Alec braced himself for the mocking grin. Even over Facebook messenger he had been able to intuit the mocking grin on Isabelle’s face.
He turned on the callbox at the Institute door, and dialed his sister’s extension. She answered immediately.
“Hello, big brother!” Isabelle’s voice crackled through the speaker. “And how are you today? Whatever can I help you with?”
And now he could hear the mocking grin.
“Fuck you, Iz. I need my phone.”
“Oh. I think people who need their phones are nicer to their sisters who have keys.”
“I don’t have time to play around,” Alec growled. “It’s gala season. My palms are sweating and I’m having honest to god heart palpitations. If I hadn’t been refreshing my email every two minutes all morning I probably would have already had a stroke. I tore my apartment apart, it has to be here, march down here and let me the fuck in.”
The door opened, displaying Izzy wearing a “Buffy Will Patrol Tonight T-shirt”, sneakers that she should have thrown away months ago, and a shit-eating grin. “My line forwards to my cell. Come on in.”
She turned and waved him in through the huge stone arch door. Alec couldn’t stop himself from eyeing the way her jeans sagged under her butt. He’d given up on the nerdy tee shirts. Izzy was a tech nerd, the heart and soul of one of the most successful start ups of the year, the tee shirts just seemed to come with the identity, but one of these days he was going to force her into jeans that fit.
“So the clean up crew set everything they found on a table in the corner of the office, I already went through it looking for your phone, no luck,” She made a dismissive gesture at a card table pushed into the corner of the room.
Alec couldn’t stop himself from looking around the Institute. Last night, this had been a world beyond the Looking Glass, and now it was back to being an open office space. Huge tables with brightly colored shelves and gleaming silver laptops were back to their usual orderly rows. Alec could see Izzy’s desk from here, lined with huge pictures of him, Clary and Simon.
The two of them walked over to the card table. It was amazing what people managed to lose when the first drink was free. The surface of the card table was covered with abandoned objects. A lonely red stiletto. Two neon Nalgene’s. A few scarves. Half a dozen cell phones. One of which looked familiar.
Alec snatched it off the table.
“Not that one!” Izzy cried, but it was too late.
Alec hit the power button, but his lock screen photo, of him, Izzy and Simon in front of the stage at Simon’s latest gig is not what came up.
“Oh. My.” Alec managed, setting the phone back down.
“I thought that one was yours too until the lock screen photo turned out to be that upsettingly veiny penis picture. So you owe me for that trauma.”
Despite himself, Alec picked the phone back up and tapped the button again. “This is a totally average penis, Iz,” He said. A thought he would rather not have had occurred to him and he set the phone back down. “And now I know more about Simon than I ever wanted to.”
Izzy shrugged. “Anyway. I check my whole desk, and Val’s office. No luck.” She grinned at him again. “Anything you want to tell me about the super important call you’re waiting on? Someone special?”
“Yes.” Alec said. “Her name is Joanna Malhauser. She’s eighty five years old, and trying to get a few of her girlfriends from the club into philanthropy. The last time I spoke to her she mentioned something about a brunch at the women’s club next week. I cannot miss any calls from this woman.”
“She sounds hot.”
“She’s worth billions, and so is everyone she knows. She needs a Charitable Giving Advisor, and I’d go to second base to make sure it’s me if that’s what it took.”
Isabelle rolled her eyes. “Charitable Giving Advisor. Is that even a thing?”
“"Aut inveniam viam aut faciam,” Alec replied. “If I cannot find a way I will make one. Besides. Lydia is tracking her scent like a bloodhound and I will not lose to Lydia again. How much fucking Opera does this city need?”
“Change the subject all you want,” Isabell sing-songed. “I know how you usually lose your phone. So… where should we check?”
Alec glared at her, then sighed. “The basement.”
Isabelle cracked up. “I knew it. I knew it! Who was it? That cute Asian guy?”
Alec shook his head and walked past her, toward the creepy door in the middle of the office space that lead down into the basement. Still laughing, Izzy followed behind him.
“Nothing happened,” he sighed. “I was at a professional event, for a major client, and I was in the basement grabbing another case of gin.” Alec pulled open the door and fumbled for the switch, finally finding the cool metal box that stuck out from the rough stone. “I can’t believe you think I would fool around with some guy I’d just met in Val’s basement during one of my events.”
“Every time you’ve ever lost your phone, it’s because you lost your pants first,” Isabelle taunted as they made their way down the hall to the rickety metal steps.
Alec scoffed. “I’m not sixteen anymore.”
“You weren’t sixteen last year at Simon’s gig either.”
“No, but I was drunk. And rebounding,” Alec replied. “And that was Jace’s fault.”
“I fail to see where you being found getting blown in a supply closet is Jace’s fault.”
“Well, first of all, Jace didn’t have to come looking for me, and second of all— he bought me my fourth drink. You all know my limit is three” Alec huffed.
“We certainly did after that,” Isabelle replied, switching on the basement lights. “So did you take this mystery guy down here or did he lure you down here?”
“His name is Magnus,” Alec answered. “And I found him down here with Clary and Jace. I guess she invited him and there was some sort of misunderstanding. Jace and Clary went back up to the party, and Magnus and I just chatted for a while.”
“Chatted so much you lost your phone?” Isabelle asked, brimming with false innocence.
“I took it out to get his number. I was on my second drink. I must have set it down somewhere,” Alec answered. “It’s probably still got battery. Can you stop insinuating that I’m a slut for two seconds and call it?”
Isabelle shook her head and pulled her phone out of her pocket. “I would never call you a slut. And I’m glad to see you putting yourself out there again. You haven’t dated anyone in a year.”
“I’ve been busy,” Alec answered, listening carefully for a buzz in the cold stone cavern the Institute used as a storage room.
He heard something, faint and distant. Izzy behind him, he hurried down the stairs and toward the hallway where he and Magnus had chatted (and taken a couple pulls off a gin bottle, not that Alec would admit that to Isabelle). The noise stopped.
“I’ll call again,” Isabelle said.
Alec followed the buzzing a little further down the hall than he remembered being last night. There was a sudden, strange flash of purple, then another more concentrated purple shimmer, glinting off the screen of his phone from where it lay on the floor.
“Oh, thank god.” He grabbed his phone and set it to his chest, breathing out a sigh a gratitude. He tapped the power button and scrolled through his notifications. A couple texts from Jace and two missed phone calls, but neither of them from Mrs. Malhauser. He let out another sigh of gratitude and relief and turned back toward the main storage room.
Something was different. It took Alec a moment to realize it was the lighting. The harsh industrial florescent was different somehow. Softer. Greener?
Darker. That was for sure.
“Iz?” He called. She had been right behind him, hadn’t she?
Alec wasn’t easily spooked, but the Institute basement’s stone basement was creepy at the best of times. It was a converted old church and it was all too easy to imagine bodies being embalmed down here.
“Alec?” She called back. He still couldn’t see her, but he could tell her voice was coming from behind one of the shelves. “What are you doing down here?
“Come on, that’s not funny. What did you do to the lights?”
Izzy ducked around one of the shelves, holding a flashlight in her hand. “I didn’t do anything to the lights. What’s wrong with you, what are you doing down here?
As she asked the second question, she raised the flashlight over her head, and the two of them saw each other.
In unison, their jaws dropped and they both demanded the same thing of each other.
“What are you wearing?”
Isabelle stared for a few moments before moving her witch light closer.
“Oh my god,” she sighed. “It finally happened. You snapped.”
Alec was standing in the basement of the Institute, wearing a mint green polo shirt, a leather wrist cuff, and khakis. His hair was combed neatly to one side and he was looking at her like he had no idea who she was.
“Did…” he started. “How…” He finally looked up from her clothes to her face. His eyes bugged out even wider before they clamped shut and were buried under furrowed brows. “Oh, god. Iz. Tell me this isn’t about Val. I am begging you to tell me that you didn’t dress like this for your boss.” He held his phone out in front of him, like a shield. “You just told Simon you’d move in with him. I will call Clary. I will insist she come down here. I will snapchat her a picture of you in those boots with your…your… tattoos?” Alec froze, looking perplexed and horrified.
“Tat—” Isabelle started, before she suddenly realized the strangest thing about Alec. The thing that was so strange, her mind hadn’t even processed it right away.
“Alec? What happened to your runes?” she demanded.
Only incredible magic could strip a Shadowhunter of their runes. Only magic strong enough to make them… not a Shadowhunter anymore.
“Is everything okay over there?” Claire’s voice cut the tense silence. Isabelle had forgotten about her entirely.
“Clary! Come here! Something’s wrong with Alec!”
“Something’s wrong with me?” Alec demanded.
Clary must have heard the fear in Isabelle’s voice. She’d come running. Isabelle didn’t take her eyes off her brother as Clary landed beside her.
“Oh, god,” Clary breathed. “Well. The good news is that I can explain.”
“So let me get this straight,” Lydia said, staring out over the table, stoic as ever. Ringed around the table, Isabelle, Clary, Jace and the Alec they’d found in the basement watched her pace at the head of the table. “Clary and Jace went to the Seelie realm. They were granted permission to enter a Seelie Portal, which took them to an alternate version of our own reality, in which there are no Shadowhunters.”
“I just want to interrupt here and remind everyone that we did this to get the Mortal Cup,” Jace cut in. “Let’s not overlook that part.”
Lydia stared at him for a moment. “Noted.”
Next to Lydia, Alec—regular, familiar, runed Alec—was standing just as stoically as his fiance.
But Isabelle could see how tightly clenched his jaw was. The way his fingers were digging into the skin of his bicep. His shoulders were hunched up like he was trying to huddle out of a cold wind. Her brother’s default expression was a scowl, but he was staring at the other Alec, the one sitting next to Isabelle at the conference table in the center of the Institute, as though, if he just glowered hard enough, he could reduce him to a pile of ash.
“And now,” Lydia went on, “One of the denizens of that dimension has just appeared. Inside the Institute. And no one knows how he got here.”
“He was looking for his phone,” the other Alec piped up. “He forgot it in the basement of the Institute in his own dimension. He found it. And when he looked up, everyone he knew was suddenly dressed like they’d joined an occult biker gang and was staring at him like he had two heads.” He glanced at Regular Alec. “Figuratively speaking.”
Clary snorted. Alec turned his death glare on her for just a moment before turning it back to the new Alec. The new Alec held his gaze easily.
“You’re taking this very well for someone who didn’t know there were worlds with magic,” Lydia told him. “Suspiciously well, actually. Maybe you’re a Seelie spy, or some other distraction from the downworld.”
Other Alec grinned at Lydia, a wide toothy smile that Isabelle had never seen on her brother’s face before. “Lids, you have a much better poker face in my dimension. I don’t know what a Seelie is, but I know when you’re full of shit.”
Lydia looked affronted. “I’m not your ‘Lids’. You’ll speak to me with more respect.”
If anything, the smile on other Alec’s face grew wider.
“He’s right.” Jace cut in. “If he was a downworld spy this would be the stupidest cover ever.”
“He’s not a vampire, we already heard him say god,” Isabelle cut in. She didn’t fill in the part about her boss, or the fact that Alternate Alec thought she had just moved in with Simon. She wondered if Clary had heard any of that.
“There you go.” Jace looked at other Alec. “Seelie is an easy test too. Tell us all a lie.”
Other Alec looked at him for a moment. “I like your hair like that.”
Jace scowled at him. “That’s not really good enough.”
Other Alec rolled his eyes. “Fine. I’m a twelve hundred pound orange elephant who plays the tuba for Notre Dame.”
At the head of the table, Alec’s scowl scrunched up even tighter.
“Well. It could still be a warlock glamour. There could still be some sort of hidden Seelie portal in the Institute. We could be hemorrhaging demons back into his peaceful dimension for all we know,” Lydia spat. “I’ve already called Magnus Bane in to advise.”
At the the mention of Magnus’s name, both Alecs straightened up. Isabelle wondered if anyone else had noticed.
“In fact,” Lydia huffed, pulling her phone out of her pocket. “I’ll text him right now to tell him we won’t pay his emergency fee if he’s not here in the next ten minutes. And if he isn’t here in the next fifteen I’m demanding a refund for those wards he put up. I’ve never been to an Institute so far out of control.”
“Right,” Isabelle snapped before she could stop herself. “I can’t imagine how we managed to piss off the Seelies so much we have to be afraid of them breaking into our home using doppleganger spies.”
Lydia answered her with a scowl even darker than Alec’s and sat down.
“Lydia’s right you know,” Clary said, turning to the other Alec. “I’ve been to your dimension. It’s totally normal. I’ve met you before. You’re a party planner. You don’t know anything about magic. You’re taking this whole Shadow world thing way better than I did.”
Other Alec scoffed. “I’m not a ‘party planner’. I’m a freelance Event and Development Consultant. I connect wealthy philanthropists with non-profits that need funding. I don’t make balloon animals and sheet cake.”
“Shut up,” Alec snapped. “Everyone, just shut up. Mundanes. I swear to god the reason they never notice magic is they just never stop talking long enough to see it.”
Isabelle watched as the other dimension’s Alec took in the Alec from this dimension. He’d stared at him plenty when he’d arrived at the conference table behind Lydia, but there was something else in his stare now. He was past the shock and now he was getting analytical. It was the same look Isabelle had seen on Alec’s face a thousand times. It was the his expression while he was zeroing in on a target. But Alternate Alec stopped without letting lose any sort of arrow. He turned back to Clary.
“I read a lot of fantasy novels,” Alternate Alec told her. “Wailing about how none of it can be real and pinching yourself is a schmuck move. But… I do really have a full day ahead of me back in reality, so please, feel free to pull out your magic wands and,” he made a motion in front of himself, like he was waving a conductor’s baton, “Expelliarmus me back home.”
“They’re not magic wands. They’re steles,” Alec snapped at him. Altnernate Alec rolled his eyes.
There was a sound, like a thunderclap from the Institute’s entry way. Alternate Alec jumped. Regular Alec saw him and smirked.
“No one move, I’ll be right back with Magnus,” Lydia ordered.
Regular Alec moved away from the head of the table and dropped down into one of the two empty chairs around the table. He’d chosen the one between Clary and Jace. The one where he could stare down Alternate Alec, and still have someone as a buffer between himself and Magnus.
“This is so weird,” Jace commented, staring openly at Alternate Alec.
“We’re demon hunters,” Alec replied. “We deal with weird all the time.”
“Still. I saw the other version of me. I was wearing a suit, but I was pretty much the same. Look at him, he’s so—“
“He’s sitting right here!” Alternate Alec burst. “I’m a whole entire person, and I’m sitting right here. Can everyone stop talking about me like I can’t hear them?”
“What am I like in your dimension?” Isabelle asked, things would get weird enough when Lydia came back with Magnus. There was no reason to let tensions start boiling out of control now. “You seemed really shocked to see me.”
“Well. Yeah.” He pulled his phone out of his pocket and tapped the screen a few times, then handed her his phone. “In my dimension you’re my nerdy little sister.”
Isabelle took it and found herself looking down at a version of her that was just as shocking to her as her real self must have been to alternate Alec.
“Oh my god,” she whispered. In the photo Alec had handed her she had enormous glasses, and she was squinting into the sun wearing a huge flannel shirt over a tee shirt that said “Stark Industries R&D Department”. She looked up at Alternate Alec. “Okay. I see why you were surprised.”
“Let me see,” Jace said. Alternate Alec handed him the phone. Jace let out a strangled noise that eventually turned into a laugh and held the phone out to Alec, who kept his arms crossed and his glare firmly in place. He didn’t even look at the phone, but he stiffened as a familiar voice floated through the air.
“Well, if you’re going to be calling me away at all hours, then maybe you should considering putting me on retainer. I could send you a bid.”
Jace glanced over at their reality’s Alec for a moment before sliding Alternate Alec’s phone back to him.
Isabelle and Jace met gazes across the table. Jace raised his eyebrows at her, just a little, then turned to watch Magnus walk in beside Lydia.
They both knew about Alec. They’d both known for years.
Isabelle had never explicitly asked Alec. She’d figured it out slowly. She’d noticed the way Alec interacted with people. How he looked at people. The things he noticed in their demon-hunting cases, or the things he’d noticed in their history classes. And, as a test, she’d said things here and there. Innocent things. “He was cute.” “He was checking you out.” “He was flirting with you.” And after the first couple times, Alec stopped scoffing, or denying and just seemed resigned. She hadn’t even been really sure until one day, not even a mission, they’d just stopped somewhere to pick up lunch. The waiter had left his number on Alec’s check. Izzy had gently teased him about it until very quietly, Alec had just said, “Don’t.”
She didn’t know how Jace had figured it out. It wasn’t something that Shadowhunters talked about and the two of them never had. Not quite. They talked about Alec being “Tightly Wound”. “Repressed”. “Needing to get Laid”. And every time Isabelle had thought about saying more than that, she thought about the way Alec looked at Jace, and she couldn’t do it. She couldn’t threaten their bond like that.
So she didn’t.
But then there had been that night at Magnus’s. With the demon. And then Alec had stayed over at Magnus’s place after healing Luke.
Everyone knew her brother was gay. She was almost positive that her mother even knew. They just never talked about it. They couldn’t talk about it.
In the half hour he’d been here, no one had asked Alternate Alec if he was gay. But he just as clearly was. And he was Mundane Gay. He could say something, some small stupid thing that no one in his own reality would have even noticed at any point, and blow Alec’s world apart.
“I don’t think a retainer will be necessary, Magnus,” Lydia said. Her tone was polite, but crisp. “We really are hoping that we’ll need to call on you less often going forward but…” she sighed as she reached the table and gestured at the pair of Alecs. “Sometimes you need a warlock.”
Magnus froze when he saw Alternate Alec. Isabelle felt bad for Magnus. She had a vague idea that something unpleasant had happened between the warlock and her brother recently, and everything about Magnus’s outfit screamed ferociously that was trying to display to Alec just how unimportant that argument had been. He was wearing a stiff jacket with a high collar, zipped on one side, but only halfway up. A low-cut blood red silk shirt clearly showed off the middle of Magnus’s chest, which, apparently just for good measure, was draped with gold chains. He’d topped the whole look of with black leather pants, because of course he had.
Isabelle watched her brother out of the corner of her eye. His scowl had darkened further with every one of Magnus and Lydia’s steps toward the coffee table. Now his face was like a black hole.
Alternate Alec, however, grinned again, lifted his phone, and snapped a picture.
“What was that for?” Lydia demanded.
“Inspiration,” Alternate Alec replied. Magnus returned Alternate Alec’s wide smile with a tentative grin.
“This is… unusual,” Magnus managed, glancing between the two Alecs. “I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
Clary explained again, about the Seelie realm, the portal, and how, when she had gone into another dimension, she had been one with the Clary of the other dimension.
“And how did you and Jace get out?” Magnus asked.
“Through a portal in the Institute basement. I…” she stopped for a moment. Her head twitched, just barely, as though she’d been about to turn and thought better of it. “The alternate dimension isn’t totally magic free. I made contact with a warlock and he cast a portal for us. But that portal took us to Renwick’s in the real world, not back here.”
Lydia and Alternate Alec were both looking at Clary with suspicion. Isabelle couldn’t blame them. She hadn’t covered the hole in her story very well.
“Only a Seelie would be able to bring you out of an alternate dimension and back to our own,” Lydia said.
“Not necessarily,” Magnus said. “You’re all in luck. I am the foremost expert on portal magic, and it just so happens that I know quite a bit more about Seelie magic than a fantastically beautiful Seelie courtier should have let slip over a long weekend. Why don’t you,” —he pointed at Alternate Alec with a glittering golden fingernail— “and I pop down to the basement so you can show me where you walked into the world, and we’ll see what we can do about getting you out of it.”
“I’m not going anywhere without Izzy,” Alternate Alec replied immediately.
Isabelle started. “Me? Why me?”
“You’re my sister. There’s not a dimension where you’d let anything happen to me. And you,” —Alternate Alec pointed at Magnus, in the same way Magnus had pointed at him. Izzy saw regular Alec’s jaw clench as he did it. “I just met you last night in my dimension. And you were clearly hiding something.”
“Clary and I should go too, we were in the other dimension,” Jace cut in.
“Fine,” Alec huffed. “Then we’ll all just go. It’s not like we don’t have enough on our plates right now. Let’s just get this over with.”
As a group, everyone at the table stood, started for the basement, and froze after only a few steps.
Isabelle could feel the change in Alternate Alec across the few inches separating them the second he heard the voice. His whole body seized up, she could almost hear the air leaving his lungs and the way his heartbeat must have started up like a jack hammer. He’d been doing so well. Cocky in the face of his world inverted. He’d been surrounded by people wearing his friends and family’s faces and acting like it was all something that would work itself out.
But at the sound of her mother’s voice, Isabelle felt every ounce of the almost-familar young man’s confidence abandon him. On the other side of Isabelle, this dimension’s Alec didn’t fare much better.
“Your runes!” her mother gasped, her voice shriller than Isabelle had ever heard it.
Isabelle looked up at Alternate Alec, just as he began to shutter the look of absolute horror on his face. Isabelle watched his jaw clamp shut and face force itself back to neutrality, but Alternate Alec didn’t quite manage to hide how wide his eyes were.
“Mom!” Alec shouted, moving in front of his alternate self, hiding him the same way Isabelle had seen him do on more than one occasion to hide something that Jace had broken, or Isabelle wearing an outfit she’d told their mother she had thrown away.
The sight of a second, more familiar Alec didn’t seem to calm their mother much. Her hand flew to her mouth before she also schooled her features.
“What, in the name of the Angel, is going on here?” she demanded.
Lydia looked from Maryse to the group, her eyes pausing on the tortured expressions of both Alecs. “All of you carry on, I’ll be down after I explain the situation.” She waved at all of them, indicating they should keep walking, and they each started across the room, faster than before.
“I should have been informed immediately!” Isabelle heard her mother shout as they passed by.
“I am head of this Institute, and I disagree,” Lydia answered.
“Jesus. Lydia against Maryse,” Alternate Alec breathed, finally. “I think the real world would actually explode.”
He hadn’t said it loud enough for anyone else to hear. Isabelle reached out, wrapped her fingers around Alternate Alec’s arm and gave it a quick squeeze.
Magnus prodded the wall that Clary, Jace, and the Alternate Dimension’s Alec had shown him a few more times, hoping to reveal something that would let him deliver better news.
Better news, alas, did not seem to be forth coming.
Magnus took a deep breath, and started shooting little flashes of colored light at the wall, just to make it look like he was still trying to help while he thought of the best way to phrase what he was going to have to say.
“Whoa,” Alec’s voice, more likely, Alternate Alec’s voice said behind him.
The sight of Alternate Alec was really not what Magnus needed right now. Not after last night. Not when the wound of Alec telling Magnus that his risk didn’t matter was so fresh.
Maybe Alternate Alec was some sort of curse on both of them. A vision for this dimension’s Alec to consider, with his wedding only a couple weeks away. And a torment for Magnus. An Alec that he could probably seduce, but who couldn’t give him any of the things the Alec he wanted could.
“Well?” Alec, definitely this dimension’s Alec this time, demanded from behind him.
Magnus turned around and faced the gaggle of young Shadowhunters who had been watching him so anxiously.
“The good news or bad news first?”
“Bad news,” both Alec’s demanded immediately.
Magnus nodded. Of course. Of course they’d be even more similar than they seemed. “The bad news is that I can’t send him back.”
Both Alecs’ faces twisted in disappointment.
“The good news, is that he’ll wind up back in his own dimension naturally. The thing about the Seelie realm is that it doesn’t have any real entrances or exits. Just… less protected places. And they move, and fluctuate, and disappear. It’s all very complicated and secret, but basically, the other dimension knows that Alec shouldn’t have crossed over. A very serious need would have allowed him to cross through a soft spot in his world, but having two Alec’s in one dimension is… unsustainable. Eventually he’ll just,” Magnus threw his hands up, “move back. He’ll appear in his own dimension and be gone from this one.”
“And how long will that take?” Alternate Alec demanded. “I can’t be stuck in bizarro world for weeks, my life will disintegrate.”
“There’s a snapback effect,” Magnus offered, not mentioning that he was only about ninety percent sure it was true. “You should go back to exactly where and when you left, give or take a few minutes.”
“You said a very serious need?” Isabelle asked, turning to Alternate Alec. “What were you doing when you crossed over.”
Alternate Alec shrugged. “I was looking for my phone.”
Alec’s head rocked back with a truly epic eye roll and a groan. “Of course. Of-fucking-course.”
Alternate Alec didn’t respond to his doppleganger, he just looked at Magnus with familiar hazel eyes. “I have a very serious need to get back to the real world. Isn’t that enough?”
“Not to go back,” Magnus answered, apologetically.
Alternate Alec sighed and pulled his phone out of his pocket. “Fine. I’ll find a cheap hotel, buy a couple bottles of wine and a book and wait for this nightmare to end,” he declared, already typing.
“There’s no way Lydia lets him out of Institute control,” Jace cut in. “Not after everything that’s happened.”
Alec stared at Jace for a second, gulped, and pressed his hand to his forehead, his armor of scowls and crossed arms finally beginning to crack.
“I think I can handle Lydia,” Alternate Alec scoffed.
“Shut up,” Alec huffed. “Jace is right. He can’t just be out of bounds. Not with half the Clave on their way here, when we’re already under investigation,” he gave Alternate Alec a dark look. “The City of Bones is an option.”
“Alec!” Isabelle hissed.
Magnus sighed. This was an obvious place to draw the line. He’d done what he’d been called here to do. He should leave them all here to tear themselves apart, go upstairs and hand Lydia his bill. If Alec didn’t want the care Magnus had been trying to offer him, what was the point in offering it again?
But, seeing the way Alec stared at his alternate self, Magnus couldn’t bring himself to abandon either of them.
He cleared his throat. “Jace, Clary, Isabelle. Could you leave us? Go… brief Lydia?”
Jace opened his mouth as though he was going to protest, but at a sharp “Go,” from Alec, he, Clary, and Isabelle turned to leave.
Alternate Alec reached out, and grabbed Isabelle’s arm. Isabelle looked to Alec for guidance. The struggle on Alec’s face was evident. Part of Magnus wanted to revel in watching Alec hurt the way Magnus had hurt last night, but it was a small part, easily smothered by the part of Magnus that wanted to spare him the pain of this decision. To decide what to do with Alternate Alec, they were all going to have to acknowledge, out loud, why Alec was so desperate to have Alternate Alec quiet, and gone.
Alec and Isabelle had the same kind of quick, silent discussion that so many siblings could have. Alec let out one, long, angry breath before announcing, “Fine. She can stay.” He turned to Magnus. “What?”
“It’s unlikely he has enough Angel blood to… enter the City of Bones,” Magnus stopped himself from saying ‘survive the City of Bones’ just in time. “But there are other options that might legally appease the Clave.”
“Like?” Alec asked.
“It’s not ideal, but The High Warlock of an area near an Institute is legally allowed to house entities that can’t stay within Institute walls for whatever reason, as long as the proper contracts are signed by the High Warlock and the Commander of the Institute,” Magnus gestured at himself. “I’m the High Warlock of Brooklyn—”
He was interrupted by a snort of Alternate Alec. Everyone turned to stare at him.
“Sorry. You were serious,” he laughed again. “Thank god you’re not the High Warlock of Staten Island, right?”
Magnus turned back to Alec. “I’m the High Warlock of Brooklyn. I have three guest rooms. I could offer to write up a contract, but—”
Alec eyed him for a moment. “The price? I have a feeling this won’t be pro bono.”
Magnus sighed. He shouldn’t have pulled that stunt over Isabelle’s trial. He glanced at Isabelle and Alternate Alec, thinking over his response carefully. “What price do you think Lydia and Maryse would find acceptable?”
He and Alec looked at each other for a moment. It was a problem. He couldn’t keep doing things for the New York Institute for free. That was suspicious and bad for business. But Lydia spending a fortune on a warlock when it wasn’t necessary would endanger her and Alec’s claim to the New York Institute.
“You said, but,” Isabelle pointed out. “But what?”
“But, the closer the Alternate Dimension’s Alec is to the spot where he came through, the sooner he’ll go back to his own reality,” Magnus said.
“Well, that settles it,” Alternate Alec said. “I’m staying here.”
“No one said you have a choice, Mundane,” Alec spat.
“No, but I have leverage, jackass,” Alternate Alec replied.
Magnus felt the temperature drop. He had a feeling if he stuck his hand between the two Alecs it would freeze solid and break off.
“Leverage?” Alec demanded.
“I think I can guess why you don’t want me here,” Alternate Alec told him.
Alec pulled himself to his full height, a move that did nothing to intimidate Alternate Alec. “So? What can you do about it from a spare room in Brooklyn?”
“Look,” Isabelle cut in. “I’ll vouch for Magnus. You can trust him. If it’s okay with him, I can come by to check on you, I’ll sign myself over to his care until you go back to your own dimension. Does it really matter how long you’re here for if you’re going to snap back to your own dimension at the same time you left?”
“Yes, it does,” Alternate Alec hissed. “I don’t want to be stuck in Brooklyn, waiting to disappear and…” he swallowed, and to Magnus’s surprise, gave him a very open look. He was almost looking at Magnus the way Alec had over that first cocktail in Magnus’s apartment, before the arranged marriage for the Clave. Before Lydia. Before the Trial.
“I… met you. Not you, you. But my reality’s version of you last night. And it was…” he sighed and shook his head. “Whatever. My version of you isn’t going to hear any of this. I liked you. I liked you like I haven’t anyone in a long time. And when I get home, I’m going to call that guy, and I don’t want to spend all this time with some… glam rock wizard version of him, and have this fucked up impression of him. You know? That “getting to know a guy” stage is too important to wreck just because… your world’s stupid magic is fucking up my life.”
Hearing Alec- a version of him that was so clearly the same person, even if he had a different life, and a different world, and was technically a different species- say the same things that Magnus had admitted to his own version of Alec was a physical pain. It cut across Magnus harder than he would have thought.
Certainly too hard to let this ghost of an Alec stay with him for the days— maybe weeks— it might take for him to go back to his own dimension.
Magnus forced himself to be calm, and looked at Alec, who was staring down at the floor between everyone’s feet. Isabelle was staring in the same spot, glancing up occasionally to glance between the Alecs. Alternate Alec was rubbing the thumb of his right hand over the palm of his left, also watching Alec, with more care than caution. Magnus gulped when Alternate Alec turned the same look on him. Apologetic. He looked like he hadn’t expected what he’d said to hurt anyone, and was sorry that it had.
“The simplest thing,”— Isabelle whispered—“Is for him to stay here. No paperwork. No expense to explain to the Clave. There a still plenty of empty rooms. We can get him that wine, and some books, and at some point he’ll just be gone, okay?”
