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Truth's Shadow

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Truth’s Shadow

 

..::Part I: Accelerando::..

 

~Chapter 01~

 

            The sun shone bright, its rays reaching farther beyond the horizon, creating a dark contrast between that which the light touched and that which was shielded from it. All around buildings with peeked roofs and stained glassed windows stood tall and proud. The old, gray, cracked stones that formed the foundation of the building were laced with dead ivy plant, making the place look as old as it actually was. Yet, the city still seemed strong; the age not taking away its brilliant glory. There was no doubt that those stone walls could still endure twice the number of years it had stood.

            The trees were frozen in an eternal spring; its vibrant flowers had been blooming since the beginning of times, and they would continue bloom two eternities from now. There were greens and blues and purples and pinks and whites in the garden; and every time the wind blew petals would fly through the air in a magical dance. The petals were never ending, no matter how many fell, more seemed to grow in their place almost instantly.

            Once feathers as colorful as these petals would have been seen all around Alicante; the laughter of its citizens bringing warmth, peace, and comfort to those around. Alas, times have changed, and the streets of the proud city now stood empty, their crystal flooring reflecting nothing but the low mist that never seemed to quite fade. Alicante was no home; the sacred realm of Idris had now but three purposes: a military base, the station for The Clave, and temporary quarters for those who had been severely injured in the War. No Shadowhunter, given the choice, would spend the little spare time they had in the city. What was once a sight of beauty, capable of only being described by the masters of prose, now seemed to create the perfect harmony between the sinister and the melancholic.

            Even the mystical sound of the bells could not diminish the somber tension inside the Court. The judge sat proudly on his bench, looking at the chained man with subdued rage. To his right stood the Silent Brothers; Shadowhunters from The Clave that had left the building to watch the trial. To his left, a man and a woman, both dark of hair, belonging to the same Shadowhunting Branch, looked at the man being accused of the most horrendous crime a Shadowhunter could possibly commit with cold and almost emotionless eyes; though if one looked deep enough, it was possible to see disgust and betrayal.

            Isabelle, also dark of hair, tried her best to stay composed, though she could not completely duplicate Maryse’s, her former teacher, strong and yet graceful stance; for although Isabelle had been considered a fully-fledged and initiated Shadowhunter for centuries, the other female Shadowhunter still had many years of experience that the, still young for their people, girl would need to wait to acquire. Still, she tried her best to look professional, determined not to allow anyone to look down at her just because she was the youngest in the room. She was a Shadowhunter of the Lightwood Branch, a fine warrior who had never failed a mission, or allowed any harm to come to her Charges. As such, she deserved all the respect they could give.

And so, Isabelle looked straight to the judge’s eyes, her voice detailing word for word what she had witnessed; no doubt a repeat of what Jace had already testified. She glance down, for less than a second after her story was finished, and was able to catch some of her pink aura  through the mist as it was reflected in the crystal floor. It had been at least three decades since she last saw her own complete reflection in a mundane mirror, and even longer, far longer, since she saw it through the ever brilliant grounds of Alicante. Back then the sacred realm could still be called a home, and Isabelle was young and naïve, thinking that nothing, not even the laws that bound her kind, could stop Shadowhunters from living the perfect eternal life. Back then Jace, Alec, and herself would jest around the yards, laughing and boasting about the demons they had killed.

            Now it was all but a faded memory, as elusive as the mist that twirled around her ankles.

            She stepped back and looked at Jace’s golden orbs. Like her, he seemed unease, eager to leave this place and do something… Anything. Yet he also desired to be seen with the respect and dignity, for not only was he an incredibly talented Shadowhunter, he was the last of the Wayland Branch, most of his kin lost to the War. He tried his best not to shift his weight from one foot to the other, though that only resulted in his restlessness being released through nervous fingers that moved nonstop, as if trying to grasp an invisible sword. Both wanted to leave at that moment, yet neither dared to do so before such order was given. That was, after all, what was expected of a respectable and competent soldier… Of a Shadowhunter.

            “Due to the evidence provided by Isabelle of the Shadowhunter Lightwood Branch, and Jace of the Shadowhunter Wayland Branch, I find the accused guilty of the highest treason possible.” His voice rang loud, echoing through the building like the bells of minutes ago “For multiple interactions with the Downworlder enemies and the attempt to end the life of you Charge, Magnus Bane, I declare that Hodge of the Shadowhunter Starkweather Branch shall be executed immediately.”

            After those words were spoken, one of the Silent Brothers stepped forward with a sword. Isabelle could not help but feel slightly nervous. She had never seen one of those before, but she always imagined it would stand out as opposed to the weapons the other Shadowhunters used on a regular basis; yet there was absolutely nothing that helped her tell that sword apart from all the other ones she had seen during her long life. Jace showed preference to swords, and that sword, the sword that would take Hodge’s life, looked and felt no different than one of Jace’s own.

            That scarred her more than she would ever admit.

            When the chained Shadowhunter was forced down to his knees, the mist lifted with the impact before wrapping itself around Hodge’s body and floating back down. Robert then proceeded to walk behind the man, pick up some of the chains that bound his hands back, pulling it as tight as he could, forcing the other to open his chest wide.

            After she grabbed the sword, not without respectfully bowing towards the Silent Brother, Maryse repositioned herself so she was facing Robert, Hodge kneeled between them. Isabelle saw him lift his head, and although there was acceptance of his fate, she could have sworn she saw something else in his eyes… Was it amusement? Maybe Hodge had finally given in to insanity, brought forth by the War… Why else would he betray them?

