching him while he worked. If he could convince her to use headphones for her music, then he would be able to enjoy complete silence, but Clary and Maryse fired back that it was important for a Tattoo Shop atmosphere to have an appropriate soundtrack. Thankfully, the music was a mixture of his taste with Clary’s, so most of it was tolerable; alternative rock, mellow indie, fringe pop and classics.
Since she remembered nothing of the downworld after being deruned by the angels, Clary reverted back to her art-school era interests, going to concerts, clubs, and galleries. Simon was still her friend, but he kept a safe distance to avoid her catching on that he was a vampire, which left Alec to be reluctantly dragged around by the redhead to concerts. Before, he would have just said no; he would not have entertained the idea. But he had this new life as a mundane, and part of mundane life was going out and participating in things. If that meant he had to go places with Clary Fray, so be it.
“Hey, Alec?” Clary chimed from the back room. “Could you come take a look at this stippling? I don’t know if I assembled the shading needle properly.”
Even now, Alec was responsible for teaching Clary Fray. ‘At least now I’m not teaching her how to use swords…’ He thought to himself, rolling his eyes.
“Alright, gimme a sec.” He gave the cabinet of inks a once over before gingerly closing the door. He stored all of his inks in an antique wooden cabinet with stained glass doors. It reminded him of the windows in the training room. Since taking over the shop, he redecorated a bit, making the studio look like a fluid continuation of bookstore next door. Maybe in a few years, he’d save up the money and bust out the wall, combine the two family businesses. There wasn’t enough money for that right now.
He walked into the back room, finding Clary leaned over a table tapping her foot in concentration. Her pale face was flushed with red, something Alec learned was a signature of her frustration. Clutching the needle with white knuckles, she touched it to a piece of test leather, drawing a small patch of shading and quickly pulling back.
“Ugh I just can’t quite get it to look right.” Clary righted herself, tucking a stray strand of wavy hair back into her top knot.
Alec leaned over her worktable, taking a look at her practice squares. The first one was a watercolor design, an iris. To be a good watercolor tattoo, an unorthodox style, the colored shading needed to look melted, the edges delicately blurred. Next to the leather square, Clary had placed a painting she was using as the basis for the design.
“This is a good start.” Alec learned that with Clary, and with most people, it was always good to start with a positive. When he worked for the Clave, he was always in positions of authority; people listened without question. Now, living as a mundane, Alec learned that social skills were much more valuable. “I think you tried to take on too much all at once. See this—” He gestured to the purple petal on the warm leather. “It looks like you started off with too much ink. When you’re doing shading like this, you want to make sure you start light. You can always build, but you can’t take away. But this—” He gestured to the square where she’d only marked a few simple lines. “This is much better. Remember, you have to learn the basics, get really good at the individual pieces, before you put everything together into one picture.”
It was the same advice he used to give when training younger shadowhunters, word for word. Only now, he was talking about actual pieces of a picture, not the basic skills of hand-to-hand combat.
“You put together a bunch of different lines of this light stippling,” He pointed again to her practice line, “...build it up to create depth, and I think you’ll be a lot happier with the final result. Maybe try messing around with the darkness of the purple too.”
“ Oh , so it’s like doing grey-scale shading?” She squinted her eyes at her line of stippling, drawing a few more strokes next to it to create a small square. “Oh my gosh I’m so dumb…” She whispered. “Of course it is. Just because I’m not working with black doesn’t mean the technique changes.” She leaned in closer to the table to focus on her work. Alec knew she was about to get pulled into a black hole, practicing her new technique. She turned her head to the side, throwing Alec an ice-cream melting smile. “Thanks, Alec, you’re the best!”
“Don’t thank me yet, thank me when I can see you do that on a person.” He moved around the table, cleaning up around her. He shook his head dismissively; she was always surrounded by a spiraling hurricane of mess. “You have to keep your station tidy even when you’re in the middle of work. I know sanitation doesn’t matter as much in those…” He waved his hands vaguely in the air. “...painting studios at the Brooklyn Academy. Here though—”
“I know, I know. You tell me this every day Alec.” She giggled, shaking her head. A loud buzz whirred through the room as she continued to practice.
“Yeah, well it’s not every day that I have a 7:00 appointment, specifically in the back room. I’ll need you to wrap this up within a half hour. I’m gonna step out, get some dinner. Want me to grab you something?”