Alec didn’t look up for a few more moments. His hands clenched and unclenched at his sides a few times before he finally looked up at Alternate Alec.
“You can’t be so…” Alec’s chest rose and fell. “Obvious.”
Magnus waited for Alternate Alec to say something. Be offended. Protest.
But he didn’t.
“This doesn’t have to be a big deal,” Izzy said.
“Izzy—” Alec started.
“I’ll talk to him,” Isabelle promised. She reached across the space between them and grabbed Alec’s hand. “Okay? I promise. It’s going to be okay.”
Isabelle dropped his hand, and took Alternate Alec by the forearm. He followed her out of the basement without resistance, leaving Magnus and Alec alone.
“Alec,” Magnus started, unsure of what to say, but it didn’t matter, Alec was already walking away. But he stopped at the stairs, and turned back.
“I’m sorry,” he said, before he hurried up the stairs.
There's a book spoiler in here about Jace's name. If you're like... super invested in the incest plot you might want to skip this chapter.
Alec would be the first to acknowledge that he’d been a little nerd growing up.
The excitable, talk-your-ear-off-about-what-he-was-reading kind in elementary school. The locked-alone-in-his-room-playing-his-music-too-loud-and-on-his-third-book-that-week kind in middle school. In high school, he’d hit a last growth spurt, gotten a YMCA membership, finally started to fill out and realized that when you were handsome and six-foot-three you could be whatever kind of nerd you liked, including an unapologetic, big gay fantasy nerd.
And for some reason, as an adult, it had suddenly become acceptable, even charming in certain circles, to be the guy who had most of the songs from Lord of the Rings memorized, could argue even the most trivial points of the Harry Potter universe, and was the only person in any given group who could remember the name of the lion from Chronicles of Narnia. Alec never tried to hide his tastes in media, or anything else. The point of fantasy was escapism. He’d had plenty to escape from when he was a kid. He could own that.
Fantasy took you out of your world, away from your crappy problems, and into a world where problems could be dealt with. What was the line? Fairy tales are important because they teach you dragons can be slain?
Something like that.
Young Alec, gangly and shy, would have given up, if not his right arm, at least a couple fingers to have found himself in the glossy headquarters of a band of demon fighting pretty boys.
Which just made Adult Alec’s situation suck that much more.
He was in Harry Potter, he was in Lord of the Rings, he was in Narnia! But he was living out The Yellow Wallpaper. Trapped in a small, cold, stone room in the glossy headquarters, making no noise and pretending that he didn’t exist so as not to upset a nightmare version of himself.
To make it worse, back in his own world, he did fight demons, in his own way. All he could do here was wait for the magic to run out and snap him back to a place where he had a purpose.
Isabelle— this dimension’s Isabelle with the same familiar smile, and same familiar sweetness, just encased in dominatrix clothes— had brought him two bottles of wine, a wine glass, a stack of Cosmos, and a couple of dusty, leather-bound books.
Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad. He hadn’t taken a day off in months. The room had a fireplace. The wine looked good. The bed was more comfortable than his old bargain store mattress sitting behind an Ikea screen in his and Jace’s living room.
He could light a fire, pour himself a glass of wine, lay down and read for a little while. Technically, he wouldn’t even be wasting time, if he was going to end up back in the same time and place that he’d left. He’d just… sit. In the middle of the afternoon. With no phone. No obligations. No plans. Nothing to do.
Well. It wasn’t like this dimension’s Alec— Angry Goth Alec— had forbidden him from leaving the room. He was a prisoner in the whole Institute. Not in this one small part of it. Maybe there was a gym or something.
Alec walked to the door and paused with his hand on the handle. Maybe he should just suck it up and stay here. From their brief interaction and the pile of black clothes from Other Alec that Izzy had left on his bed, it was pretty clear that he was as much of a nightmare to Other Alec as Other Alec was to him. And this was Other Alec’s dimension. If Other Alec couldn’t handle the idea of Alec walking around being… obvious…Alec should respect that. Even if he didn’t agree with it. Only one of them was going to be stuck in this dimension for the rest of their lives. Angry Goth Alec’s choices were not his problem.
Plus— Maryse was out there.
Alec took his hand off the handle.
Everyone in this dimension seemed to be, fundamentally, the same as the people he knew. Different clothes, markings on their skin, maybe a little… harder. There was something unsettlingly jagged about this universe’s version of Jace— but at the core, they were all basically the same. Even Angry Alec. Alec could see himself being that kind of person, imprisoned in the expectations of his responsibilities. It wasn’t like he had never pretended to be straight at an event, or when talking to a notoriously conservative potential client. Maybe, if he had to do it all the time, he would be just like this universe’s Alec.
He could even try it here… but he was pretty sure the ship had sailed on that already.
Would it be better or worse if Maryse followed that trend? If she was the woman he knew, just in a power suit, or if she was like…motherly.
This universe’s Maryse had freaked out when she saw him. But only because his runes were gone.
“That freaked Izzy out too,” Alec reminded himself. “This rune thing seems pretty important.”
But when he’d freaked out Izzy, his runes had been like, the third thing she was worried about. First, she’d noticed him dressing strangely, then acting strangely, then his runes.
So… that would line up with his own universe. Izzy cared about him. Maryse cared about what people thought of her because of him.
Well. He’d dealt with that for a long time. He could put on his big boy pants— or his borrowed straight boy jeans— and endure a passing chat with her.
“She sure as hell can’t stop me from leaving” Alec whispered to himself. He put his hand on the door handle again and opened it.
Jace blew out a steadying breath. He could feel the anger, right below the surface, threatening to burst out, and he had to hold it in.
He was angry, and he was frustrated, but not at Clary, and he was not going to lose his temper with her just because she was barely trained and kept running off on missions. That’s why they were training right now. So that she’d be safer out in a dangerous, and increasingly weird, world.
He had no right to be angry with her for who her— their— father was, and what her mother may or may not have felt about Jace, and whatever sickness Valentine must have left inside him that made him watch the way her body moved as she swung the bow staff… completely incorrectly.
“You’re making a face,” Clary huffed, setting her bow staff down.
“I’m making a face?” Jace asked.
“You look like a cartoon character before the top of their head blows off,” Clary told him. “Am I really that bad at this?”
Jace took in another breath, pulling it all the way into his stomach, then letting it go. “No. I’m not angry with you. Everything is just…”
“Angering?” Clary asked.
Jace blew out another breath, he finally felt some of the anger go out with it. “Right.”
Clary looked at him for a moment and switched her bow staff to her other hand. “How’s Alec doing?”
“Regular Alec or Alec in a polo shirt?”
Clary nodded. “We really need to think of something to call him if he’s going to be around for a few days.”
Jace looked at her for a moment and decided to finally voice the thing that had been eating at him. “Magnus never actually confirmed that the Other Alec would be around for a few days. Every one said something like that, and Magnus never really confirmed or denied that Other Alec would only be around for that long.”
Clary shrugged. “I’m sure Magnus would have told Alec if it was going to be longer than that. I mean they have sort of a—“
“Right,” Jace cut her off.
She tilted her head and gave him a searching sort of look. “You know. He is your best friend. Your parabatai. I know things are tense between the two of you, but maybe you could still go… talk to him.”
“About his Alternate dimension self showing up?”
Clary shrugged. “And the wedding. And… you know…” she shrugged again. “The whole thing with him.”
Jace tapped his own bow staff on the floor and watched where the wood hit the tile.
“Come on, Jace,” Clary said. “You talked to Alternate Alec, and I mean… everyone knows.”
“Clary!” Jace barked, then clenched his eyes shut. Not angry. Not Angry with Clary, he reminded himself. Angry at Alec, angry at Lydia, angry at Maryse, angry at magic and the Clave and rules and bullshit from all sides. Not angry at Clary.
“Look, Clary, We can’t talk about that sort of thing here. Okay?”
Clary rolled her eyes. “You know, pretending that everything is fine isn’t going to help anyone. Not the Clave, not Isabelle, not Lydia, not—“
“Alec!” Jace called out, as the latter walked by. He spun around and looked up at Jace, giving him a more intense version of that weird, ice-down-the-neck-of-his-shirt feeling that he’d gotten the first time he’d seen him.
It wasn’t Real Alec. The spin was the first clue. He moved wrong. And when he turned Jace could see his strange, bare skin. This was Alternate Alec in Regular Alec’s clothes. It made Jace’s skin crawl a little.
Alternate Alec gave them both a small smile. “You didn’t mean me, did you?” He asked. “Don’t worry about it. I was just… getting out of the room. Thought I’d look around.”
Jace sighed. He couldn’t let Alternate Alec do that. Not with all the wedding stuff going on right now. Most people weren’t coming in for another couple of days, but anyone from the Clave who was here couldn’t see this version of Alec walking around without runes or any idea what their world was like.
But he had a feeling locking him up in a spare bedroom at the institute would backfire spectacularly. Whatever else Alternate Alec was, he was clearly smart.
“You want to train with us?” Jace asked.
“Train?” Alternate Alec asked. He twisted back and forth a little, on his toes. It was the sort of casual movement that regular Alec never made.
“Yeah. Boxing. Bow staff. Little bit of Martial arts.”
Alternate Alec kept spinning back and forth, eyeing the punching bag. “I’m more of a yoga and pilates guy.”
“It’s fun,” Clary said.
“Uh. Other Alec didn’t bring me anything but jeans and black tee shirts.” He smiled tentatively. “I get the feeling that he doesn’t own anything other than jeans and black tee shirts.”
“Not so much,” Clary answered.
“He has a ton training clothes,” Jace said. “I’m sure he won’t mind. Let’s go grab something.”
Alternate Alec held up his hands, in a sort of “if you say so” gesture. Jace took it as a yes.
“Clary, we’ll be right back. Can you find some hand wraps? We can all start on the punching bag?”
“Sure,” Clary responded.
Finding something to talk to Alternate Alec about was bizarrely difficult. This was an Alec that he had nothing in common with. No shared history with. But an Alec that, on some deeper level, he knew completely.
“So, do you want to know what you’re like in my dimension?” Alternate Alec asked as they turned down the hallway to Alec’s bedroom.
Jace stopped and turned to Alternate Alec, who shrugged. “Seems like the most obvious ice-breaker, doesn’t it?”
Jace kept walking down the hallway. “I was in your dimension for a little while. In a suit. Clary was trying to tell me that I wasn’t crying, but you know. I could feel my face when I was…” Jace tried to find other words than the first ones that came to mind and failed. “In that other’s Jace’s body.”
“So? You’d just seen a demon for the first time. And according to all the texts you sent me for the rest of the night you and Clary had gotten into some big fight because she slipped off with Magnus and was being weird. I… umm… you know. Smoothed some of that over.”
A sigh of relief escaped Jace. Clary might not have figured out what could and could not be said about Alec in the Institute, but Alternate Alec seemed to have caught on right away.
“Fine,” Jace said as they reached Alec’s bedroom. “What am I like in your dimension?”
He grabbed the knob and turned it. It stuck.
“Locked?” Alternate Alec asked.
Jace peered at the handle. There was a rune on the top. “Only to you.” He pulled out his stele and changed the rune so that the door unlocked and it disappeared. Most of the single bedroom rooms at the Institute didn’t have locks. A locking rune was more like a do not disturb sign than anything else, but Jace knew that Alec was in a meeting somewhere else in the Institute. They wouldn’t walk in on anything they weren’t supposed to.
“Right,” Alternate Alec sighed as he and Jace walked into Alec’s room.
Alternate Alec looked around, taking everything in with an unreadable expression.
“I’m guessing this is not what your room looks like in your dimension?”
Alternate Alec shook his head. “No. The rent on creepy old churches in Manhattan is murder. We have a shitty one bedroom in Alphabet City.”
Jace digested that. “We have a One bedroom?”
Alternate Alec returned his gaze and rolled his eyes. “Calm down. I sleep in the living room. You won the bedroom from me in a game of dice after you started dating Clary.”
Jace’s hold body went tight. Fucking Alternate Dimensions.
“And I bought noise canceling headphones and slipped the receipt under your door. You haven’t reimbursed me yet.” He looked over with a smile, which melted right off when he saw Jace’s expression. “Right. Okay. Clary is not a welcome topic of conversation in this universe. Got it.”
Jace tried to think of a reply, but no matter how many phrases he tried in his head, they all sounded like “Please don’t tell me about how I’m boning my sister in your universe.”
Alternate Alec waited for a second before going on. “You’re pretty different in my dimension,” he said. “No black leather, for one.”
“Not a lot of black leather in your universe, is there?” Jace asked.
“Well. Not that any of us wear. I nearly had a heart attack when I saw Izzy.”
Jace laughed and Alternate Alec echoed.
It wasn’t the same as talking to actual Alec, but it did help to soothe the ache that Jace had been feeling ever since Alec had nearly broken their parabatai bond. At least a little.
“In my dimension, you’re… I don’t know. Lighter. You’re a big, sweet dork. When Cl—“ he stopped and cleared this throat. “Simon once described you as a golden retriever on Adderall.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Alternate Alec said as he crossed Alec’s bedroom and pulled the middle dresser of Alec’s dresser half open.
Jace leaped across the space between them and grabbed the drawer to stop him. “Not that one!” he snapped, much louder than he should have. “I mean… you should let me—“
Alternate Alec gave him an incredulous look, which crumbled into something that might have been disgust.
“Oh,” he huffed. “You have got to be fucking kidding me. Angry Alec hasn’t heard the news about the internet has he?”
Jace watched as Alternate Alec dug his hand through Alec’s tee shirts, sweat shirts and sweat pants. Jace was caught between looking away, or stopping him, but he could tell from the way Alec swept his fingers across the bottom of the drawer that there was nothing there anymore. Alternate Alec huffed again, pulled out a pair of sweatpants and a zip-up hoodie, then closed the drawer.
“Don’t worry. It’s gone,” Alec said, shaking his head in what, this time, was definitely disgust. “It can’t get you.”
“How did you—” Jace started.
“—Because apparently this dimension’s Alec is me as a teenager. People expect porn in a top or bottom drawer,” he said, in a strange, mocking voice. “No one digs through a middle drawer.” His jaw clenched and unclenched. “Except apparently you, in all dimensions.”
“I was looking for a couple extra steles. I’d broken a ton of mine, Mom wouldn’t let me take another one and I knew Alec would have a bunch of extras.”
“And you were… let me guess—”Alternate Alec put his forefinger to his temple. “Thirteen.”
“Fifteen,” Jace said.
“Right. That tracks.” Alternate Alec threw the borrowed clothes on the bed and made a production out of unfolding and refolding them.
Jace watched him.
They didn’t talk about this. He’d never told this dimension’s Alec what he found. He’d just never lifted up more than two layers of anything in Alec’s room ever again.
Maybe… they didn’t have to talk about that… but maybe he and Alternate Alec could… sort of talk about it. Skate around it a little bit. Clary was right. They couldn’t all pretend that they didn’t know forever, no matter what the Clave wanted. Maybe talking to Alternate Alec could help him learn how to talk to this world’s Alec.
“What did I do, in your dimension?” Jace asked. “After I… found it.”
“What did you do in this dimension?”
“Nothing,” Jace asked.
Alternate Alec unfolded and refolded the clothes again. “You know, I’m a good person. I don’t deserve this. Getting sucked into a demon dimension full of uptight, skin burning freaks who live with their mothers in a church? I haven’t done anything that should bring this level of punishment down on me.”
“It’s just magic,” Jace said. “It’s not personal.”
Alternate Alec stopped folding. “Okay. Look. You’re… you’re a little bit dumb in my dimension.”
“I’m dumb in your dimension?” Jace repeated.
“Well. That’s not really fair. You have focuses. You taught yourself how to take a car apart and put it back together. You built a computer that’s about half garbage parts. You just started a business, and it’s working. I mean… I’m running all of your marketing, but you’re really the one who’s making it successful.”
“What did I do in your dimension?” Jace repeated.
“You… Jesus.” A little bit of a smile cracked Alternate Alec’s face. “So I said you had focuses? Things you magically become really good at? People and like, normal human interaction were not one of those things until a couple years ago. You noticed that what I had was in bad condition— cause I found it in a bush and it had been rained on— and you… stole me a new magazine from Barnes and Noble and then you came over to my house to hang out the next day and you gave it to me.”
Alternate Alec shook his head. “I am not kidding. You just pulled it out of your bag and said ‘Hey, I thought you should have a nice one’ And handed me gay porn like a lunatic.”
“What did you do?”
“I freaked out.” Alec started folding the clothes again. “You told me that you’d been looking for something in my dresser— I don’t remember what anymore— and that you were just trying to let me know that it was okay. I made you go home. I cried. Your mom found it and you ended up telling her that some girl from school had stuck it in your bag as a joke. I finally let you tell her the truth later and it turns out she thought you’d gotten it from me and were just you know… wondering. And then you came to sit with me at lunch on Monday and apologized and it was kind of fine. Thirteen-year-old boys are dumb.”
But Jace had stopped listening a few sentences ago.
“My mom?” he demanded.
“Yeah. Celine.” Alec said. “She would have let you get away with anything. It’s amazing you aren’t a spoiled brat.”
Jace felt like a star had died inside him. An explosion, and then such a great pressure he wasn’t sure if he could stand it.
“What did I say?” Alternate Alec asked. “Jace?”
“Celine.” He needed to calm down. But he couldn’t. Not with everything that was happening. “And my father?”
Alternate Alec held his hands defensively out in front of himself and worked his way slowly to his feet. Jace was scaring him.
“What about your father, Jace?”
“His name, what is his name?”
Alternate Alec took a step back so that Jace would have to go over the bed to reach him. Maybe he was more of a Shadowhunter than he seems at first glance.
“In my dimension,” Alternate Alec said slowly, “He left when you were really young. He went back to Switzerland.”
“His name, Alec!”
“Sheldon? Stanley. We’ve only talked about him when we were both sober like… twice. Stephen, maybe? His last name is Herondale.”
“Yeah. And you’re Jace Herondale,” Alternate Alec said. He’d managed to back up all the way to Alec’s nightstand.
“Herondale,” Jace repeated. “Jace Herondale. Jonathan Christopher Herondale.”
“Actually…” Alternate Alec cut in. “In my dimension, it’s Jonathan Clancy Herondale. You started going by Jace and pretending that you didn’t have a middle name.”
Jace left Alternate Alec behind in Alec’s room. He lurched through the door and broke into a run half way down the hallway.
There is sort of a spoiler for City of Fallen Angels in here. It is something that I think they'll work into the show.
Alec had left his room for the Institute’s kitchen before the sun had risen. He’d considered going out for a run but hadn’t been able to summon the energy.
He hadn’t been sleeping well.
Actually, he hadn’t been sleeping well since his parents had gotten back from Idris. Since the Lightwood’s claim to the New York Institute had been threatened. Since his parents had decided the best option for saving their family name was to marry Alec off.
He stabbed his fork into the egg he had yet to eat and watched the yolk bubble around the fork and dribble down over the whites, to the toast, then over the plate.
Alternate Alec had been here for four days. The wedding was two weeks away. He’d texted Magnus yesterday asking for an estimate on how long their inter-dimensional visitor might be with them. Magnus hadn’t answered.
He supposed that was one interpretation of backing off.
Wasn’t there a point where your body needed sleep so badly it just turned off? You’d be walking down a hallway or staring at an egg you couldn’t force yourself to eat, and just… click… there you went. Like the power had just gone out in your body?
The way things were going, Alec would probably find out soon enough.
He cut a small piece of egg and toast off the edge of his breakfast with his fork. It felt dry and tasteless in his mouth. He set his fork down on the plate and went to the cupboard, pulling down a glass container full of coffee grounds.
He should never have humored Magnus to begin with. He should have shut down the flirting at the loft during the thing with the memory demon. He should have made Magnus use Jace or Clary or Simon’s energy to save Luke. He should have said no when Magnus had called him and asked if he wanted to get a drink. He absolutely should not have stayed at Magnus’s apartment that night. Shouldn’t have let Magnus make him breakfast in the morning, flirting all the while.
Even while he was doing it, he’d known that the idea it could ever be more than just a silly, dangerous flirtation was a fantasy. He was a Lightwood. Marriage had always been part of the picture for him. A good Shadowhunter marriage. A strong alliance for the future.
Alec measured found the coffee filters and measured out a scoop of coffee, then filled the coffee pot with enough water for one cup. No one else was going to be up this early. He hit the “brew” button and sat, watching the pot fill back up.
He’d said yes though. When Magnus had asked him if he wanted to go out for a drink, he’d said yes. Almost immediately. He remembered what Alternate Alec had said. How he’d liked Magnus like he hadn’t liked anyone in a long time. How important those first parts of getting to know a guy were.
The coffee pot beeped. Alec got out a mug and the cream and made himself a cup. He brought the cup back to where his plate of eggs and toast was still sitting and attempted another bite. This time, he cut a huge piece of egg and toast and drying yolk off and shoved it in his mouth, forcing himself to chew and swallow it before washing it down with the coffee.
But that had been before. Before everything that had happened between his parents and the Clave. Before Meliorn was arrested. Before Alec had proposed to Lydia. Before Alternate Alec had shown up in the basement and sent Alec’s already unsustainable stress level through the goddamn roof.
He choked down another bite.
It was hard to see himself like that. Hear himself talk like that.
But the worst part was watching Alternate Alec around everyone else. Talking about dating guys in front of Isabelle down in the basement when he’d first appeared. The stupid grin on Jace’s face while he tried to teach Clary and Alternate Alec some basic sword fighting.
Alec knew that Izzy knew he was gay. He didn’t know if she’d seen something, or he hadn’t realized that he’d said something out loud or what. But she knew and she’d known for years and she’d barely reacted. Clary had accosted him about it a couple weeks ago. Jace… He’d had no idea that Jace knew. Not until that fight they’d had outside the City of Bones.
Thankfully, his mother and Lydia seemed to have no interest in Alternate Alec as long as someone was watching him, a task that Jace, Clary, and Isabelle were sharing among themselves. And apparently enjoying. Conspicuously, demonstrably, enjoying.
Alec wished he could find a way to explain to all of them— especially Izzy— that the fact that none of them cared that he was gay wasn’t the point. He didn’t need Alternate Alec swishing around, and seeing Isabelle and Jace be totally fine with it to know that his sister and his parabatai would have, at some point, accepted him. He wished he’d realized how easily it would happen, but he’d never doubted it would eventually happen.
But Isabelle and Jace were rule breakers and rebels. Criminals, now. Technically. They all forgot it, sequestered out here in New York— but they weren’t really representative of Shadowhunters as a whole. Isabelle and Jace didn’t have to sit in meetings about Clave orders and how to enforce them. Isabelle and Jace weren’t old enough to understand that adult Shadowhunters—Institute Leaders— couldn’t just “follow their hearts.”
Alec wasn’t a child. He was a Shadowhunter. What he wanted didn’t matter. His obligations mattered.
He told himself that a few more times as he forced down his now cold and rubbery fried egg, and tried not to remember the look on Magnus’s face as he listened to Alternate Alec talk about a chance meeting, at a fancy party, over cocktails in a simpler world.
Alec was washing his plate and refilling his mug when he heard the door creak open behind him. Surprised, he checked his watch. It was still early. Not shockingly early, like he had been when he’d crept down here, but still much earlier than most of the Institute would usually be awake. He turned back to the sink and finished scrubbing yolk off the plate.
“Alec?” his mother said quietly. “It’s so early.”
Alec glanced back at her, watching her walk through the door.
She looked almost as tired as he felt, even though she was already dressed for the day in slacks and a navy button up shirt.
“I was awake,” Alec answered. “I thought I might as well get up and start the day. With everything that’s going on.”
“Right,” said his mother, walked behind him to the fridge and pulling out a pint of yogurt. “I thought Isabelle had agreed to help with the wedding plans?”
“She has,” Alec answered, grabbing a drying rag off the counter and running it over his plate. “But there are rooms to get ready for Clave emissaries. We have to feed everyone. Isabelle’s focus is more on… you know. Decorations.”
His mother nodded as she pulled a container of muesli down from the cupboard. “Of course.”
Alec put his plate away and refreshed his coffee while his mother poured herself a bowl of cereal and dropped a large scoop of yogurt onto it.
“I saw Jace and Clary walking around with that… Alternate Dimension boy yesterday. Is he still here?”
“I haven’t checked yet today.”
“I thought he was going to stay in his room.”
Oh good, Alec thought. From eggs to eggshells.
“He’s an inconvenience, not a prisoner,” Alec said. “Besides, Isabelle and Jace thought— and I agree— he’d be less of a risk if he was treated well.”
“A mundane? A risk?” His mother asked. Her tone was neutral, but she raised her eyebrow at him.
Alec breathed deep, thinking carefully about his response as he pulled the cream out of the fridge again and topped up his coffee with it. “We don’t know anything about him. And he doesn’t know anything about our world. It’s easier to keep an eye on him if we see him around the Institute. Jace, Clary, and Isabelle have been watching him. He’s not moving about freely.”
His mother nodded, accepting that. “I hope this inconvenience is going to be gone well before anyone from the Clave is expected at the Institute?”
“So do I,” said Alec, much more fervently than he’d meant to before bringing his tone back to neutral. “Magnus Bane said the closer he was to the place where he’d crossed over the sooner he’d be gone.”
“Mhmm. Did Magnus give you an actual time estimate?”
“He… didn’t commit to an exact date. No.”
“Shocking,” his mother said, with a sigh. “Well. If he is still with us next week, we may need to revisit his current open door policy. We can’t explain a Seelie Intruder, even one that the current Commander of the Institute seems to find harmless, to the Clave.”
“Don’t blame Lydia for this,” Alec told his mother sternly. She looked up at him with the same betrayed look she’d given him when she’d first learned about his engagement. “This marriage was your idea.”
“A marriage was my idea,” his mother replied.
“There has always been an alliance between the Lightwoods and the Branwells.”
“You barely know her.”
“And there are so many girls that I know better?” Alec responded without thinking.
He froze. His mother froze. They stared at each other.
“Lydia is a good choice,” Alec went on. His voice sounded strange in his ears. He was struggling so hard to sound completely neutral that he almost sounded robotic. Like he was a computer program stringing together sounds it didn’t know the meaning of. “She’s established herself within the Clave. She’s kind. She’s responsible. She’s brave—“
“She’s been married before.”
Alec’s wasn’t sure why that comment was what sent him over the edge. He set his coffee mug down on the counter, hands shaking so badly it toppled over. A light brown puddle formed on the counter and began to drip off the edge.
“And a lot of women wouldn’t have accepted a proposal from a Circle Member’s son,” he growled.
As he stormed past her and out the door, he caught the look of shock and hurt on his mother’s face, but kept going.
By the Angel, he needed to get some sleep.
Izzy was crouched beside Clary’s bedroom door, ear pressed to a cup she’d brought with her for this exact purpose. She jumped when she saw Alec coming down the hallway, but relaxed when she saw it was just Alternate Alec.
He pointed at the door. “Did they get the blood test results?” He mouthed.
“Yeah!” Isabelle mouthed back.
Alternate Alec unwound his arm from behind his back, displaying a glass tumbler identical to Isabelle’s and winked before coming to eavesdrop next to her at the door.
The heavy oak door wasn’t completely soundproof, but all the cup was transmuting were muffled sounds. Izzy could tell who was speaking, but not what they were saying. She sighed, pulled her stele out of her bra and handed Alternate Alec her cup before pulling her skirt up and drawing a hearing enhancement rune on her thigh.
Alternate Alec was staring at her, bug-eyed, when she reached back out for the cup.
“Woah,” He mouthed, handing it over.
She shrugged and pressed her ear back to the cup against the door.
“God, this is so weird,” Clary sighed.
“I know,” said Jace. “This envelope…all we have to do is open this envelope.”
“And then what?”
“I don’t know. I mean…” Clary’s voice petered out.
Isabelle looked up at Alternate Alec, who shook his head and put down the cup with a shrug. “Have they opened it yet?” he mouthed.
Isabelle shook her head.
“Let’s just… Here give it to me. We have to know,” Jace declared, in a gruff voice.
Isabelle waited. And waited. Alternate Alec poked her in the shoulder and she brushed his hand away, listening and concentrating.
Jace said something, too quiet for Izzy to hear the words, but she caught them when he repeated it. “You’re not my sister!”
She gave Alternate Alec the thumbs up. “They are not related.”
Alternate Alec smiled and whispered, “Good. Cause, in my dimension, they are sickeningly in love,” his smile turned into a smirk. “But also stupid enough believe a random lie from a bad guy. So, I’ll just keep this in mind if I ever have to solve this problem in the real world.” He gave the door a dirty look. “We might want to move somewhere else. Like somewhere that we know for sure we can’t hear them outside the door.”
Isabelle held in a laugh, and when Alternate Alec walked away she followed him.
“Back to my room for a celebratory glass of wine?”
“It’s three in the afternoon.”
Alternate Alec shrugged. “You have somewhere to be?”
Technically, Isabelle had made some promises about helping pick out tent fabrics and flowers. But that was nothing that couldn’t be done after a glass of wine.
Actually, given how depressing this whole wedding thing was, a glass of wine might actually help. And there were things she’d been thinking about for the last few days. Things she had almost convinced herself she didn’t need to know. Almost.
“Not right now,” Isabelle replied.
Alternate Alec took her tumbler from her as soon as his door closed behind them. She dropped into a musty arm chair, and he set both of their eavesdropping tumblers down on the desk. Isabelle was surprised to see that he’d only opened one of the bottles of wine she’d brought him, and it looked like he’d only had one glass. Though, now that she thought about it, they’d all been keeping him pretty busy. He was actually starting to get good with a sword.
He handed her a glass and held up his own. “To resolving unnecessary incest angst.”
She smiled and they clinked their glasses together.
“Can I ask you something?” Isabelle took a sip from her glass.
Alternate Alec shrugged. “Sure.”
“The first day you were here. When we all ran into Mom on our way to the basement?”
Alternate Alec’s face darkened, but he didn’t say anything.
“You—” Isabelle stopped. She didn’t want to say that he’d freaked out. The two of them were getting along in this dimension. She liked him a lot. They talked a little. They’d trained. They’d eaten lunch together a couple times. But he wasn’t her brother, and she wasn’t his sister, and there were things that you didn’t ask strangers.
“You called her Maryse,” Isabelle said. She tried to make it sound like an innocent question. Like she was just pointing out that it was weird to call your mother by her first name. But she didn’t quite manage to make her tone completely casual, and she could tell by Alternate Alec’s face that he’d picked up the meaning she’d been trying to obscure.
“Not ‘Mom’. Maryse,” She said. In for a penny, in for a pound.
He took a gulp from his wine glass, and dug his phone out of his pocket. After a few taps he handed the phone to Izzy.
It was his contact lists. The “M” Section. Izzy read down the list.