            “Any last words, Downworlder?”

            Hodge remained silent.

            It took less than a second; one moment the sword was by Maryse’ side, and in the next it had penetrated Hodge just below the ribcage, the point peeking out from the other side of his body. His eyes widen just slightly as the sword broke skin, and shortly after his chin was no longer held high in pride and defiance.

            Isabelle noticed first the blood that dripped from his lips rather than the one from the wound. It must have not been long, but it felt like an eternity. She saw the light in his eyes die; it’s true color fading until both irises were as black as the night sky. When her gaze shifted towards the wound, she found that the sword was still in place. Blood was staining his Shadowhunter tunic; the thin fabric being weighted down by the dense, red liquid.

            When the sword was removed, not a second after it was thrust inside now dead Shadowhunter, Isabelle noticed that the blood from Hodge’s body slowly made its way down to the tip of the weapon before dripping on the crystal floor. The mist seemed to know the exact moment a drop would fall, for it cleared the way for it just enough not to be tainted by it. She gazed back at Hodge’s body; Robert’s strong hold on the chains the only thing keeping it in place.

            Isabelle watched all of this with fascination… It was the first time she had ever seen a Shadowhunter being killed… And she honestly hoped it would be the last.

            Robert’s face when he let go of the chains was a mask of pure indifference. The body fell forward, the mist parting just as it did with the blood. He fell faced down, blood still pouring, still thin enough to form a red puddle on the crystal floor. The mist moved again, and now it hovered over the body, as it didn’t exist.

            Maryse carefully cleaned the blade before giving it to the Silent Brother who had first handed it to her. Just like that the trial and execution was over, and the Shadowhunter of the Starkweather Branch was no more.

            “Isabelle of the Shadowhunter Lightwood Branch, and Jace of the Shadowhunter Wayland Branch, in the name of The Clave, I thank you for your services.”

            Both young Shadowhunters placed their right hand over their left chest, the left hand behind their back, before dropping down to one knee and bowing respectfully, as according to Shadowhunter custom. Although her eyes were supposed to be closed, Isabelle kept them opened, noticing that some of Hodge’s blood was approaching them. She never realized how much blood a Shadowhunter had inside its’ body.

They stood up with a grace no human could ever hope to possess, and left without another word, knowing that they were officially dismissed and expected to leave Alicante and the Realm of Idris at once. Just as the doors were about to close, Isabelle heard the judge’s annoyed voice as he complained about the fact that they needed to find a new Shadowhunter for Hodge’s old Charge as soon as possible.

 

 

Magnus Bane was still getting used to his newly acquired fame. That is not to say he did not enjoy the attention; the feeling of being recognized for his music was beyond words in his vast vocabulary. It delighted him that his songs were being enjoyed by thousands of music lovers, that he had inspired so many; and that his name finally, after so much hard work and struggle, meant something to people. No longer was he colorful shadow in the busy streets of New York City! Now, when people looked at him, heard him play, they gave him the recognition he worked so hard to obtain.

Yes, it was nice. Wonderful, even! The best feeling in the world…! But it still took him some time to get used to it. For many years he had been a nobody; someone who busy company workers would sneer at for taking up place in the streets and train stations, Penn Station being one of his favorite spots, to play his songs. To them he was a no good scum who needed to find a real job instead of perusing a hopeless career in the music industry.

Currently he had just returned from his North American tour, the last stop being his home city, the one that never sleeps. After being so long away from home, he desired nothing more but to cuddle up with Chairman Meow, screw if the damn cat actually wanted him or not, and spend some time with his two childhood best friends.

They had agreed to meet at an Italian restaurant at seven at night. He left at an acceptable hour, his hair and makeup with the perfect amount of color and glitter, yet he still found himself twenty minutes late. Magnus calculated the route with precision, taking bus delays into account, for one would be a fool to not do so in the Big Apple. What he did not account for, however, was to be recognized and stopped by anyone on his long journey from his fabulous Brooklyn apartment to the small, yet incredibly fancy, Manhattan restaurant. His fame was newly acquired, and Magnus knew he was still unknown enough to be able to take the bus without much trouble… But apparently he was already famous enough to be stopped once or twice for a picture and an autograph while out in public.

Which is why when he entered the restaurant, he found Clary and Simon were already eating the bread with olive oil and butter that had been placed in their booth at the far right end of the establishment.

“Well, well, well… It seems my dearest friends have already forsaken me in favor of Italian bread, butter and oil, as well as some sparkly beverage full of chemicals, most commonly known as soda.” Said he as he sat opposite to the couple “A few months away, and this is the welcome I receive? My, Chairman Meow was more welcoming, and that is saying something.”

The restaurant had an old décor, walls painted a dark color with paintings of rivers and forests hanging a few feet apart from each other. The main source of light in the room was a chandelier a few feet away from the wine bar, and each booth had its own light fixture. The chairs and tables were of dark wood and the chair cushions of a deep red, giving the restaurant a cozy feel.

“Dramatic as always, huh?” Clary said “Drop the act, Magnus. We were there when you first arrived in the city, and also watching you during rehearsal.”

“How did that go, by the way?” Simon asked, getting yet another piece of bread as Magnus looked over the Menu and asked the waiter for one of their fruity mixed drinks “I mean, what did the guys decide? Is your New York City show cancelled?”

