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             Alec’s pulse beat quickly in his throat as he lay in the bed.  The sheets were wrapped around his bed partner, the blankets curling on themselves and pooling on the floor wherever they wanted. The space between Alec and the boy next to him was cool, and Alec couldn’t believe what he was about to do.

            Carefully, Alec extracted himself from the mussed bed. His breath was shallow with apprehension as he made his way to his backpack on the floor, but his footfalls still sounded too loud to his own ears. Surely, Jonathan would hear him, and then…

            And then, what? He asked himself. It Jonathan couldn’t do anything to him, not when Alec sustained him like he did. Alec wasn’t sure exactly what would happen if he were caught, though he knew it wouldn’t be good. His siblings would be in danger, and Jonathan’s father would be unforgiving.

            Alec shuddered, his though of Valentine.

            Finally, Alec crouched to reach his bag. He opened it slowly, cursing the heavy zipper every inch of the way, the muffled ripping noise doing his discretion no favors. Once it was open, Alec closed his eyes and tried to fight off the nerves buzzing inside him. He was convinced that this was the right thing to do, that there was no other way. That this would keep his siblings safe. He was sure it was true.

            He rummaged through his bag before he found his switchblade and pulled it out. He took a moment to collect himself—a deep breath, like Jonathan himself had taught Alec, and stood up. The only lighting in the room was from the moon—Jonathan never closed the curtains to his dorm room—and it glinted off the six-inch blade as Alec slid it open.

            Silently, Alec crept back to the bed. It dipped under him as he crawled back into it, the dip revealing more of Jonathan’s back to him. He took a moment to stare at the smooth skin of the pale expanse of his boyfriend’s freckled back, to remember how Jonathan used to be. How kind he was before his mind had started to collapse under his second chance at life. Alec didn’t dare close his eyes, not even to fight the tears that tumbled down his cheeks.

            Taking a ragged breath, Alec lifted his arm and jerked it down towards the sleeping body next to him. But instead of colliding with flesh—instead of squirting the blood Alec was familiar seeing Jonathan painted in, the knife connected with the bed, ripping through the school-issued linens and imbedding into the box spring.

            Almost before he could comprehend what had happened, Alec felt a familiar hand on his throat and saw a manic glint in his boyfriend’s cool eyes.

            Jonathan was standing above him, a snarl on his face. With a growl, Jonathan threw him by the neck against the far wall. Alec’s head banged into the chest of drawers, and he felt his vision go black for a second. It felt like the world as he knew it was ending, the panic and adrenaline rushing through him like a comet meant to wipe out life. When he looked up again, Jonathan was standing over him, his face a picture of rage.

            How dare you, his every feature seemed to spit. Alec had never seen him so livid.

            Jonathan raised his right hand and slowly made a claw with his fingers. As Jonathan’s fingers turned to form the claw, Alec felt all of the oxygen leave the air around him. The fight was over for Alec. He thrashed, trying to breathe, clawing into the wallpaper behind him. He couldn’t regain his breath as his vision starting blurring black, as his heart’s violent pace started to slow.

            Jonathan didn’t say anything as Alec’s blood was deprived of new O2. He just watched, his eyes fiery. It was always funny to Alec how he burned so bright, but with a wave of his hand, could take away the only element that allowed fire to flourish. Jonathan had a knack for manipulating the fire in his personality, of being charming then suddenly snapping into anger, and Alec didn’t know if that was because he’d been dead or if he’d always been like that.

            As Alec lost consciousness, he wondered if Jonathan would burn him up. It seemed likely.


            When Alec came to, crumpled on the floor of Jonathan’s dorm room, he was alone. The room felt stilted and cold, as if it had been vacated hours ago. The sun shone through the curtain-less window, creating an orange haze that made the air look thick and potent, creating an illusion of warmth where there was none.

            As Alec remembered the events of the previous night, a wave of terror washed through him. He’d been caught. Oh, he was in so much trouble. Jonathan couldn’t kill him, Alec already knew, but… Isabelle. Max. He’d put their lives in danger.

