"Rise and shine, sweetheart!"
The voice was clear and very, very loud and most definitely way too cheerful for this ungodly hour.
Alec groaned and rolled over, burying his face in the pillows, fighting the urge to tell his mother to 'shut the fuck up', even though he was very tempted to, because somehow he didn't think that she wouldn't have been too happy about the use of profanities. The digital numbers of his alarm clock were glowing in the dark. Five am. He'd only fallen asleep an hour ago. Just as he was about to tune her out and resume his much needed sleep, another person spoke up.
"I could kick him if you want."
"No, thank you, Jace. I think that would be a bit drastic."
There was a disappointed huff. "Or I could poke him?" he suggested, and really, not a second later, Alec was treated to the sensation of a finger repeatedly jabbing into his ribcage.
It was surprising how much Jace resembled a child in kindergarten rather than a seventeen-year-old teenager sometimes. Mostly when he wanted to annoy the crap out of his adopted brother. Which worked every time. Without opening his eyes, Alec lifted his arm to slap his hand away. He missed, but at least he hit Jace's head instead, which was not only way more satisfactory but also actually made him stop. "I hate you," he mumbled, irritated.
Jace yelped indignantly when he hit him, and then pretended to be shocked at his words like the little drama queen he was. Alec imagined he added some heart-clutching for the full effect. "Oh, how you wound me," he cried out, loudly. "How will I ever survive the pain of being so maligned?"
His dramatic speech was negated by the rumble of laughter he tried – and failed – to suppress. The sheer volume of it all had the desired effect, though: there was no way Alec could have still been asleep with him standing next to his bed and screaming bloody murder like that.
"Oh, shut up," Alec muttered, defiantly pressing his eyes shut with even more force. He heard Jace shift beside him, and suddenly his blanket was gone and the cold air hit him like hurricane Irene had hit the East Coast. He bolted upright and threw his pillow into the general directed he suspected Jace was standing. It hit him in the face. "You asshole!"
"Boys, language!" Maryse said sternly while Jace was busy laughing his ass off.
Damn. Alec had forgotten she was still in the room. It was easy to forget about everyone else when Jace was around, and not necessarily only because you had to look out for him doing something incredibly stupid or because of him being a loud-mouthed brat most of the time. It's just that as soon as he walked into a room, everyone's attention was immediately directed towards him. Some people just had this kind of gift, Alec guessed, and Jace was one of them. The only other person he knew who succeeded in getting noticed next to him was his sister Isabelle.
No one ever noticed Alec, and he was infinitely glad about it.
He did my best to throw his brother the angriest and most intimidating death glare he could manage, but it didn't have the effect he wanted, because a) Jace was never intimidated by anything and b) Alec doubted he looked very threatening with bed hair and dark rings caused by insomnia under his eyes.
"Get up, Alexander," his mother said. "We are leaving in ten minutes."
He scrambled out of bed – or rather, from the mattress he'd been sleeping on - and got dressed. Meanwhile, Jace was leaning against the wall, regarding him with a mixture of amusement and some sort of faint curiosity. "You look like shit," he told Alec.
"Gee, thanks. Always so charming."
"Jace is right," Isabelle said as she marched into the room. Her high heels were making a clicking sound that reverberated loudly in the mostly empty room. "You look like a zombie."
"So would you if you'd only slept one hour," Alec grumbled.
"Pfft," said Jace. "My fabulous self would never look so scruffy. I'm perfect, remember?"
"And so humble," Isabelle commented dryly. "Now come on, boys, mom is waiting for us. You can continue your bickering and self-praising, in Jace's case, in the car."
"Coming," Alec said. As he picked up his backpack, he looked around his room one last time. Or rather, the remains of his room. There was not much left that made it his room: all his belongings, few as they were, were crammed into cardboard boxes which the moving company would transport to their new home. Most of the furniture was gone, too, most of it having been sold or thrown away.
Saying goodbye to all of that was a lot easier than he had thought. Not that he really wanted to leave and go to New York, but there wasn't really anything that kept him in L.A. either.
Izzy and Jace waited for him in the corridor, and they went downstairs together. In the dark, Alec nearly would have tripped over a little figure curled up on the last step and the book lying next to his feet. He shook my head. Max must have been awake at some point, seeing that he was dressed and everything, but he must have fallen asleep again while waiting for his siblings to arrive. Alec envied him for his ability to sleep anywhere, at any given time. Sighing, he bent down to pick him up, trying not to wake him. He mumbled something incoherent and proceeded to bury his face in Alec's sweater. He didn't even budge when their mother honked impatiently.
"Okay, I think we're ready to go. Iz, Jace, you got everything?"
They nodded. Jace took Alec's bag and together they shuffled out of the front door, got into the car and set off to the airport. From the corner of my eye, Alec could see both Izzy and Jace turn their head to look back, staring at their house until they went round the corner and it disappeared out of their view.
Alec didn't look back.
About twelve hours later, he stood in an almost equally empty room, but this one was entirely unfamiliar and, much to his disdain, pretty much covered in dust and cobwebs. The thought of spiders inhabiting the same room as him made him shudder, and he briefly wondered if there was some way that he could talk one of his siblings into cleaning the room for him without making a complete fool out of himself. There probably wasn't, but it would be worth the humiliation.