“Cancelled?” Magnus repeated, turning to the young man with glasses and curly black hair “No, of course not! You know business people, complete parasites! They would not cancel a show, it would mean refund, which means losing money.”

“Then what did they decide?” asked Clary “Are they changing venues?”

“No, it would be impossible to do so with so little short notice.” Magnus shook his head, proceeding to grab a piece of bread for himself “I’m starving, been practicing all day long. Do you already know what you will order?”

“I’m thinking about getting the Fettuccini Alfredo with broccoli…” answered Simon “I heard it’s really good. What about you, Clary?”

“I don’t know… The portions here seem awfully big, so I was planning on sharing, but…”

“I could share with you.” Said Magnus “If you order something good, that is.”

“I always order something good.” She said “You are the weirdo in the trio, Magnus.”

“I object! I find my taste in everything the best that is!” he put a hand to his chest in mock shock “I have the best taste in clothes, music, art…”

“Not true!” Clary said.

“TV shows,” he continued as if she had not spoken “Parties, food, books,”

“Now that’s not true” Simon objected.

“And, of course, men.” He finished, with a teasing smirk.

“Hey! I take offense to that!” Simon protested “I may be the only one into woman, but I think Clary has great taste in men.”

“You are hardly competent to judge Clary’s taste in men, considering the two of you are engaged.” Magnus answered.

“Exactly the reason why my taste in men is better than yours” Clary smiled “I found myself someone who I’ll gladly spend the rest of my life with, while you are still sleeping with a different person every night.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing.” Magnus laughed, and soon the other two joined in “Now, come on, let me see the ring.”

Clary smiled at her best friend and extended her delicate right hand, showing him the beautiful, yet simple, diamond ring Simon had given to her when he proposed. The thin ring wrapped itself beautifully around the painter’s finger, although instead of meeting at the end to form a complete circle, one side raised itself slightly, while the other turned down, forming an oval. Inside of it two sapphire stones rested between a small, yet brilliant diamond.

“Wow… That must have cost you a fortune.”

“Well, actually…” Simon started saying, before Magnus interrupted him.

“Oh, no, love, I was talking about Clary’s nails.” Magnus turned towards the red haired girl “How did you manage to make them look this nice? I mean, they are long, seem strong, and the polish doesn’t seem to be fading away, even you deal with turpentine.”

“I don’t paint with oil that often, Magnus, I find that I enjoy pastel, or watercolor and ink much better for my illustrations… Or Photoshop, that also works… But when I do paint with oil, I use gloves.” The woman said, rolling her eyes “You could have nice nails to, if you let them grow a bit.”

“My nails look fabulous the way they are, thank you very much.” He smiled “Besides, can’t play the violin with long nails. Doesn’t work well, God knows I tried.” He shook his head, before turning back to Simon “But seriously, how much did it cost? I mean… How many stories did you have to write before you could afford it?”

“More than I care to imagine.” Simon sighed “There are not many magazines that print short stories and pay a good sum of money, and I’m still trying to get an agent that will allow me creative freedom when writing my books.”

“Is it that tough?” Magnus asked, frowning.

“Like you said, business people are parasites.” Simon sighed “All they care is the number of sales, not the quality of the product or the creative effort in it. Right now Supernatural Romance for Young Adults is the big thing; as long as there is a hot male lead and a special yet ordinary female character, no one cares about prose, plot, character development, or conflict.”

“It would be easier to self-publish, that would give Simon enough creative freedom to do what he wants, but those books don’t sell nearly as much as we hope.” Clary sighed “I’m doing well, my art work gives us enough money to live in the apartment, and conventions are great money makers, Comic Con especially, but…”

“It’s not the money you are after.” Magnus nodded.

“Money is what we need to live.” Simon shook his head “What I really want is to tell my stories, allow my creativity to flow and be appreciated for it, like you do with your violin and Clary with her arts.”

“But no one will give him a chance.” Clary said “No market for it, they said… Even though Simon’s work is excellent, and he has many online fans, agents still turn him down.”

“They’ll take me if I sell out.” He said “Which, of course, I won’t. But it’s not like they are completely to blame… Lately I haven’t got a good idea that could be expanded to the length of a novel.”

“Writer’s block?” Magnus asked.

“Writer’s block.” He confirmed with a sigh “For now I’ll have to do with short stories in magazines and on the internet, until I come up with something big.”

“You’ll get there.” Magnus smiled “We all start somewhere… Just look at me! I’m a fine example of that!”

The friends laughed, and proceeded to finally look at their menus, realizing they had dismissed the waiter three times already. Simon asked for his fettuccini, and Magnus and Clary, instead of sharing, ordered a dish for each of them, deciding that they would take home the leftovers, since no one in the trio liked to spend they had to work on their craft on cooking something decent.

They laughed, Simon and Clary telling about what Magnus missed during the months he had been away. They told the story of how Simon proposed, and how Chairman Meow, who had been staying at their place, claimed the old arm chair as his personal throne. Magnus told them all about his North American Tour, the cities he had been in, the fans he met, and how once there was this little girl who came to him, and said she started to take her violin lessons seriously because of him; she had told him she had never realized how cool the classical instrument could be in the hands of one who knew what he was doing.

“Making the violin cool again, are you?” Clary asked, smirking “Oh, how grateful we are to be in your remarkable presence, Great Magnus Bane.”

“Yes, indeed, you should be proud of yourselves! I do not talk with commoners that often” Magnus laughed.

“You never did answer the question.” Simon suddenly said “What have they decided? You know, about the last show in the tour, here in the city.”