            Adrenaline spurted into Alec’s veins. Throwing on the uniform pants he’d left on the floor the night before, and his white shirt, Alec flew out of Jonathan’s room and into the adjoined hallway.

            Alec’s feet pounded against the carpet as he ran to the room he shared with his siblings. He’d done longer runs in gym class with Hodge trying to build up everyone’s endurance, but the run down the hall still felt more difficult than the ten-mile marathons Hodge was fond of. He felt like he was going to choke with every breath, and images of his siblings kept flashing in front of his eyes. He’d seen enough violence with Valentine’s violent attacks against anti-mutant groups. He didn’t want to see any more, especially not against what little family he had left.

            Alec catapulted down the empty staircase. Classes must have been in session, because it was empty, and he moved down it faster than he would have been if he’d fallen. He launched himself down the corridor, not stopping until he reached the third door on the right that read “Lightwood, A I M” on the placard.

            Throwing open the door, Alec stopped in his tracks. For a moment, he couldn’t breathe. Again, it had everything to do with Jonathan.

            Before him lay a scene almost exactly as he’d feared.

            Isabelle was face down on the floor, a dried pool of blood leaking from her head. Next to her was a blood-soaked book on mutant history, and his eyes soaked in the scene with an acute sense of horror. He’d done this. His eyes migrated from Isabelle’s crushed face to his brother.

            In the bottom of the bunk bed he shared with Alec, Maxwell Lightwood lay in a blanket of his own blood. His eyes were half-open, like he’d been waking up when he’d been killed. The switchblade Alec had tried to kill Jonathan with was sticking out of his nine-year-old chest. It stood as a sign not to cross Jonathan again; that his deranged (ex) boyfriend was capable of anything.

            Alec felt like his world was exploding. His family was torn to pieces in front of him, and they were all he’d wanted to preserve. He fell to his knees, knocked down by the shock of it all. These were his siblings, and they were dead.

            Tears started to form in his eyes, but he did not cry. Instead, he crawled over to Isabelle.  He reached for her, but as soon as his fingers touched her dark hair, her image blinked out of existence like a bad dream. In the chair by her desk, a slightly less injured and much more alive version of Isabelle sat. Her eyes were unfocused, her head lolling back. Even with a concussion, she could pull off elaborate visual illusions. They had undoubtedly kept her from being massacred like Max had been.

            “Alec,” she said. “I’m glad you got here. I couldn’t hold it much longer…”

            Alec rushed to his sister. “Isabelle. I am so, so sorry. I never meant for this to happen.” He was sobbing. “I never meant for any of this to happen.”

            Her hand slowly lifted to his cheek. “I know. You had to try and stop him. You were in the best position to…”

            “I’m so sorry you got hurt in all this,” Alec said, wiping his eyes. He turned his attention to his brother “Max…”

            “It’s too late for him, Alec.” Isabelle said, her eyes shining with tears. “There’s nothing you can do.”

            Alec shuddered, but knew instinctively that she was right. His baby brother was dead, and he was not coming back to life. But his sister was still alive, and he had to make sure it stayed that way. Even if it meant leaving the job undone, or leaving the few friends he had.

            “We’ve got to go.” Isabelle said, her eyes focusing as she climbed out of her chair.

            Alec nodded. Their eyes locked, and Alec knew that they were done with Morning Star Academy for Exceptional Affinities. The only way they would ever return would be in chains.


            Alec puts his hand between his head and the window, trying to nullify the shaking of the bus as it races down the highway. It doesn’t work as well as he had hoped, so with a sigh, he flops back against the blue-grey seat of the Greyhound.

            Next to him, Isabelle is reading through a fashion magazine. Her brow is furrowed, as if to say exactly how she feels about some of the trends they’re promoting. Together, they look like normal teenagers camped out on the Greyhound going to visit a relative in upstate New York.

            Of course, they’re not.

            They hadn’t bought tickets to the Greyhound bus: Isabelle had used her mutation to get them on. Having the more practical ability, Isabelle can create illusions and manipulate the feelings people have. Tricking the clerk into thinking they’d handed over $40 a person was a simple thing, especially with the training they’d had, especially with Valentine’s leadership at Morning Star Academy.