Magnus (Val’s Party)
Mario (Are you sure you want to call him?)
Megan (Cloud Catering)
Megan (Crave Catering)
Michael (Don’t Call When Drunk)
Isabelle looked up at him. “Don’t tell me— don’t tell me you have a different—“
“No,” Alternate Alec took the phone back. “This isn’t a ‘really a Herondale’ situation. Biologically… sure. Maryse is my mother. But genes don’t make you a mother.” He tapped his phone a few more times. “Giving a damn about your kids does.”
He handed her the phone again. This time it was a picture. Her nerdy Alternate self, this time wearing her big glasses with a sweet, but very conservative sundress. She had her arm wrapped around Alternate Alec, in another pastel polo and khakis. Next to them was her father. A little heavier than the version she was used to, wearing jean shorts and a bowling shirt, but definitely her father. He was hugging, and planting a kiss on the cheek of, a woman who was not her mother. This woman was a little shorter. Round with short brunette hair. She was smiling and her lips were painted the same bright pink as her dress.
“That’s Dad’s wife. Our stepmother,” Alec said. “Ann—“
“Annamarie Highsmith,” Isabelle cut him off. “I know. I’ve… I’ve always wondered what she looked like.”
Isabelle gulped, feeling like her throat was full of knives. She handed the phone back to Alec, took a gulp from her wine glass, looked down into it, then brought it back to her mouth and drained it. Alternate Alec watched her. Silently, he got up, grabbed the bottle off the desk and poured her another half glass.
“Okay,” he said, sticking the cork back in the bottle. “So… in this universe, are Maryse and Dad still married?”
“Yes,” Isabelle said. “But when I was eleven, Mom sat me down and told me father had had an affair with Annamarie Highsmith. And that I should remember that, and probably not trust men.”
She could see the color rising in Alternate Alec’s cheeks. He cleared his throat, but his voice still came out as a growl. “Classic Maryse. She’s said the same thing to me once or twice. Different context, obviously. I haven’t talked to her in… three months?” Alternate Alec looked thoughtful as he sipped his wine. “No, almost five.”
“What happened?” Isabelle asked.
“When?” Alec asked.
“Did they get divorced, did Dad have an affair? In your dimension… why won’t you call her Mom?”
“This is a fun celebratory drink,” Alternate Alec huffed.
“Please?” Isabelle asked. Now she had to know.
Alternate Alec bit his lip, but leaned forward. “Okay. Fine. The short version— Maryse is a fucking zealot. She’s a sheep, who seems to need a loud, brash, asshole to tell her what to think. When we were little she like… got pulled into the thrall of this pastor at the family church. He was crazy. She got crazy. I remember her cooking dinner one night and telling me all about hell and the devil and how all these demons could be summoned by your bad thoughts and bad actions and whatever. I think I was five.” He took a gulp of his wine glass.
“We went to go live with our grandmother— Dad’s mother— for a while, which was really great, actually. She used to take us to the bodega and let us have an ice-cream sandwich for breakfast on Saturdays, and she had votive candles in her kitchen that she’d let us light. Dad and Maryse got divorced. There was a bunch of ugly custody stuff for a long time.”
“Ugly custody stuff?” Isabelle asked.
Alternate Alec was quiet for a few moments. “It’s not like… It’s not like she didn’t love us. We were her kids. She wanted to keep us. She did leave that church. Eventually. And we didn’t… hate her. She was our Mom, it’s not like we never wanted to see her again. But… some things don’t heal that easy. When we were old enough to choose where to live we both picked Dad.”
“What about her?” Isabelle asked. “Annamarie Highsmith.”
Hearing Alec, any version of Alec, talk this way about their mother was harder than she expected. Her mother had always had high expectations of Alec, but she’d also always been so much prouder of Alec meeting those goals than she ever was of Izzy. Imagining a world where they’d both grown up, mostly without her was… Isabelle kind of hated herself for wanting to know what that would have been like.
“They met through friends when we were in… high school? No, junior high,” Alec said with a shrug. “Just old enough to kind of understand it. And we liked her. She talked to us about school and dating and whatever things we were really into when we were teenagers. She helped us with our homework and went to your band concerts and my speech competitions. She was proud of us. You went to a party once and didn’t realize the punch had been spiked and Annamarie got a cab across town to get you were too drunk to get home. She convinced Dad to let us get a cat. She proofread our college essays. She invites us and Simon, and whoever I’m dating over for dinner once a month. She’s our Mom. Maryse…” Alec sighed again.
“Look, I don’t know the woman you know. But in my dimension Maryse is just someone I’m related to. Okay? She calls me every couple months. You and I go to her and her husband’s house for Easter every year, have an awkward conversation about why we skipped church, eat one plate of ham and au gratin potatoes, and we go home before two o’clock. But… that’s about it. She’s never asked me about any of my boyfriends. Ever. At least with Simon she tries to pretend that she doesn’t have a problem with him being Jewish, but that’s about as good as it gets.”
The wine had started to sink in.
“Simon?” Isabelle asked. But before she could she could ask anything else, or Alternate Alec could answer her half-a-question, there was a knock at the door.
“Hey! It’s me.”
It was Alec’s voice. Isabelle shot a look at Alternate Alec. He looked taken aback, but he pulled himself together quickly. “Come in!”
The door swung open. Alec stood in the doorway, with a small stack of black clothes in hand.
“You two look…” He started, squinting at Isabelle’s wine glass. “Decadent. It’s 3:30 in the afternoon.”
Isabelle smiled, hoping her teeth weren’t purple. “We’re celebrating. Jace and Clary aren’t brother and sister after all.”
Alec’s eyes stayed narrowed as he looked between the two of them. “Where are Jace and Clary?”
“Uh. My money is on ‘also celebrating’,” Alternate Alec offered.
Alec scoffed. He held the pile in his hand up. “Clothes.”
Isabelle felt her brother’s eyes fall on her. Felt the evaluation of her probably red eyes and a-little-too-bent shoulders.
“You okay?” he asked.
Isabelle looked between her brother and her his alternate self. The one that had told them right away that he was interested in Magnus. Had just casually mentioned boyfriends. Seemed… aware of how their mother could be, but not nearly as affected by it.
“You know, I uh…. I don’t think I had enough for lunch to keep drinking this,” Isabelle said. She stood up. With her free hand, she took the pile of black clothes from Alec. With her other hand, she pressed her glass of wine into her brother’s hands, then dropped the clothes on Alternate Alec’s bed.
“You know, there are a few things I should be doing too,” She turned to Alternate Alec. “Thanks for the uh… chat.” She turned back to her brother. “I’ll leave you to look after our guest for a little while.”
And she hurried out of the room.
She’d learned more than she could handle for today. Right now she needed to eat something to take the edge of the glass of wine she’d downed. Then she needed to take a serious look at some fabric and flowers.
And later, when she’d calmed down a little, she would as Alternate Alec about the way he kept bringing up Simon.
Hopefully, he hadn’t been sucked back to his own dimension by then.
I’m meeting Jace and Clary at the Institute this evening.
Magnus had finally texted back.
Can we talk then?
The answer should have been no. Or more gently, that’s not a good idea.
I asked you to back off.
I’m getting married in two weeks.
I am doing everything I can to hurt you as little as possible.
Somehow, ever since that first night with the memory demon, Magnus had moved into the camp of people that Alec felt compelled to protect. But it was a different feeling than with everyone else. Izzy he just had to protect from his parents and the Clave. He had enough practice with that. It was easy. Jace needed the edges of the world softened. Alec did what he could to help with that.
But Magnus? He was over three hundred years old. Rich. Powerful. Respected.
The only thing Alec could protect Magnus from was misplaced affection. All Alec could do for him was not let anything too serious come through whatever door Magnus had unlocked for him.
Which was why Alec couldn’t just say “No, there’s nothing to talk about” or “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Especially not after the look on Magnus’s face in the basement that first day while Alternate Alec was saying those things about wanting someone. The importance of getting to know them.
So, he had texted back, “Okay.” And felt momentarily relieved with Magnus’s reply had been, simply, “Thank you.”
But between snapping at his mother this morning and the prospect of meeting with Magnus later in the day, Alec was on edge. And despite all reason, the person he wanted to talk to most was the person he had been trying hardest to avoid, and the person stressing him out the most.
Which is how he’d ended up holding Izzy’s half full wine glass in Alternate Alec’s room.
He and his doppleganger stared at each other for a moment after Izzy stormed out.
“Is she going to be okay?” Alec asked.
Alternate Alec nodded. “Yeah. She’s like my Izzy. Nothing can actually keep her down.”
“What were you guys talking about?”
Alternate Alec looked at his wine glass for a moment. “You know, I think it’s probably best for me not to tell you. You know I’d never hurt her and she’ll tell you when she thinks you need to know. Let’s leave it at that.”
Alternate Alec looked up at him. “Did you need anything else, or was it just the clothes?”
Alec looked down at the drink in his hand.
Alternate Alec gave him a careful sort of smile. “I know it’s not just the clothes. I still have like a week’s worth of your clothes. We can talk if you want. I mean, everyone else wanted to know about their alternate selves. I expected you to be curious too.”
Alec nodded, and after a moment’s hesitation, sat down and took a gulp from his glass.
Alternate Alec looked at him expectantly, Alec tried to thing of something to say, but ended up just taking another gulp from his glass.
“Okay. So I guess I’ll start.” Alternate Alec chuckled. “I’m curious about Simon in this dimension.”
“Simon?” Alec’s head jerked up in surprise. “Why?”
“Because Clary is almost exactly the same, Izzy is the same in all the ways that it matters, and I the whole tough girl black leather thing makes total sense for a demon hunter who still lives with Maryse. Jace… I’ve got follow up questions on Jace, but Simon is nowhere. If Clary is here, where is Simon?”
Alec had braced himself for a lot of uncomfortable things he’d worried his alternate self might say. Asking about the vampire hadn’t made the list at all.
“He’s…” Alec started. Did Alternate Alec’s world even have downworlders? They must, if Magnus was still a warlock over there. “He’s a vampire.”
Alternate Alec choked on his wine, and it took a few moments for Alec to realize he was laughing. “You’re shitting me.” He finally managed.
Alec shook his head somberly. “Uh. No. He got bit a couple months ago. In flagrant violation of the Accords.” He felt as though Alternate Alec’s hugely wide eyes demanded more. “He’s… adjusting. I guess.”
“Wow… Uh. No offense… Gloomy Me, but your world sucks.”
Alec shrugged. “You get used to it. Wait, are you friends with Simon in your dimension?”
“I mean… we get along. We wouldn’t necessarily go get lunch together, but you know. He’s exactly the kind of guy you want your sister to date. He’s sweet and he makes her happy. I’ve got to like him for that, right?”
Alec wondered if he looked as dumbfounded as he felt. “Simon… and Isabelle.”
“Isabelle is super nerdy in my dimension,”Alternate Alec said with a shrug. “Gotta keep that in mind. Do you want to see a photo? You didn’t look before.”
Alec nodded and Alternate Alec passed over his phone. Alec looked down at Isabelle in a sparkly, bright, conservative dress, with big glasses and a bigger smile. He slid his finger across the screen, flipping to another photo, this one of his Alternate self and Jace, both in nice suits, both also smiling. They look… kind of carefree. Alec’s eyes lingered on the way Alternate Alec’s arm was thrown over Jace’s shoulders before he slid his thumb again.
This picture made his stomach drop.
In a grey suit. No makeup. His hair combed. Just combed.
Alec felt his stomach rebound and twist as he realized what he’d really recognized. Not the strange man in the picture, but his expression. It was the same smile Magnus— his version of Magnus, with his hair combed up and his eyes smudged with black and his silver jacket sparkling even in the low light— had turned on him after they’d taken out that Circle member in his lair. The smile that had disconnected Alec’s brain from his mouth. Made all the serious crap going on in that moment suddenly fade away, until Magnus had pointed out that there was still a battle going on out there.
He cleared his throat and handed Alternate Alec’s phone back to him. Alternate Alec looked down at the photo fondly. “He’s cute, right?” he asked gently.
Alec shrugged as though he hadn’t noticed. “I don’t think the Magnus in this dimension would be thrilled with that picture going around. High Warlocks like to be kind of…” He couldn’t think of a word to complete that sentence, but Alternate Alec nodded anyway.
“Right. I saw your version of him,” Alternate Alec said. “Very different. Still cute.”
Hearing his own voice refer to Magnus as cute made Alec’s skin crawl. Is this how Alternate Alec had been talking to everyone while he’d been here?
As long as he didn’t talk to Lydia or Alec’s mother, did it matter?
“Why…” Alec started, and took refuge in another deep gulp from his wine glass. “You said you really…” Alec tried again. “What’s special about him, in your dimension?”
Alternate Alec gave him a very calculating look. Alec got the distinct feeling that he was being looked through.
“Did you come in here to talk about boys?” Alternate Alec asked. His forehead furrowed, but his tone was surprisingly gently.
“No!” Alec snapped. “I just…” He set his wine glass down on the floor and started to get up. “Forget it.”
“Hey, come on. I’m not mocking you.” Alternate Alec held out a hand, as though he might move to stop Alec from leaving. “I’m just surprised. I got the impression that you were really… don’t ask don’t tell.”
Alec was coming to hate that phrase. But he sat back down.
“In my dimension… I don’t have great luck with guys. I work like 60 hours a week, and it’s event work. So it’s hard to date me, cause I can never really go do anything. I mostly meet people at my events, so they’re either waiters working the events, or trust fund brats who came along because they were bored. Whenever I’ve been out on a date in the last like… year, year and a half it’s been sort of… you know,” Alternate Alec made an expression Alec hand never seen on his own face and threw up a hand.
Alec shook his head. “No, I don’t.”
“This is weirdly like talking to Jace.” The look on Alternate Alec’s face this time was probably pity. “The dates I’ve been on recently have all been awkward one night stands. You have a drink, convince yourself he might be more fun if you get to know him, sleep with him because maybe you’ll be more interested in him if he’s good in bed, and then, when he isn’t, you try and get home before morning. Trust fund guys especially get very clingy if you’re still there in the morning, and they are hard to shake,” Alternate Alec sipped his wine. “And they are always terrible in bed.”
Alec’s face was burning so hotly he started to worry that it might melt off. “You talk to Jace about this stuff?”
“Yeah,” Alec said matter of factly. He’s my best friend. And roommate. I text him when I’m not coming home, cause he worries. Or if I’m not coming home alone I text him, just in case he wants to head out. He is not as thoughtful about telling me that Clary is staying over. I’m this close to buying a squirt bottle.” He mimed pulling some sort of trigger. “Bad Jace. I told you I have to get up early. Bad Jace, I eat at this table.” He laughed.
Alec tried to echo it. Alternate Alec’s smile faded again.
“You know… if you gave him the chance, he’d be like that here, too.”
Part of Alec wanted to get up and storm out again. Refuse to have this conversation. But if he hadn’t wanted to risk hearing things like this, why had he come here?
“I mean… I’ve only been here a couple days, and I get that you can’t just like… march around waving the flag… but you could talk to Izzy and Jace.”
Alec nodded again and cleared his throat. “I know they know.”
“Okay. Good. I was going to gently work up to that. And I mean… I get that them knowing doesn’t magically make it easier. But… like, if you needed confirmation from… you know. Someone more like me. There it is. I’ve been hanging out with them since I got here. They do not care.”
Again, Alec found himself unable to reply. He just shook his head.
“Anyway,” Alternate Alec said. “You asked about Magnus. I don’t know why he’s special. It’s just a feeling. He walked into Val’s party and he was trying to trying to crash and he was cute and… I don’t know. Haven’t you ever had that feeling? When you just know someone’s going to be important in your life?”
For some reason, that was Alec’s limit. That was all he could take. He cleared his throat, set down his still mostly full wine glass and stood up.
“Let me know if you need anything,” he said, before he turned and walked out.
Jace’s intentions had been totally pure. He would have sworn that on the Mortal sword. When he’d read those results, typed out in that harsh, no nonsense script, and learned for sure that Clary wasn’t his sister, and feelings he’d had for her ever since he saw her— that overwhelming sense that something was wrong with him, that he was sick and broken and dirty— weren’t any of those things, that he wasn’t being punished,d he’d just been stupid enough to fall immediately back into the habit of believing a man he’d always believed, he had every intention of just hugging her.
But celebrating getting to touch her innocently again had turned into just celebrating being able to touch and things had gotten out of hand.
Not completely out of hand. They’d stopped each other. You couldn’t find out you weren’t really brother and sister and immediately… go where they had just barely stopped themselves from going. There had to be an in-between phase in there somewhere. Maybe something involving a nice dinner or a walk in the park. Something. Something nice. Something besides fighting demons and stealing motorcycles from vampires and rescuing Seelies from prison.
At least that’s what Jace and Clary had breathlessly agreed as they had pulled their shirts back on.
“Yeah. A date,” Jace repeated, his chest aching as he tried to pretend that he didn’t need to keep gasping for air. “Dinner. We can… I’ll take you there.”
“Yes,” Clary gasped, the same way she had gasped a few moments ago, when he’d been on top of her, one arm underneath her small waist, pressing her body against his own. He couldn’t help but stare at her, the way she had turned so… pink… while he’d been kissing her. Her cheeks were glowing, and streaks of pink and red were crossing her chest and shoulders and neck as though the sun was setting between her—
“Food,” Jace said. “Good food.”
The stupidity of the words coming out of his mouth were not lost on Jace. He knew that he needed to leave before he totally humiliated himself, but the fear of making a complete ass of himself was not stronger than his desire to stay here and watch Clary put her blouse back on and the latter was winning. Big time.
“Yeah. Dinner. We can find… somewhere. Somewhere in public. We’ll go do that later. It’ll be… good. Ummm…” Clary pulled her shirt back on, mercifully obscuring the way her emerald green bra brought out the creaminess of her skin. Then she combed her hand through her hair, pushing it away from her face. Her usually perfect orange waves were mussed. “You know, um… I just need to… get a couple things done quick before we meet up with Magnus tonight. I’m gonna—“ She pointed to the door, then a took a few steps toward it and stopped. “Nope. I’m… this is my room. I’m gonna stay here.”
Jace nodded. The fact that he had flustered her as much as she had flustered him was doing absolutely nothing to help him calm down. Calming down was definitely something that was going to have to happen in his own bedroom, a little later.
And the sooner he left the sooner it would happen.
“Yeah. Right. I’ve… there’s something I have to do too,” He cleared his throat. “I mean. Mission stuff.” He nodded at her. “I’ll meet you in the training room after dinner.”
“Yeah. Yes,” Clary said.
Jace stood still for a moment, pulled in a deep breath and risked kissing her again, one hand on her door handle to anchor him. They pulled away at the same moment, and Jace practically threw himself into the hallway, and right into Alec.
Alec took two steps past him, as though he was going to just walk by without acknowledging him at all, then froze and spun back around. Alec’s eyes were wide, and as he looked from Jace to the door he’d just come out of — Clary’s bedroom door— his jaw dropped.
Jace held his hands up. “The blood test results came in. We’re not brother and sister. We’re not related at all.”
For some reason, this didn’t seem to be the right answer. The shock on Alec’s face didn’t retreat.
Jace held still as something occurred to him.
Shit. He knew enough about Alec’s… feelings to know he needed to be gentle about this. He would never have burst out of Clary’s room looked wrecked like this if he thought Alec was right outside.
“Your shirt is inside out,” Alec said. His eyes dropped to a spot at Jace’s throat. “And backward.”
Jace reached up to the spot where Alec was staring and felt the tag of his shirt, very obviously in the wrong place. “Yes. It is.”
Alec nodded. Slowly his mouth closed. His eyes went back to normal. But he was still staring at the base of Jace’s throat like a fledgling vampire.
“When you saw her,” Alec said quietly, then cleared his throat. He looked away from Jace, down the hallway where he’d come from. “What did you think when you first saw Clary?”
This was all way too much, Jace thought. If anyone but Alec had asked him a question like that when he was obviously… agitated and desperately needed to spend ten minutes in his room alone becoming less agitated, he might have just pushed them out of the way.
But Alec didn’t look… okay. And he was having a hard enough time.
“I don’t know, “ Jace answered. The answer seemed to make Alec shrink, his gaze moved from the hallway to the floor. Jace tried to remember back to that moment when Clary had first appeared in Pandemonium. “She was just… there were a million things going on, and suddenly she was the only one that seemed important.”
Alec, still looking at the floor, nodded.
“But I’m sure it’s different for everyone,” Jace said and instantly regretted it.
This was stupid. This was stupid!
They all knew!
And that moment, the moment Jace had just had, when he opened up that fucking envelope and learned that he could be with Clary after all? When they’d both sighed in relief and kissed each other— that insane joy that had risen up in his chest— Alec deserved that.
“Look, Alec,” Jace said. “We’re going after the Book of the White tonight. We’ve got a lead. Me and Clary and Magnus Bane. We could use you. Why don’t you come with?”
Alec looked up from the floor and met Jace’s gaze for a moment.
“Someone has to be here to watch the Other Alec.”
“Izzy can do it,” Jace said.
“No. It’s… “ Alec shook his head, took a breath, and finally straightened up. “Look, it’s fine. Go get the book. I'll just stay here.” He gave Jace an appraising look. “I’m sure you haven’t run this past Lydia, right?”
If Alec had been acting less weird Jace might have lied. “No. We didn’t.”
“Fine. I’ll stay here and deal with that,” Alec said. He didn’t sound angry or even mocking. He just sounded tired.
He turned and walked a few steps down the hallway before he stopped and turned around.
“I’m happy for you, Jace,” he said. Then he turned back around and disappeared behind a corner.
It was late by the time Lydia realized that she hadn’t eaten dinner. Past seven. She looked at the stack of messages from the Clave, and the long list of things that still needed to be done for the wedding, and was about to just get a power bar from a bodega or something when she realized that she couldn’t remember if she ate lunch either.
She stood up and stretched her arms and shoulders, then circled her head a little, stretching her neck and letting out a long sigh.
And then she would go back to her room, maybe read a little, and go to bed. If she didn’t start taking better care of herself she was going to end up making mistakes. They were all on such thin ice right now anyway. Especially her. Withdrawing the charges against Isabelle had been the right thing to do. Doing it in a way that pissed off the Inquisitor and the Clave just a little bit less would have been wise.
Lydia was relieved to find that leftovers were still sitting out, and still just a little bit warm. The kitchen must have gotten a late start on dinner tonight. She dished up a scoop of Shepard’s pie, and, after a moment’s hesitation, a big scoop of stone cold and wrinkled steamed vegetables and put the plate in the microwave.
She debated whether or not to have a glass of wine with dinner for a few moments, while the plate rotated slowly and the microwave buzzed. Finally, she decided that one glass would be fine, since she was going to bed anyway.
At least the Lightwoods only had the Clave pissed off at all of them, Lydia thought, as she watched the microwave timer count down. Clary Fairchild saw her as just some mindless enforcer of harsh Clave laws she didn’t understand. Maryse probably thought she was some sort of seductress, using her son to steal the New York Institute out from under Maryse and Robert. Isabelle… well. Lydia couldn’t expect Isabelle to like her. Not after she’d nearly caused her to be cast out into the mundane world without her runes.
The microwave beeped. Lydia took out her plate, dropped a fork on it, and plate in one hand, wine glass in the other, carried it out to the dining room.
She was shocked to see that it wasn’t empty.
Isabelle was sitting in the middle of the long table, picking at her own plateful of shepherd’s pie. Lydia stopped, and was about to say something about taking her dinner back to her room when Isabelle gave her a tight smile and gestured to the chair across from her.
Lydia was tired. Too tired for this, certainly. But she was marrying Isabelle’s brother in two weeks. They were going to be sisters and they had a lot of work in front of them to heal their relationship. Why not start now? She returned Isabelle’s smile and sat down across from her.
“You look exhausted,” Isabelle said, bluntly, but not unkindly.
Lydia looked at the other woman. She didn’t look so great herself. She seemed pale and drawn. Her normally flawless eye makeup was smudged, and dark at the corners, like she’d hadn’t wiped it off properly. Her expression was glassy.
“I am exhausted,” Lydia replied. “Transporting the Mortal Cup back to Idris requires a lot of paperwork, and keeping the Clave up to date on everything going on with Valentine, or you know, not finding Valentine, is time consuming. Plus they are very suspicious of the downworld alliances growing in New York.”
“And there’s the wedding,” Isabelle added.
Lydia nodded and stabbed a piece of broccoli. “And there’s the wedding. And Alternate Alec.”
Isabelle twirled the tines of her fork on a bare part of her plate. They squeaked. “You told the Clave about Alternate Alec?”
“Isabelle, it helps no one to withhold—“
“I’m not getting on your case about it, I’m just surprised,” Isabelle cut her off. “Not that you told them. I’m sure that’s procedure. Just cause they haven’t swept in to you know, imprison him or interrogate him or chain him up in the basement or something.”
“The Clave isn’t some horrible, medieval—“
“They are about some things,” Isabelle cut her off. She pushed a few bites of her shepherd’s pie around with her fork. Lydia noticed that her lipstick was smudged and lining the wine glass next to her. She had a feeling it wasn’t Isabelle’s first glass. “Have you talked to him at all? Alternate Alec?”
Lydia considered her response very carefully. After Alternate Alec had shown up, she had thoroughly debriefed Clary on her entire excursion to the Alternate Dimension. Clary had been honest, Lydia was sure, but there were certainly things that Clary hadn’t elaborated on. Mostly about the Lightwoods in the Alternate Dimension. And while Idris had very limited access to Mundane culture, it wasn’t entirely isolated. Lydia had noticed the way that Alternate Alec had responded to Magnus. And she had noticed how it was similar to the way that this dimension’s Alec responded too him.
It wasn’t as though the two of them were particularly discreet. She’d seen them together in the training room after Izzy’s trial. Alec handing over his bow to Magnus in payment, the way they’d looked at each other before Magnus had given it back. There was something between them. She’d been debating whether or not to tell Alec that she knew. Because it wasn’t something that was going away. Not if they were going to take over the New York Institute together. Magnus was the High Warlock of Brooklyn and a war was coming. They would all have to work together, and, in Lydia’s experience, honestly was always the best way to fuel cooperation.
“I haven’t” Lydia told her. “Alec and I haven’t known each other that long and we’re getting married in a couple weeks. If I’m going to be getting to know Alec, I feel like I should be talking to the real Alec.”
Isabelle nodded. She picked up her empty wine glass, looked at it for a moment and set it back down. “That’s the thing. Everyone in his dimension is real. And they’re all us. Us if all of this terrible shit hadn’t happened. Valentine’s not even evil in his dimension. He runs some sort of internet company. He and Jocelyn are still married. Clary has an older brother. She’s going to art school. Jace wasn’t… treated the way Valentine treated him growing up. Simon’s still human. And Alec…I’ve been hanging out with Alternate Alec for days. He’s… happy. Mostly. Fun. I remember when Alec was like that,” Isabelle’s head drooped a little too low and Lydia started to wonder just how much Isabelle had had to drink tonight. “And no one else does. Not even Jace. And no one else cares.”
“Isabelle, I care about—‘
“I know that what we do is important,” Isabelle interrupted, as though Lydia hadn’t spoken at all. “But Alternate Alec, and Alternate Isabelle. And Alternate Jace and Clary? They’re all happy. I mean… I want to be a shadow hunter. I was terrified through my whole trial,” Izzy finally looked up at Lydia, like she’d remembered who she was talking to. “But… just… I don’t know. I just… I’m not sure if it makes me happy or sad that I’m out there somewhere… and everything is okay for me.”
“Isabelle, why don’t I get you a glass of water?” Lydia asked.
Isabelle looked at her blankly for a moment. As Lydia pushed her chair back from the table, a lick of flame flashed into existence in the space between her and Isabelle. They both jumped back in surprise. Lydia caught her breath as Isabelle reached into the flame and pulled out a tightly wound tube of paper, sealed with a gray and brown feather broken along the quill and tied around the paper.
“You could have warned me you were expecting a fire message,” Lydia breathed.
“I didn’t think he would get back to me so fast,” Isabelle replied. She slid the feather off.
“Who is that from?” Lydia demanded. Looking at the feather, she was pretty certain she knew.
Isabelle unrolled the message. A few more pieces of detritus fell out. A crystal, a twig with a few leaves still attached, and a small ring. When Isabelle looked up at Lydia again, she looked much more sober than she had a few moments ago. “We can both pretend that you weren’t here to see this.”
Lydia glanced over the small pile in front of Isabelle. Everything in it was fairly innocuous by itself. Junk.
Seelie junk sent by fire message to a girl who had absolutely freed her Seelie lover from a Clave sentence.
A girl who would do anything to save her brother.
“I usually eat dinner in the kitchen anyway,” Lydia replied, picking her plate and wine glass back up and heading back into the kitchen.
This is my favorite chapter of the outline.
The Institute’s library had been built in the mid 1700’s and had survived the years with far fewer updates and alterations than the rest of the Institute. The stained glass ceiling at the top of the circular turret had been enchanted to withstand the weather and any sort of attack. The original lanterns had been turned to gas lamps in the Victorian Era but the original fixtures were still there. They had lightbulbs in them now. New books, of course, were periodically added, and the windows that ringed the walls had been updated about a decade ago, with models that held the heat in better in the winter.
The main appeal for Maryse, however, was that this was the one place left in the Institute with no computers. No tech at all. She appreciated the peace of that.
And with that little blonde girl stealing her Institute, her legacy, and her son, peace and a cup of tea were all Maryse had.
She’d come to the library with her cup of tea after dinner and sat in her usual spot, a little desk, tucked into the cranny between the doorway and the curve of the library’s outside wall. Hidden enough so that no one would see her when they came in, visible enough that she wouldn’t appear to be lurking. Enough years in the New York Institute had taught Maryse that, as long as you were quiet, it was the perfect place to finish a report for the Clave, and the perfect place to cry.
Every woman wondered about the decisions she’d made, and the other paths she could have taken. If she hadn’t told that lie. If she had just broken that rule. Not believed that man. And there were enough women like Maryse who were probably left wondering what their lives were like because of the decisions of others. Maybe she wouldn’t have been so ostracized by Shadowhunter society if her brother hadn’t exiled himself to marry that Mundane girl. Maybe things wouldn’t have gotten so out of hand in the Circle if Valentine hadn’t gone off the rails because he thought his wife was sleeping with his parabatai.
Maybe, even if she had been pregnant with Isabelle at the time, she could have just let Robert go off to marry his whore and let the New York Institute slip through her fingers years ago, before it became all she and her family had, and the only chance for her children to recover from what she and Robert had done.
Maybe if she’d taken charge earlier and not let Robert dance around the inevitable like the coward he was, she could have gotten Alec engaged to a better prospect. It wasn’t as though Alec cared who the girl was. Alec understood that his marriage was about alliances. Protection. Legacy.