“Oh, that!” Magnus said “Well, ends up the place where I’m going to play has been advertising the show for a while, so we obviously can’t change locations… Plus, there is the whole refund thing. The date was merely pushed back, about a month or so.”

“A month?” Simon asked “That’s after Comic Con… Why so late?”

“Well, a big light did fell on stage.” Clary said “I’d imagine it would take a while to fix everything.”

“Exactly. They are also trying to investigate what made the thing fall, almost killing me in a tragic accident.” Magnus sighed dramatically “Plus, they decided to use this month window to try and sell more tickets and get the concert sold out.”

“They still don’t know what caused the light to fall?” Simon asked, frowning.

“Nope.” Magnus replied, taking a sip of his drink “No idea at all! It was miracle I was able to move aside so quickly. That thing fell just a few inches away from me!”

“We were there, Magnus.” Clary said “It was more like a foot away.”

“Like I said, a few inches. If it had fallen on me it would have killed me for sure!”

“That would certainly bring bad publicity to the place.” Simon says “Violinist Magnus Bane killed by spot light during rehearsal!”

“It would have been all over the news.” Clary agrees “A good way to go, for someone who loves attention as much as you.”

“Oh, Clary, why must you be so mean to me?” said the violinist “Anyways, now that we are on that subject, I would like to invite the two of you to a party this weekend!”

“A party?” Simon asked “What for?”

“Well, I had already planned on throwing a party this weekend after the tour was completely over, but now it’ a party to celebrate my victory over Death! You’ll be coming, right?”

“Of course we will.” Clary said “It’s not like we have much of a choice, is it?”

“None at all.” Magnus winked, and just in time their food arrived. Magnus raised his glass with a smile “But enough about me and my dance with death! We are here to celebrate this joyous occasion! Clary, Simon, I could not have picked better friends, and to see the two of you engaged after being together for so long… Well, all I can think to say is ‘finally’, because it has been since forever, I was starting to think you would marry in Vegas in with an Elvis impersonator as your marrying-person, or whatever it’s called.”

The two friends laughed.

“Anyway… I guess what I can say, Congratulations. You two are perfect together, and I would be lucky to find a man who would love me as half as much as you do each other.”

 

 

In a city as big as New York, abandoned buildings were not a rare sight. Hotels, homes, restaurants… Even schools would be emptied and forgotten over time, dust and dead animal’s carcass found everywhere. The city officials were too busy trying to keep its inhabitants and visitors safe, making sure the public transportation was working to the best of its abilities, and just running the big tourist center to worry about a few empty buildings. As long as they were not a safety hazard, there was no need to address the problem immediately.

Which is why such places, whose only Earthly visitors were animals or the daring teenager, were the perfect place for Shadowhunters to rest whenever they had some free time.

The old gothic church in a residential neighborhood in upper Manhattan had been abandoned for at least twenty years. It’s beautiful stain glass windows, with vibrant purples and blue, had been broken many times by rocks thrown by rebellious youth. The brick walls were filled with graffiti, the cobble stone path leading to its heavy wooden doors overgrown with weed. But even though the residents of the area considered it an eyesore, having numerous meetings about to do with the old building, it was one of Isabelle, or Izzy, as she preferred to be called when not in Idris, and Jace’s favorite places to be in the city.

The night sun of summer entered through the windows, creating beautiful, and yet eerie, reflections on the interior of the abandoned building. The benches were made of dark wood had a resting place where the faithful would kneel during the service. Some Bibles were still found scattered around the place, its pages yellowed due to lack of care. At the altar was a giant, detailed sculpture of the son of God with his hands nailed to an even bigger cross. His crown of thorns seemed to dig deep in the skin of the statue’s face, which expressed all the pain the figure was going through.

There were other sculptures throughout the worshiping place; most noticeably one of the Virgin Mary, with dead flowers at its feet. Long ago, when the church was still functioning, many would go to the statue, kiss its feet and pray for something that they desperately needed. Once the place had been full of silver candlesticks and golden decorations, but they had been stolen years before, by greedy hands that were not weary of the divine punishment of the marble crucified man and his mother.

At this moment the female Shadowhunter was sitting in the back of one of the wooden benches, kicking her feet while talking to the male whom, to her, was the equivalent of Earthlings, or Mundanes, called a brother. The boy was laying down, also in one of the wooden benches, one of his fingers playing with a knife as a high school student would with their pencil. Both were now in Mundane clothes, with black tops exposing their marked arms, heavy combat boots, and dark jeans; if they were visible to Earthling eyes they would look like regular teenagers.

“I never thought it would look so ordinary.” Izzy said “I mean, it really didn’t feel any different than a regular Shadowhunter sword, did it?”

“Forget a Shadowhunter sword, it felt no different than Mundane one!” Jace said, looking at the girl “It looked so ordinary, too! No stone encrusted handle, or diamond sharp blades, or…”

“Diamond sharp blades?” she raise an eyebrow “Really?”

“Hey, it’s one of the most powerful weapons in the universe! I thought it would be made of all precious gems and shit.” The blond defended himself.

“But that makes it even more scary, doesn’t it?” she shook her head “I mean, what if the Downworlders have one? They may use it in battle and we won’t even know it!”

“They wouldn’t do that!” Jace laughed at his friend’s silly worries “As much as I hate those bastards, they are not idiots. They wouldn’t risk such a precious asset in a simple battle.”