            The Greyhound buses don’t do cheek swabs to check for unregistered mutants, and that’s one of the reasons they chose to ride with this company. It’s almost like an underground railroad for mutants trying to hitch a ride to Canada, run in broad daylight. The lack of cameras on the buses helps.

            “I don’t know what this magazine is thinking,” Isabelle says, breaking Alec from his thoughts. “Nicki obviously wore it better.”

            Alec shrugs, looking at the page. “They both look nice, if not a little…bare.”

            Isabelle rolls her eyes. “Honestly, Alec. Just because you wouldn’t wear doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be worn.”

            Alec makes a noncommittal noise. “It’s just… weird, to see how things have changed since we entered the Academy.” The word he’s looking for might be sad, not weird.

            Their terrified parents had driven Alec and Isabelle to Morning Star academy five years ago with their toddler brother in tow. Alec had only been thirteen when the world outside of Morning Star ceased to exist in any meaningful way. But Isabelle’s ability had manifested violently in the cafeteria at school, and Alec’s own power had awoken from trying to protect her. Morning Star Academy was the only place his parents knew of where he’d be safe. His mother had kissed his forehead and told him to take care of his siblings, while his father had given each of them a rough hug and told them to never come home. One never knew when the police were watching. They’d hardly seen a magazine of recent movie since, tucked away at the Academy. He feels like he’s been left behind, and a new way of life had sprung from the dirt in his absence.

            “A lot of things change, all the time. You’ve gotta roll with it or you’ll never move on.” She isn’t talking about the magazine anymore, and the air around them thickens. It’s always heavy when they think about Max. Thick with things they’ll never say, that they hardly dare to think. The “I should have…”s, and the “I forgive you”s that will never pass their lips.

            The ensuing silence lasts a long time. Alec starts picking at his sweater, a worn one with plenty of holes that they stole from Good Will. Parts of it are thicker than others, and the holes in the elbows are so large that they threaten to open and cut off the attachment to the sleeves. But Alec likes this sweater, flaws and all.

            When he and Isabelle (and Max) went to Morning Star Academy for Exceptional Affinities, they had a uniform. Blue slacks and a crisp white shirt, a grey cardigan and a tie were a part of the everyday ordeal. Everything had to be precise and perfectly presentable.

            But here, in this smelly bus and in a stolen sweater, Alec doesn’t need to be perfect. He doesn’t have to look like an average boy at some Private School. He can fall apart, just a little. He can come undone, just like the sweater that’s barely holding itself together. And like the sweater, he can keep it together just well enough to be useful. He can stay strong until the pain of having killed his little brother lessens, though he doesn’t imagine it’ll ever go away.

            Alec is jerked out of his thoughts as the bus driver slams on the breaks. His chest collides with his seatbelt, burning linear bruises into his torso. He snaps his arm out in front of Isabelle, attempting to stop her from catapulting to the front of the bus. She keeps herself from slamming into the seat in front of her, despite refusing the seatbelt, by grabbing his arm with one hand and gripping the armrest between them with the other.

            The bus skids to a stop, and the stench of panic fills the air. Most of the people, like Alec, were wearing their seatbelts, but he can hear wails of pain and smell the stench of blood. The bus jerks forward as a car collides with the back bumper. From the jolt of the impact and the crunching noise, Alec can tell the driver from the car behind them is dead.

            Looking out the window for the cause of the driver’s erratic behavior, all Alec can see is a wall of red flames.

            “Makes sense they’d send Jace after us,” Isabelle murmurs unhappily, her fingers twitching as she starts pulling together illusions to hide them.

            “Maybe it’s not Jace,” Alec suggests, though he knows better. “Maybe there’s a forest fire or something.”

            “In the middle of the road?” Isabelle snaps, and Alec has to concede her point. Morning Star Academy has probably sent Jace as part of a crew to take them back to the school.

            There are grumbles around them from other passengers righting themselves after the crash. Someone screams as they notice the fire, and the passengers start to run to the front of the bus in an effort to escape. They slip in with the other passengers, escaping through the front to keep up appearances. Isabelle has them glamoured, but it does no good once they’re in the open.