He’d just made a stupid decision. One more man, making one more stupid decision and letting Maryse suffer the consequences. Perhaps she could at least be relieved that, unlike all of the other men whose decisions had screwed up her life, she could at least be assured that her son hadn’t been thinking with his cock at the time.
It wasn’t a particularly comforting thought.
But you couldn’t go back in time. People were who they were, and you couldn’t change that.
She’d told herself that every time that Seelie boy— the boy from the Seelie portal, rather— walked by.
The way he was handling learning about the existence of alternate dimensions was impressive. There was no fear in that boy. She’d seen him training with Jace and Clary. He was picking things up pretty quickly for a mundane with no experience. He smiled at people other than Isabelle. A big shining white grin like she’d never seen on her own son.
The rest of the Institute seemed drawn to him. That made sense. If anyone knew what it was like to be fascinated with what might have happened in their lives if things had been otherwise, it was Maryse. She’d seen the boy pulling out his phone over and over again to show off pictures of her children’s counterparts. But she’d also seen the way he had looked at her when they crossed paths that first day.
And she hadn’t spoken to him. As much as she wanted to know how much this boy was like her own Alec, and if he was happy in his Mundane world with his Mundane job and his Mundane life, she had avoided him in the hallways and waited for him to leave the kitchen before refilling her coffee. Because ultimately, it didn’t matter. The boy was a blip in their lives. Like a flash of lightning.
So, even when the Library lights went on, and Maryse saw his rune-less reflection in the library windows, she resisted the urge to speak to him, and kept drinking her tea as she watched the reflection move into the shelves, waiting until he was far enough into the library that she could slip out unnoticed.
Lydia had already changed into her pajamas before she realized that she was only a few pages away from finishing the book she’d been planning to read. She considered just finishing it and going to sleep early, but had a feeling that sleep wouldn’t come that easily.
With a groan, Lydia pulled her nightgown back off over her head and snatched her bra back up off the floor. But she couldn’t bring herself to change back into her blazer and slacks. Instead, she dug through her dresser for the only casual outfit she had brought from Idris— jeans and blue tee shirt— and went back out into the Institute, headed for the library.
The Institute wasn’t that quiet yet; it wasn’t that late. A few people were stationed at monitors, chatting, but it seemed like most of the Institute’s inhabitants were either in their rooms or out on patrol. It felt more like Idris tonight, where most people had homes to go to at the end of the day.
It took her longer to find the library than she’d thought it would. A wrong turn had taken her to what turned out to be a broom closet, another turn to a hallway and then, apparently, a back way into the training room.
When she finally did find the library, it was a relief that the lights were already on. Another five minutes spent fumbling for a light switch and far away from her bed and her pajamas didn’t have much appeal. She paused, deciding what shelves to start with, when she realized she heard footsteps— soft and shuffling on the worn library carpet.
“Hello?” She called. “Who’s there?”
A handsome, brunette head poked out from behind a shelf.
“Alec?” She asked.
The man stepped out onto the library’s circular floor, pointing to his blank neck. “Alec One-of-Two. Sorry, Lids— er. Ly-di-a.”
Alternate Alec said her full name in a strange, over-articulated way. Between that and the little half smile he was giving her, Lydia couldn’t tell if he was making fun of her. And it wasn’t as though she had spent enough time with this dimension’s Alec to take a guess.
That was the reality of an arranged marriage. They both knew that. And she had spent enough time with Alec to know that he was a smart match. A talented Shadowhunter, with ambition, but a steady head for business, and a respect for the Law, but not a completely blind allegiance to it.
“What are you doing in here?” Lydia asked.
He crossed his arms over his chest and finally looked like his counterpart here. “No one said it was forbidden.”
“It’s not,” Lydia replied. “I was just asking. Making sure you were alright.”
“Oh.” Alternate Alec dropped his arms to his sides. “Yeah. I’m fine… just… you know.”
He blew out a long breath. “I’m so fucking bored, Lids. I mean Crazy Wizard Magnus told me that I’d get snapped back to the moment I left my world, but fffuuuccckkk. I have haven’t gone four whole days without working in my entire adult life and I’m starting to lose it. I mean, I know logically that you aren’t back home plotting against me, but I woke up five times last night in a panic remembering that I should have picked up my tux from the dry cleaner by now, and I’ve got to write Melissa H a nicer thank-you note that you will, and you and I are supposed to sit down and work out a strategy for the New York Non-Profits annual dinner and I haven’t figured out how to manipulate you into giving up the name of your mystery donor yet. I thought I might find something to take my mind off all of that in here.”
“Right,” Lydia nodded. “Just… maybe stay away from the spell books. Someone really should have forbidden you from going near those.”
Alternate Alec laughed, and stopped abruptly. “You’re serious aren’t you?”
Lydia just nodded again. Alternate Alec pinched the bridge of his nose.
“The Lydia in your dimension knows that “Lids” is a terrible nickname, right?” she asked.
“Yeah. She hates it.”
“So then why do you call her that?”
Alternate Alec laughed and the sound startled Lydia. Had she ever heard the Alec in this dimension laugh? Probably not. She’d been here during a very tense few weeks. She’d never heard him swear like a sailor the way this Alec did either. It was actually kind of nice to see Alec less restrained. Maybe this is how Isabelle and Jace saw him.
“It’s kind of an old story.”
Lydia shrugged. “I’m done working for the night.”
Alternate Alec rubbed the back of his neck and rocked on his heel a little bit, back and forth. “Alright. Do you have Caps in this dimension?”
“It’s a drinking game,” Alternate Alec told her, still grinning as he walked the rest of the way out between the shelves and leaned back against one of the huge wooden study tables in the center of the library. “It’s kind of like beer pong?”
“Beer pong,” Lydia repeated, starting to wonder if prodding at Alternate Alec for information might have been a bad idea. She had no idea what beer pong was, but could make an educated guess.
Alternate Alec laughed again. “Right… No one here seems like the beer pong type. I should have guessed. Okay, so it’s a little complicated, but basically you compete with another team to see who can throw more bottle caps into the other team’s beer in a row, and whoever loses each round has to drink.”
Lydia stared at him. “This is a game?”
“When other people play it’s a game,” said Alternate Alec. “When you play it’s an execution.”
Lydia just shook her head.
“Right. Sorry. It’s weird to tell you this story. You’re like the only person here who looks the way they do in my dimension. Anyway, sophomore year of college I got us the invite to this frat party because one of the brothers there kept…” —he trailed off uncertainly, cleared his throat and kept going— “Inviting us. And they set up a game of Caps and there was this guy who had kind of been bothering you, not like in a creeper way, but just… you know— in that awkward straight guy way,” Alternate Alec trailed off again for just a moment, but recovered quickly after looking at Lydia’s expression, which she was trying to keep entirely impassive— “Like… he probably wasn’t trying to be a jerk, but he was being a jerk."
"So he challenged you to a one-on-one high stakes game of Caps in front of the whole party. If he won, you had to go out on a date with him. And the whole party started howling and clapping and demanding that you play him for it. So you stood up and you agreed, but you got to name your terms. When you won— and you said “when” and the room went silent— When you won, there would be no date and the whole frat house was going to name the game after you, so that every time they played, it would be a reminder of the time you destroyed one of their own in front of all of them.”
“Did I actually say that or is that how you tell the story?” Lydia asked. Part of her could very easily imagine those words coming out of her mouth, even if she couldn’t even begin to imagine herself at a frat party.
“Those were your exact words. You’d had a couple drinks and whiskey makes you think you’re Daenerys fucking Targaryen.”
“So what happened?”
“You slaughtered him. He didn’t win a single round in the first game, and challenged you to best-of -three. You lost one round in the second game, and chugged your entire Jack and Coke just to be a bitch, then finished the second and third game without a loss. The frat house framed your last bottle cap with a sign written in marker on the bottom of box of Leine’s that says “Caps is Dead Long Live Lids”.
After a long, unsure moment, in which Alternate Alec’s grin slowly faded, Lydia finally wrapped her head about that version of her and laughed. Alternate Alec echoed, long and loud.
The smile, Lydia thought. That’s what felt like the key difference between this dimension’s Alec and this weird, altered duplicate of him. He grinned easily, widely, and always looked a little like he was laughing at you, but would clue you in the joke if you asked. Lydia realized, with a sudden bolt of clarity, that she’d only ever seen this reality’s Alec smile when he was relieved that Izzy’s trial had ended. And, on further thought, she never had heard him laugh.
“You know, from the way you talk, I can’t tell if we get along in your reality.”
As he usually did, Alternate Alec reached for his phone. He and Alec had that in common. It seemed to be hard for them to tell you what they were thinking. He’d just found a way to work around it.
“It’s not that we don’t get along, exactly.” He laughed again and showed her a picture.
It was the two of them, in some spectacularly decorated hall. There were flowers everywhere, suffused in a romantic blue glow. In the corner Lydia could make out what was probably an ice sculpture. Her and Alternate Alec no, her alternate self and Alternate Alec, were dressed to the nines— him in a perfectly fitted tux, her in cobalt blue dress with starched and shimmering fabric sticking straight up from her bust. They were drinking champagne with their arms linked, staring at each other, smiling in a way she’d never seen Alec, or herself smiling. It took her a moment to realize that it was less of a smile and more of a baring of teeth.
There was a gray bar at the bottom of the screen, with white text running across it.
“You two look at each other like you have wet dreams about strangling each other to death with the bedsheets.” Lydia read, bemusedly.
Alternate Alec laughed and took his phone back, swiping at the screen immediately. “And that’s why I don’t get Simon into events anymore. He sent me a few more snapchats like this.” He handed his phone to her with another picture of the two of them on the screen. In this one they were clearly in a Mundane bar. He was in a slightly rumpled lavender button up. She was in a bright pink tank top. Each of them had an enormous slushy green drink in front of them, and they were both holding their middle fingers up to whoever had the misfortune to be holding the camera.
“This is us after that bitch Arwen Glendover swept in to the New York Regatta that we’d been scheming our way into for weeks and picked up an eight hundred thousand dollar donation from one of our targets for some fucking bullshit modern dance exhibit. And the worst part was if she was anywhere near as good as either of us are, she could have easily milked two million out of him. You were claiming you could have gotten four million, but uh…” Alec pointed at the screen. “This is your third margarita, and I ended up carrying you in and out of the cab back to the loft.”
“So, we are friends in your dimension?” Lydia asked.
“Yeah,” Alternate Alec replied, turning his phone in his hands. “You’re my best friend, you’re just also my arch-nemesis. I’d do anything for you, but I’m going to destroy you.” He looked at her, and must have seen her stunned and confused expression. “Sorry. I shouldn’t talk to you like you’re my Lydia. You’re like, Lydia-lite here. I mean, I would totally believe that my Lydia would park me in a demon dimension for a week just to get me out the way,” he laughed, looking down at his phone. “We’re just… we’re very similar people, and it’s kind of a double edged sword. We go head to head a lot and sometimes it gets out of hand. We’re like… if Mozart and Saliere hit a lot of happy hours together."
Lydia laughed. He was overwhelmingly likable. There was no denying it.
She sighed and sat down on the table next to him. “You know, I’m really relieved.”
“Yes. That we get along in your dimension.”
“Oh. Does Alec here not like you? Cause I totally thought he did.”
“We just don’t know each other very well yet,” Lydia told him carefully.
She had listened to the story he’d told her. In his dimension, they were very close, and they were not together. And she wasn’t stupid. She kept thinking of him as Alternate Alec. She differentiated him from this dimension’s Alec, even in her head. Every time. And he did the same thing. ‘My Lydia’. ‘Crazy Wizard Magnus’.
‘That awkward straight guy way.’
And then he’d paused. Guiltily. Lydia knew that he’d talked to Isabelle. And Jace. And maybe even this dimension’s Alec, though he seemed to be working very hard to avoid any conversation with his double. Lydia could imagine that it was hard for him.
Alternate Alec scooted a little closer to her and set his hand over hers, just for a second before he brought it back to his own knee.
“I would never, ever say this to my Lydia because she feeds on weakness,” Alternate Alec paused, and brought his own hands together, kneading his thumb into his palm the same way Alec did here, “But she’s having a baby, and I’m terrified that she’s going to go soft and never have time to hang out anymore.”
Lydia’s mouth went dry.
“I could crush Arwen Glendover with a couple calls to the right people if I really needed to,” Alternate Alec went on. “But Lids? I could crush her under a catering truck and she’d only come back stronger.”
“Wait. I’m what?” Lydia felt a weird twist in her stomach at that. Was it shock? Happiness?
Alternate Alec nodded. “Yeah, you are seven— no wait, eight weeks pregnant and the wedding is still three weeks away. You called me in a panic from the fundraiser for the Museum of Modern Art. Well. As panicked as you get, anyway. I had to dress Jace up as a waiter and smuggle him in with a pregnancy test and two bottles of fake champagne.”
“In your world… am I…” Lydia wasn’t even sure what to ask. Why… why on earth would her alternate self have called Alec if she thought she was pregnant? And… there was a wedding? What the… what was happening?
“Are you happy?” Alternate asked. “Uh, yeah. Ecstatic. And so’s John.”
It was like being punched in the face. No, the stomach. Three words and all the air had been driven out of Lydia’s body. Tears started at the corner of her eyes, and she was surprised to find herself actually bent over her knees, with Alternate Alec’s hands on her back.
“Lydia? Lids!” he was saying. “Fuck, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Shit. I bet… I hate this dimension. You’re not allowed to say anything, are you? This fucking bullshit dimension and it’s ancient fucking rules. It’s okay. Hey, Lids? I won’t say anything about this either. Okay? It’s fine. Oh, fuck. Please don’t cry. You’re scaring the hell out of me. It’s fine, I promise. It’s okay.”
Lydia forced herself to recover from the shock. First from what Alternate Alec had said, then of how hard it had hit her, and now from the realization that Alternate Alec had, in the last few moments, touched her more than Alec her fiancé ever had.
“No. Its okay. You just… uh,” she looked up at him. His normal expression— aloof and amused— was gone, replaced by worry and something that looked a lot like reigned in anger. He had one hand at her back, the other wrapped around her forearm.
She should have left him alone. Not pried… but she’d needed to know, and now she did. There was a world where she and Alec loved each other. For all of Alternate Alec’s talk of them being rivals and plotting against each other, there was no doubt in Lydia’s mind that Alternate Alec and Alternate Lydia loved each other.
Platonically. But it was better than nothing. And here, in this world, they weren’t Mundanes. They had traditions. They had Laws.
“You surprised me,” Lydia told him. “In this dimension,” she gulped and worked her jaw for a moment. Shadowhunters died. They lived in a world where nearly everyone was immortal, and they died. They died young and they all grew up knowing that. Shadowhunters didn’t hide death away the way that Mundanes did.
But this was still the hardest it had been to talk about John in months.
“In this dimension, John… passed away. A year ago.”
Because there hadn’t been enough shocks in this conversation, Alternate Alec hugged her. “Oh my god. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”
“I know. It’s fine,” Lydia coughed, refusing to let the tears well back up.
“I wouldn’t have said anything if I’d known. Everyone just keeps talking about the wedding,” Alternate Alec squeezed her and let her go. “And everything’s so similar other than the paranormal crap. I just assumed that it was the same wedding that it was in my dimension. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s fine,” Lydia told him.
“Okay. Okay,” Alec sighed, scrubbed a hand over his face and tucked his phone back into his pocket. “Jesus. Fuck. I’m sorry.”
Lydia reached out, and patted his hand, the same way he’d touched hers a moment ago. He looked at her hand for a moment, then back at her.
“So… wait. Who’s getting married?”
The first thing Magnus had done when he’d moved to New York in the 1920’s and then the first thing he’d done when he moved back to New York in the 1970’s, was enchant his closet to be significantly bigger on the inside. Ragnor referred to it as a “Deeply immature bit of confoundingly impressive dimensional manipulation magic,” but Ragnor hadn’t bought a new suit since the 1890’s. No one cared what Ragnor thought about clothes.
People had forgotten how important clothes were. Power, status, wealth, intent, allegiance. You hung it all off your back, and it was as important now as it had ever been. Magnus could remember the first time he had ever seen blue cloth, the strange miracle of it. He remembered the days when it had been illegal for peasants to wear certain colors. Once, he’d even seduced Rose Bertin— in her dressmaking shop, and made Marie Antoinette wait five minutes for her fitting to begin— just for the pure thrill of it.
Clothes. They still mattered. Picking your message was important.
Magnus swirled the glass in his hand, letting the gin and mint whirl around the ice. If only he knew what his message was.
The last timed he’d been called into the Institute, it had been very easy to put together an outfit that shouted: “Fuck You and You Wish.” He’d pulled out all the stops for Alec, and Alec had hurt him. Insulted him. Walked out. And then called for help in the morning.
But Magnus had seen the way Alternate Alec had described meeting the Magnus in his world, and the way Alec had reacted. The look in his eyes during his mysterious apology. Magnus didn’t want to do anything to hurt Alec while he was in the Institute tonight, but he’d also meant what he said about not asking again. He wasn’t a masochist. He hadn’t opened up for the first time since Camille just to be shot down.
Receptivity, maybe, was his best option. Not vulnerability—Magnus knew better than to step into a building full of Shadowhunters looking like anything other than the High Warlock of Brooklyn— but he also didn’t have to show up in black leather and red silk.
Something that said, “Okay. You Keep Texting Me, What Do You Want?” or “I Wish We Hadn’t Fought, But I’m Still Upset.”
“I’m the High Warlock of Brooklyn, But You Could Kiss Me If You Wanted To.”
He pulled few hangers and started to lay options out on his bed.
Normally, Isabelle wasn’t much of a drinker. The drinking age in Idris was fifteen, and she’d been having watered down wine with dinner most of her life. The easy accessibility of wine, as well as the physical demands of training and patrolling, had blunted any appeal drunkenness may have had if she were a Mundane.
But she’d had a very bad day, it had been very good wine, and the bottom part of the second glass of it had given her the idea to ask Meliorn for help. So now she had a spell, spell ingredients, and the needed Seelie permission to enter a Seelie portal.
Everything they needed to send Alternate Alec home.
The problem was that Isabelle had celebrated this gain with an ill-advised third glass of wine, which had made her think that, actually, letting Alternate Alec wander around the Institute dropping truth bombs wasn’t the worst thing that could happen.
Did she save Alec from being outed? Or from his sham wedding?
And would either thing even save him? People finding out he was gay wouldn’t necessarily stop the wedding. And if it did, it was pretty unlikely that the next step would be Alec skipping into the sunset with Magnus.
That mental image was so funny it made Isabelle stop in the hallway and giggle to herself.
Anyway. What if Lydia found out and decided not to marry him? He’d still have to marry. And her mother wasn’t stupid enough to let the issue wait. She’d have a fiance lined up for him within two weeks. And Alec’s reputation, and his family were more important to him than anything else. What if being out and having Magnus weren’t even the things that would make him happy? He’d had every opportunity to call off his engagement and he hadn’t done it.
And this was his decision. Right. Isabelle knew that. She wasn’t going to take his decision away from him, but she could… line up pieces that would help Alec make up his own mind.
But what pieces? What was the right thing to do?
These were the questions Isabelle had asked herself during the teeny follow-up glass of wine she’d had after her third glass. There was no good answer. There was no easy choice. Maybe the only thing they could do was hope that a return to the status quo— an Institute with just one Alec— would help something.
Isabelle didn’t know. But she did know that she was too drunk to do the spell herself, and too drunk to decide what the best thing to do next was.
Which is why she was going to see Jace.
The Whitelaw family had run the New York Institute before the Lightwoods had taken it over. Alec’s parents had definitely stamped their own personalities all over it, but as Alec had gotten older he’d noticed little hints that the Whitelaws had been a lot more lax than most Shadowhunters, particularly in regard to things like downworlders. And bedrooms.
Most Institutes were entirely on hallowed ground, with only a few unconsecrated areas in outlying areas, usually set aside as places to keep vampire prisoners. But the New York Institute had unconsecrated meetings rooms, and special hallways that a Shadowhunter could open with an unlocking rune in order to escort vampires, or anything else that couldn’t walk on unconsecrated ground back and forth from the meeting.
The Whitelaws had built similar “additional hallways” (not hidden passages) from the front door of the Institute to the dormitory parts of it. For safety, they were subject to the same spells as the outer doors of the Institute. Only someone with Angel blood could open them. Alec had asked about this when he was younger and had gotten to visit the Mumbai Institute and the London Institute for schooling. He’d been told it was because one of the Older Whitelaws had been intensely adverse to mess and had put the doors in so that anyone coming home covered in ichor and blood and sewer could go shower in their own rooms.
But, standing hidden in the doorway, waiting to sweep Magnus away from the from front door of the Institute before anyone saw him, Alec was having his doubts. A lot of the equipment they used to detect downworlders at the gates had been installed in the last decade. And from inside the institute proper, it would be impossible to see someone entering the front doors and ducking directly into the hallway that lead to the dormitories. Either someone in the Whitelaw line had been very secretive about their own comings and goings, or they’d had some sort of serious need to secretly get people into their quarters.
Alec was thankful for whoever that had been.
He’d asked Magnus to portal over quietly, and as close to the door as he could to avoid being picked up by the sensors or cameras. If he managed to land within three feet of the door, and Alec opened it quickly enough, it was possible that no one would know he was here at all.
There was a small flash of purple outside the frosted panels in the front door. Alec leapt for the handle as soon as he saw it, and without even attempting a proper or apologetic greeting, he grabbed Magnus by the wrist and pulled him down the steps and into the partially shielded hallway.
As soon as the door behind them shut, Magnus twisted his wrist out of Alec’s grip and planted himself in the hallway.
“I’d advise you not to manhandle the High Warlock of Brooklyn,” He intoned. Then with a threatening look up and down Alec’s body, added, “Not without an invitation.”
Alec nodded. Magnus was right. He just… he needed to talk to him in private and there was one place in this whole fucking building where they weren’t guaranteed to be interrupted. Or watched.
“I’m sorry,” Alec said. “I’m sorry. You’re right.” He cleared his throat. “Look, please come with me. This hallway is the only place in the Institute without heavy camera surveillance and where we won’t get interrupted.”
“Okay. Fine. We’ll have a secret chat in the secret hallway,” Magnus sighed, crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back against the stone wall in a way that Alec had to believe was intentional because of the way that he seemed to be… weirdly glamorous doing it. “About secret things?”
He was dressed down, for Magnus anyway. Dark wash skinny jeans with boots and light purple shirt that made him look like a pirate in a fashion magazine. He’d dyed the tips of his hair to match the shirt and he was barely wearing any makeup, but he did have little jewels on his eyelids and was wearing one of his huge ring/bracelet things.
Alec grabbed his left hand with his right, digging his thumb into fleshy part under his thumb. “I thought we could talk in my room.”
Magnus eyebrows shot an inch up his head. “You pulled me down a dark hallway and now you’re dragging me to your bedroom.” He pushed himself away from the wall. “I guess you and I do have very different ideas about marriage.”
Alec huffed and cleared his throat, digging his thumb into his hand even harder. He gulped and looked up at Magnus again. His expression was unreadable.
This was stupid. This had been a spectacularly stupid thing to do.
He never should have talked to Alternate Alec. Fuck. If talking to Magnus had been confusing he wasn’t even sure what talking to Alternate Alec had been.
Alec opened his mouth to say something, but had nothing to say. Usually when he talked to Magnus words stuck in his mouth because there were too many of them fighting to get out, and too many that he knew he shouldn’t say.
There was never just nothing.
Alec looked at Magnus again. He looked softer this time, not angry, but still… apart. Guarded. Alec couldn’t blame him for that.
Finally, Magnus raised a hand and made an “after you” sort of gesture.
Alec shuddered with relief as he turned around and lead Magnus to his room.
Jace finished lacing up his boots and ran through a mental checklist as he patted the pocket of his vest where he kept his stele, assured by the familiar shape. He’d drawn several runes for speed, strength, stealth and persuasiveness, all ready to activate. He had a seraph blade, and a couple of unenchanted daggers in case they ran into anything magical that wouldn’t let a seraph blade past. You could really never tell with warlocks. It was best to be prepared.
Now. He just had to calm down. Keep his mind on the mission.
That was something he’d never had trouble with before Clary. He was always on mission. Maybe sometimes he thought his way of completing the mission was better than the Clave’s way of doing it, but he was always doing his duty. And while this whole Book of the White Mission was secret and unsanctioned, but the end goal was waking up Jocelyn and defeating Valentine. Those were the right things to do.
But he wasn't doing them because they were right. He was doing them for Clary. That realization made it a little easier to understand why Alec had… gone crazy in the last few weeks. Jace knew what Alec was like about putting being a Shadowhunter first. He could see how something that challenged that might drive Alec over the edge. What he didn’t know was how to help.
A knock at his door pulled him out of his thoughts. It was showtime. He was going to sneak out of the Institute with a warlock and a half-trained Shadowhunter, to go recover a very powerful object, to be delivered directly back to warlock hands. All while the Institute was under observation and he was trying not to think about the way Clary felt in his hands. Small and fragile and…
Not helping. Mission now. Touching Clary later.
… Maybe before they woke up her mother.
There was another, much louder knock at his door and he finally pulled it open.
“Look who I found in the hallway,” Clary said. She had her arm around a very glassy eyed Isabelle, and Jace couldn’t tell her if her tone was concealing annoyance or mirth.
Isabelle smiled and lifted her arm, holding a scroll out to Jace. He took it from her.
“A fire message?”
“From Meliorn,” Isabelle told him. Even from a few feet away, her breath smelled strongly of wine. “It’s a spell to send Alternate Alec home.”
“I thought Alternate Alec was just going to zap back into his own dimension by himself.”
“Read it,” Isabelle told him.
Jace glanced at his watch, and then at Clary. “We’re supposed to meet Magnus in a couple minutes.”
Clary retracted her arm from Isabelle, but braced it behind the other girl, as though worried she might topple without the support. “I’ll text him.”
Jace unravelled the fire message, carefully collecting the assorted items wrapped up in the paper and read through it, skipping the much longer than necessary passage Meliorn had included about Isabelle’s breasts.
“So… wait. He might not actually just snap back into his own world?”
“It’s hard to tell. He shouldn’t even existes az…” Isabelle stopped talking and wiggled her tongue the way she might warm up a sore arm. “Exist as a sep-er-ate person in this dimension. When you and Clary went to his dimension you were you know.” She held her hands out in front of her and brought them together, interlocking her fingers. “He should be like that with regular Alec. But Meliorn thinks that maybe mucking around in the alternate dimension, and the fact that the portal shard Clary had was in this world for so long might be making things… like… weird.”
“Izzy, are you drunk?”
Izzy shrugged. “Yeah.”
Clary patted her arm.
“So… why didn't you just go to Alec? Or text Magnus about the magic? Or Jesus, even Lydia so that she could approve paying Magnus to deal with this.”
Isabelle looked at him, suddenly seeming much soberer than she had a few moments ago. “You know why.”
Jace looked down at the paper again. “What are we going to do? Lock him in a room with Alternate Alec and force them to talk it out? Let Magnus referee?”
He looked between Isabelle and Clary. Clary shrugged. Isabelle just kept staring him down.
“No,” Jace said. He rolled the paper back up. “No. This is Alec’s decision. We can talk to him, but we are not making this decision for him.”
“So let’s go talk to him,” Isabelle said.
Magnus had a lot of practice at acting aloof and unaffected and looking aloof and unaffected in the rooms of pretty boys was a specialty of his. Alec closed the door behind them and took a hesitant step toward Magnus. Magnus’s first instinct was to take a step back, but he held his ground. He had nothing to fear from an erratic little shadowhunter with no idea how old and powerful Magnus really was.
“How can I help you, Alexander?”
Alec stepped back again, turned like he was going to start pacing around, but stopped and turned back. Magnus wanted to reach out, soothe him somehow, but resisted. Whatever was spinning Alec out of control right now was unlikely to be solved by Magnus touching him.
Alec stared at the floor for another few moments before finally asking, “Why me?”
“You said I…” his voice dropped to a whisper. “Unlocked something in you. Why me?”
Stunned, Magnus replied without thinking. “I don’t know, you just…”
“What?” Alec asked. “I just what?”
“Did,” Magnus replied. “It’s not a science, Alec. I don’t know the answer. It was just you.”
Alec blew out a harsh breath and stepped away. “Tell me you can get rid of him,” he said, starting to pace. “I can’t…I can’t take him being here anymore. He’s just… it’s too much. I can’t do it. I can’t have him here anymore.”
“Yes, Alternate Alec! He told me—“ Alec stopped pacing, hands knotted into fists at his sides. “We talked about… dating. I just—“ Alec started pacing again. “I’m sorry. I know. I can’t… I have no right to ask you for help. I know that I just…”
Suddenly Alec whipped around, grabbed Magnus’s forearms, and froze.
It was the second time they’d touched, but it was still new. Different. Magnus wasn’t nearly out of magic and starting to fail. Their hands weren’t clasped like last time, but they also weren’t surrounded by people, with a job in front of them.
They were alone.
In Alec’s bedroom.
Alec’s thumb was the only place where their skin met, Magnus held his breath as Alec’s thumb brushed over his pulse point. They stood, staring at each other and Magnus watched helplessly as Alec’s gaze dropped down to Magnus’s lips.
THUD! THUD! THUD!
The moment, whatever it was, was broken by a loud thumping knock at the door. The noise made Alec step back, hackles rising like a dog. He glanced between the door and Magnus, eyes blowing out wider and wider.
The same anger from before, when Alec had dragged him down the hallway, rose again in Magnus’s chest, despite the obviousness of Alec’s distress. “I’ll hide I guess. Like a reasonable adult man.” With a huff, he spun on his heel and walked into the nearest door. To his great relief, this turned out to be the door to the bathroom. He lowered himself down on the edge of the tub, determined to sit there, looking utterly unconcerned, and pressed his ear to the door.
Normally, a couple deep breaths and a few moments with eyes closed would let Alec center himself enough to concentrate. Concentrate on a mission, concentrate on sparring, concentrate on pushing past something he shouldn’t have just felt or thought.
But it wasn’t working now. The feeling like he couldn’t quite pull in enough breath, his heart beating a little too fast in his chest, he couldn’t control it anymore.
And there was another loud knock at the door.
He glanced around quickly, scanning for anything that might tip someone off to Magnus’s presence and, seeing nothing, opened the door to find Alternate Alec standing there.
His doppelganger pushed his way into the center of the room without invitation and spun around.
“Hey. I just heard your big news” he growled. “Mazel Tov.”
His cheeks were flushed red and his normally aggravatingly combed hair was sticking up like he’d been pulling it, or brushing it up at the back and hadn’t noticed it was messed up now.