“Who knows?” Izzy shrugged “They’ve been getting bolder and bolder. More desperate, I think… A few weeks ago I would never have suspected that they would have a spy…”

“Or that Hodge would be that Spy.” Jace frowned “He may not be in the Lightwood Branch, but he helped all of us with our training.”

“Not to mention we spent so much time with him because of our Charges.” She sighed “I never saw any signs either. Never did he seem like the kind of Shadowhunter who would turn on us.”

“Do you think he was ever on our side?” Jace asked “He always seemed to feel strongly about Downworlders and their cause. Maybe he didn’t turn on us, maybe he was always a spy to begin with.”

“Bullshit.” Izzy said “No matter how strongly you feel about the Downworlders, none of us can deny that their message is appealing. It’s the reason why their numbers are growing so much lately.”

“Well, for once, you’re right.” Jace said.

“For once?”

“Don’t cherish the feeling for too long, Izzy.” He smirked “Anyways, it doesn’t matter if their message is appealing. I’m still going to kick all their asses.”

“Oh, really?” she said “You are not killing any Downworlders unless you go to the Front Line, and even then it’s almost impossible to happen.”

“Almost, Izzy, is the key word.” His smirk never left his face “You are not taking into account is that none of the Shadowhunters in the Front Line are as amazing as Jace of the Wayland Branch.”

“How could I have forgotten such a crucial detail?” she asked, now also smirking “Because, truly, how could we ever manage without the Great Jace of the Shadowhunter Wayland Branch?”

“Say what you want, but if I got my hands in one of those Weapons I could win this War singlehanded!”

“Of course you could.” Izzy rolled her eyes “You’d probably just go cutting throats and killing whatever is in the way, without ever considering what’s around you.”

“And it would work perfectly.” His confidence did not waver.

“Because it works so well when we’re in battle.” She said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

“Hey, I get the job done, don’t I?” he asked “The demons die and the Downworlders run. What else do you need?”

Izzy frowned. She had no answer to that. Indeed, as long as the job got done, what else matter? So Jace was a bit too harsh in combat, but her always managed to keep their Charges safe. In the War his missions were always successful, Downworlders always tiring before him. He was incredibly talented, incredibly powerful, after all.

But Izzy would not let Jace win this argument.

Before she could come up with an answer, however, a young Shadowhunter boy appeared in the Church. Like Izzy and Jace, he was also wearing Mundane clothes, going as far as wearing glasses to blend in. Izzy never really understood why Max, also from the Shadowhunter Lightwood Branch, liked to wear the Mundane thing, but she did not complain. He looked cute, she thought. It was something he picked up from one of his Charges, years ago. While the Shadowhunter was still too untrained to fight in the War, he was still required to care for a Charge and protect them from the enemy. Through the centuries the kid had become incredibly talented, and Izzy wondered if there were advantages to being trained during a time when all Shadowhunters were expected to always be at its finest.

“Max!” Jace said “What are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be in training?”

“Or keeping an eye on your Charge?” Izzy asked.

Max shook his head.

“Training was cancelled! Maryse and Robert had to leave.”

“What?” Jace asked. Sometime had passed since the execution; the two older Shadowhunters should have returned to their normal schedule.

“Why?” this time it was Izzy who asked the question “What happened?”

“They found Alec!”

Chapter Text

..::Part I: Accelerando::..

 

~Chapter 02~

 

            The three main buildings of Alicante stood in the Central Square, forming a circle around a big garden with trees that bloomed in a forever spring. The Training Facility, where young Shadowhunters used to stay when not taking care of their Charges, was found south of said Central Square. The building itself was not tall; the corridors that linked each of the four towers could be viewed as mere walls created to separate the outside terrain from the garden that existed in the middle of the facility. Like the one in the outside, it had trees from times long gone and times yet to come; branches were constantly losing petals, yet never quite running out of them. There inside the young Shadowhunters would train for hours, laughter and cries of excitement sometimes being heard over the bells of the Court; or at least, that’s how it used to be during Izzy’s youth.

Back then, when there was no War, Shadowhunter children could be almost as carefree as Mundane ones. She remembered those days with fondness; being young and excited about everything she learned and everything there was to do on Earth. She remembered taking care of her first Charge… And she also remembers mourning her death. It had been her first encounter with it, her first mourning and her last, for after it her teachers explained that death was part of the life of those on Earth, and that every Charge she would care for would reach that same end. Her job, they told her, was to make sure no Demons ever got to her Charges while their souls still inhabited the Earth. Like all other Shadowhunters, she took those words to heart; never again did she allow herself to mistake a Charge for a friend… Earthly beings and Shadowhunters may depend on one another for their existence, but that is where their connections ended… A Charge was no friend, it was merely a job entrusted to her.

            Her Ceremony, the day when she became a fully-fledged Shadowhunter and was initiated into the Laws of the Clave, she remembered with even more fondness. She could recall, clear as day, how Alec and Jace, both whom had gone through the same process two centuries prior, beamed with pride as she entered the Court; although Jace would never admit to that. Even Maryse and Robert, strict teachers as they were, had smiles on their lips as she finished reciting the Vow and stood up from the kneeling position, her true form as vibrant as it had ever been. Hodge had been there too, and he embraced her with pride, for although they were not of the same kin, the Wayland, Starkweather, and Lightwood Branches had always been closely netted, and she saw him almost in the same light as she saw Maryse and Robert, the Heads of her Branch. After that day she was no longer considered a child in the eyes of the Clave; and true, back then she had not believe herself to be one for at least three or four centuries… Now she knew better. All of them, even Maryse, Robert, and Hodge, were children, sweet and innocent children, before the War started.