            The moment they step off the bus, they’re lifted into the air by invisible hands. Their bodies are propelled through the wall of fire, which makes room for them, and deposited in a heap on the other side.

            Isabelle is the first to pick herself up from the cold asphalt, disentangling from Alec, who quickly follows her to an upright position. Hardly two yards in front of them stand three mutants, all dressed in the dark mask Valentine assigns all of his operatives, better known as Ambassadors of the Alliance.

            Alec’s heart beats quickly in his throat.  They’re outnumbered, and Alec recognizes all of the people behind their uniforms. In front of him are his best friend, Jace, a girl in his control class, Helen, and the school’s weapon’s trainer, Hodge.  All formidable in their own right, the chances of escape aren’t as big as Alec could have hoped for.

            The wall of fire wraps around the group, a heated inferno meant to keep them trapped. It scorches the pavement, leaving black marks and no doubts about the intensity of the flame. Alec can see the grass on the side of the highway start aflame.

            Alec has known Jace for two years, and he’s one of Alec’s best friends. They’d been grouped to train together because of their similarly powerful (not to mention volatile) abilities, and Alec has so many memories of them laughing together as brothers. Of running away from one of the teachers at the school as they’re chased for one of the pranks Jace loves to pull. He’s not at all surprised that Jace would be a part of the group assigned to bring him back to Morning Star,


            “Alec!” Jace calls out, his arms raised to fuel the wall of red fire circling them. “You, Max and Iz need to get back to the Academy. Valentine’s pissed.”

            Alec stares, caught off guard by the mention of Max. Jace doesn’t know that Jonathan killed him, but from the way Hodge’s eyes shift, that information has been purposefully withheld from the students.

            Next to him, Isabelle’s fingers begin to weave invisible threads. He knows the illusion she’s about to project is going to be grand and filled with detail from the furrow of her brow and the fix of her frown.

            Jace recognizes the look on her face as well. He lunges forward, screaming her name, just as the world bursts into a thousand different radiant colors.

            Suddenly the smell of Jace’s fire is gone. Instead of feeling hard pavement beneath his feet, Alec can feel the worn rug of the dorm room he shared with Isabelle. The curtains are drawn on the window, but there’s no light peeking out from under them. An anxious feeling is forced through Alec’s body as his mind is yanked into Isabelle’s control.

            A sense of dread washes over Alec as he looks at the scene, but it feels far away, like his feelings always do when Isabelle’s forcing something else on him. He feels as if something is a hair’s width away from being filled with disaster.

            In the illusion, Isabelle is sitting on her side of the room, creating detailed flowers as practice for her Control and Harnessing class. Roses flicker in and out of existence, the folds perfectly curved. The millions of petals in a chrysanthemum flower spread out from the stem, real enough to convince even Alec’s trained. On the other side of their room, Max is asleep on his bed with his back to the door.

            The door bursts open, and Alec suddenly knows exactly what this scene is.

            Jonathan charges into the room, murder written across his every feature. He startles Isabelle, who reads his expression grabs the nearest textbook in defense and turns to him. Then, before they can find out what happens next, the image shatters.

            The wall of fire around them is gone, but they are just as constrained. Hodge, who has a gift for manipulating plant life, has used his ability to influence vines to wind around the siblings. A pouch of seeds that always sit in his belt should have been Alec’s first plan of attack, where all of Hodge’s weapons are stored, but he was too distracted by Isabelle’s illusion. Hodge had always been good at seeing through them.

            Hodge has a vine wrapped around Isabelle’s throat. Her face has gone purple, and her arms are thrashing against the wildlife. She isn’t strong enough to break out, and when her protests stop and her body goes limp the plant around her neck relaxes. Hodge doesn’t want her dead, just contained, and he’s gotten his wish.

            The wall of flame reappears around them as Jace recognizes their current situation, though Helen still seems a little stuck in the illusion. Alec tugs at his own restraints, only to find them thick and unyielding.

            Isabelle is unconscious, and Alec will be next.  They will take them to Valentine, or worse, to Jonathan, and Isabelle will likely die. Alec will be locked up, unable to stop the monsters from hurting anyone.