Whatever this was, Alec couldn’t deal with it. His life hadn’t been completely smooth sailing before Alternate Alec had popped up in his basement, but it hadn’t been the absolute shit-show it was now either.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Alec demanded.
“I just talked to Lydia, is what I’m talking about,” Alternate Alec told him. “You think you’re marrying her?”
A chill ran down Alec’s spine. “What did you do, Mundane?”
“I thought she was joking. I didn’t think there could really be any version of either of us who was that stupid.”
“What did you say to her?”
“I tried to back pedal it,” Alternate Alec said. “She was upset anyway, so we dropped it. I walked her back to her room and then I came here to tell you what happens next.”
Alec felt that weird shiver he usually got before fights. Like he was being plugged in. That shock of awareness that started in his fingers and spread through the rest of him, tightening his muscles and making him feel like time was slowing down.
“And what happens next?” he demanded, staring himself down.
Alternate Alec didn’t seem intimidated for a second. He marched across Alec’s floor until their faces were inches apart. “Next, you are going to march your lying ass over to her room, and you are going to tell her that you are really, fucking gay.”
Alec shuddered at the word. No one had ever…
“Gay, gay, gay,” Alternate Alec went on. “You can’t marry her and you fucking know it.”
Alternate Alec let out a sound that was a mix between a growl and a scream as he dug his phone out of his pocket. He tapped at it ferociously and finally lifted it up to show Alec. “This is why, asshole.”
It was a video this time. Lydia, with her hair swept up, wearing a blue, shiny dress. She was smiling, and her right hand was curled around something. She was swaying a little from side to side. Just her hips. It made the long dress swish around her like water. A voice off screen, male and not Alec, laughed. “Aha! The good news dance. I know that when I see it. What is it? Two million dollars? Six?”
“Come here,” Lydia said.
“A hundred million dollars!” The voice offscreen shouted with another loud, deep laugh.
Lydia echoed the laugh and held out her hand. There was something small and white in it, about double the length of her palm.
The man she’d been speaking to finally appeared in the frame. Whatever he said to Lydia wasn’t audible, but Alec saw her nod. The man she was talking to looked shocked, then thrilled. He grabbed her around the waist, spun her around and set her down as he pulled her into a kiss. Then a hug. The video focused in on Lydia’s radiant smile, then stopped.
“That’s Lydia in my universe, telling her fiancé she’s pregnant. That’s the two of them, being thrilled and so so in love.”
“The people in your dimension,” Alec said slowly, “Are not the people in my dimension.”
“I think they are,” Alternate Alec replied. “Cause I’ve talked to all of them. You may dress different and be super into martial arts and demon bullshit, but at the core, you’re all exactly the same. You and I are the same. I don’t think you’re going to hurt her like this.”
“John’s dead here, okay?” Alec said. “I wish it wasn’t true, but it is. Here, in our world, I’m giving her what I can. Okay?”
“You can’t give her this!” Alternate Alec brandished the image of a happy Lydia again.
Alec stared at him. Alternate Alec wasn’t him. Their lives were completely different. Just because they had some small, shallow commonalities, didn’t mean that if Alternate Alec couldn’t do something, it mean that Alec couldn’t do it.
“Are you seriously saying I can’t get her pregnant?”
The side of his face exploded.
It was surprise more than pain, but there was plenty of that too. Alternate had slapped him across the face. Open palmed and outraged.
Every plane of the other man’s face was familiar, but the expression wasn’t. Alec wasn’t sure he had ever been as openly angry as Alternate Alec was now.
“Fuck. You,” Alternate Alec growled. “I don’t give a fuck about you screwing up your life, okay, asshole? But you don’t get to screw up Lydia’s life.”
The bathroom door opened with a creak, and Alternate Alec turned around just as Magnus stepped out.
“Okay,” the warlock said, arms out in front of him, a faint blue glow against each palm. “I heard violence.”
Alternate Alec gaped at him before turning back around. “Are you fucking kidding me with this? After all your Virgin-Bambi bullshit?” he sucked in a breath clenched his eyes shut sucked in a deep breath, the blew it out. “Tell me Lydia knows. I know your world sucks, tell me this is all pre-arranged, and I will leave.”
“There’s nothing to know,” Alec told him. “Nothing is happening. Magnus is going out on a mission with us later, we just…”
Alec watched the way Magnus’s jaw clenched tighter and tighter as he spoke and gave up. “Look. In our world, this is the only way. Okay? Shadowhunters die. John died. My parents are forcing me to get married. Lydia is… Lydia is who I need to marry to run this Institute.”
“Fuck you, I know she doesn’t need your help to be in charge.”
“She does here!” Alec spat. “You aren’t part of this world! Married couples run Institutes, single women don’t.”
“Jesus—fucking—“ Alternate Alec started.
“I’m trying to help her! I’m trying to help us both!” Alec yelled. “You don’t get it! You can’t!”
“No, you don’t get it,” Alternate Alec yelled back. He lifted his phone again, zeroed in on Lydia’s face. “If you can’t give this to her, you are taking it from her. You can’t possibly be stupid enough not to know that. I know Lydia, I do. And I’ve loved enough people to know that you don’t just love the one time. You can get so hurt and still love someone again. Lydia deserves that. You deserve that.” He pointed at Magnus. “He deserves that too.”
No one spoke for a moment. The magic in Magnus’s palms faded away. Alternate Alec shoved his phone in his pocket.
“Maybe you’re right,” Alternate Alec huffed. “Maybe we aren’t alike. I’m not a selfish coward. I’m telling her.”
He marched toward the door, throwing it open just as Alec darted toward him.
But his exit was blocked.
“Jace! Alec shouted, wondering if he’d ever been more relieved to see anyone in his life. “Grab him!”
Jace did, grabbing Alternate Alec’s arm and twisting it behind him without a moment’s hesitation.
“Everybody in, close the door!” Alec said.
Clary and Isabelle stepped in. Isabelle closed the door and jumped at the sound of it slamming shut.
“What is this? What is going on?” Clary demanded.
Alec paused, unsure of how to explain why he and Magnus were in some sort of fight with his Alternate Dimension self.
“I’ll tell you what’s going on sweetheart—” Alternate Alec started, with a savage smile.
Another loud knock interrupted him.
The six of them looked around at each other. Who could possibly be out there? Isabelle leaned over, unsteady on her feet, and pulled the door open.
Lydia walked in.
If Lydia was surprised by the crowd in Alec’s room, she didn’t show it. She looked past Alec’s drunk sister and his parabatai restraining Alec’s alternate dimension duplicate. She barely acknowledged Alec’s personal half-mundane ginger downfall at all, and Alec wasn’t sure if he was imagining Lydia’s eyes lingering on Magnus or not.
She looked at him last, and Alec was surprised at how soft her expression was when it finally fell on him.
“Jace, let him go,” She said. Her voice was quiet, but it was the only sound in the room.
Jace looked to Alec, and despite the buzzing, panicky feeling building up in his head again, Alec nodded.
“Everybody out. Whatever unsanctioned mission you’re all going out on, don’t screw it up badly enough that I won’t be able to pretend I didn’t know you were all here, and I want a report on it in the morning.”
Her tone was still quiet and even, but everyone turned to go. Alec was surprised to see Alternate Alec pause at Lydia’s side for a moment, giving her arm a quick squeeze. He was shocked to feel a similar squeeze at his own elbow as Magnus passed him, so quick and surreptitious that Alec wondered if it had been a pulse of magic rather than an actual touch.
Lydia watched them all file out of Alec’s bedroom door, walked over to it, closed it, and drew a powerful soundless rune on it before turning back to Alec. She gave him another kind smile before walking to his desk, and pulling out his chair, which she carried across his room and set down next to his bed.
“You look tired,” She finally said, sitting in the desk chair and patting his mattress. “You should sit down.”
“Lydia I can explain—”
If Alec’s brain had been functioning at all he would have tried to deny knowing anything about why they were all here in his room. He would have let Lydia talk. Reacted to her instead of making himself sound guilty.
But he felt guilty.
He’d nearly kissed Magnus.
He’d been trying to push Magnus away. He’d been trying ever since he proposed to Lydia. He didn’t want to hurt anyone. He didn’t want to lie to Lydia, he didn’t want to lead Magnus on. He didn’t want to be cruel, he just wanted to do his duty.
But he’d still been seconds away from kissing Magnus. Alone. In his bedroom. Less than two weeks before he was supposed to make permanent vows to Lydia.
Maybe, if Alternate Alec hadn’t shown up pounding on the door, Alec still would have stopped himself. Maybe he would have come to his senses.
But what if he hadn’t?
“You don’t have to explain,” Lydia interrupted him. “I’m not here to talk about that, and besides, it’s not like either of us can stop them from doing whatever they are doing and I’m sick of prosecuting your family. I’m actually here to talk to you about our marriage.”
The buzzing in Alec’s head started to move through his body. Not now, he thought, by the Angel, please not now.
“Our marriage?” He asked. His voice sounded weird and Lydia must have noticed. She patted the bed next to her again.
“Come on. Sit down. Let’s talk.”
As he obeyed, Alec was very aware of the places where his body hinged and moved. None of them seemed to be working as well as they had earlier in the day. His knees, in particular, felt like they might just start bending however they wanted at any minute.
Lydia watched him as he sat, and moved her chair so that she was just a little further away from him, but still facing him.
“Okay,” Alec managed.
Lydia looked from Alec’s face, down to his knees. She slowly squared her shoulders before she looked back up at him. “When John proposed, I knew exactly what I was agreeing to. We were going to marry, we were going to run an Institute together, and have children, and raise them to be the best Shadowhunters we could make them.”
Alec fought to stay as calm as he could make himself. “Right. That’s… what a shadowhunter marriage is. That’s … isn’t that what you thought you and I would have?”
Lydia nodded. “Yes.” She bit her lip, and seemed to be concentrating very hard on Alec’s shoulder. “I talked to Alternate Alec earlier, and in his dimension, I’m… that dimension’s version of me is still marrying that dimension’s version of John.”
“He told me about it,” Alec said. “And the umm…” he could tell Lydia was fighting tears, he didn’t want to make this worse. “He told me about the pregnancy too. I’m sorry.”
Lydia nodded. “Shadowhunters die. It’s something we accept early on. It doesn’t mean you don’t remember or mourn those you’ve lost but… it’s reality. It happens.” Lydia moved her hands into her lap and twined them together. “After I lost John, I threw myself back into work. I thought it would be the best way to move on. And it helped.”
She stopped again and looked up at Alec, almost like she expected him to take his turn to say something. Alec couldn’t think of anything to reply, and after a moment’s pause, Lydia looked back at his shoulder and went on.
“Look, Alec, I accepted your proposal because you were right. Our families have been strong allies. I trust you to be a good husband and I know we are going to be good partners. But when John proposed I accepted because I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. We had been together for months. It felt right. I loved him. And it’s something that I hadn’t really thought about until today. You and I aren’t in love.” She cleared her throat, and Alec felt his hands start to shake. “That’s fine, I don’t think we have to be for this to work. But not being in love means we don’t have the same… script. And I… by the Angel,” she huffed before her voice took on an excessively neutral, rehearsed quality. “What I’m trying to say, is that we need to build a relationship out of respect, and honesty. I… had to be more honest with myself today than I have been in a long time, and since I respect you I’m going to be honest with you too.”
It was hard to watch Lydia, always controlled and careful, struggle to speak. Alec reached out and set his hand over hers, where they lay in her lap. Her fingers were cold.
“I’m still in love with John. The only reason I don’t think about him every day is that I don’t let myself. It’s not something that I’m going to get over before the wedding and it is going to take me longer to be… longer for me to feel like your wife than I thought it would.”
“What are you saying?”
“Well. Specifically? I’m not as ready for…our wedding night, as I thought I was and I don’t know when I will be. As far as the rest of the marriage goes. I don’t know. I’m going to need time.”
The feeling in Alec’s brain while Lydia’s words washed over him was like when you roll the batteries in a remote to make them last a little longer. He’d been fading and fading and fading, and suddenly… a last desperate jolt of hope.
He’d been concentrating on the wedding. He’d been working himself up to stand at the altar, say the right things, force a smile, and draw the runes. He hadn’t put that much thought into the marriage. Into what it would really be like to be Lydia’s husband. The wedding night… had flashed in and out of his mind. He’d planned on telling Lydia he was a virgin and letting that explain away how awkward and weird it was going to be. And then it would be over and they could concentrate on work.
But here Lydia was, sitting in front of him and telling him that she wanted to at least start out being married just on paper. She wasn’t asking him to love her. She didn’t even want to have sex for more than enough time for him to get used to the idea. It was like getting taken out to the firing squad, being pushed against the wall, and then being given a flower instead of a cigarette, and sent along your merry way. All he had to do was pat her hand, and tell her that it was okay— and then he would be protecting her. Not asking anything of her she didn’t want to give.
It was perfect. It was everything he could have asked for.
“Is there anything you need to tell me?” Lydia asked quietly, turning one of her hands up into his own, and pressing their palms together.
And if he took advantage of it, he’d be violating the only two things Lydia had ever asked him for. Honesty and respect.
He tried to swallow, but his mouth was too dry.
“I…I was about to kiss Magnus Bane before everyone stormed in here. ”
He braced himself, he was ready for her to pull away. Ready for the screech of wood on stone as the chair scraped backward across the floor. Ready for the way Lydia would look at him, hurt and outraged. Disgusted.
He was not ready for Lydia to wrap her fingers around his hand, and let out an undignified snort as she held in laughter. Alec tried to tug his hand back, but Lydia clamped down tighter.
“I’m sorry,” she managed, a chuckle escaping as she squeezed his hand again. “I’m sorry… I just… I’ve been practicing that for the last half hour…and I …” another weird laugh bubbled out. “This is not a reaction I was ready for.”
The way Lydia’s thoughts had echoed his own was funnier than it should have been. Alec laughed. His laugh set Lydia off, which rebounded back on him and somehow, they were both laughing, clutching each other’s hands between them until the laughter faded away.
“Fuck. Alec,” Lydia finally said, squeezing Alec’s hands before letting them go and standing up. “So… so we don’t have to dance around pretending this is more than just a political partnership, right?”
Alec’s head snapped up.
She was right. This could work.
Lydia laughed again. “I wish we’d just told each other the truth weeks ago.”
“No one knows,” Alec said immediately, before realizing how immensely untrue that was, but Lydia cut him off before he could find the right way to correct himself.
“Do you even like women?” Lydia asked. “Or, I mean… are you attracted to women, at all?”
Alec shook his head. “No. I’ve tried.”
Lydia pressed her hands to her face and snorted again. “You know what? Let’s go get a drink.”
After some debate, Alec and Lydia had agreed that they were extremely unlikely to run into anyone from the Institute if they just walked to the nearest bar (Lydia convinced Alec he didn’t have to worry about this) and that no one in New York City would even look twice at their runes, so casting a glamor would be a waste of time (even though, as Lydia pointed out, casting glamors when going out into the Mundane world was encouraged by the Clave).
Walking through the night with Lydia had turned Alec’s bone-deep exhaustion into a sort of restless, frenetic energy. She knew now. It was all out in the open. And not because she’d figured it out and tried to gently (or, like Isabelle, not so gently) hint to him that she knew. She knew because she’d asked and he’d decided to tell her. With that barrier removed, Alec felt like he could finally talk, ask questions, plan beyond the wedding. They walked six blocks, discussing Clave politics and what steps they could start taking at the New York Institute to bring it into the twenty-first century.
By the time Lydia finally stopped and pointed at a bar, they had probably walked past a dozen other bars in their excitement.
They’d wound up somewhere called Glass and Grimm. It was hard to tell from the inside where the name had come from. It was mostly just dark. All the lighting was blue and purple. It caught the metallic painted edges of the tables, chairs, and high-backed booths. Lydia and Alec were brought to a booth, tucked into a corner near the back. The host handed them drink menus and late night happy hour menus and promised to be right back to take their drink order.
Alec glanced at the long list of specialty cocktails, their silly names and their outrageous prices, “Wow. Maybe I’ll just get a glass of wine. Or a beer. I’ve never had beer.”
Lydia shrugged. “Well. I’ve never had anything but wine. I’m getting a cocktail. And whatever you want is my treat.”
“Because I’m happy? I’m relieved? I’ve been worried about this wedding ever since you proposed and everything just got so much easier?”
“I wonder what that’s like,” Alec said, only half sarcastic. “Fine. I’ll get” he glanced over the menu, looking for the cocktail with the shortest name, “an Ancient Mariner.”
“And I’m going to get a ‘Hearts Aren’t Only Beating, They’re Counting Down’,” Lydia said, setting down her menu with a grin.
Alec couldn’t deny that he liked this side of her. The side he’d only seen little flashes of, like when she’d agreed to talk to him off the record about him knowing where the Mortal Cup was or when she’d been so excited to meet Magnus Bane, Inventor of the Portal.
“So, okay. We’re telling each other the truth now, right?” Alec asked.
“Yes. Yes, we are,” Lydia agreed.
“The first day you showed up at the Institute, in that Valentine glamor. How the hell did you catch that arrow?”
Her face split into a grin, and she laughed, loudly, turning her grin up to the waiter when he arrived at the end of their table. They both quickly placed their orders, and Lydia added an order of calamari.
“There’s no secret to that,” Lydia replied. “That was just practice.”
Alec watched her, waiting for her to break. “Okay. Whatever. I’m going to ask you again after your drink.”
Lydia gave him a sort of “if you’re sure” sort of look, which turned into another smile. “You know, Alternate Alec told me that he and the alternate version of me are really close in his dimension.”
“Yeah, he said I’m his best friend and his arch nemesis, and that he would do anything for me, but he’s going to destroy me someday.”
Alec shook his head and sighed. “I really hate him.”
“Of course you do. You’re too much alike.”
“Alike?” Alec scoffed. “He’s a vapid, promiscuous party planner.”
“He’s not,” Lydia said, shaking her head. “No version of you could be vapid, and Alternate Alec isn’t just a party planner.”
“Oh, that’s what he told you, huh?”
“The versions of us in his dimension both do some sort of freelance development and event thing we seem to have invented. He throws parties to convince rich people to make donations to non-profits and I try to convince them to donate to museums and educational programs. Last year he talked some ludicrously wealthy woman into donating two million dollars to a organization trying to stop human trafficking in New York City. The money helped break up a huge child sex slavery ring. He basically stopped thousands of little girls from being sold to the highest bidder.”
The waiter came back with their drinks and appetizer, giving Alec a moment to digest that information.
“Oh,” He finally managed. “That’s—“
“It’s amazing,” Lydia finished for him, taking a sip of her drink. “I admit I didn’t ask him about the promiscuity thing, but I think you two are a lot more alike than you think.”
Alec sipped his drink, it was sweeter than the drinks Magnus had made him, without the same sting. “What about you? Do you think you’re like his version of you?” Alec picked at the platter of teeny fried squid Lydia had ordered while she recounted a story about a drinking game and a frat party with a laugh.
“And you think that sounds like you?”
“In another world? Where things were simpler? Yeah. I think so.” She shrugged and took another sip from her drink. “I’d really like it if you and I were that close in this dimension.”
“Me too,” Alec answered, with a small flush of embarrassment as he and Lydia exchanged smiles.
“So…” Lyda started carefully, “Now that we’re friends… can I ask you about Magnus?”
That little sizzle of panic Alec usually got when people mentioned Magnus happened again, but it was smaller and shorter than usual. “Depends on what you want to know.”
“How long have you two been together?”
Alec dropped the squid he’d been holding in surprise. “We aren’t.”
Lydia looked disbelieving. “Alec, it’s okay. I saw you two after the trial. I thought—“
“Well. You thought wrong,” Alec snapped, then forced himself to relax. “Sorry. It’s just… it’s been a really weird few weeks and whatever was happening got even more complicated when I got— you know. Engaged.”
“Right. And… you haven’t talked to anyone about it because no one knows?”
Alec sighed. “Since Alternate Alec showed up, I have learned that actually— everyone has always known. But no. I haven’t talked to anyone about it. Izzy’s tried.”
Lydia leaned back in the booth, sliding her cocktail across the table to follow her back. Alec raised an eyebrow at her, but when she echoed it, he found himself talking. He told her about defeating the circle member in Magnus’s lair, healing Luke, staying at Magnus’s to help clean up and having a couple drinks and staying in the guest room. Magnus making breakfast and coffee in the morning. How sitting at Magnus’s kitchen counter had felt… jarringly normal.
“I remember that feeling,” Lydia said with a sigh.
“Can I ask you something?” Alec asked.
Lydia just smiled in response.
“You really loved John. How did you… when you met him… what was it like?”
Her smile turned a little sad. “Honestly? It was a less wholesome version of what you just said. He was just the most interesting thing in the room.”
“Less wholesome?” Alec asked.
“Well. We didn’t team up to save a friend’s father and then eat waffles,” Lydia said. “We got sent out on a mission in Lisbon. It was a rough battle and we were all covered in blood and ichor when we got back to the Institute. John went to his quarters to shower… and I followed him.”
“Into the shower?”
Lydia shrugged. “I know what I want when I see it.”
Alec shook his head. “That must be nice.”
“Do you think… now that we’re heading into this wedding with open eyes… are you going to go after Magnus?”
“Not the way you would, apparently,” Alec answered.
“I… we should talk about how that would work.”
“Sure,” Lydia replied. “So first, you follow him into the shower—“
“No, I mean it,” Alec cut her off. The shot of energy he’d gotten from telling Lydia the truth was starting to fade. The idea of going after Magnus, being given permission to actually go take what he wanted had thrilled him for a second, until he’d started thinking about the real consequences. “Like… what is this marriage going to be now?”
“Alec, we’re not the first shadowhunters to wind up in a marriage for political gain. My great great grandmother Charlotte nearly got pulled out of the London Institute a dozen times because everyone knew she was the one running it while her husband Henry tinkered around in his shop, oblivious to the world around them.”
Alec grabbed another calamari. “And in his shop, was Henry tinkering around with some warlock the Clave already had a bad history with?”
Lydia sighed. “Things are a little better now than they were in Victorian London. The Clave isn’t going to come around doing bed checks. And we are going to be running the Institute together.”
“Right. A high profile Institute. Nearest to Valentine’s operation.”
Lydia stared at him for a moment, then she started to droop. “Where Valentine’s daughter and… weird foster son live.”
“Formerly run by two people who were in the Circle. And my mother… has a history of doing what it takes to get back in the Clave’s good graces.”
“Do you really think she’d report you if she caught you with Magnus?”
“I honestly don’t know,” Alec admitted. “But if she caught you with another guy? There’s no way that stays a secret. And no matter what I think about it, you know that could destroy your reputation with the Clave.”
“I think, if things took that turn, I could be discreet.”
“I’ve been discreet since I was fifteen.” Alec was surprised at how bitter he sounded suddenly. “Everyone still knows. I think we’re letting ourselves get swept up in this. Long-term… what’s our plan? What if you find someone you could actually… want to be married too?”
Lydia shrugged. “I don’t really think about that anymore.”
“And I get that. I really do. But… a year from now? Five years from now?” He tapped his fingers against his glass. “Alternate Alec told me that if I marry you, I’m taking away your chance to fall in love again.”
“But you wouldn’t be,” Lydia said. “Not if it’s just a political marriage.”
“It’s not going to make it easy,” Alec said. He could see Magnus in his mind’s eye. Mocking him. ‘Solid partnership. That’s hot.’
“And… we’ve already pissed off the Inquisitor.”
“And a lot of what we’ve been talking about accomplishing would piss off the Clave,” Alec added.
They two of them sat together in silence for a few moments.
“Well,” Lydia sighed and downed the rest of her drink. “That whole optimism thing was nice while it lasted.”
“Let’s get another drink.”
“This was not part of the plan,” Jace muttered to Magnus as Clary, who did not seem to be able to hear them, pulled Ragnor Fell out of a painting.
“You don’t say,” Magnus snarled.
Jace had prepared for several potential outcomes of going to ask Ragnor Fell for a favor. Most of the scenarios he had envisioned had included Ragnor asking for more payment than they would be able to get, or potentially asking to hold one of them as collateral for the Book of the White while they borrowed it.
None of them had involved walking through a wall of green flames only to wind up tied to a chair alongside the High Warlock of Brooklyn, while Clary talked to Ragnor alone.
“Where are they?” Clary demanded.
“Where are they?” Ragnor repeated back, in a mocking voice. “You are the most demanding intruder I’ve ever had.”
“Ragnor!” Magnus barked. “She’s Jocelyn Fairchild’s daughter!”
Ragnor Fell looked away from Clary for a moment and stared at Magnus before quickly turning back. “Jocelyn Fairchild’s daughter. Really now?”
“He can hear us?” Jace asked.
“Yes, of course he can. Clary— Clarrisa Fairchild, Ragnor— can’t though. It’s part of his spell.”
“Where are Jace and Magnus?” Clary asked, her tone just a touch less brash than before.
“They’re safe, and not even far away. So you’re Clary Fairchild.” Ragnor’s face split into a grin, which was, in Jace’s opinion, a little too predatory. “Well. Well of course! How very much like your mother you are. And you’ve inherited her gifts as well.”
Clary jutted her chin up at him. “I’m here about the Book of the White.”
“Yes. Of course. Of course,” Ragnor sighed. “Valentine came after your mother, then. Just as she thought he would?”
“Yes,” Clary answered.
“Valentine. The only bastard that even the shadowhunters couldn’t abide or control.”
“And he’s out there right now, Ragnor. Stop with the dramatics and give us the book,” Magnus sighed.
Ragnor ignored him.
“As though there haven’t been worse shadowhunters than Valentine Morgenstern. Just another in a long line,” he said to Clary, whose face scrunched up in confusion. “Come. Let’s have a cup of tea. You can explain to me why I shouldn’t leave the shadowhunters to deal with their own mess, and then I’ll bring you to Jace and Magnus when you’ve given me a satisfactory answer.”
Magnus leaned back in his chair and rolled his eyes.
“And the Book of the White?” Clary snapped.
“Well. We’ll see about that, won’t we?” Ragnor waved toward a doorway that must have lead to the kitchen.
“Wait!” Jace yelled as Clary walked toward the doorway. “Clary! Don’t go! Don’t you dare hurt her, warlock!”
But Ragnor just gave Jace a nasty grin before he turned to follow Clary.
“Don’t worry, little shadowhunter,” Magnus grumbled. “Ragnor likes to play his stupid games, but she’s perfectly safe, about to be subjected to nothing worse than over-brewed Earl Grey, and an extended period of Ragnor’s company. I promise.”
“We don’t have time for warlock games,” Jace hissed. He started to move against his bindings, looking for weaknesses or loose ties, but the magically conjured ropes were proving too stable to slip out of.
“Ragnor will get bored soon enough. He’s always had a soft spot for Fairchilds and Clary’s mother especially.”
“So why mess with us?”Jace asked, still twisting his wrists.
Magnus stretched his neck and shoulders and let out a sigh. “I’ll tell you an important warlock secret: sometimes, immortality is boring. Especially for a mean-spirited old curmudgeon who hasn’t gotten laid since the Margaret Thatcher was in office!” Magnus waited expectantly for a few moments after shouting out this insult, but there was no reply from the kitchen. He sighed again. “So. It seems you and Clary have worked out your little incest problem?”
Jace fought down an angry response. He did not need to be in another country, caught between two pissed off warlocks. “Yeah. Mundane science is a miracle,” he huffed. “And you and Alec? Everything must be better there? Right? Since you agreed to help us?”
Jace had expected an evasion or some kind of snarky response. He was surprised when Magnus grew quiet.
“What part of a shouting match where Alec had you grab and restrain his double makes you think that anything was improved?”
Clary’s silvery laugh rang out from the kitchen, and Jace felt himself relax a little. Ragnor’s voice, purposefully loud in the same way that Magnus shouting about Margaret Thatcher had been followed it:
“And he’s been banned from Peru ever since.”
“What happened between you and Alec anyway?” Jace asked.
“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Name of the Angel,” Jace hissed. “You know, I get why Alec never talked about it, but I thought you might be able to say something. Shadowhunters all learn that it’s something that happens to downworlders and mundanes. We all know it’s not supposed to happen to shadowhunters, or if it does you just ‘rule with your head’ and make it go away. Valentine taught me a lot about the ‘purity’ of my blood and exactly what it meant I could do and couldn’t do. How I could feel and couldn’t feel. And no one is more aware of what the Clave will approve of than Alec is. But… I could never… think less of Alec for it. And now…” Jace sighed and started pushing at the ropes again, more as a way to burn off energy than with any real hope of escaping. “My father told me that Clary made me weak. That the way I wanted her was wrong. And then he told me that she was my sister… just to make me feel wrong.”
Jace glanced over at Magnus, who was staring at the floor as though he could burn a hole in it if he concentrated. Maybe he could.
Jace twisted his wrist against the rough rope so that it dug in. The pain helped him feel calm. “I know it’s not the same. I don’t know how long Alec has felt wrong. I know it was for more than a couple of weeks. But… he’s my parabatai. I want to help him. And I can’t help him if no one is allowed to talk to me. Even Alternate Alec has been trying to pretend. I’ve been— we’ve all been trying to tell Alec that there’s time to get him out of this marriage.”
“That’s something Alec has to want,” said Magnus quietly. “And he’s been very clear that the engagement was his idea and that what he wants is for everyone to leave him alone while he goes through with it.”
Jace pushed his wrist a little harder into the rope and spoke as calmly as he could manage. “He wants you.”
“Leave it be, Herondale.”
“I can feel what it’s like when he’s around you,” Jace went on. “Even through a weakened bond, I can tell when he’s alone with you. “
Magnus’s jaw worked for a moment, then his face changed, like a still pond after a stone is dropped into it. He turned to look at Jace, his expression mocking again. “My being here has nothing to do with Alec Lightwood. I’m here to get the Book of the White, and revive Jocelyn. You children have no idea how much we’re going to need her.”
For a moment, Jace considered pushing him about Alec again, but he could tell he wouldn’t get very far. “Why Jocelyn?” he asked.
“Do you know why the Clave placed a ban on talking about the Circle?” Magnus asked him in return.
“Why Jocelyn?” Jace repeated.
“Because the only difference between the Circle and the Clave was that the Circle killed shadowhunters too.”
“That’s not true. Valentine wanted all downworlders subjugated or extinct,” countered Jace.
“When I was young, shadowhunters killed vampires and werewolves for sport,” Magnus replied. “It was fashionable to kill warlocks for their Marks. Shadowhunters would keep warlock eyes in jars in their parlors and hang warlock horns from their doors. Like Christmas wreaths. It was very in vogue. Your trainer? The Starkweather?”