The room was quite big and luminous in contrast to the rather dark ones in the rest of the house, which was nice. The large windows that reached down to the floor were facing towards the south-east, letting in the light of the late afternoon sun. With the sunrays being dispersed by the dust floating through the air it looked rather like a misty, but quite charming, especially with the antique cupboard and bed standing at the walls, looking as if they'd been taken out of another century. A part of him wished he would have gotten to choose his own furniture, but this one was alright, he guessed. He rather liked the dark wood the items were made of.
What he didn't like so much was the huge mirror on the opposite wall.
"Do you like it?" his mother asked behind him. "I was told this room had the best view. And, of course, it has the en-suite bathroom."
She sounded almost excited, which was very out of character for her. He supposed she was trying to make them all feel better about the move. Personally, he found it rather annoying (she wasn't very good at cheering people up, either), but he didn't want to be childish, nor did he want to disappoint her. So he carefully schooled his expression and searched for something positive to say about his new room without lying; his mother always knew when he was lying. Everyone always knew when he was lying. His face gave him away every time.
"It's...bigger than the one back in L.A." he said, tentatively.
That wasn't much of a positive statement, but it seemed to be good enough for Maryse. "I knew you would like it."
"It looks as if it had been a lumber-room during the last century," Isabelle, who had, as always, appeared out of nowhere, commented.
"Well, I guess it does need a bit of cleaning."
"A bit?" Isabelle snorted. "Alec will be lucky if he doesn't get eaten by the dust bunnies. Have fun cleaning."
"Thanks, Izzy, for always being so positive and supportive." Alec rolled his eyes.
"Just saying it how it is," she replied, shrugging. "But seriously, why is this room so dirty? The others are perfectly clean. Has no one used this room recently?"
"No one has used this room in a while. People tend to avoid it."
Alec turned around to see the former housekeeper, who had been giving them a tour through the house and was still hanging around to officially hand over the keys, standing in the doorway. He frowned. "Why?"
"They say this room is haunted."
"...right." Alec's voice was sceptic.
Isabelle started to laugh. "People still believe in this shit?"
The housekeeper stiffened, but remained silent. Alec watched him, frowning. He himself had never believed in superstitions or ghosts or anything like that, but the old man seemed to be quite convinced, despite his careful choice of words. Frankly, Alec thought it was stupid. Logic and reason defied everything vaguely spiritual, in his opinion, and he had always been a head-person. This blathering was just idiotic.
"So, what's the story behind this?" Isabelle asked, curious, but still grinning. "Will there be headless knights coming to chop Alec's head off? Is there a poltergeist that will pull his hair?"
"Nothing, of that kind, Miss, I can assure you," the man said, albeit still hesitant.
"What is it, then?"
"Isabelle," Maryse cut her off sternly. "Leave the poor man alone. It's just a bunch of scary stories." She turned towards Alec. "If you want another room, though-"
Alec rolled his eyes. "I'll be fine, mum."
"I'm just curious," his sister went on. "Please, tell me the story?"
The housekeeper swallowed. "There isn't much to tell. Some former owners of this house who slept in this room were convinced that there was a presence of something strange in here is all. Something that is locked in and cannot get out. Something...not exactly human. That is all I can tell you."
"So...have you ever seen the ghost?"
"Of course not," the man replied stiffly. From the way his eye twitched Alec could tell that he was lying. "It's just a story. No person was ever harmed in any way. It did make some people uncomfortable, though." He looked at Alec appraisingly. "If you'd prefer one of the guestrooms-"
"I'm fine," he interrupted the man, more sharply than he had originally intended. Did the old man actually expect him to believe this crap? Or did he just want to test whether Alec was a whimp? "That's a nice story, I guess, but I really don't believe in ghosts. So can we end this conversation now? This is getting rather ridiculous and I'd like to get some cleaning done before I go to bed. The only thing that's wrong about this room is the state it's in." Alec took another look around. "Well, and maybe this," he said, indicating his head towards the mirror. "Can we throw that out?"
The old housekeeper flinched visibly.
"But why?" his mother asked, surprised. "The mirror is beautiful. It's very old, too, and probably worth a fortune."
"Well, I don't want it," Alec replied brusquely.
"You could need it, though," Isabelle snickered. "Maybe if you looked into a mirror more often it would help improve your fashion sense."
He resisted the urge to stick out his tongue. "I don't need it," he said. "I'd say you can have it, but you are vain enough."
The thing was, Alec had always hated looking at his own reflection, mostly because he was almost painfully self-conscious. He was well aware of all his flaws – he didn't need a huge mirror in his bedroom constantly reminding him of them.
"I'm sure we can find another place for it," Maryse assured him. "Or get rid of it. But we will deal with this later, when everything is unpacked and we know what else we are going to throw away."
Alec grimaced inwardly, but nodded. "Fine." He guessed he could cope with the mirror for a couple of days.