            Reaching into himself, Alec feels for the contents of the dirt beneath him. There is enough of what he needs, and more than enough power running through his veins. With a deep breath, Alec focuses his attention on the ground beneath him and pulls.

            The ground beneath them shakes. The tremble reaches past the wall of flames, and Alec can hear screams from some of the bus passengers through the wall of fire. He and Isabelle stay upright, held by Hodge’s vines, but their pursuers hit the ground.

            “You wouldn’t,” Hodge spits. He taught Alec how to do this; he knows just how dangerous it can be. The vines around Alec tighten, and one begins to grow around his neck.

            “You’ll find,” Alec says, his voice calm, “That there isn’t much I wouldn’t do to keep my sister safe.” He has to be quick; the vine is quickly becoming strong enough to choke him.

            “Stop!” Calls an unfamiliar voice. Then, to Alec’s left, a diamond shaped like a man pushes through the wall of fire. Alec is surprised enough that the shaking stops, and even Hodge’s plants cease to grow. Jace’s brow is probably slick with the sweat of concentration under his mask.

            The man’s body is a reflecting surface of red as the light of the fire bounces off the flat surfaces of his body, making him radiant but difficult to see.

             The diamond-man scans the scene: two teenagers held aloft by vines leading from a masked man’s feet, another masked man’s hands lifted to control the fire, and a masked woman hunched in a defensive pose, ready to unleash an ability unknown to this man.

             The diamond man barrels toward Jace after a split second of indecision. His rocky fist connects with Jace’s gut, and the wall of fire disappears as Jace lets out a huff of air at the collision. Jace crumples to the ground, and before Helen can even raise her hands to attack, a wolf bounds from behind Alec to tackle her.

            Alec tugs at his restraints, wanting to get himself and Isabelle away from the fight. They vines are still too strong.

             A hand touches his shoulder, and the vines wither. Alec pulls himself free, sparing a moment to glance at his blue-masked savior before launching himself towards his sister. He knows she’s still alive, but with all the recent injuries she’s sustained, he needs to know that she’s going to continue being alive. He needs to be there, just in case.

            Alec pulls at her vines, desperate to get her out. Around him, a fight rages, Hodge caught up with the man with the midnight mask, Helen pushing the viscous wolf away with her telekinesis, and Jace’s fire failing to have any affect against the diamond-made man.

            Alec tears away the vine around Isabelle’s neck first. The vines are strong and healthy, as they always are when Hodge wants to contain someone. Alec’s nails have bent back and started to bleed by the time he gets Isabelle out of the cage Hodge had constructed.

            With his sister crumpled in his arms, Alec remembers why he hates her ability. Rare as it is, if the opponent knows what she can do, their best bet is to immediately knock her down. It makes her a target, and she’s nearly died because of her ability before. It has again put her at risk.

            Her pulse is faint but there, and with her in his arms, Alec knows there’s not going to be any lasting damage. She has just a few rings of bruises around her neck that’ll heal sooner rather than later. Alec sighs in relief, knowing she’s going to live. He’s not going to lose the rest of the family, at least not to the Alliance.

            Shielding Isabelle’s body with his the best he can, Alec lifts his head to take in the sight around him.

            Helen, covered with scratches that cut through her clothing and soot on her face, is dragging an unconscious Jace towards an automobile. Hodge is in the front seat, gesturing for them to hurry. The diamond man, wolf, and masked man are standing in a protective semicircle in front of Alec. The stance of the strangers says ‘you’d better run’, and Alec thinks he would if he were outmatched so badly.

            They’re silent until Hodge takes off and the car is out of sight. Then, the masked man pulls a cell phone out of his pocket. There’s a tense silence as they wait for the call to go through, and they don’t seem to notice as Alec starts to edge away towards the forest and away from the strange mutants and the crowd from the Greyhound bus.

            “Hey, Jocelyn. I found some of the Alliance’s people trying to attack some kids.” A pause. “No, I don’t know. I’ll see.” Another pause. “Yes, it’s safe. I’ll text you when can send Jumper to pick us up. Tell Raphael that he was right. Two mutants in desperate need of an intervention.”