Magnus glared at Jace, waiting for him to answer, but Jace didn’t trust himself to speak. Magnus really must not want to talk about Alec, and Jace had a feeling that everything he said, about Alec, about the Accords, about the Law— no matter what it would be the wrong thing to say with Magnus in a mood like this. His skin was starting to turn raw where he was moving it against the rope.
“Starkweather manor had an entire room full of… keepsakes. The Accords might have dictated severe punishments for that sort of thing, but strangely, there was no law against keeping a trophy from those dark old days. And warlocks don’t need the evidence to remember things that happened so long ago," Magnus dropped the glamor from his eyes, and Jace found himself looking into the warlock's golden, cat-like eyes. "Not that long ago, shadowhunters started to kill Warlocks for their riches.”
“Spoils were outlawed before the Accords,” Jace said, keeping his voice as neutral as he could.
“And yet, some shadowhunters are still rich on blood money. You kept the money, you kept the Marks, you kept the hatred. When Ragnor went to work at the shadowhunter academy, they gave him a room with a warlock head mounted over the fire. He had to ask them to remove it four times. When the Circle came for me and the warlocks under my protection, they took my friend’s horns. For their collection.”
Jace stared down at his knees as Magnus spoke.
“When Valentine first began to rise,” said Magnus. “He was a shadowhunter problem. He wanted to reform the Clave. He wanted to loosen some of their more old-fashioned and suffocating rules. I can’t imagine you’d deny that the Clave still has plenty of those. Somehow, arranged marriages come to mind. No one I knew was surprised when their new order fell back on old prejudices. They were surprised when Jocelyn Fairchild spoke up. They were surprised when Jocelyn Fairchild tried to save people. They’ll be surprised when they learn that Jocelyn Fairchild loves a werewolf, befriended warlocks, evaded Valentine and defied the Clave for eighteen years. They’ll be surprised when the Seelie Queen tells them that Jocelyn Fairchild’s daughter and a Lightwood risked their reputations to save Meliorn.” Magnus scoffed.
“Don’t make the mistake of thinking of me as your friendly neighborhood warlock. I didn’t take a break from doodling your brother’s name in my journal to come here and help his friends. I have people that I need to save. From people like you.”
“If you hate shadowhunters so much,” Jace started. “Then why do you want Alec?”
Magnus, who had grown stiffer and haughtier and… bigger somehow while he spoke, deflated suddenly, eyes going back to brown with a blink. “If I was going to tell anyone my reasoning for that, maybe it should be Alec.”
Jace huffed. “Maybe it should be.”
Before Jace say anything else, Ragnor appeared in the doorway again, holding a small pink tea cup and grinning broadly. He snapped his fingers. Jace and Magnus’s ropes fell away as Clary appeared behind Ragnor.
“Well, then,” Ragnor said. “I understand that we have a book to find?”
When Lydia and Alec’s second round of cocktails arrived, which they’d chosen by picking two drinks off the menu totally at random, the waiter set a tall, narrow tube of vibrantly green liquid in front of Lydia, and a triangular glass full of alarmingly pink liquid in front of Alec, with a piece of pineapple, a strawberry, and a short pink plastic sword with three maraschino cherries speared on it added for decoration.
He looked down at it with an odd sort of horror, and could actually feel the relief flood his body from his ears down to his toes when Lydia suggested they trade. Unfortunately, the more he thought about it, the relief of drinking something not pink was the only relief the rest of this conversation was going to bring.
They were being naive.
And he’d just been stupid. Admitting to Lydia that he had feelings for Magnus? After what she had told him yes, he’d had to tell her the truth. But going out to a bar and talking about it like it was something he wanted to go after? That had been idiotic. He should have told her that he had feelings for the warlock, but he knew his place and he could work through it while she worked through her feelings for John. He could have framed it as something they could bond over. Something that could bring them together. This nonsense about having their cake and eating it too? This wasn’t going to work.
“Okay,” Lydia said, plucking the strawberry off the rim of her drink and popping it into her mouth. “So telling the truth did not magically solve all of our problems. There still has to be a way to make this work.”
“Or maybe we’re kidding ourselves,” Alec said, taking another, deeper drink. Maybe, before he dived back into be the perfect son and the perfect shadowhunter, he could at least get very, very drunk. Have one stupid fucking night before he went back to the status quo.
“Lydia, you’re the one who said the only thing worth loving in this line of work is the work itself. Maybe all we can do is accept that.”
“Because we’re shadowhunters. We fight demons. We obey the Claves orders and we obey the Law.”
Lydia reached across the table and tapped the side of his glass. “What is in this? Twenty minutes ago we were taking on the Clave. We were trying to make life better for other shadowhunters—”
“— And for the last ten minutes we’ve been talking about how hard it would be to do that while only pretending we’re really married. So… here we are, Lydia. We can work within the system to make things better… or we can try to get laid. Only one of those things is going to make things better for Isabelle. Max. Those girls you told me about in Idris. Clamoring to marry me. Who I might never have told the truth to.”
“Only making the system better is going to help our families. Our friends. Our children,” Alec said quickly, and as gently as he could manage.
Lydia froze, and then suddenly slumped back against the booth. “Our children.”
“I’m sorry.” Alec sighed. “I know… you got sort of blindsided with that already tonight… but we have to talk about that too. How long do you think we can get away with pretending that it just… hasn’t happened yet before people start wondering? How long do you think we hold an Institute without a family to pass it on to?”
“Right,” Lydia said into her glass. She picked it up and took her own deep gulp from it.
Alec felt bad about how relieved he was to have popped her bubble. He took a deep gulp from his drink, hoping to numb the feeling a little more. “Maybe we should order something cheaper for the next round if we’re moving on to the commiseration stage.”
Lydia gave him a sharp look. “Commiseration?”
“Commiseration,” Alec confirmed, an uncomfortable weight settling in his stomach. “And you can choose. Are we drinking to the end of our engagement, or to choosing our duty over our love lives?”
“Hey, my mother wanted someone to keep an eye on you,” Isabelle said gently. “Is it alright if I join you?”
Alternate Alec looked up from his book, which, as Isabelle’s mother had informed her, he had been quietly reading in the foyer for over an hour.
“Only if you’re going to help me stay awake,” he replied with a yawn that Isabelle echoed immediately.
She held up the deck of cards that, after fifteen minutes of searching, she had finally found in Max’s room. “I can try.”
Alternate Alec put down his book and gestured to the other side of the pew he’d been laying on. Isabelle took a seat and pulled the cards out of the little tagboard envelope they came in.
“Poker?” Alternate Alec asked.
“I don’t know how to play.”
“Okay. What do you know how to play?”
“Go fish. Max learned it from someone at lessons and taught me,” Isabelle answered.
The chill that question sent down Isabelle’s spine was small and passed quickly. She’d been curious about that ever since Alternate Alec had told her how old they had been when their parents had gotten divorced, but the answer had been pretty obvious. “I guess you wouldn’t know him in your world. He’s my little brother. Sweet, a little bit nerdy. He’s nine.”
“Oh…” Alternate Alec said. “Wow. Okay.”
“So… I’m guessing that the reason you’re camped out here so late has something to do with you, Alec, and Magnus all in his room?”
“Yup,” Alec said, taking the cards from Isabelle and starting to shuffle them. “This is my big gay ambush spot. Alec and Lydia are going to walk in that door, and I’m going to tell her why she can’t marry him.”
The wine, and the sobering up from the wine, had made Isabelle tired enough to dull the shock of that too.
“You really think she doesn’t already know?” Isabelle asked quietly. “I mean… really? Everyone else does.”
Alternate Alec started to deal cards. “I know that. Alec knows that. I’ll bet you twenty bucks that even Maryse knows that, and that’s why she’s going out of her way to avoid talking to me. But, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, people ignore things that no one ever talks about. And I can’t just let them both throw their lives away.” He set the deck of cards down and picked up the hand he’d dealt himself, organizing the cards he held carefully. “And I’m not usually superstitious, or spiritual or whatever, but maybe this is why I was sent here. Maybe if I save them both the universe will finally snap back together and I can go home.”
Isabelle sighed and picked up her own hand. “Actually, now that things have calmed down a little bit, I should tell you— I found a spell to send you home.”
Alec folded his cards into one hand. “And you’ve been keeping it a secret because…”
“I haven’t been keeping it a secret,” said Isabelle. “I’ve only had it for a couple hours. A couple of hours where everyone was all over the place and you… you know. Stormed into Alec’s room and got into a fight with him. And we need Magnus to do the spell anyway, so we have to wait for everyone to get back from their mission.”
“Magnus was already in Alec’s room when I got there, you know,” Alternate Alec told her, clearly annoyed. “He was hiding in the bathroom.”
Isabelle sighed. Maybe later she would ask Alec about that, but it wasn’t the most critical thing right now. “Look, please give up your ambush, okay? I saw Alec. He’s a mess right now. You’re not going to help anything by throwing his secrets at people in the middle of the night. You are him. You should know that you tend to spiral when you get bad news. You probably aren’t going to get snapped back without the spell and… you don’t know. Maybe Alec and Lydia are out talking about Magnus right now. She’s not stupid. Alec isn’t a liar. They’ve been gone for hours.”
“I can’t let Lydia—“
“I know. I get it,” Isabelle said. “I can’t let Alec get hurt either. There are ways to do what you’re trying to do that aren’t an attack.”
Alternate Alec wiped his free hand over his face. “I want to go home.”
“I know. Jace and Clary and Magnus should be back soon. We’ll talk to him about it.”
“Right. Okay, “Alternate Alec sighed. “I guess this is your gentle way of shooing me off to bed then?”
Isabelle shrugged. “We just started the game. How about we finish it and you tell me about me and Simon in your world?”
In the end, they had done the responsible thing, Alec supposed. They’d switched from cocktails to tea and talked in circles about all of their options, which had turned into a discussion about everything they really wanted. A lot of that had been about their careers, sure but Lydia had told him a couple stories about John and admitted that she missed simple things about being in a relationship. He’d talked a little about Magnus and some… random boy from his rune lessons when he was young that he’d had a crush on. He’d told her he’d never kissed anyone. Finally, they had paid their tab and decided not to decide anything quite yet.
Not when they were tired. Not when they’d been drinking. Not when all the information they’d exchanged was so new. Not when— if they needed to— it would still be easy to postpone the wedding, stay engaged, and keep thinking about what they really wanted.
The Institute had been quiet and dark when they’d gotten back, which was typical for three am. A couple of people had been on guard duty, watching the monitors, just in case, and they had both given Alec and Lydia a knowing grin as the two of them walked through the main room, to the back of the dormitory corridors, where Lydia was staying. Alec had hugged her goodnight, with a whispered “Thank you” that popped out of him, unbidden, and then walked to his own room.
Everything was still a mess, and he was too tired to care.
A ton of questions had been raised, none had been answered, and he was too tired to care.
All he wanted to do, was crawl into bed, and go to sleep. Halfway to his bedroom he’d already decided that he wasn’t even going to change into pajamas. He was just going to crawl into bed in his jeans, and, finally, rest.
However, when he walked into his bedroom and turned on the light, his bed was already occupied.
Magnus was lying on top of the duvet, fully clothed, and completely asleep.
Magnus was lying on top of the duvet, fully clothed, and completely asleep. The sight of him made Alec’s breath catch, and the feeling of his breath catching made him remember the last time he’d been in Magnus’s apartment.
I know you feel what I feel.
Alec rubbed his eyes, held his fingers pressed lightly against his lids for a few moments, and looked again.
Magnus was still there, his chest rising and falling steadily as he lay in the middle of Alec’s bed. Alec stared at him in exhausted annoyance. What kind of person just fell asleep in someone else’s bed?
Well. Lots of people, probably. In the grand scheme of things.
One of Magnus’s hands was moving, his wrist circled and his fingers twitched, as though he was doing magic in his dreams. He looked young, Alec realized. Barely any makeup on a soft, relaxed face. Starkly different from the haughty expression he’d trained on Alec the last few times Alec had gone to Magnus’s loft.
He’s cute, right? Alternate Alec had asked, flashing a picture of Magnus from his dimension. A pretty ordinary looking guy in a suit. A guy with a nice smile, good cheekbones, and pretty brown eyes, sure, but not the kind of guy who stuck out in a crowd. Not the way Magnus usually did.
But yes, asleep, and more human looking for it, Magnus was cute.
Alec rubbed his eyes again and bent over to unlace his boots, pulling the first one off less gently than he should have. Magnus made a noise as Alec’s first boot hit the ground. A weird snuffle.
Okay. That was cute.
Alec took off his second boot and watched Magnus as he let that one fall too. Magnus made the sound again and rolled onto his stomach, leaving the left side of the bed open. The light glinted off a cellphone screen when Magnus moved against the mattress, getting comfortable.
The thought finally trudged across his foggy mind. He shouldn’t be alone with Magnus in his bedroom in the middle of the night. But somehow, that thought was so much less urgent than other, similar thoughts had been. For one thing, what was the likelihood that anyone even knew Magnus was here? For another… it just seemed so much less important to keep people from getting the wrong impression when he’d finally told someone that it wouldn’t be the wrong impression, and when he knew damn well that at least his siblings, Clary, and Lydia knew the truth.
Still. He had to go to sleep. Magnus was in the way. Either he woke Magnus up and sent him off to one of the empty bedrooms in the hallway, or he went off to sleep in one himself.
The realization that he didn’t absolutely have to do one of those things occurred to Alec slowly, in a formless, undefined thought. He wasn’t sure what a third option would entail, but maybe he could give himself a few moments to think about it.
Provided he did one thing first.
He dug his phone out of his pocket. His thumb hovered over his text messages. With another quick glance at Magnus, he tapped out.
Magnus is asleep on my bed.
A series of dots came up, bouncing briefly as Lydia replied.
Okay. Do you feel sober?
Yes, Alec replied. They’d only had two drinks, and that had been a couple hours and several cups of tea ago.
Then you decide what you need to do about that. Don’t worry about me. Goodnight.
Alec swallowed. He lined his shoes up neatly at the door and pulled off his socks before he set his cell phone on his nightstand, careful not to wake Magnus.
He grabbed a pair of loose work-out pants— he usually slept in his boxers, but he wasn’t going to do anything that might happen next in his underwear— from his dresser and took them to the bathroom. He changed quickly, then went back to his closet, where he pulled an extra blanket off the top shelf.
Alec lowered himself into the center of the left side of his bed slowly, the blanket in his lap. He blew a long breath out, through pursed lips, and reached out to set his hand at Magnus’s shoulder.
“Magnus?” he said, shaking the warlock gently.
Magnus’s soft shirt slid easily over his skin and the rounded shoulder muscle beneath that. Alec shook Magnus a little harder. “Magnus? Wake up.”
The warlock made a small sound and lifted himself up on his forearms. It seemed to take him a second to remember where he was before he turned over and looked up at Alec. Alec could see the hitch in his breath. The strange movement of Magnus’s chest as he forced himself to breathe and be calm.
He sat up. “Alec… I…” He shook his head, sat up and swung his feet off the side of Alec’s bed. “I apologize. This is inappropriate. I didn’t mean to—
“It’s okay,” Alec answered.
Magnus glanced back at Alec over his shoulder. “Clary and Jace invited me to stay at the Institute. I burned through quite a bit more magic than I expected to during our… outing today, and there is a lot of complicated spell work to do tomorrow.”
“They offered you my room?” Alec asked gently.
Magnus turned back a little further toward Alec, moving at his hips and leaving his feet firmly on the floor where he’d planted them. He saw his phone on the duvet, snatched it up and slid it into his pants pocket. The hesitance in his face started to fade when, for a moment, he met Alec’s eyes.
“Isabelle brought me here. She said you were sure to be home soon and wanted me to ask you about… Meliorn gave her a spell to send Alternate Alec home. She was supposed to text you and tell you I was here. I gather that didn’t happen.”
“No,” Alec answered.
“I certainly didn’t mean to fall asleep here. I was only going to wait for a little while, but I took a call from a friend. I must have dozed off after he hung up.”
“Magnus, it’s fine,” Alec said again.
Magnus was always tighter here in the institute than he was in his loft. Defensive. But Alec could see the way he was loosening a little.
They were sitting on his bed and talking. And Alec felt almost calm.
Or maybe it was just the exhaustion. Either way, Alec came to a decision.
“Magnus… I told Lydia the truth.”
The warlock’s face froze, the exact same way it had when Alec had first told him he was engaged. “She… after she ordered everyone out of here before, she told me that she was still in love with John and that she wasn’t sure how long into the marriage it would take for her to get over that and she asked me if there was anything I needed to tell her and…”
“What did you say, exactly?” Magnus asked.
His voice was strange. Like it was being played back on bad speakers. Something was missing from it.
“I told her… I told her that I’ve never been interested in girls and that… and that I’d almost kissed you before she got there.”
Magnus sucked in a breath, and after a pause, turned further toward Alec, setting his knee on the bed and moving so that his body faced the headboard, but his head was still turned toward Alec.
“What… what did she say?”
“She asked me if I wanted to go get a drink,” Alec said.
Magnus laughed, and Alec realized he hadn’t heard him laugh since that night after he’d helped Magnus heal Luke. Every conversation they’d had since had been serious or angry. It was nice to make Magnus laugh again.
“Did you?” Magnus asked.
“Yeah,” Alec said. “We went out, we talked. We tried to figure everything out. I… told her that you’re here.” He grabbed his phone off the nightstand and opened it, showing Magnus the last few lines of his text conversation with Lydia.
“I see,” said Magnus. “And what do you need to do about me being here?”
Alec turned his phone in his hands a few times and sighed. What he wanted to do was kiss Magnus. Lydia’s text was clearly permission to follow this night wherever it went. But wanting and needing weren’t the same thing. Wasn’t that the conversation he’d been having with people for weeks? With Lydia for hours?
“I… need you to know that Lydia and I are still engaged, but we’re still not sure what we’re going to do. That everything I told you about my family and career still stands. But…” He swallowed and looked down at the blanket in his hands, suddenly realizing why he’d grabbed it. When he and Jace had been young they’d occasionally snuck into each other’s rooms after lights out. Almost always to discuss some point from their lesson or some piece of Clave gossip one of them had overheard. When they got tired, one of them would wrap up in their bed’s duvet, and the other would wrap up on the other side of the bed in an extra blanket. So that it wouldn’t be weird.
Alec must be more exhausted than he thought if he was subconsciously trying to instigate a sleepover with the High Warlock of Brooklyn.
“I… I’m working on figuring out what I want. I just… marrying Lydia is my best chance to try and make changes in the Shadow World. We could lead and Institute together. That’s a step up to being Consuls, or Inquisitors, maybe even Clave leaders some day. With that sort of rank, we could make changes for shadowhunters that come after us. I’m not sure that I can shirk a duty like that just because I want… someone else.”
Alec looked up from the blanket in his arms to Magnus.
He wasn’t sure what he’d expected Magnus to say, or do, but Magnus’s sad, fond expression was a surprise. “Oh, Alec. You sweet, stupid boy.”
“Listen to me, I’ve been around for a long time. You can’t reform the Clave from the inside.”
“Alec, I know you’re tired, and I know you’ve had a hard day, and I believe that you want to do the right thing. Just listen. Lie back if you have to, but listen.”
Fighting against some part of himself that was still sitting in the back of his head, freaking out over having Magnus in his room, Alec actually did turn around and lay back against his pillows, legs folded underneath him, facing Magnus.
“I’ve known dozens of Inquisitors. They are all like the woman who was here. Blind allegiance to the letter of the Law is the only thing that will get you promoted to Inquisitor. They are not supposed to be just, they are supposed to enforce the Law. Consuls too, are the agents of the Clave’s Law. You and Lydia could easily get an Institute of your own. The New York Institute has your name on it. But you’re forgetting that Lydia is here because you allowed too many unsanctioned missions when you were just trying to help a lost girl, and reclaim the Mortal Cup. There are things you could do, here in New York, to strengthen alliances with the downworld, and try to make things fairer for the people under your command— but when the Clave hands down and order, your only option will be to follow it.”
“Abide by the rules until you found yourself with a modicum of power?” Magnus cut him off, shaking his head sadly. “It doesn’t work that way. You’ll come to see the power of the Law, and the power of the Clave as your own. When the Clave tells you to do something you think is wrong, you’ll still have to do it to keep your position. You’ve already done it when you tried to imprison Meliorn. And you’ll do it enough times that you’ll start to believe it was the right thing. After all, you’ll be doing it to make things better. If you’re doing it, it must be the right thing.
And the further up the ladder you move, the fewer people you’ll ever talk to who will think the Clave is wrong, and you’ll start to believe that you were just young and naive and that in your maturity you’ve finally learned the truth about the world. Look at your mother. I was there before the Uprising. Your mother was hell-bent on taking down the Clave when she was your age. But she gave them information. And they gave her an Institute to run. To keep, as long as she obeyed the Law. And look at her now. Look at what she’s doing to you now. The Clave always wins when you play by the Clave’s rules.”
Magnus’s voice was gentle and clear, without a single swing into condescension. Alec stared at him for a moment, letting the warlock’s words wash over him before he reminded himself that Magnus wasn’t exactly impartial.
“What about the Accords?"
Magnus looked almost disappointed in Alec before he spoke again.
“I forget how little history mortals really remember sometimes.”
Magnus brought his knees up onto the bed, and sat cross-legged, glancing down at his hands and spinning a ring around his fingers. “The world is old. Shadowhunters aren’t. I have friends who remember Shadowhunters and their seraph blades storming into their lives the way I remember Dutch ships sailing into Java. The world was not the Shadowhunter’s to rule, and they took it anyway. They killed warlocks for trophies and wealth, they killed werewolves and vampires for something to do that afternoon. The Accords are barely two hundred years old, Alec.”
Magnus’s voice had changed again. Whatever the missing quality from before was, it was back. He still wasn’t angry or lecturing, but there was a hurt in his voice. A pain so deep Alec could hear it in every word he spoke.
“They’ve never been fully embraced by the Clave and…” Magnus huffed. “Imagine, Alec. After hundreds and hundreds of years, seeing the people who had killed and tortured people you knew writing Laws about how you could use the powers you were born with. Writing Laws about whether or not you had a soul. Giving you permission to adopt children, or rule yourselves the way you had before the first Nephilim destroyed your families and homes. Giving you the right to be tried— by them, in their courts. Why do you think werewolves— out of all downworlders— have the best relationship with Shadowhunters? You share mortality. You share the ability to forget.”
“I’m not like that,” Alec said.
Magnus looked up at him and nodded. “The Clave is. The Clave always has been. I have never seen the Clave make a change. I have seen Shadowhunters who cared. I have seen Shadowhunters who tried to make things better. And I have seen all of them fight against the Clave to do it.”
Magnus turned and swung his long legs off the side of Alec’s bed. Alec watched him walk to the door, trying to think of something to say to stop him. Magnus set his hand at the door and turned back to Alec.
“You asked me, at the end of the day, what did I risk?” He asked quietly. “It’s everything, Alec. An association with a Shadowhunter could lose me friends and impact my career as well. But I’ve kept my heart locked away for more than a century because I have a… well-documented tendency to give it away completely. And I’d be giving you the chance to bring it into a world where it means so much less than your own heart.”
He pulled the door open.
“Wait!” Alec cried, jumping off the bed and stopping, a little more than arm’s length away from Magnus.
No. No decisions today. He’d taken in too much. He needed time.
“I…” he huffed and pushed away the feeling that he was a coward for not doing more. He couldn’t be rash, not with so much at stake. “The room across the hall from me was aired out and cleaned pretty recently.” He took a step closer and held up the blanket he’d gotten from the closet earlier. “But it’s a little drafty.”
Magnus gave him a look that Alec couldn’t interpret, but took a step closer and held his arms out to take the blanket.
Alec set it in his hands, leaned in and kissed him, quickly, on the cheek, before pulling back just as quickly. “Magnus, I’m trying.”
Magnus turned back to the door and left, but Alec saw him set his fingers to his cheek before the door closed.
Clary had never been a heavy sleeper. She’d never been the type to hit snooze in order to fight her way back to dreamland, or lounge around in bed. When she opened her eyes in the morning, she was awake and ready for the day.
Even this day.
Even though she was in Jace’s bed.
Even though her clothes— all of her clothes— were on Jace’s floor.
They’d made it to a third kiss outside Jace’s door while still pretending that they nothing was going to happen between them until they had a real live, mundane style date. Jace had even asked her if— when they went out on this date— she would prefer an Italian or Japanese restaurant. But the third kiss had turned into a long, ongoing kiss, and when Jace had put his hand at the back of Clary’s neck she had reached behind him and twisted the door handle to his room.
They’d stepped back through it, pausing only to set the Book of the White on his nightstand before falling onto Jace’s bed, already pulling each other out of their clothes.
Clary opened her eyes.
The first thing she saw was Jace, turned toward her, face slack and an arm heavy on her stomach. She smiled and rocked forward, kissing his unfurrowed forehead quickly before reaching out to his nightstand to make sure the Book of the White was still there. She let out a sigh of relief when her fingers immediately found the soft leather cover. Sweeping her fingers across the cover, she encountered a quickly discarded condom wrapper. A soft trill of happiness bubbled through her, coming out as a laugh.
Jace’s arm tightened around her. “Clary?” he murmured.
“Morning,” she replied.
“Morning.” Jace pulled her into a kiss, and despite her morning breath, Clary let him.
“Ready for today?” Jace asked.
The question made a cold chill run through Clary, like she’d swallowed an ice cube. For the last few weeks, she’d been so focused on saving her mother. Rescuing her from Valentine, and then breaking the spell she’d placed herself under.
But from the moment she’d laid her hands on the Book of the White last night, Clary had finally started to think about what would happen after waking her mother up. And she wasn’t quite ready to face those thoughts yet. Not quite yet.
“Yeah,” said Clary. “I am.”
She moved closer to him, letting her body rest against his own.
“Should we go wake up Magnus?” Jace asked. “Give him the book in case he needs to go over it at all?”
“Do we… know where Magnus is sleeping?” Clary asked carefully. “Cause I saw Izzy drop him off in Alec’s room last night.”
Jace stiffened underneath her, just for a second. “You don’t think Alec…”
“No,” Clary said, remembering how upset Jace had gotten a few days ago when she had been talking without pretending that they didn’t all know Alec was gay. “I just mean that we don’t know where Alec would have sent him after that.”
“Right,” Jace answered. “I… you know, I really, really do not want to go knock on Alec’s door and ask him where Magnus slept. Especially after… whatever the hell was happening in Alec’s room when we got there last night.”
Clary turned, pressing her face to Jace’s bare chest. “You’re right. Let’s just… give everyone a little time this morning.”
“Okay,” Jace agreed. “Should we go get breakfast?”
Clary pushed herself up on her elbows, and pressed a kiss to Jace’s lips. “Yeah. Let’s do that after.”
Clary grinned at him until he grinned back, then kissed him again.
Lydia lifted the coffee to her mouth and breathed deeply before taking a sip. She tried to quit coffee about twice a year, but it never stuck. There was always a late night mission, or a rough morning, or someone walked by her with a cup and she just couldn’t fight the desire anymore.
“Mhmm,” she sighed, before taking another sip. She had fully expected to start drinking coffee again when she came to New York. The Clave had made it very clear that the situation in New York was a mess. And then it had gotten progressively worse the longer Lydia was here.
And then she’d wound up in an arranged marriage, and then she’d mouthed off to the Inquisitor in front of quite a lot of the Clave.
She had, at least, managed to hold off until one of the craziest mornings of her stay here. She’d confirmed last night that her fiancé was attracted only to men, and getting closer to figuring out that he was falling in love with the local warlock. Last night she had all but given him explicit permission to call off the engagement, and now she was just waiting for Alec to wake up so she could find out if he had, in fact, finally chosen Magnus.
Maybe it would have been kinder to have acted like it was something they could have gotten past together. Alec didn’t have any romantic experience, and he knew a lot less about the Clave than he thought he did. It would have been so easy for Lydia to have taken over the conversation and steer it away from the abstractions Alec was wondering about into cold hard facts they could work with. Last night, Lydia so easily could have just taken a napkin and a pen and started outlining some sort of contract. No sleeping with anyone who lives in our Institute. Extra marital relationships have to stay causal, only a set amount of dates would be allowed with any one lover. You can only sleep with Shadowhunters. You can only sleep with Mundanes. You can only sleep with Downworlders.
It would have been easy. And even now, Lydia wasn’t sure if it would have been wrong.
Lydia had been in love before and she’d seen a handful of other shadowhunters fall in love. Those who were lucky enough to find love fell hard. She’d wondered when she saw the way Alec and Magnus acted around each other, and she’d known when she heard the way Alec’s voice changed when he talked about Magnus last night. Saw the way his face changed.
It wasn’t unheard of for Shadowhunters to have affairs with Downworlders. One of the Laws in the Accords allowed part-downworlder or part mundane children to be trained as Shadowhunters as long as their skin could tolerate the runes, but those children never had it easy. Two of the Blackthorn children were half-Faerie and everyone knew it and whispered about it.
Those children were also— universally— bastards. The products of affairs, or indiscretions that took place before, or occasionally between, approved Shadowhunter marriages.
If Alec refused to marry her— or anyone else— in order to give his heart to a male warlock, he would be the first to ever do it. And Lydia had no idea what would happen to him.
But last night she had given him every offer of protection she could. It was up to Alec to decide if love was more important than his career or his legacy. She couldn’t decide for him.
She took another sip and sighed again.
“That good, huh?”
The voice behind her was Alec’s. She turned around to see Alternate Alec, dressed in the polo and khakis he’d been wearing when he first came into their dimension.
“Just needed it that badly,” Lydia answered. “What are you dressed up for?”
Alternate Alec shrugged. “I’m not. Izzy told me that she got a spell from a faerie that will send me home.” He pulled a mug down from the cupboard above the coffee pot. “In my world, that sentence would be about drugs, but here, I’m hoping it means that I finally get to go back to my real life, hopefully at the exact moment I left it. I can’t show up in that moment in all black.”
“Do me a favor?” Lydia said. “Let’s both agree that you didn’t tell me any of that.”
“Because it means Izzy broke a handful of laws. Again. And I don’t have the energy to do anything about it.”
Alternate Alec gave her a thumbs up and took a sip from his own mug. “The coffee here really is very good.”
Lydia nodded in agreement.
“Look… Lids, I have to tell you something. About Alec.”
Lydia laughed mirthlessly. “You probably don’t.”
“No, I have to do this before I go back. Alec is—“
“Gay? Interested in Magnus?” Lydia cut him off. “I know. And he told me, and we went out to talk about it last night.”
She gave Alternate Alec as kind a smile as she could manage as she watched his shoulders lower and his face turn from rigidly set to pinched and confused. She set her hand on his arm. “Look, it’s an arranged marriage.”