“Oh, I’m good! Luke and I are going to Alberto’s for pizza. He’s been on night duty for a while, and we want to catch up.”
“Catch up? Don’t you guys live in the same apartment?” Alec grabbed his leather jacket off the front hook, shrugging it on. He didn’t wait for her to respond, opening the door to the chilly, damp air.
“Bye!” He heard her yell, her voice harmonizing with the bell clanging as the door closed. The rain now fell in heavy drops, pelting his jacket and quickly soaking his hair. It was only one door down to his mother’s bookstore, not enough time outdoors to warrant an umbrella.
The smell of the bookstore was intoxicatingly comforting, rushing his senses when he opened the door. In the past two years, the shop had blossomed from a dusty, abandoned shop into a treasure trove of obscure manuscripts, the shelves dotted with various antiquities. There were, of course, some standard mundane bookstore elements. The displays closer to the front housed leather-bound copies of classical literature, luxurious journals, and even a small rack of tapestry bookmarks. This was all to distract from the vast selection of downworld volumes, of course, but like Alec’s tattoo shop, keeping some mundane elements helped pay the bills.
An inside joke, there was even a ‘spiritual’ corner near the front window, stocked with spell candles, various types of incense, and ‘grimoires’. It was the most profitable inventory, and it was always fun to see what type of people floated in to peruse it.
“Mom?” Alec called. This late in the day, his mother wasn’t usually at her desk, instead busying herself among the maze of tall racks near the back. “I’m grabbing some dinner, you want anything?”
A rustling came from behind a floor-to-ceiling shelf, Maryse Lightwood emerging haphazardly. A pair of delicate reading glasses were perched on her nose, her arms clumsily full of paperwork for logging the more valuable inventory.
“Alec!” She shuffled over to a small table, depositing the stack of folders, freeing her arms so she could pull him into a tight hug. Despite being a deruned shadowhunter, she still had nephilim strength, making her hugs a near-deadly suffocating force. Through squeezed lungs, Alec chuckled.
“Okay, calm down, you just saw me this morning.”
“It was a slow day! I haven’t really seen anyone .” She released him taking a step back. “To answer your question, yes— I’m starving. I’d offer to come out with you, but I have someone stopping by the store soon who’s interested in one of my Seelie poetry books.”
“I don’t have much time either, I have a touch-up session with Raphael again. You good with banh mi sandwiches and spring rolls from the place down the block? I can grab you some tea too.”
“That sounds absolutely lovely. There’s a bit of a chill in here, I’ll have to find a space heater that isn’t a fire hazard…” Maryse trailed off, losing her train of thought, analyzing her shop. She wrapped her crimson cable-knit sweater tightly around her core.
“I’ll be back in a few minutes.” He leaned down kissing his mom on the cheek. “Can I borrow your umbrella?”
“Of course.” She beamed. She was proud of how Alec had grown into himself, evident in even the simplest of gestures. He was always a kind soul, but the layers of responsibility had steeled him for years. Somehow, he’d adjusted to mundane life relatively well, so much so that sometimes he almost seemed relaxed.
The bell clattered on the front door, a pale man in a black trenchcoat stepping in. He closed his long-handled umbrella and slid out of the coat, hanging both on the front rack.
“Clarissa, it’s always a pleasure.” Raphael nodded to the redhead, who had taken her place working the front desk. He always paid before getting his tattoos, something that struck Clary as rather strange. She didn’t have much room to question it though, since he usually slipped her a very hefty tip for doing basically nothing. Since he came in at least twice a month, she was incredibly grateful, making him her favorite client despite his reserved demeanor.
“Welcome back, Raphael. Alec’s ready for you. Want me to walk you back?”
“I should be fine, I know my way.” He gave her a smile so small that if she blinked, she would have missed it.
“Raphael.” Alec stood to greet the vampire. “So what are we doing today?”
“Just a touch-up on the crucifix.” Raphael shut the door behind him. “It stayed for almost three weeks this time. That’s a new record. I’m impressed.”
“I decreased the amount of ferrous oxide in the ink. Isabelle suggested that vampire metabolisms consume it faster since it might be mistaken for blood.” He didn’t get to see his sister often, but when he did, she was more than eager to utilize her biochemistry skills to help him develop new techniques, usually arriving with tiny vials in tow. Alec dug around in a cabinet hidden behind a mirror. Certain supplies had to be artfully concealed, hidden from any health inspectors when they came by. “Instead, I mixed this new formula replacing it with lead. This time, I tweaked the ratio even more.”