When his mother, Isabelle and the housekeeper finally decided to leave him alone, Alec went to search for a broom, a mop and some cleaning cloth. It took him nearly half an hour to find one in the multitude of boxes standing in every possible corner of the house, so to say he was in a bad mood when he finally started to clean would have been an extreme understatement. The lack of sleep the night prior and the prospect of encountering his phobia-inducing eight-legged nightmare didn't help, either. Nor did the cloud of dust engulfing him when he started to broom the floor. Alec kept coughing through the whole procedure, and had to stop more than once to get the dirt out of his eyes.
As he scrubbed the top of the cupboard ferociously, trying to rid it of the dirt and grease that had accumulated over the years, Alec saw a flash of pink in the corner of his eyes. He looked at the mirror, but there was nothing to be seen that wasn't supposed to be seen. It had probably been Isabelle walking past the room. He couldn't remember her wearing anything pink today, but knowing her it wasn't unlikely that she had changed three times since he had started cleaning.
Just when he was about to turn his attention back to his task, he saw it flash again. Frowning, he turned around to look at the door. Isabelle was nowhere to be seen. He hadn't heard her walk past, either, but that wasn't unusual – years of sneaking out of the window at night to go to some parties had given his sister incredible stealth. "Iz?" he called our questioningly, but no one answered. Either she had already returned to her room, which was just down the corridor, or he had imagined it after all.
Within the next three hours, Alec scrubbed and cleaned until his muscles hurt and the room was nearly shining like polished boots. Luckily, he didn't come face to face with any spiders, and as he examined his work he felt for the first time as if this room could actually be comfortable and cosy. Maybe.
"Hey," Jace said, poking his head in. "You want some take-out?"
Alec shook his head. "Not hungry."
Jace raised his eyebrows. "You sure? Personally, I'd go for it. It may be the last time we get edible food before Izzy decides the kitchen must be inaugurated and we have to face the horrors of having to choke down her dinosaur poop or whatever it is she produces."
Alec grinned. "Dinosaur poop? Now that's a new one."
"Well, I rather though that's what her last...meal resembled."
"I didn't know you had experience on what dinosaur poop tastes like," Alec remarked.
"Obviously, I don't, but I'm pretty sure that if I ever were to taste dinosaur poop, it would taste exactly like that."
His expression was so utterly disgusted that Alec couldn't help but laugh. "Thanks for the offer, but still, no. I'm really not hungry, just tired. I think I'll start unpacking a couple of boxes and then hit the sack. I didn't really get any sleep last night."
"Fine." He strolled off without another word.
Apparently there was no such thing as 'helping your siblings carrying the heavy cardboard boxes to the second floor'. Sighing, Alec left the room and trudged down the stairs. There were only a few boxes left by now, so it seemed that the other family members had put their time to good use as well. He searched a while until he found the box with the most important things, brought it upstairs and started to unpack, sorting his clothes into the closet. As he stepped back, he caught sight of a shadow moving in the mirror.
Alec froze. His eyes darted to the door, which was closed – there was no way he had seen the reflection of someone walking by this time. Carefully, he took a step towards the mirror, staring at it intently.
There was nothing to be seen. Just his own reflection, staring back at him with wide blue eyes.
Alec shook his head. Come on, don't be ridiculous. There's nothing unusual here. It was just a figment of your imagination, resulting from the lack of sleep.
He blinked and rubbed his eyes. Sleep. Sleep sounded like a good idea. He needed some sleep. His mind was playing tricks on him, that was all. He was probably already half-asleep, otherwise there was no way these stupid stories would have any impact on him. He was only thinking about it because his brain didn't function correctly anymore thanks to the sleep deprivation. That was all.
Giving the mirror and the room one more excruciating look and then shaking his head at his own stupidity, Alec pulled out his pyjamas and got changed, climbed under the thin sheets and pressed his eyes shut.
Sleep. He needed sleep.
But somehow, he couldn't shake off the feeling that someone was watching him.
"Stop it, Lightwood," he murmured. "You're not a five year old child believing that there is a monster under your bed. You're being ridiculous."
He rolled onto his side, trying to make himself comfortable. It didn't work. The weariness didn't disappear, like it sometimes did when he tried to sleep and was suddenly wide awake, but as much as he tossed and turned, sleep wouldn't come. Eventually, he lay back on his back again, staring at the ceiling, thinking that maybe he should try to count sheep, except that that had never worked for him before. He groaned. Maybe he should go to Jace's room and ask his brother to knock him out (which would be the immediate consequence of waking him up at that hour anyway).
Suddenly, he heard a shuffle that was definitely not a product of his drowsy mind. He tensed, but only silence followed. In the end, he passed it off as nothing. Sure, he had been convinced the sound had come from his left, which was a little strange, but in the end it was probably just one of his siblings moving about in their rooms.
Alec closed his eyes again. About half an hour later, just as he was about to drift off into sleep, finally, he heard the shuffles again.
This time, he sat up and turned on the lights.
A face looked back at him from the mirror, apparently startled by the sudden flash of light. A perfectly angular face with tanned skin, glowing eyes and pitch black hair.
As much as Alec wanted to believe that this was just a dream, he knew deep inside that this was indeed reality.
There was a man in the mirror, and that man was not him.