Alternate Alec’s face tightened again. “It is… not it was?”
Lydia sighed and moved across the kitchen, to the long table under the windows.
“I know,” She replied, settling herself down into one of the chairs and taking another deep gulp from her mug. “Alec told me last night that you made your feelings about this very clear to him. But this isn’t your world.” She relented, seeing the way Alternate Alec’s jaw clenched up tighter and tighter as she spoke. “And nothing’s set in stone yet. And the only thing I’m totally sure of right now is that Alec and I aren’t going to hurt each other.”
Alec frowned but came to sit with her.
“So what are you going to do?”
Lydia stared down into the surface of her coffee. “I don’t know. And I’m sick of constantly worrying about it. It’s time to just… let things happen.”
Alternate Alec sighed. “Okay.”
“Can I ask you a personal question?”
Alec tugged at the slightly crumpled collar of his polo. “Sure.”
“Do you believe in love at first sight?”
She wondered if it was fair to ask him, or if it even mattered what his answer was. But there was just something about the way Alec had asked her about John last night. Knowing what she had thought when she first saw John had seemed so important to Alec. Even if asking Alternate Alec wasn’t guaranteed to give her the answer she wanted, she still needed to ask.
Which is why it was disappointing when Alternate Alec laughed. Lydia felt herself sink a little.
“I’m sorry,” Alternate Alec said, setting his hand over hers. “No one’s ever asked me that before. I don’t … not exactly.” Lydia watched him drink from his mug, giving himself a moment to think. “I think…I read somewhere you give people seven seconds to make a first impression. And I mean… that’s clearly bullshit, right? Like, you don’t decide to trust, or hire, or avoid from someone that fast. You have to talk to someone to really know anything about them. And you have to really know someone before you can love them. I think…” he cleared his throat. “This is a weirdly sappy conversation, you know.”
Lydia shrugged. “It’s been a weird week. I still want to know the answer.”
Alternate Alec bit his lip. The last traces of his snarky smile faded from his face. “I think you can’t really love someone until you’ve had to forgive them. But… the spark. I believe in the spark.”
“The spark?” asked Lydia.
“Yeah. When someone comes into your life and is suddenly the brightest thing in it. I believe in that.”
“Have you had that?”
“Not for a long time,” Alec told her. “Until the night before I got sent here.”
“Yeah? Who with?”
Alec reached for his phone but stopped. “Uh… there’s a Magnus Bane in my dimension too. We just met.”
Lydia laughed and looked back into her coffee. “Okay. That helps.”
Alec woke up and glanced over at his bedside clock, then sat up and looked again, to make sure he’d read it right. It wasn’t really that much later than he would usually wake up, which seemed insane because he felt almost well rested. Certainly better rested than he had felt since Clary Fray had first shown up at the Institute. Maybe the alcohol or the exhaustion had just made him sleep more deeply than he usually did.
But well rested or not, he didn’t want to get out of bed. Lying here in the dimness of his room was probably going to be all of the peace he got today. Maybe he could pretend to be sick. He could say he had food poisoning and spend at least the first part of the day in bed.
But people would come to see if he was okay. And he’d have nothing to distract himself from the same endless cycle of thoughts about Lydia, Magnus, his marriage. What his options would be if he didn’t get married.
There was also the fact that his duvet smelled like Magnus. When Alec had stayed over at Magnus’s place he had made the mistake of opening Magnus’s medicine cabinet looking for mouthwash. The plethora of hair products, colognes, moisturizers, and makeups had been absolutely shocking. Alec’s entire routine consisted of a little bit of hair pomade, the pointed chemical smell of which was absolutely nothing like the traces of rich, earthy scents that Magnus had left behind in Alec’s bed.
On Alec’s bed.
Alec blushed, alone in his room at the thought.
Last night. Last night had absolutely happened. Magnus in his room, Magnus telling him that hundreds of years of evidence were against his plan working. Magnus telling him that he was willing to take a risk for Alec too.
Magnus accepting the blanket Alec had given him. The powdery feeling of Magnus’s cheek under Alec’s lips.
By the Angel, had he really kissed Magnus on the cheek?
There were such things as sleep runes. Maybe if Alec texted Jace he would stop by and give him a powerful enough one to knock him out until tomorrow.
When he would have all of the same problems. Problems that could go away if he dragged himself out of bed and dealt with them today.
He threw off his blankets and went to his bathroom, where he cleaned himself up for the day as quickly and efficiently as he could manage. He grabbed his pants from yesterday off the floor and had just pulled on a tee shirt when there was a knock at his door.
He knew it would be Magnus before he answered it. Something about the tentativeness of it.
“Oh.” Magnus seemed surprised for a moment when Alec opened the door. “Good. You’re up.”
Alec realized he had been expecting Magnus to still be in his clothes from yesterday, but of course that was ridiculous. The Highwarlock of Brooklyn couldn’t exactly lounge around the Institute in exactly what he’d worn yesterday. He looked weirdly old-fashioned today, in a loose cream-colored shirt and suspenders clipped into very… very tight pants that ended in jarringly modern bright blue sneakers which matched his heavy eye makeup and the blue highlights in his hair.
“I’m up,” Alec said, forcing his eyes away from Magnus’s alarmingly tight pants, which were very tight.
“Good. What do Shadowhunters offer their guests for breakfast?”
It took Alec a second to realize that this question didn’t demand an answer so much as a demonstration. He stepped out into the hallway with Magnus, taking great care to move in front of the warlock. He didn’t have it in him to walk behind Magnus, in those pants, this early in the day, not when he felt like this.
“Let’s go see what we have.”
“Did you sleep alright?” Alec asked Magnus quietly as they made their way down the hallway.
There was something so sweet and careful in his voice. Magnus couldn’t help but answer, “Yes. Thank you.”
It wasn’t completely untrue. He’d been exhausted, and once he’d finally gotten to sleep, he’d slept deeply. But he’d spent a lot of time laying on the rock hard Institute mattress, under the blanket Alec had given him, replaying the feeling of Alec’s chapped lips against his cheek, his conversation with Ragnor, and more of his history with Shadowhunters than he usually liked to remember in the middle of the night.
Ragnor had known him for centuries. He had seen the full circle of everything that happened with Camille, and he was one of the older Warlocks that Magnus knew. They were both fully aware that Warlocks could… calcify. They reached a point where they had just seen the same thing too many times. Magnus’s solution to that feeling had historically been a new country, and usually a new lover. But he was old. He’d been so many places, and after Camille…
He’d suffered harder losses than Camille. People he’d loved and lost. But their relationship had been long and torrid and when she’d broken his heart it had taken years to recover. Loneliness had its own inertia and for decades it had been easier to just keep going.
Until he’d seen Alec in his club, looking so much like Will Herondale and sounding nothing like him at all. Yes, he’d been beautiful, but there was something else to him. Magnus had seen thousands of beautiful boys in the last century, and just as many lovely women, and taken a few of them to bed. But it had been centuries since someone made him stop and look the way Alec Lightwood had when he’d loosed that arrow. And Ragnor knew how to stress the true importance of that feeling.
A week ago, Magnus might have been able to let Alec Lightwood go. Nurse the hurt of being rejected and move on with his immortal life. But now? After talking to Ragnor? After Alec’s clumsy and sincere attempts to be kind last night? Magnus was too far gone to turn back and he knew it. All he could do now was wonder if it would hurt more to see Alec marry Lydia, or to have Alec chose him, and know that he was partly to blame for anything the Clave would do to punish Alec for his choice.
“And you? Did you sleep well?” he asked Alec.
Alec shrugged. “Yeah. Fine. I guess.” He cleared his throat. “I like the blue. In your hair. It’s…”
“Thank you,” Magnus said, interrupting as Alec floundered for a word.
Alec gave him an appreciative smile, and Magnus felt that warm burst in his chest. The one he felt every time Alec smiled at him. Somehow, despite everything that had happened recently, they were back to that strange, innocent morning in Magnus’s kitchen. Sleep ruffled Alec trying to make conversation, without promising too much.
It had been a good starting point.
Magnus was just starting to let himself think sappy thoughts about starting over with clearer eyes when Alec’s soft smile melted away. His mouth went hard, and his broad shoulders hunched up, making him look not unlike an angry crow. His hands, which hand been hanging loosely at his sides, folded behind his back.
Magnus stood up straighter, and turned, moving himself away from Alec as subtely as he could. It hurt, to have Alec close off so instinctually when they’d just been having a moment, but the hurt lessened when Magnus realized what Alec had seen.
She looked furious. Though Magnus had to admit, he’d never seen her look any other way. Maybe she just always looked like that. Like she was trying to pick the perfect words to shout in her clipped, declamatory voice.
“Magnus.” She looked him up and down, her jaw setting harder with every inch of his outfit she took in. She looked, as usual, quite severe in a black pantsuit. “We just paid you to fix the wards. I should hope they don’t require yet another appointment.”
“Good Morning, Maryse,” Magnus said, giving her a broad smile he knew would just annoy her. “I must need a cup of coffee more than I thought. For a moment, it sounded like you were insulting my work.”
Maryse pursed her lips and turned to Alec. “What is he doing here?”
“He’s here to wake up my mother!” A clear voice rang down the hallway.
Clary and Jace were hurtling down the hallway, Clary clutching the Book of the White in her arms. They skidded to a stop between Maryse and Magnus.
Maryse stared down at Clary, and then at the book in her arms. “And how do you intend to pay him for that?” She turned to Magnus. “The Clave is not going to fund Jocelyn Fairchild’s rescue and I won’t have you going around telling people the New York Institute cheated you out of your fee.”
Clary turned nearly as red as her hair and opened her mouth to deliver what may well have been a biting retort if Magnus hadn’t cut her off.
“Jocelyn has been a very loyal client,” Magnus told Maryse. “I’ve agreed to do this for Clarissa on credit. And for the promise of breakfast. And that coffee I mentioned.”
Maryse looked Magnus over again before he eyes moved over Jace and Clary, then her son. “Did he stay here?”
Alec didn’t blush, but something flickered in his face. Magnus couldn’t tell if it was panic or anger.
“We offered him one of the extra rooms,” Jace said, he turned just a little bit, so that he was just a sliver further in front of Alec than in front of Magnus, shielding him from Maryse. “Since we got in so late and were asking him for so much magical assistance.”
“In late from an unsanctioned mission, and magic to aid Valentine’s wife?” Maryse’s voice crept up in volume and pitch. “After everything that has—“
“Lydia approved it,” Alec cut in, silencing his mother. “We’re on our way to make our report to her.”
Maryse’s chest rose and fell in her blazer, and she glared at all of them again before finally settling on Alec. “Tell your fiancé to make sure the warlock signs a Writ of Safe Haven. Something should be done by the book this week.”
She turned to Magnus, and Magnus returned her glare with all the force he could muster. She looked from him to Clary, then stormed down the hall with a huff, her sensible heels click-clacking down the tiled hallway.
“What’s a Writ of Safe Haven?” Clary asked.
“He doesn’t have to sign it,” Alec answered.
With a deep breath, Magnus turned away from the group of young shadowhunters, and started back down the hallway.
“I mean… obviously, we need to offer it to you. Signing it is your choice,” Alec added, catching up to him.
Magnus sighed. “I’ll discuss it with Lydia. It’s a tense time in the Shadow world, we are bringing a very powerful warlock artifact into and back out of the Institute and I am getting myself much deeper into shadowhunter policies than is wise.”
“I don’t know what it is either,” Jace said. “Anyone going to fill us in, or are we all just going to angrily march to breakfast?”
Magnus met Alec’s eyes for a moment before answering. “A Writ of Safe Haven is a form. My signature affirms that I wasn’t held in an Institute against my will. It is also a way for a downworlder to make a formal complaint to the Clave about being imprisoned or tortured inside an Institute. Theoretically.”
“Theoretically,“ Jace repeated last the same moment that Clary said “Tortured?
Magnus sensed the two exchange something, a look or a touch, but neither said anything else as they resumed their walk to the kitchen
Magnus wondered if he would be the first person to sign of writ of safe haven who hadn’t been coerced to do it. Technically, it was required to offer a Writ of Safe Haven to any downworlder who spent more than twelve hours inside of an Institute, or who was enclosed alone in a room inside it for more than two hours. But those rules were almost never followed. Few Institutes would hold a downworlder inside their own walls for that long, particularly unsupervised, without dragging that downworlder right into a prison cell, or down to the City of Bones. Downworlders who had friendly relationships with their local Institutes never asked to sign off on them.
Magnus doubted Alec and Lydia would even know where to find one.
But Maryse had made her point.
Magnus would never really belong here.
Alec hadn’t expected Lydia to be in the kitchen. He hadn’t seen her in there once the entire time she had been in New York.
But of course, after their conversation last night, after the text he’d sent her, today had to be the day he walked into the kitchen, with Magnus next to him to find Lydia and Alternate Alec sitting at the table, having what seemed to be a pleasant conversation.
He watched different reactions slide over Lydia’s face, shock, amusement, and something that looked strangely like pride before her features finally composed themselves into a gently questioning expression.
“Alec. Magnus,” Lydia said with a smile. “Good morning.”
“Good Morning, Miss Branwell, and… whatever they decided to call you,” Magnus said, plastering on a charming smile just as Jace and Clary followed them into the kitchen.
“Alternate Alec,” Clary supplied as she and Jace came into the kitchen behind them.
Clary, Jace, and Magnus all made their way to the coffee machine. Alec stayed by the door, under Lydia’s questioning gaze. Alternate Alec glanced at Lydia, then turned to Alec, his features sliding into an almost identical expression of polite curiosity.
Alec swallowed and shook his head. He got the distinct impression that they were hearing “Not now,” instead of “No, nothing happened,” which is what he wanted to say, but there was no way to do more than shake his head and hope they both dropped it.
Alternate Alec shrugged at him, and leaned back in his chair, glancing over at the coffee machine. Alec followed his gaze and realized that he was looking at Magnus, who was reaching up into the cabinet for a mug with his back… and the back of his very tight pants easily visible from where Alternate Alec sat. Alec turned back to glare at his doppelgänger, who responded with a thumbs up.
Lydia let out a quickly stifled laugh that made it sound like she’d just choked on her coffee.
Alec glared at her too.
Somehow, everyone in the overly full kitchen moved around each other easily, getting bowls and mugs, coffee and cereal. Izzy showed up just as everyone began to crowd around the kitchen table, poured herself a glass of ice water and leaned against the kitchen counter.
Alec wound up between Magnus and Alternate Alec, across from Lydia, listening while Jace, Clary, and Magnus filled them all in on their trip to Ragnor Fell’s to retrieve the Book of the White. Alternate Alec shook his head a lot during this conversation but didn’t ask any questions. Lydia and Magnus discussed the Writ of Safe Haven, wondering aloud if it would be good to have it on file as proof that Magnus was cooperating with the New York Institute against Valentine, or if, after what had happened with Meliorn’s escape and Izzy’s trial, it might not be best to not have anything signed, especially when the New York Institute’s historically friendly relationship with the local heads of downworlder clans was taken into account.
Alec found himself staring down into his increasingly soggy cereal, thinking about that stupid cheek kiss. It’s not what he’d wanted to do. He’d done it to reassure Magnus. He’d done it so that Magnus would understand that Alec hadn’t made a decision yet and didn’t know what he was doing and hadn’t… decided against Magnus.
And also because yesterday had been too weird. Too different. He’d been marching through his life for years and years ignoring or repressing anything that threatened to push him off the path he’d always imagined for himself. Train, work hard. Get married, be assigned an Institute. Have children, train them to be shadowhunters. Work toward holding a prominent position in the Clave. Anytime a thought cropped up in his head that threatened that trajectory, like “The Clave is wrong,” or “that barista was hot” or “it wouldn’t hurt to have one more drink with Magnus”, he’d stopped it. He’d fought his way back to the path.
And now, he was finally letting himself think about what would happen if he just walked off the path and didn’t battle his way back. He was thinking about how he felt about the way Magnus looked with blue streaks in his hair and his body in those pants. He was thinking about the smell of Magnus’s array of products on his blankets. Magnus himself sitting on Alec’s bed. How much he’d wanted to kiss Magnus last night. Twice.
And how hard he had fought to stop himself.
Everyone at that table knew at least some part of what he was struggling with and wanted to help. Wanted the best for him even if they didn’t know how to help him get it.
Why was it Alec’s responsibility to save the Lightwood name anyway? He hadn’t been in the Circle. And the way his mother had looked at Magnus this morning? The fact that she and his father had decided to sell him off in marriage to suck up to the Clave? Why was that the legacy he was being ordered to protect?
“Alec?” Lydia said. Alec glanced up from his cereal and he could tell it wasn’t the first time she’d said his name. She gave him another one of her kind smiles, the ones that made him wish they could get married and be happy the way they’d been told to all their lives.
‘“I’m sorry,” he said.
“It’s fine. I was just saying that I need your help finding a Writ of Safe Harbor while Jace and Clary take Magnus to the library to study the spell. And before Luke and Simon get here, we’ll have to move Jocelyn out of the infirmary and into a bigger room.”
“And Alternate Alec is with me until then,” Isabelle chimed in.
“Perfect,” said Lydia. “Magnus? How much time do you think you’ll need to prepare?”
“Unless I run across something unexpected I should be ready by noon.”
“Okay. A plan,” Clary expelled a sharp breath.
Alec looked up at her, surprised. He recognized that sound, he made it all the time. Clary almost sounded afraid, but she covered it even faster than he usually did, stood up and carried her dishes to the dishwasher, Jace and Izzy falling in behind her, with Alternate Alec quickly joining them.
And leaving Lydia, Magnus and Alec alone in the kitchen.
“I appreciate you agreeing to sign the Writ, Magnus,” said Lydia.
“It’s not a problem,” Magnus replied. He sounded oddly formal. “I’m sure Maryse will appreciate having the proper paperwork completed on a day like today.”
Lydia made a noise between a scoff and a laugh, and Magnus stood up, the Book of the White cradled in one arm.
“Exactly,” Lydia sighed.
“Come get me at noon,” Magnus said. Before he turned to leave, he set his hand to Alec’s shoulder and squeezed it quickly.
Alec watched him walk out the door and watched it close behind him before turning back to Lydia.
“Nothing happened last night,” he whispered.
“I believe you,” Lydia replied.
Alec grabbed his coffee mug and took a sip. It had gone cold. “We… talked a little and he…” Alec shook his head. He was being ridiculous. Lydia was one of the only people he’d ever been completely honest with. He could tell her this. “We talked about the Clave and I gave him one of my blankets and sent him across the hall.”
“And I kissed him on the cheek.”
Lydia laughed. “Okay.” She stood up. “Come on. Let’s go find this stupid Writ, and you can tell me what Magnus told you about the Clave. I’m sure he has a valuable perspective.”
He and Lydia had talked about the Clave so much last night. Laws that had to change. Attitudes they couldn’t keep operating with in the modern world.
They couldn’t be the only ones. It was insane that women couldn’t run Institutes. And the Accords were supposed to mean something. And if Alec could roll his eyes at Izzy sleeping with some Seelie Knight, why couldn’t he forgive himself for liking the way he felt when Magnus smiled at him?
Lydia obviously could.
Maybe the Lightwoods needed a new legacy.
It was so strange to finally be here, Clary thought, looking out over the room where, in just a few moments, she was going to get her mother back and everything was going to be different.
Only a few weeks ago, the only person in this entire room she had really, truly known, was Simon. Her best friend, who had died because he’d gotten wrapped up in this world with her and become a vampire while she’d been too busy hunting down a way to save her mother to even return his calls. And yet, here he was, helping Isabelle and Alternate Alec move tables, so there would be enough room for Magnus’s spell.
Luke was standing with Magnus, watching her mother with the same soft but fierce expression he’d always worn around both of them. An expression that Clary recognized from years and years of seeing it when Luke picked her up from school or agreed to take her and Simon out shopping. But weeks ago, she hadn’t known Luke was a werewolf. She hadn’t known she and her mother were shadowhunters. She hadn’t helped save a Faerie Knight from being unfairly imprisoned. She hadn’t been cashing in favors from Warlocks who looked as young as she was, and had for centuries.
She hadn’t known most of the people here ith her, and now they were helping to rescue her mother. Even Maryse Lightwood, who was standing by a small gathering of shelves that had been moved to one side, glowering at Luke and Jocelyn, and Alternate Alec, who kept glancing over at Simon, clearly disconcerted. They’d sent someone to go get Alec and Lydia, who were presumably still digging through an office somewhere for a Writ of Safe Haven.
Simon set down the huge table he’d been able to pick up and move singlehandedly with his new vampire strength, looked up at her, and came over.
“You okay?” He asked.
She nodded. “Yeah. I am. I just… I think it’s finally hitting me that nothing is ever going to be the same. I’m going to wake my mother up from a spell she cast to protect herself from my father. My real father, not the guy in the picture she kept after that portrait sitting. I’m part of the group that has to go stop my father from destroying a world she never wanted me to know about. I’m covered in Marks she never wanted me to have. I’m dating Jace. I’ve met werewolves and warlocks and Seelies and fought alongside them. I’m going to wake her up and have to tell her that I’m everything she never wanted me to be. And I love it. And I’m furious at her for stopping me.”
Simon nodded. “Wow. Yeah. That’s intense. I hope you got enough coffee this morning.”
Clary scoffed and pretended to shove him away, but he sidestepped her and wrapped his arm around her waist. “She was trying to protect you. Because she loves you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t step out from under that protection, and be who you want to be.”
Clary turned to hug him, eyes clenching shut like they still did when she remembered that he was cold to the touch now, and his cheek felt different against hers and the smell of him was nothing more than the smell of his detergent. “I love you, Simon.”
“Uh, excuse us.”
Clary opened her eyes and found herself looking at Alec’s black tee shirt clad chest, then looked up into his face. His usual expression when he saw Simon, and to a lesser extent her, was unconcealed distaste, but today he just looked tired and thoughtful.
“We’re nearly ready, biscuit,” Magnus said behind her. “If you want to come stand with Luke.”
Clary let go of Simon and the two of them stepped out of the doorway. Clary glanced back, to make sure Magnus was following her to the middle of the room, where her mother was still floating in her glowing cocoon.
He wasn’t following, he was looking at Alec, but only for a moment, before he spun on his heel and walked toward her.
Magnus carefully placed Luke and Clary around Jocelyn’s floating body, but his only instruction to the rest of them had been to give him space.
Alec, his heart still beating erratically after the conversation he’d just had with Lydia in the Institute office, sought out the stretch of wall farthest away from his mother, not noticing until he’d leaned against the brick that it was the same stretch of wall his Alternate self had picked.
“Hey,” Alternate Alec said quietly. “How are you doing?”
Alternate Alec shrugged. “You’re clearly having a rough day. I know I was on your case yesterday, but I’m sure you get why.”
“I do,” Alec said.
Alternate Alec nodded, then smiled. “Magnus looks pretty fucking hot in those clothes,” he whispered.
“I noticed,” Alec replied, in an even quieter voice.
Alternate Alec’s chest shook with held-in laughter.
“Lydia and I broke off our engagement,” Alec whispered. “I’m not sure how to tell people yet.”
“Unapologetically,” Alternate Alec suggested. “That’s always my advice.”
Alec nodded and glanced out over the room. Everyone in it would be glad to hear that he wasn’t marrying Lydia. But, unfortunately, a canceled engagement wasn’t going to deter his mother from finding him someone else to marry. That was a battle he would have to figure out how to fight.
“Hey. I feel like I should tell you something about the Magnus in your dimension,”
“Is it the bi thing? Cause that isn’t an issue for me," replied Alternate Alec.
“No,” Alec answered. “He’s a warlock in your dimension too. He’s immortal and he’s at least three hundred years old, and he can do magic.”
Alternate Alec shook his head with a quiet laugh. “I guess dating’s never simple, huh?”
But before Alec could respond to that, Magnus raised his arms for quiet, opened the Book of the White, and started to work his magic.
The stuffy, electric feeling and the burned sugar smell of powerful magic slowly suffused the room. Alec watched the way Magnus’s fingers danced over Jocelyn’s body. The confidence and precision of every movement. And after surprisingly few words, he watched Jocelyn awake. Luke catch her before she fell. The way Jocelyn melted in relief when she realized she was in Luke’s arms.
He glanced over at his mother as Luke buried his face in Jocelyn’s hair. It wasn't just a hug between friends. That much was clear. And his mother looked angry. Alec’s rising heartbeat flopped and shuddered. You knew that about her, he reminded himself.
Luke set Jocelyn down, and Jocelyn pulled Clary into her arms, squeezing her tightly before letting her go. Jocelyn’s eyes moved over Clary. She saw Clary’s Marks. Saw the seraph blade at Clary’s side. Finally, Jocelyn’s eyes moved around the room, taking all of them in. She paused when she saw Alec’s mother, but turned back to Clary and hugged her again. With all of the Marks Clary had known Jocelyn never wanted her to have, with a weapon Jocelyn had never wanted her to use, in a place, and surrounded by people Jocelyn had never wanted her to know existed.
Then, Jocelyn hugged Magnus, who looked surprised for a moment before composing himself. He said something to Jocelyn, too quiet to hear, and started for the exit.
Alec’s legs were moving before he even realized he’d taken a step. He needed to tell Magnus that he wasn’t engaged. He needed to take his own steps into a world he wasn’t supposed to enter. Magnus stepped out of the room and turned when he heard Alec’s footsteps in the hallway behind him.
“Alec?” Magnus started.
Alec had planned to cut him off, say something about telling Lydia everything that Magnus had told him about changing the Clave. Everything Alternate Alec had said about how the people around Alec would be supportive, even everything he’d overheard the stupid vampire telling Clary about not being obligated to stay who your parents wanted you to be.
But as when he reached Magnus and opened his mouth to speak, his arms were faster. Alec’s right hand swung around Magnus, pressed his hand to the back of Magnus’s neck, and pulled him into a kiss.
There was a moment as Alec pulled Magus in where Magnus pushed back against his hand. Alec let go, and Magnus rocked like a coin on its edge for a split second before falling, weightlessly, against Alec’s lips and Alec’s entire focus narrowed down to the feeling of Magnus’s soft, warm lips against his own.
It wasn’t how he’d imagined it would be. He’d thought he would feel, at best, vulnerable and overwhelmed, with his eyes closed, pressed against someone he’d spent so little time with. At worst, he thought he’d feel awkward and ridiculous, slobbering all over someone who had probably mastered kissing (and everything else) hundreds of years ago. He’d imagined kissing himself into an embarrassed handshake and a curt goodbye more than once.
But this was easy. He and Magnus were pressed together at the lips with the same soft but firm pressure Alec had mastered holding swords and nocking arrows. And powerful, gorgeous, brave Magnus Bane, High Warlock of Brooklyn, was kissing him back. Alec could hear Magnus breathing against his face, feel Magnus’s lips opening under his. Magnus set his hand to the back of Alec’s head, pulling him into a deeper kiss with a sigh.
And that’s where the overwhelming part came in, Alec realized suddenly. In the differenced between allowed and welcomed. Right here in the fucking hallway, he could move even closer to Magnus, he could press the rest of his body against the warlock’s. Magnus was sturdy and muscular under all of his flashy clothes, but Alec thought he could probably still lift him. He suddenly imagined himself hauling Magnus up against the hallway wall, Magnus’s leg’s wrapping around his waist—
Alec pulled back out of the kiss, gasping for air. When he finally opened his eyes, Magnus was staring up at him, stunned. The expression, and the realization that Alec had put it there made Alec grin, and when Magnus’s face also split into a shining smile, Alec couldn’t stop himself from kissing Magnus again.
If he had taken Clary out on a date, Jace reflected, he might have had a better idea of what he should do now. Clary was hugging her mother, with her face buried in Jocelyn’s shoulder, tears evident on both of their cheeks. Luke was standing a little ways off to the side, happily watching their reunion. Even Simon seemed totally at ease running up to Clary and her mother and hugging them both.
It was a side of Clary that Jace didn’t know yet. The struggling mundane girl who had just wanted her mother back. He knew Clary as a tenacious new shadowhunter, who could be brave and ruthless at the same time. Who could outsmart Valentine and dive through a Seelie portal to retrieve the Mortal Cup.
Besides, it was… awkward to just walk up to someone’s mother when they’d outcast themselves from the only society you’d ever known, been married to the man who had somehow wound up raising you disguised as someone else (even when you weren’t related to him at all), and when you’d had sex with their daughter three times in the last twelve hours.
“Jace? Jace come here,” Clary said, waving him over.
Jocelyn let go of an alarmed looking Magnus as Jace approached. The warlock said something to her, too quiet for Jace to hear and headed for the exit.
“Mom, this is Jace,” Clary said, placing her hand at the small of Jace’s back and pushing him forward, toward her mother.
Jocelyn nodded and extended her hand to him. “Herondale?
He gaped at her for a moment before finally shaking her hand. “How did you know?”
“You look so much like Stephen,” she told him. “When he was your—“
“Jocelyn,” Maryse cut her off, appearing next to Jace. “I’m going to have to ask you to come to my office.”
Jocelyn gave Maryse a look that Jace had never seen anyone give Maryse. A fearless but exasperated look. “What are you going to do, Maryse? Arrest me?”
Isabelle, Lydia, and Alternate Alec joined the expanding circle of people at the center of the room.
Maryse, to Jace’s shock, seemed to relax, or at least deflate. “Jocelyn, I’m sure you’ve noticed that you’ve woken up in the middle of an oncoming war with Valentine. You know we need any information you can give us.”
Jocelyn looked like she was going to refuse until Luke set a hand over her shoulder. She nodded and looked from Maryse to the rest of the group. “Maryse, are these your children?” Her eyes settled on Alternate Alec and she gave him a shielded smile. “This can’t be Alexander. He was such chubby baby.”
Jace held in a laugh and Isabelle’s face split into a huge, delighted grin.
Clary cleared her throat. “Umm… that’s actually an Alternate version of Alec from another dimension. He went through a Seelie Portal and hasn’t gotten sucked back to his world yet.”
“Oh,” Jocelyn replied. She glanced at Maryse, who pursed her lips and shook her head in response. “Of course.”
“Sorry,” Alternate Alec responded. “Other Alec is around, though.”
“Come on, I can catch you up— to an extent— in my office.”
Lydia cleared her throat and stepped forward. “My office, Maryse. Where, of course, your own knowledge of Valentine’s last uprising will be helpful and appreciated.”
Jace froze. Across from him, Isabelle froze too.
Maryse blushed, but when Lydia headed out to the hallway, Maryse, Jocelyn and Luke followed her.
Jace, Clary, Isabelle, and Alternate Alec fell in behind them. The group of adults froze as they reached the entrance to the hallway.
“Alec!” Maryse barked.