“That wouldn’t be particularly safe for your mundane clients, now would it?” Raphael smirked, unbuttoning his simple white button down shirt. At this point, he and Alec had a very simple routine. Neither of them were pointed conversationalists, so once Alec got to work, they settled into a comfortable silence.
Alec pulled out his phone, opening up his music app and selecting a playlist labeled ‘R. Santiago’. He made playlists for all his regular downworlder clients— Raphael had been his first. The traditional immortal preferred a mix of calming Latin music a la Buena Vista Social Club and classical guitar music. With a few taps, the soft guitar melodies floated through the room.
“Do you want anything before I get started? I had Maia bring by some blood, it’s in the fridge.” Alec offered.
“I’m fine, thank you. That’s a great idea to attract other clients though. Good call. You’re gaining quite a reputation amongst the New York downworlders. I feel like soon, my investment will pay off.” Raphael took a seat, backwards in a leather chair.
The piece Alec was working on today was a large crucifix, entwined with greyscale roses. Like Raphael had mentioned, it held up much better this time, but many of the lines were heavily faded, almost all the shading gone. It would take him about two hours, maybe a bit less to finish up the piece. Alec was looking forward to the peaceful, methodical work.
“Let’s get started then.”
It was always surprising to Alec, how vampires still felt pain in the tattooing process. As a shadowhunter, he always viewed vampires as invulnerable, immortal creatures, their only weakness being the sun. But each time he touched the tattoo gun to Raphael’s pale, flawless skin, the muscles underneath rippled, tensing with the sensation. Every once in a while, if the needle passed over a plane of his back close to a bone, the vampire even winced.
Half an hour in, Alec had fallen into a peaceful rhythm. Ink. Buzz. Wipe. Check . It was a comforting routine, reminding him of his old archery mantra, Nock. Draw. Aim. Release . Just like with shooting his bow, tattooing took his mind completely off of everything else, the focus dominating his thoughts. Even more so than fighting at the MMA gym, it was Alec’s most relaxed state. Sometimes, he even found himself singing along to the music if it was familiar.
“El cariño que te tengo
No te lo puedo negar
Se me sale la babita
Yo no lo puedo evitar.”
He barely noticed he was singing. His voice was quiet, delicately gracing over the syllables. Alec had a decent singing voice, something he discovered once his days weren’t consumed with hunting demons. That same freedom was what revealed his love for tattooing— not only honing his creative energies but also utilizing his years of rune studies. As it would turn out, drawing runes all over one’s body was excellent practice for inking designs.
“Since when is your Spanish so passable, Lightwood?” Raphael teased, his tone bemused. This was the best reaction Alec could hope for, cursing himself for singing in front of Raphael Santiago of all people.
“Oh, I’ve been practicing. I never had time to learn as a kid like Izzy did, and my mom never had time to teach me. But my family is Spanish, so I figured it might be fun to learn.” It was one of the hobbies Alec picked up to help bond with Maryse. Both deruned and living together, they were all each other had. It took effort to reconnect with her, to get back to the closeness they shared when he was young, before she became more of his boss and less of his mother. Sharing the apartment above the bookstore also helped, since close quarters made it hard not to spend time together.
They fell back into comfortable silence as Alec continued to trace over each line, careful to not let the corners of the cross meet entirely. Compared to most vampires, Raphael was very resilient to religious iconography. He wore a cross pendant, he could easily say ‘God,’ and he often frequented late-night mass. This strong tolerance didn’t mean that it was completely comfortable for him, so Alec always encouraged him to go for the safer designs, so that his skin wasn’t in constant irritation.
The time flew by, and soon the work was finished. With the speed of vampire healing, it wasn’t necessary to wrap the work with a bandage— the only necessity was to wash it. He didn’t want to risk dirtying the vampire’s shirt. Alec handed Rafel a small mirror, turning the chair to face the larger one on the front wall.
“How does it look?” Even though he’d tattooed Raphael at least fifty times prior, each time Alec was still a bit nervous of his handiwork.