            Things were different now. Like all of Alicante, the Training Facility was somber, a ghost of its former glory. Young Shadowhunters no longer spent their days in its garden, training and laughing without a care; the War had changed all of that. Shadowhunters like Max were trained individually by the Heads of their Branches, hardly ever interacting with others of their age. Many times they were taken to the field, fighting real battles instead of mock ones, though Izzy’s opinion it made little difference, for Downworlders and Demons were everywhere since the War started, and if you had a Charge in your care, as all Shadowhunters must have, chances were you would be in a real battle at least once during your Charge’s life time. Even so, regular training was now an intense experience; a merciless one that put the training of previous Shadowhunters, even those of the Clave, to shame. The Ceremony had also changed, no longer being a time for celebration and festivity. Although it was still held in the Court building, that stood west to the Central Square, only the Heads of the Branches and the Silent Brothers of the Clave could attend. Immediately after it, if their Charge was not in danger, the newly initiated Shadowhunters were required to go fight in the War, side by side with those like Izzy and Jace, who had been battling Downworlders since their betrayal.

            Max was not yet initiated, and would not be so for another few centuries. Izzy hoped that when the time for his Ceremony did come, the War would be over, and the young Shadowhunter that she had come to love dearly could experience the same joy she did all those years ago.

            The Court, unlike the Training Facility, was a tall, beautiful building, with corridors that seemed to run for miles, and majestic towers decorated, both inside and outside, with Crystal Statues of Shadowhunters in their true forms, carved with such detail that Mundanes of the likes of Michelangelo would cower in shame. Few visions were more awe inspiring than that of the pale light of Idris catching the delicate skin of the statues as the wind blew colorful petals, and long ago colorful feathers as well, in a lazy dance; the mist sometimes would crawls from behind the crystal Shadowhunter’s feet, sweeping down the walls, mixing with the ivy that had crawled up the tower. Alec had explained to Izzy, when they were both young, that those were statues of Shadowhunters who faced honorable deaths. Shadowhunters who fought for justice and love; Shadowhunters unlike any others, and for that reason they had been immortalized in the building of the Court, so that all others could aspire to be like them.

The building itself was the second most remarkable and important building in all of Alicante; though it did come first when the number of stained glass windows were concerned. They were, perhaps, one of the most beautiful things in all realms, depicting the Laws of Idris through intricate patterns of vibrant purple, pink, and blue, the combination of it all rivaling even the beauty of the Crystal Statues. The bells of the Court were another wonder; they rang whenever something of importance happened to a native of Alicante, being heard by all Shadowhunters, no matter where they were. Once that building inspired awe deep inside Izzy; she would look at it, hoping that she would be able to prove herself a worthy Shadowhunter and be welcomed in the ranks of those who served the Court. Before, whenever she thought of the Court building, memories of her Ceremony would come to mind. The crystal floor of all of Idris seemed even more mesmerizing inside those walls; the mist that had swirled around her ankles made her want to dance, and the soft pale light that came through the colorful windows as the Crystal Statues looked at her with their unseen eyes only added to the majesty of the place during that time of pure bliss.

            Yet now, as she glanced towards the Court before continuing on to her destination, all she could remember was blood… Blood and the weapon capable of doing the impossible; glimmering in that same soft and colorful light, daring her to abandon her role as an obedient soldier.

            But little did that matter now. Izzy and Jace were being led by young Max to the Infirmary, a tall and wide building that stood east of the Central Square, facing the Court. Like all the other buildings in the sacred realm of Idris, it was built out of white stone, with dead ivy plants crawling as high as they could, framing the stained glass windows, trying to reach the high peaked roofs. Its door was in the form of an arch; great and heavy, taller than the walls of the Training Facility, and wide enough to allow six Mundanes, or one fully grown Shadowhunter with their true form open, to fit trough. Inside many other doors led to different rooms, though most remained empty. More often than not the building was used as an assembly hall, when matters too trivial for the Court needed to be discussed; other times children would dare each other to fight inside it, for the stairs, furniture, and many rooms made for a most interesting mock battle, one that many times turned into a game of hide-and-seek.

            Now, though, the building was being used for its true purpose, something Izzy never thought she would see it happen. Most Shadowhunters could fix their own injuries with simple runes and a few days rest; rarely did they require the assistance of another Shadowhunter, but even when they did, more often than not the assistance came from a comrade in the War, rather than a Healer from the Clave. Yes, Izzy knew that the Infirmary was now being used more often for its true purpose, but like the death of Hodge, she never though she would ever see it happening personally.

            The sixth floor had the only room in usage at the moment. The three Shadowhunters ran up the crystal stairs without pausing to admire how the dense mist fell lazily through each step, resembling a slow moving waterfall. When they finally made it to the door, as heavy and thick as the one of the entrance, though not as tall or wide, the three of them stopped for a moment, composing themselves. Hesitantly, Jace opened the door, revealing a spacious room with simple beds laid in two rows on opposite walls. The windows faced north, and in the distance Izzy could see the peak where the Clave building stood.

            Maryse and Robert were on the left side of the room, their backs turned towards the door, blocking the view of the seventh bed in that row. Izzy made her way into the room slowly, and when she angled her body just right, she caught a glimpse of Alexander of the Lightwood Branch; the Shadowhunter Izzy and Max, as well as Jace, though he would never admit it, always looked up to with admiration and respect.