Jace bolted for the doorway. Alec had been so weird lately, there was no telling what was going on. He could be hurt or there could have been another attack on the Institute—
Or he could be making out with Magnus Bane at the end of the hallway.
Magnus wrapped one arm around Alec’s waist, drawing him even closer. Alec pressed his palm against the wall to steady himself. They should stop. Alec knew they needed to stop. This was already a lot for one day, and if he kept kissing Magnus, he was going to want more. He was already in too far over this head to want more.
He was going to pull away.
One more kiss and he was going to pull away.
Alec’s head snapped up, but his feet stayed firm to the floor for the few seconds it took him to realize he was shielding Magnus, who had probably faced worse than Alec’s irate (but unarmed) mother.
Alec turned to face significantly more people than he had expected.
Jace looked stunned. On either side of him, Isabelle and Clary were grinning broadly. Clary’s vampire friend was giving Alec and Magnus a look that Alec did not care for one bit. Luke and Jocelyn’s faces were very similar expressions of perfectly composed polite interest. Alternate Alec looked like he was trying not to laugh.
Cataloging everyone’s reaction, Alec paused on Lydia’s face. Her eyes were resigned, but one corner of her thin mouth was twisting upward. Just a little.
He finally looked at his mother.
This wasn’t how he’d ever pictured her finding out. He’d only let himself think about it a couple of times. Even in his imagination, trying to talk to her about this, even hint at it, never went well. And there wasn’t exactly any way to spin the tableau he’d let her walk in on.
She looked horrified. She’d frozen with her eyes wide and her mouth still holding a perfect O shape. She’d even gone pale. She stared at Alec for a few more moments, the walked toward where he and Magnus still stood.
Alec felt Magnus stiffen beside him, and the slightest tingle of magic starting to build. But his mother just walked past him, down the hallway. Alec watched her go.
“Okay,” Lydia said, carefully, she turned facing the group behind her as well as Alec and Magnus. “So… Alec and I went out last night and had a long conversation and this morning we called off the engagement.”
“You called off the engagement?” Magnus asked, setting his hand to Alec’s side in a way that felt strangely intimate in front of so many people, despite how they had been found.
“Come on, man,” Alternate Alec huffed at the back of the group. “You didn’t lead with that?”
“And,” Lydia said loudly. “That’s not what’s important right now. If everyone could please follow me to my office, so we can get back to, you know, saving the world?”
Lydia moved down the hall, just past Alec and Magnus and made a beckoning gesture. “That means you guys as well. It’s not my fault you made it awkward,” she finished with a hint of a smirk.
Alec let Jocelyn and Luke pass before falling in with his siblings, Magnus at his side.
“I’m proud of you, Alec,” Isabelle told him quietly, while Jace slapped him on the back. The relief that flooded Alec’s body surprised him. He’d known they knew, but it was still good to have them react this way. It was easier to think that things were going to be okay.
Alternate Alec maneuvered himself onto Magnus’s other side. It was the least annoyed Alec had ever been to see him.
“Congrats, guys,” he said. “Especially you, Alec.”
Alternate Alec smiled at him. “So, not to rain on the big moment here, but there was supposed to be talk about a spell for me today. As I understand it, Izzy was supposed to have one that would send me home. So that I wouldn’t have to be here anymore.” His smile grew forced. “Cause all of you really are starting to grow on me, but goddamn do I ever hate it here. Your world is terrible.”
Magnus set his fingers to Alternate Alec’s forearm. “Izzy gave me the spell. I have nearly everything. We’ll talk about it before the day is over. We’ll get you home.”
“Thank you,” Alternate Alec said.
Alec was pretty sure he heard Magnus whisper “No, thank you,” back, but he couldn’t be sure over the sound of the blood rushing in his ears. His mother was almost certainly going off to find his father. She’d tell him what happened, and then everyone important to him would know the truth. His parents would fight to cover it up. They’d try to find him some sweet sheltered Idris girl who wouldn’t understand and try to force him to marry her.
And he wouldn’t let them. Wouldn’t let them force him to pretend he was someone else. Wouldn’t let them try to stop him from being with Magnus. And Jace, Lydia, Isabelle and Clary were going to help him.
He’d picked the absolute hardest way to try and change the world around him. But he was going to fucking change it.
He reached down and squeezed Magnus’s hand quickly.
They were all going to change it.
Alec stopped at the door to Lydia’s office and let the whole crew of these strange and familiar people stream past. The Jace who made him sad and the girl Alec had helped him be with in his short stay here. The girl who it turned out was a bad-ass leader in every dimension. The girl his sister may have become if her confidence had manifested a little differently. The vampire version of his sister’s boyfriend, who he honestly would have preferred never to have met, because there was something unsettlingly hot about Vampire Simon.
And finally, an extreme version of the guy he wished he’d been able to call days ago, and a version of himself he thought, if he stayed here a little longer, he might actually recognize. Even like.
“I’m gonna go back to my room,” Alec told Other Alec. “I was up late trying to sabotage your marriage. I could use a nap before I go home.”
“We’re not supposed to let you wander around the Institute alone,” Other Alec told him.
Alec shrugged. “I think after you made out with a warlock and cast a spell to take Clary’s renegade mom out of her weird magic cocoon, no one is going to notice an extra version of you walking back to his room to lay down.”
Other Alec looked like he wanted to argue, but stopped. “Okay. But… just go directly to your room.”
Alec put his right hand over his heart. “I swear.”
Alec waited for the door to close behind Other Alec. He was already walking down the hallway, away from the dormitory wing, by the time he heard the latch click shut.
He opened the doors to several empty rooms before he finally found Maryse’s office. She was sitting behind a large mahogany desk holding a very full glass of wine. She gasped when the door opened, but then she saw him, and her features settled into even harsher lines than he’d ever seen on his own mother’s face.
Belatedly, Alec noticed the rack of swords behind her and some sort of decorative dagger display on the wall. He’d forgotten that this world’s version of Maryse was much more formidable than his own when he’d decided to go talk to her. But a couple months ago he’d convinced the extremely crotchety head of a bank branch to give him a five thousand dollar donation while Security was actively throwing him out of the building. He’d shaken the guy’s hand while being fireman carried out of the office by a three hundred pound red head who looked like an extra on Game of Thrones.
So, under Maryse’s vicious glare, Alec walked into the office, let the door close behind him, and sat on the couch in front of her desk.
She watched him sit down and took a gulp from her wine glass.
“You are the last fucking thing I wanted to see today,” Maryse declared, glaring at him over her very full wine glass.
Alec arranged his face into the aggravatingly pleasant smile he saved for old-lady-racists and pin-stripe-suit-homophobes.
“Ah,” he said. “You do sound just like my mother.”
“I have my work cut out for me undoing the damage you’ve caused, Mundane,” replied Maryse, opening a folder on her desk. “And we have nothing to say to each other.”
“But I have plenty to say to you,” Alec replied, fake smile still firmly in place. He anchored himself on that smile like he’d done plenty of times before. This Maryse was not his mother, there was a very careful line to be walked here. If he went over it, he’d just arm her against himself.
Maryse didn’t look back up at him. Instead, she started flipping through papers with one hand, her wine glass still held in the other.
Alec leaned back on her couch and heaved his feet up on top of it. “In my dimension, I haven’t lived with you since I was six. My father took Izzy and I to live with our grandmother, and we just saw you on weekends. As a kid, I just figured you loved your weirdo church more than you loved us. As an adult, I’m starting to wonder if there wasn’t some court ordered therapy at play. Drug testing. Cult deprogramming. Something like that. Maybe all of the above. You really don’t function well without some kind of higher power telling you how to think.”
Alec scooted down on the couch, throwing an arm behind his head and sneaking a glance at Maryse out of the corner of his eye. She was still looking over her papers and holding her wine, doing her best to pretend he wasn’t there.
He went on. “Children of divorce can officially decide who to live with when they’re twelve. I chose to live with Dad, but I kept going to your apartment every weekend with Izzy so that she wouldn’t have to stay with you alone because you said horrible things to her when I wasn’t around. About her clothes, about her thing for computers. Just, really bullshit petty insults. I think you were taking the fact that Dad fell in love with someone else out on us.”
Alec heard a paper slip and flutter across the desk. He kept going. “Izzy’s a genius, you know. In my dimension, she graduated college at nineteen and now she’s the Head Developer for a company that basically invented a new type of internet. Head hunters— for jobs, not actual heads— send her fruit baskets and nice champagne with job offers. She’s just starting to get you to understand what a big deal that is. It’s not what you pictured her doing.”
Glancing over at Maryse, he saw that she had composed herself, but the level of her wine glass was noticeably lower. “And me? Man, oh, man am I not what you pictured. Even as crazy as you got, you were still a New York mother. You wanted me to be a Doctor or a Lawyer. Doctor or a Lawyer. You never really mentioned how you expected me to pay for that much college, but you never gave up on either of those things. You think what I do now is basically begging.”
“Mundanes are so interested in their feelings,” Maryse sighed. “It’s amazing how they can’t seem to grasp that no one else cares.”
Alec suppressed a grin. He was getting to her. “Let’s see… how else have I disappointed my version of you? Oh, you wanted me to go to Princeton. I went to NYU. And what else…. What… else….?”
He looked over at her again. He could see the wine splashing against the sides of the glass in her quaking grip.
“Oh, right. The gay thing. You found out when I was seventeen. I told Izzy when I was thirteen, I officially told Jace when I was fourteen, but I knew he already knew. Oh, and then my stepmom. I had to tell her just before I turned fifteen. I was trying to go to urgent care, but they wouldn’t treat me without a parent or guardian’s signature. I’d made a couple bad decisions about boys, and my panicked late night google search made me think that I had gonorrhea of the throat. It turns out it was just strep, but before I learned that, I’d already told Annamarie all about why I’d thought it was gonorrhea.”
Somewhere between Annamarie, and the second repetition of gonorrhea, Alec had heard Maryse set the wine glass down way too hard. Hard enough that he was surprised she hadn’t broken the stem.
“And then I told Dad a few months later. I never really planned to tell you. It didn’t seem worth the headache. But you were on a motherly kick and you actually came to a track meet. My high school boyfriend, Eddie, was also at the meet. You saw him kiss me before I saw you.”
“And what did I do?” Maryse demanded.
Alec paused. She sounded angrier and less hurt than he’d been going for. “You tried to play nice with us, for a little while,” Alec said. “But then as soon as Eddie went to go talk to someone else you lit into me. You’re being ridiculous, you’re putting yourself in danger. You’re making it harder for yourself to find a good job, you’ll never get married, you’ll never have kids.”
“I suppose you didn’t listen to any of that?” Maryse asked. Alec heard the wine glass slide across the wood again. “With that poor Mundane woman just trying to make you see sense?”
“No. I told you I didn’t care what you thought and to go fuck yourself.”
There was a sharp intake of breath from across the room. “I suppose that’s how Mundanes talk to their mothers.”
“You were barely my mother when I was seventeen. Besides. It worked out just fine for me. Annamarie was so angry with you that she extended my curfew an hour and a half and Eddie and I drove out to this spot outside the city and had really spectacular sex under the stars.”
The wine glass tinked against the wood again. “Why are you here, Mundane?”
Alec sat up. “My name isn’t Mundane. It’s Alec. And you know why I’m here. Let’s skip the part where we dance around it. I’m here, because I’m so much more like your son that you could admit, and you’re more like my mother than I was hoping. I’m here to be a goddamn neon sign. In my reality— I don’t hate you anymore— but I don’t really feel anything else for you either. I haven’t spoken to you in months. You don’t even know where I live. And you know what? I don’t really care.” He stood up and walked toward the desk.
“But here? You didn’t need your stupid church because you have all this Shadow hunting nonsense. The Alec here is part of all that, and here it’s not imaginary. You and the Alec here have something in common. And he’s never hated you. But he’s also never had Annamarie Highsmith around to love him the way a real mother should.”
At the mention of his stepmother’s full name, Maryse finally met his eyes.
“I know Alec because he’s me. And I know you because I’ve spent enough time pinpointing all the ways you fucked me up. I am the worst case scenario of what you and Alec’s relationship can be like. So I’m here to tell you that from what I can tell— you may still have a chance to not fuck up. And hey— You’re still just Maryse Lightwood— maybe fucking this up is just in your nature. But this dimension’s poor goody-two-shoes Alec is going to give you every chance to prove yourself. You could at least try to deserve it.”
Alec reached out and took her wine glass of the desk. He threw back a big gulp, set it back down and walked back out Maryse’s door.
He made it most of the way back to his room before he started shaking.
In reality, the meeting in Lydia’s office couldn’t have been longer than half and hour, but it had felt endless to Alec. He knew it was his duty to be there, getting all the information Jocelyn could give them about Valentine, but a lot of it was stuff they’d already figured out while she was asleep, and Jocelyn was, understandably, reluctant to discuss how she’d kept under the Clave’s radar for so may years. The “new” information she could provide was mostly about what she and Luke and done during the Uprising, and even that was information that Alec’s parents were probably entirely aware of.
It was so hard to sit still and focus on Jocelyn’s voice when Alec so desperately wanted to do so many things at once. He wanted to talk to Jace and Isabelle, get a little more reassurance from them that everything would be okay now that everything was out in the open. He wanted to pull Lydia aside, and apologize for forcing her to announce that their engagement was over in such an awkward way. While Jocelyn spoke, Alec realized that his father had no idea what was going on, and that it might make his life easier if he found his father before his mother did, and got to explain what was happening his way.
His mother. Going and taking to her was only going to get harder the longer he put it off. Especially if she got to his father before he did.
Most aggravatingly, he wanted to go talk to Alternate Alec, and thank him for stomping into his life and destroying all of the walls and barriers that Alec had so carefully constructed.
And wanting to do so many things at once just made him want to drag Magnus to his bedroom, and get lost in kissing him again.
It was a relief when the meeting ended and Lydia’s office started to empty out. Clary, Luke, Jocelyn, and Simon all left to have lunch at Luke’s apartment. Alec was pretty sure only he saw the sadness on Jocelyn’s face while Luke assured Simon that the blinds in his apartment would keep out the sunlight.
Lydia told the rest of them to leave so she could finally catch up on some of the work that had been neglected during the whirlwind of the last few days.
Jace, Isabelle, and Magnus stepped outside after this pronouncement, but Alec hung back.
“I’m sorry,” he told Lydia as the door closed behind Magnus and his siblings. “I didn’t mean to embarrass you back there I just—“
“Finally let loose?” Lydia asked with a gentle grin. “It’s okay, Alec. You deserve to be happy.”
Alec wasn’t sure how to respond to that. He nodded and started rubbing his palm. “So, what are you going to do next?”
Lydia shrugged. “I’m not sure. The Meliorn issue has been put to rest, Isabelle’s trial was resolved, and the Mortal Cup was recovered. If I’m not marrying you and preparing to take over this Institute… I don’t know. Maybe I should go back to Idris. Find a more,”—she looked up at him with a rye smile—“Eligible bachelor.”
“Alec, The Clave—“
“—Is going to be suspicious of my family for a at least another generation after everything that’s happened. It’s not like they’ll be clamoring to get you back to Idris so they can put a bow on the Institute and hand it back to my parents. And besides— we have Valentine’s daughter. His wife. His adopted son. You think he’s not coming after us in this war?”
Lydia rolled her eyes. “Oh, gee, who could resist being in the center of a war between shadowhunters?”
“Lydia,” Alec grabbed her hand. “The Law is hard, and the Clave is fallible. And desperate to cover that up. We’ve talked about working together to reform the Clave? You and I both know one of the best ways to do that is to lead the fight against Valentine. If we find Valentine? Hurt him? Defeat him, even? The Clave will reward us. It happens all the time. Stay here. Fight with us.”
Lydia bit her lip. “I don’t know, Alec.”
“Please, Lydia,” Alec said. “We would all love it if you stayed.”
She retrieved her hand from Alec’s grip. “I’ll think about it.”
“Now, get out. I really do have work to do.”
Alec laughed. “Okay. Thanks.”
Isabelle, Jace and Magnus were waiting for him in the hall. Alec couldn’t prove it, but he had a feeling that at least one of them had been listening at the door.
Isabelle smiled at him, then took Jace’s arm and gestured between Alec and Magnus. “We should let you two go talk.”
Alec’s newfound reckless side watched Isabelle pull Jace a few steps down the hallway, and indulged in a few seconds of fantasy about bringing Magnus back to his room, carving the biggest soundless rune and the strongest locking rune he could manage into the door and spending at least an hour making up for every time he’d wanted to touch Magnus and hadn’t.
But his annoying, responsible nature won out.
“Wait,” Alec sighed, holding up a hand to stop Jace and Isabelle. “Izzy, I actually think you and Magnus should go talk about the spell to send Alternate Alec home. I… I owe him.”
Magnus reached out and squeezed Alec’s elbow. “Agreed. We both do.”
“Right.” Isabelle nodded. “It’s locked in my room.”
Magnus nodded and walked toward her. Isabelle let go of Jace and took Magnus’s arm instead.
“We’ll text you when we’re ready,” she said.
Magnus smiled at Alec as Isabelle lead him away, and Jace leaned back against the hallway wall and let out a long sigh.
“It’s been a hell of a day, huh?”
Alec laughed. “Yeah. You could say that.”
Jace punched Alec in the arm, fraternally. “I’m happy for you. And I know how Maryse can get, but we’re all on your side here.”
“I know,” Alec said. “Thanks.”
“So… what now?” Jace asked.
Alec let out a sound that was more of a laugh than a yelp of panic, but not by much. “I have no fucking clue. I’ve never actually let myself imagine getting this far. Umm… Magnus asked me out on a date a couple weeks ago. We were going to go get a drink. I guess we could go do that.”
“Weeks ago?” Jace demanded.
“Yeah. And then Clary ran off with the Mundane and got kidnapped by werewolves. So I couldn’t go.”
Jace nodded. “Jocelyn is going to hate me, isn’t she?”
The statement hung there between them for a few moments before Jace followed up with, “Sorry. Sorry. I know that’s nothing compared to—“
“It’s fine,” Alec cut him off. “It’s not a competition. Um. Luke likes me. I can put in a good word. I get the feeling that Luke’s approval will carry a lot of weight with Jocelyn.”
“Thanks, man,” Jace replied. “I wish I could do something to help you with our parents.”
Alec shrugged again. “Our parents have hated Magnus since before you and I were born. And he and I… well. That’s a long term problem I guess.”
“Long term problem,” Jace repeated solemnly.
Alec sighed. “Yeah. I think so. I, uh, I’m gonna go check in with Alternate Alec. Let him know that we’re working on sending him home.”
“Alright. Well. I hope after we send him back to his world you and Magnus get a chance to go get that drink.”
The two of them parted ways, and Alec headed for Alternate Alec’s room. But about halfway there, something occurred to him.
A quick detour was in order.
Alec lay still on the bed he’d been sleeping in for the last week. It was chilly in the stone room. He’d slipped one of the hoodies Other Alec had leant him on over his polo. He was going through his bag, making sure he had everything. His phone, his charger, his day planner. He’d never believed in the “power of positive thinking”, but he definitely believed in being prepared for an opportunity.
He was packing to prepare for the opportunity to go home. And going home suddenly seemed so much more important than it had before. He felt like he’d done his part here. He’d helped his poor closeted Alternate self smooch a sexy magic man in front of everyone he knew. He’d freed a mellower version of his best friend from a loveless marriage, hopefully sending her off to embrace her full badass identity. He wasn’t sure exactly why this world’s Isabelle had needed to know about Annamarie Highsmith, or the that she was happy and in love with Simon, but he knew any version of Isabelle well enough to know that here, in this dimension, whatever he’d said to her had helped to unknot something in her. Lift some ingrained misery.
And his talk with Maryse? Accosting her about their toxic relationship and telling her where to shove her chronic, undeserved disappointment in him? He’d never realized how badly he’d needed that. And now it felt like a practice run. He was going to go home and tell the real Maryse the same thing, because now he knew he could do it. And either she would hear him, and started working on her shit, or he’d free himself up for the next few decades of Easter Sundays.
And he’d seen himself— the stodgiest, most rigid possible iteration of himself— take a risk and fall in love again. He’d seen his “spark theory” pass a more rigorous test than he could have imagined. Now, he wanted to go home and get that for himself.
Oh, and of course, he’d also subjected this world to Clary and Jace’s inability to keep their hands off each other for more than a couple of hours at a time, which made it as good a time as any to get the fuck out of here.
There was a knock at the door.
“Come in,” Alec called.
Other Alec opened the door, stepped inside and shut it behind him. He looked surprisingly different than he had yesterday. He was standing up straight. His face wasn’t so pinched in. He looked good. Alec smiled at him, and wished, for just a second, that he could stay long enough to teach his gloomy, rune-covered double how to wear pastels.
“What can I help you with?”
“I just stopped in to talk to you,” Other Alec replied. “Thank you, actually.”
Alec laughed. “You’re welcome. I would destroy your sham marriage and push you into the arms of a hot wizard any day.”
Other Alec rolled his eyes but smiled. “Can I sit down?”
Alec scooted over to give him room on the mattress. Other Alec arranged himself on the edge so that they were facing each other.
“So… since you got here, Clary and Lydia and Jace and I have all been in meetings about you. Debriefings. About your dimension and you and… you know. Whatever.”
“Right. Cause… Clary and Jace were in my world. That’s how you know that the Magnus is my dimension is a warlock?”
“Right,” Other Alec replied. “So… I know there aren’t demons in your world, but.. If there are warlocks, then there must have been demons once, so you probably still have vampires. Werewolves are sort of their own thing and who can tell with Seelies, but it sounds like shadowhunt—“
“Where are you going with this, Alec?”
To his surprise, Other Alec dug a hand into his pocket and pulled out a small, milkwhite stone. “Here. Take this.”
Alec raised an eyebrow at his doppelganger's offering but reached out to take it. “This is a very weird souvenir.”
Other Alec didn’t respond, just watched the stone in Alec’s hand. To Alec’s surprise, it started to glow. Faint and flickering at first, then stronger and stronger, until it shone in Alec’s palm.
“What is this?”
“It’s a witch light,” Other Alec replied. “You need an Angelic heritage to operate it. You have Angel blood.”
Alec laughed. “Good for me.”
“It means your skin can tolerate runes.” Other Alec drew up the sleeve on his tee shirt and turned his arm back and forth, letting Alec see the black marks and pink and white scars that ran up and down his skin. “They give us powers. Better hearing. Sight. Speed. They can help protect us from fire and poison. Help heal wounds.” Other Alec pointed to the huge mark on his neck, the most obvious indicator of which of them belonged in this dimension. “This one is a deflect rune. It deflects sword thrusts, arrows—”
“Awkward questions?” Alec suggested. “Undue scrutiny?”
Other Alec laughed again. “Maybe.” He pointed to a mark on his upper bicep. “This is the first Mark a shadowhunter gets. It’s a voyance rune. It helps you peel back glamors. See the Shadow World.”
“Okay,” Alec answered, peering at the scar on Other Alec’s shoulder. A sort of stylized eye. It wasn’t much, lost among all the lines and curls that ran across Other Alec’s skin, but up close it was kind of cool looking.
“Do you want one?” Alternate Alec asked.
“A voyance rune?”
Other Alec pulled something that looked very much like a magic wand out of his pocket. Alec remembered watching Isabelle burn something onto her thigh so she could hear Clary and Jace talking through the door.
“Yeah. A little one. You can light up the witch light. So it would be safe to give you one. And… without it… you may not be able to see parts of your Magnus’s world.”
Alec looked at his Alternate self. It was weird not to be glared at. “Can I ask you something?”
Other Alec nodded.
“When you saw Magnus for the first time— what was it like?”
Other Alec burst out laughing. A real, deep laugh. Alec got the impression it had been a very long time since he’d laughed like that.
“I umm… I keep asking people a question a lot like that,” he said, after a couple deep breaths. “And I… just… I was mesmerized. We were in the middle of a battle and I just couldn’t look away from him.”
Alec nodded. Yes. That’s what The Spark was all about. And he may not believe in positive thinking or the story of Easter, but he believed in The Spark.
“So… you burn this mark onto my skin and I’m going to be able to see monsters and stuff?”
Other Alec shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t think there are a ton of monsters in your world. Magic. You’ll be able to see magic. And I mean… I’ll draw it small. If you don’t want to see the shadow world anymore you just have to disfigure it. It’ll hurt, but the power will go away.”
“I waxed my chest for two years. I think I can cut up a little tattoo if I need too.”
“You did what to your chest?” Other Alec asked.
“Don’t worry about it.”
He looked down at himself, trying to imagine the best place for a little magic eye Mark on his skin. Finally, he pulled up his shirt, tapping a spot on his hip. “Okay. Right here. Angel magic me up.”
Other Alec set the wand to his skin and started to draw.
They waited to do the spell until Clary got back to the Institute. She’d wanted to say goodbye.
Strangely, as much as he wanted to go home, Alec found himself a little reluctant to leave all these people. But he had a life waiting for him, and they had a reality to get back to.
Down in the basement where he’d first crossed over, he hugged all of them in turn, except Magnus. Some element of the Seelie magic made him untouchable until the spell was complete. Instead, Magnus smiled at him, and asked him to step inside a chalk circle, decorated with strange markings that looked a little bit like leaves. Once Alec stepped into the circle, the room full of people blurred, as though they were standing on the other side of a gently fogged window. The Mark on his hip, a little smaller than his palm and inky black, tingled as he passed over the chalk line.
He could hear Magnus’s deep voice chanting in a language he didn’t understand. Alec’s fingertips started to tingle, and the strange, almost numbing sensation ran up his arms. It was a little like when he’d unplugged his microwave, accidentally grabbed the tongs and electrocuted his right arm, but not painful. It was more like a pins and needles feeling, rushing up his fingers, then his legs. The room around him, and its inhabitants, started to grow fuzzy and purple around the edges. Other Alec raised his hand, as though he was hailing a cab, and Alec echoed the gesture with a smile.
Then, with a pulse and a flash of purple light, they were all gone. The greenish witchlight brightened into the harsh glare of fluorescent lighting, and the magic smell fell away, replaced by the utterly normal smell of dust and damp basement.
“Did you find your phone?” Izzy’s voice called out to him. “Or do you need to me to call it again? Cause I really don’t want to do the thing with you where you spiral and decide that it got stolen.”
“No, I found it!” Alec called back. He tapped his fingers against the phone in his pocket, just in case, and looked at the wall. It looked solid and normal and not at all like a portal into a world full of demons and sexual repression. He still took a big step back from it. He lifted his shirt. The Mark was still there.
“Alec?” Izzy said.
Alec turned to see his sister standing under the stone archway that lead back out into the main room of the Institute Basement. She had one hand on her hip and was giving him a very strange look. Alec took in her herringbone braid, ugly jeans, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Tee shirt and big glasses, then darted forward to hug her.
Izzy sighed and patted him on the back. “You’re so weird about your phone. I’m starting to think you have a problem.”
Alec laughed and squeezed her a little tighter. “No. I just…” he sighed. “You are perfect and wonderful and I’m glad you’re my sister.”
Izzy raised and eyebrow and smirked at him. “You’re not bad yourself.” She looked at him a little closer. “Oh. You got a text from that boy from last night, didn’t you? That’s what all the weirdness is about?”
Alec opened his mouth to answer but closed it. Izzy wouldn’t understand. She was a scientist. The only thing that could possibly come out of telling her what had happened to him was her setting up shop in this basement and doing experiments on the wall until she got sucked into a world where she wore lipstick and spandex.
Jace would probably believe him if Alec brought it up in the right way. And showed him the stone. And the Mark.
Alec shook his head. “No, I didn’t get a text from that boy.” It felt weird to call him a boy when Alec knew now that he was immortal. And magical. And apparently half demon. “Magnus. His name is Magnus.”
“Okay,” Izzy said. “Good. Because you’re supposed to wait three days to text a guy.”
The thought of waiting that long to talk to Magnus made Alec’s stomach drop. It’s already been a week and something about the way the other dimension’s Magnus and Alec looked at each other… Alec didn’t want to wait three more days to go after that.
He scoffed. “Your antiquated heterosexual dating norms cannot control me. I’m gonna call him.”
“Now?” Izzy asked.
“Yeah, as soon as I leave the Institute.”
Isabelle rolled her eyes and Alec rolled his eyes back. “Simon called you later in the day when you met him.”
“That was different,” Isabelle said. “He needed help with his computer.”
“His space key was stuck on a biscotti crumb. It wasn’t even a good excuse to see you.”
Isabelle smiled. “Well. Fine. Go call him. Just don’t come on too strong.”
“I never come on too strong.”
Isabelle just turned around and started walking back up to the main office. She ushered Alec out of the Institute after a hug and a reminder that they were supposed to go out for dinner with their parents.
“Don’t invite Magnus to dinner with our folks,” she said sternly. “He’ll think you’re a lunatic.”
“I know,” Alec huffed. “I’m bold, I’m not insane. I’ll see you later.”
He was already pulling up his contact list as he walked away from the Institute and he was listening to the phone ring as he reached the Institute’s outer gate.
One ring before the line picked up.
He sounded so different from the other dimension’s calm, glittering Magnus. He sounded younger, with just that touch of awkwardness that Alec loved in a guy.
“Hey,” Alec said softly.
“I… didn’t expect to hear from you so soon. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad. I wanted to hear from you just… didn’t there… didn’t there used to be some sort of three day rule?”
Alec laughed. “Well. What can I say? I’m a rebel.”
Magnus laughed too.
“So… listen. Something… a little nuts happened to me this morning and I feel like it’s a story you’d appreciate.”
“I was hoping I could tell you over brunch,” Alec replied.
The line went quiet for a moment. Maybe he’d left his charm back in the other dimension.
“Okay,” Magnus replied. He sounded a little breathless. “There’s a place on forty-sixth that makes Swedish pancakes with lemon curd and raspberry compote. I could meet you there.”
“That sounds magical,” Alec responded. It wasn’t an adjective he would ever use normally. It popped out of him completely unbidden and left a moment of dead air in its wake.
Finally, Magnus cleared his throat. “I could meet you there in half an hour?”
“That sounds perfect.”
“Okay, half and hour it is.”
Alec slipped his phone into his pocket and started heading to the subway. He was going to tell Magnus about his week in an alternate dimension full of demons, and vampires and werewolves and shadowhunters. And warlocks.
And he was going to do it during a first date.
A brunch date.
Hours after meeting Magnus for the first time.
Bold may have been an understatement if it weren’t for one thing: Alec had seen the way this was going to work out. He’d seen the way Other Alec and Other Magnus looked at each other. He’d seen them fight their way toward each other over way more bullshit that there was between him and the Magnus in this dimension. A week in another world, and Alec had learned the truth about the magic that still clung to the corners of his own world.
Magnus Bane was going to change his life. And he couldn’t wait.