            The three turn to Alec, a beat out of unison as the masked man puts away his phone.

            “Who are you?” Alec asks, his arms tightening around his sister.

            “I’m called Neutralizer. This is AQ,” he motions to the wolf, “and this is Sparkles,” the diamond man grins. “Neither of them can talk while their abilities are manifesting, but we’re here to help.”

            “Why should I believe you?” Alec asks, his eyes raking the group form any signs of dishonesty. Their stances are open, though, if a little guarded, but Alec can attribute that to the crowd behind him.

            “We’re members of a group focused on protecting mutant rights called The Defenders” The masked man explains. “Groups like the one you just encountered are extremists focused on reigning terror against anti-mutant groups. They seemed to be targeting you two in particular, and we can protect you if you want. We’d have to go somewhere more safe, and private.” He nods toward the gaping crowd from the greyhound crash.

            Alec looks at the scene behind him. There are about two-dozen people staring at him from across blackened pavement, sirens blaring in the distance, and two strange mutants (and a wolf) who claim to want to help. Isabelle is in his arms like a precious sack of potatoes, and staying here won’t help them. Everyone knows that mutants who climb into the backs of police cars for public disturbances never climb back out. He could probably fight the cops off, but he’d be too exhausted to escape with Isabelle afterward.

            So, it’s probable death by the hand of the police, or possible death at the hands of three strange mutants. It isn’t that hard of a choice.

            “We’ll go with you,” Alec says grimly.

            The masked man nods, and taps a few buttons on his cell phone. They stand in silence for a moment.

            “So, what’s your name?” The man asks.

            “Izzy sometimes calls me ‘mom’, but otherwise I’m just Alec.”

            Neutralizer laughs, and Sparkles (which is, actually, kind of a fitting name for the glistening man) smirks. “Don’t worry, if we decide to become better acquainted, you’ll learn our actual names. It’s nice to meet you, Alec. Is this your—“

            Neutralizer is interrupted by a pint-sized masked girl who pops into existence next to him. Literally out of thin air. One minute, nothing. The next, a petite figure is standing next to him, a bushel of red hair springing from her head, holding out her hands. Alec’s been around mutants long enough to recognize that she’s a teleporter.

            “Hey there,” she says. Her voice is smooth and filled with a smile, a slight New York accent to it. “I heard you guys needed a lift?”

            “You know it,” Neutralizer says affectionately. He grabs her outstretched hand, and then reaches out for Alec’s. Alec fights not to flinch from Neutralizer’s grip as Sparkles and AQ latch onto her other side. “Straight to your mom’s office, if you wouldn’t mind.”

            “Sure thing,” She says, a grin stretched across her lips. She takes a deep breath, and Alec feels a pulse through Neutralizer’s hand before they’ve been transported to an office about the size of two buses smashed together. Teleportation has always left him feeling strange, shook up from blinking in and out of existence. It’s always unnerving because it disconnects him from his ability in a way that nothing else really does.

            The walls are a light green and covered with bookshelves. In front of a dark-wood desk are a few mismatched chairs, a coffee table and a small couch. Sitting behind the desk is a woman with sharp features and deep red hair pulled back into a bun, though some grey strands escape. She’s the first person he’s seen not wearing a mask, and something about her face nags at his memory, like a worm eating through an apple.

            “Welcome,” says the woman behind the desk, a small smile on her face.  Her eyes harden when she sees Isabelle unconscious. “AQ, do you think you could go get Catarina?  You can go back to studying when you’re done. You can take her, Jumper.”

            The petite girl, Jumper, sighs at the dismissal, grabs onto the back of AQ’s neck, and then disappears into thin air. It seems like they’re utilizing the skill the best they can here. Taking it for granted the way so many mutants do. It’s half the reason the mundane people are so afraid of them.

            “My name’s Jocelyn,” the woman says from behind the wood desk. “Take a seat.”

            Alec rests Isabelle against the side of the couch, and then sits next to her, so she’s boxed into a corner between him and the couch. It’s the most protection he can afford her.