            She wanted to cry and run into his arms, hug him and not let go until she convinced herself he was truly there. Alec, as he preferred to be called, had been in the Front Line for almost as long as the War itself, sent out to fight with a team of talented and discreet Shadowhunters. Recently they had all vanished, communication with them being completely cut off. Izzy never allowed herself to think much about the Front Line, Alec’s missions, or his disappearance, though the truth was that she missed the other Shadowhunter more than she thought possible. Part of her always hoped that he had not truly disappeared as Maryse and Robert had told them, but that his team had been sent away to accomplish something so important that low ranking Shadowhunters such as herself and Jace could never be told about. Yet as she saw his pale, hollow face, and his melancholic eyes she knew that her hopes had been in vain.

            He was the first to see them, smiling as he did so; though that slight curl of the corner of his lips could hardly be called that. Apparently Robert and Maryse had been talking to him, for he quickly turned his attention back to their teachers, and nodded wordlessly, as the good and obedient soldier they all were. With that, the two Heads of the Lightwood Branch left the room, nodding slightly in acknowledgement to the three that were now completely inside the room. Although no words were exchanged, Izzy could easily understand the unspoken order: Don’t take long, for he needs his rest and the three of them should go back to their duties before they are missed.

            They moved quickly, and as they got closer to the slightly older Shadowhunter, Izzy could take in his appearance better. Alec had never been one to care much for looks, and so he groomed his own hair; cutting only the sections that had become too troublesome for battle, which resulted in an uneven black mess. Yet it was not the unkempt nature of his hair that worried Izzy; Alec’s hair was longer than she had ever remembered seeing him, with strands blocking his eyes and others reaching lower than his chin. That, to Izzy and Jace, spoke volumes, for if Alec’s hair had grown that long, it meant that the time he spent away had left him little time to prepare himself for combat; the state of his hair alone told Izzy and Jace that during all those long years he was missing, so many years that Izzy, for the sake of her sanity, had to force herself to stop keeping track, was spent in non-stop fighiting.

            If the hair wasn’t enough proof of such theory, the injuries across his body would suffice as evidence. Izzy could now see why her kin needed to be treated in the Infirmary; his pale skin, another characteristic of the Lightwood Branch, was missing in some of the few visible areas of his body, as though knife had worked its way beneath it and, with care practice, separated from the muscles that still clung tightly to the bones. Cuts could be seen everywhere, and the enemy had not discriminated between skin and muscle, some slices cutting ligaments that, were Alec’s Healers not Shadowhunter from the Clave, he would have no use of his right arm anymore, the one he used to draw his bow. Most of his fingers seemed to be broken, though Izzy could hear the low cracks of adjustment and recovery; indeed, when she looked at his hand she could see the rune that helped mend broken bones. As she looked over the rest of his body, she could see many other runes, some carved in his skin so crudely that they left no doubt in the female Shadowhunter’s mind that Alec had drawn them himself in a hurry, probably using the tip of one of his arrows during mid-combat. His ribs were covered by his clothes, and therefore not visible to her eyes, though Izzy could see by the way Alec had been positioned, and by the cloth tightly wrapped around his torso, that those were broken as well; no doubt soon she would also start hearing the crack of those bones, though they would be much louder than those of his fingers. As she looked to his legs, she could see that his ankles had been shattered, every single bone broken to a point that would leave a Mundane unable to walk for the rest of their short lives. The skin, or the little that was left of it, around them, too, were cringe worthy; blood and veins were visible, though unlike other parts of his body, those did not seem to have been caused by a sharp instrument, but rather a constant rubbing of a hard object against soft skin, causing it to slowly and painfully scraped away like wood when rubbed with sandpaper. His face had not gone unharmed, though most of the injuries had either been healed or were wrapped in a once-red-but-now-pink-cloth, with healing runes on his jaw and forehead. His left eye was covered, and Izzy was thankful for the small rune in his cheekbone, that would repair his vision. Burn scars could be seen everywhere, some ending where open wounds began, the image of burning muscles and tendons forcing the female Shadowhunter to bite her lower lip in order to keep her composure. The few patches of skin that were still, or perhaps already, soft and uninjured, were covered with more runes and dry blood. And as if all of that wasn’t enough, Alec looked like a skeleton, proving that he also had little time to eat.  

            Jace was the first to break the silent, pulling a chair to the side of the bed and giving Alec a lopsided smirk before he spoke.

            “Looks like they did a number on you, there; though I hope the dry blood belongs to them, or else I’ll have to disown you as my honorary kin.”

            “Jace!” Izzy called out, finally finding her voice.

            “What? I welcomed you all into my lonely Branch, I can easily kick you out.”

            “I thought we were the ones who adopted Jace.” Max said, looking at Alec for an explanation.

            “That’s what Maryse and Robert want you to believe.” Jace said “Why would I want to join the Lightwoods and work under someone when I can be the Head of the Waylands?”

            “The Head and sole member.” Alec corrected, his smile just a little more genuine than the one from before, though that may be because it was too painful for the Shadowhunter to force himself to do more than that “How do you expect to lead a Branch without people to follow you?”

            “Details.” The blond Shadowhunter said, dismissing the idea with a wave of his hands “I’m still the Head of the Wayland Branch, and one of the best Shadowhunter to ever live.”

            “If you are so good, then why aren’t you in the Front Line like Alec?” Max asked, and although Izzy knew that there was curiosity in his tone, his question was posed as a challenge; a challenge for Jace to dare say he was a better Shadowhunter than Alec, the one Max admired the most.