“Perfect, as always.” Without much ceremony, he rose from the chair, putting back on his shirt. “I left my payment with Fairchild at the front.” With the safety of the door between them, Raphael used Clary’s shadowhunter name. With her memories gone, she still went by ‘Fray’. She didn’t remember the days when her last name was Fairchild, Morgenstern, or when her romantic trajectory would have certainly ended in her becoming a Wayland or Herondale. “I’m telling you, you should let me encanto her so she doesn’t notice my tattoos fading. I’d be honored to wear some of her designs.”
Alec laughed, shaking his head. “I told you, no encanto-ing my shop attendant. She does a pretty good job.”
“Sure, as if you didn’t hire her only because Luke and Maryse are nearly married, making Clary almost your step-sister. And you never cared for her back in the day, did you? Isn’t that some interesting kismet…” He taunted Alec, knowing full and well that the girl used to be the bane of Alec’s existence. “Well, see you in a few weeks, Lightwood.” Raphael dipped out.
After cleaning up his station, Alec walked back out to the front, ready to relieve Clary of her desk duty. “You can go home for the day if you want. I don’t expect anyone else to come in on a Tuesday night.” While he’d been tattooing Raphael, Clary had stepped out for her pizza date with Luke, returning back to man the desk in case there were any walk-ins.
“Are you sure? I don’t have much else to do.” She lowered her charcoal back to her sketch pad, wiping her fingers with a soot-stained cloth. The heavy-weight drawing paper was alive with design, sweeping spirals giving an illusion of movement. From a distance, the intertwined lines could have been mistaken for a fearless rune, Alec noticed with a twinge of remorse. It was probably just a coincidence, though.
“Even better. It’s good to have downtime.” It was the truth. Between going to school and working with Alec, Clary rarely had a day off. It hardly showed— she had seemingly boundless energy. She tagged along with him to fighting classes, always impressed with herself by how quickly she mastered the skills.
“Oh, before I head out, we got a call while you were with Raphael. Someone asking about whether or not you do henna tattoos? I know it’s not your standard work, but we do have a few kits that you used at the Brooklyn street festival this year. I didn’t want to turn away any business...” She chewed her lip nervously. Despite their fondness, Alec was still her boss, and she didn’t enjoy the idea of making a misstep.
“No, you made the right call. If I can get someone in for henna, maybe I could eventually twist their arm for a permanent piece. If we start to get enough requests for henna, you can jump in doing some of that work yourself. We could put up a sign or something.”
Clary threw her sketchbooks into her satchel, slipped into a thick wool sweater, and grabbed her umbrella. “See you tomorrow, Alec? 5:00 shift, right?” It was cute that she spoke about shifts, as if Alec had any other employees.
“Yep, 5:00 pm.” Alec sighed as she finally left, happy to have the place to himself. He put on a playlist of mellow 90’s alternative rock, cozying up in the leather chair by the window usually used by waiting clients. It wasn’t the most professional choice to sit in the front reading a book, but it was better than closing the shop late on weeknights altogether. Sometimes a few werewolves would pop in, or a drunk college student. If he was going to read anyway, what better place than in the shop? Growing up, he hadn’t had much time to devote to reading fiction, so he was slowly working his way through the classic literature section in the book shop. Today, he was starting “The Sun Also Rises.”
It was only about fifteen minutes until he was startled from his reverie, a tiny dark-haired girl bounding through the door. Her glittery purple rain boots splattered water on the floor, forming a small puddle. A chorus of giggles, ten-children strong, erupted from her grinning mouth. Her bouncing movements were less than graceful, and Alec watched in slow-motion as the child slipped backward on the tile floor. It suddenly occurred to him that he should buy a doormat. His shadowhunter reflexes kicked in full force. He sprung from the chair, diving to the ground to support her head, catching her before she hit the ground. When the chaos died down, Alec finally had a chance to take in the scene in front of him.
“Aerulei!” A silky voice called after her through the open door. “What have I told you about running around in wet shoes?” The voice tsked . Despite the apparent frustration, there was a delicate fondness to his tone. “And in a place of business no less.”
Alec froze in place on the floor. The voice sounded so familiar. But it couldn’t be. The door closed, footsteps crossing the floor over to where the little girl had tumbled.
“I’m so sorry, she’s just been very excited since I told her she could come get her henna tattoo today.” The girl hopped to her feet, bouncing carefully while quietly chanting ‘ henna henna henna henna.’
As Alec looked up, his eyes first caught a glimpse of purple velvet boots, untouched by the rain. Tracing up further, black fitted pants, a golden silk tunic, an assortment of necklaces…