            Sparkles, the diamond man, flops down in a chair next to him. As he falls, his body ripples like lake water in the middle of a storm, tan skin overtaking the clear-cut of the diamond surface. Left behind is a man with cat eyes and gorgeously smooth brown ochre skin, tight clothes, and a killer grin. He winks at Alec, who blushes red. “I’m Magnus.” His voice is almost honey.

            Next to Magnus, Neutralizer pulls off his hood and mask. Underneath the blue fabric he looks about the same age as Jocelyn, with white hairs in his dark beard. He reintroduces himself as Luke.

            Alec, somewhat used to transitions like these from his time at Morning Star, repeats his name to Jocelyn.

            “Nice to meet you, Alec,” Jocelyn smiles. “You and the young lady with you were attacked by members of a terrorist group commonly known as The Alliance. The Alliance usually goes after politicians or mutants trapped in holding cells. They’re not known to be very kind, especially to humans who get in their way.”

            “No,” Alec agrees. “They’re not.”

            “You know of them?” Jocelyn asks.

            “I…” Alec trails off. He thinks about the missions he’s completed as part of the brotherhood, of the camaraderie he’d built with Jace and some of the others. He remembers them having fun, helping people. He remembers how they were untainted, on top of the world. That was before Jonathan came back, before Valentine was seduced by dangerous ideas of “true” liberation.

            Alec swallows. “I know a lot about them.”

            Jocelyn nods. “They must have been after you for a reason. They don’t usually go after mutants, unless you think they’re planning to recruit you?”

            Alec starts. “How do you know we’re mutants?” He can’t recall using his ability in front of any of them, and for all they know the earlier earthquakes could have been Helen.

            Jocelyn’s eyebrows bend down into a position that Alec actually finds rather patronizing. “Sorry. We have a student here who can see bits of the future. He said we’d help out two mutants today whose futures would be intertwined with ours.”

            “This is a school?” Alec asks, his other question answered to his satisfaction. He wonders if the set up is similar to Valentine’s.

            “Yes,” Jocelyn says. “We teach mutant children and young adults to control their gifts, and also provide a safe-haven. If a student wants to, they can train to go on missions with The Defenders and try to make a difference with mutant reform.”

            “There are other ways to make change than to start a cult,” Alec mutters.

            Jocelyn smiles. “Of course. It’s just one option, and a rather popular one. It sounds like you’re interested?”

            “Maybe,” Alec says. A safe haven sounds nice. Morning Star Academy was nice, until Alec’s true ability manifested and Valentine wanted nothing more than to play with it. But he and Isabelle would be able to hide here. They’d be safe here, if Alec could keep a lid on his ability.

            “If you want a place among us, you’re welcome to it.” Jocelyn offers.

            Alec’s eyes are pulled to the mutants net to him for confirmation of the offer. Luke is trying to look encouraging, while Magnus is messing around with a phone. Figures.

            “At what cost?” Alec asks. Valentine required a large sum of money for his services and the free use of any student’s ability.

            Jocelyn’s eyes soften. “For free. Though I wish you’d tell me more about The Alliance. I’m afraid we don’t know much more than the public.”

            “Will you hurt them if I do?” Alec asks, thinking of Jace. “Most of them are innocent kids.”

            “A lot of people have died at the hands of The Alliance,” Jocelyn says, her tone soft. “But we never aim to hurt others in our missions.”

            Alec bites his lip, and then surrenders a rather large piece of information. “The Alliance is maintained and operated by Valentine Morgenstern.”

            There is a sharp intake of breath from the entire room. Jocelyn’s eyes are wide, and Luke’s stood up from his chair. Magnus has even looked up from his phone to stare at Alec.

            “Isn’t that your e-husband?” Magnus asks, and for a moment Alec is horrified because he thinks Magnus is asking him and Valentine’s at least thirty years older than him.

            Alec glances at Jocelyn, to confirm that Magnus is talking to him, when the red hair and Jocelyn’s heart shaped face snap into place in his memories. He knows where he’s seen her before, from family portraits of her, Jonathan and Valentine on his old headmaster’s desk. Alec has seen a picture of her and her family a thousand times, pressed desperately into his teenage palms. A please escaping Valentine’s lips, a moment of vulnerability, and then a thousand excruciating attempts. A thousand trials and a thousand errors before they figured it out and Alec’s life truly began to spiral out of control.

            “You’re—You’re Jocelyn Morgenstern.” Alec says, realization sweeping through every cell in his body.

            “Jocelyn Graymark, actually,” she says, her lips pursed. “I remarried.” Alec notices the matching rings on her and Luke’s fingers as he stands behind her, a hand on the back of her chair. Alec would probably remarry if he were married to Valentine, too.

Alec is about to open his mouth when there’s a knock on the door to his left. It opens to reveal a slim young woman with white hair and entirely blue skin. She steps into the room, as if looking for survivors after a bomb blast, before her eyes land on Isabelle. She wordlessly approaches, and when she gets close enough to touch Isabelle, Alec stands up and blocks her way to his sister.

            “Hey!” Alec snarls, crouched protectively in front of Isabelle.

            “Relax,” the woman says. “I’m a healer. She’s recovering from oxygen deprivation. I can help with that.”

            Alec hesitates for a moment before moving aside to let the woman past him. She stoops to put her hand on Isabelle’s cheek, and they both start to glow a faint blue. The bruises on Isabelle’s neck start healing, first turning black and blue, and then lightening to green and beige, like a sped-up version of normal healing.

            The healer pulls her hand away from Isabelle. “She’s going to have to sleep the rest of it off, but she should be fine.” She sticks her hand out to Alec. “I’m Catarina. Raphael told me you were coming today, Alec, and that your future would be intertwined with the walls of this school.”

            Alec shakes her hand, and his bleeding and broken fingernails glow a faint blue before they heal. Alec is grateful for this woman healing him and his sister. Catarina plops down on the couch next to him, and Alec doesn’t mind, though he can feel every eye in the room on him.

            “So, Alec,” Jocelyn continues, though she seems much more at ease. “How did you come by this information?”

            Alec pauses. He’s not sure how much he wants to tell them. “I went to his school with my sister,” and brother, he thinks, “for five years. He taught us to harness our abilities, then about three years ago, things got… weird.” He chooses to leave out the large part where he was a direct contributor to the weirdness. “He started having us do more dangerous things. We went from just breaking people out of prisons to killing the guards. I didn’t want to be there anymore, and Isabelle was about to start going on those kinds of missions, so we… left. I think they’re coming after us because they want us back.”

            It’s Catarina who responds from her seat next to Alec, though Jocelyn is starting to say something else. “You two must have some impressive abilities if he wants you back bad enough to make such a public scene.”

            Alec shrugs. “Isabelle’s too powerful to take out in private. The closer you get to her, the stronger her ability works. They had to try and kidnap us in public. The only reason they were able to knock her unconscious was because of the charged nature of the illusion she produced and the distance between us. Otherwise, they would have been trapped, at her leisure, for as long as she wanted.”

            “She can create illusions?” Jocelyn asks. “That’s a very impressive ability.”

            Alec nods. He’s very proud of his sister.

            After a moment of silence, where Alec realizes a beat too late that he was probably supposed to elaborate, Jocelyn clears her throat. “And you?”

            Alec weighs carefully what he’s about to say. His ability has gotten him in far too much trouble, and has caused more death than he’d care to admit. “Well… I can make the ground break apart.” It’s not even a lie, though the root of his power doesn’t lie in the earth. “It’s really not that impressive.”

            “Hm,” Jocelyn says, her eyes calculating. “A friend of my daughter has a similar ability. Maybe you’ll find training with him useful.” She says then turns to Magnus “Magnus, would you show Alec to a spare room? Alec, I’m going to have Catarina bring Isabelle to the Infirmary. Magnus can take you there once he’s done giving you the tour, if you want. We’ll fill out all the required paperwork when she wakes up, if you decide to stay.”

            Magnus leaps from his chair with a grace Alec thought only belonged in books. He smirks at Alec and motions for Alec to follow him out the door.

            Alec follows, not sure what this new life is going to throw at him. He’s certain it’ll be interesting. After all, it’s the start of something new.