            “That’s because Jace and Izzy are too flashy.” Alec explained, still smiling. Izzy felt herself relax little by little… Alec’s smiles had always been a form of comfort for her “The Front Line requires Shadowhunters who can work without needing all eyes on them or who give out hubris boasts of their accomplishments.” He looked from Max to the two older Shadowhunters “Clearly something neither of them can do, no matter how talented they are.” 

            Max’s laugh seemed to erase all the tension in the room. Izzy and Jace joined the laugh, though the former tried to keep a pout on her face, while Jace claimed that his amazingness could not, and should not, be kept hidden from anyone.

            They jested around a bit. Alec’s smiles and eyes did not shine nearly as bright as before, though Izzy could easily see how anyone with such injuries would find it physically painful to be incredibly lively or joyous. Still, she couldn’t help but smile at the idea of having Alec back. The three of them, Alec, Izzy, and Jace, had always been as close as Shadowhunters can get, always spending their free time together. When Max came around, they welcomed the boy into their group with open arms, and Alec had been especially doting; he always had that big brother quality to him, one that made all of them feel safe and secure, even if he wasn’t the best fighter in the group. Even now he radiated of that brotherly kindness, making it even harder for small Max not to crawl into his lap, like he clearly desired to do.

Izzy could not count the amount of times she came to the injured Shadowhunter for comfort, or perhaps to let off some steam. He was always patient when dealing with her, listening to her complaints and letting her take her anger out on him without a word of protest. Many times he would take her to places on Earth which she had never thought of visiting, secluded areas of natural beauty that made her eyes wide in wonder. Whenever she vocalized any sort of hateful thoughts towards Earthly beings he would take her to witness some of the most amazing acts of kindness she had ever seen. Other times, when she needed to be at peace, he would show her the most isolated places in Idris, long past the gates of Alicante. He would stand quietly in the distance, sometimes practicing his archery, and other times just walking around; then she would call him, and he would be there in a blink of an eye, ready to do whatever he could for her.

He was her constant supporter… Her best friend, her strength, her protector, and her inspiration. Whenever they fought together, Alec was always more concern with keeping her safe then protecting himself. She remembered how back in her youth she would watch his moves closely, studying each of them with care. Whenever she won a fight he would be there, smiling proudly at her, and the victory tasted so much sweeter for she knew she had impressed him. She confided in him all her secrets, all her thoughts and doubts, and he would always patiently listen to her, easing her worries with smooth words and a small smile that spoke clearly of his affection. For as long as she remembered, Alec had been a great part of her life, just as she was an enormous part of his.

Nothing spoke more of Alec’s love and dedication towards them, however, then when Jace lost the last of his kin to the War. Although small, the Wayland Branch had always been powerful and talented, which was the reason the majority of them had been sent to the Front Line. Little by little they were captured and executed by the enemy, until Jace, who had never been welcomed in the Front Line for the exact reasons Alec had explained to Max, was the only one left. The bells had rang that day in a somber tone, and the three of them had gone to Court, where the Clave delivered the message. Jace was the last of his kin, and due to his close proximity to the Lightwood Branch, he would now operate as one of them, until further orders had been given.

When the meeting was over Jace left without a word, and Alec was quick to follow. Izzy wanted to go to, but she stopped herself. Yes, Jace and she were close, but not nearly as close as he and Alec.

Back in the days they trained together, when Jace was still too young to know what pride was, he followed Alec around like a little duckling, just as Max did now. Some of the other Shadowhunters would tease Jace, and with his quick temper, he would snap at them, causing many injuries. Whenever the teachers heard the commotion, Alec always covered for Jace, sometimes taking the blame himself. So great was Jace admiration for Alec that even tried to pick up archery, though he was not talented enough. Alec had been the one to suggest for Jace to switch to the sword; his first time training with the one Alec had chosen for him was such a success that he never used any other weapon since.

Izzy remembered clearly that mock battle: Jace surrounded by five older Shadowhunters, defeating them with an ease and grace that left most of those around him jealous. As the final one yielded, Jace turned to look at Alec, both children beaming with pride at each other.

After that training, Jace started to shine brighter and brighter as the years went by, soon becoming the most admired Shadowhunter in the entire Training Facility. It was from that point on that Jace’s ego and pride started to grow to the point of arrogance, though the golden Shadowhunter never abandoned the Lightwoods; in fact, his loyalty to them only strengthening as time went on. When he finally won a mock battle against Alec, both boys had smiles from ear to ear on their faces, and one would have never guessed that Alec had lost to the boy he used to protect in their younger days. It was then that Izzy learned that Jace’s admiration and respect was not one sided; just as Jace strived towards being more like Alec, Alec strived towards being more like Jace. Both of them, in a way, completed each other. When battling together it was like a performance, one that had taken years of practice to perfect. They fed off each other’s energies, communicating without words. If Jace needed someone to cover his four o’clock, Alec was there in an instant, before Jace even realized an opponent was about to take a slice at him. If Alec’s target had moved even slightly out of aim, so slightly that the archer himself would not have seen, Jace was quick to hit them back into position, barely giving the opponent a second to register what happened before Alec’s arrow hit them. Their friendship, their bound, was one that was formed once in a millennium; and for that reason, Izzy left Alec go comfort Jace alone.

She did, however, searched for them when too many hours had gone by. She found them in the outskirts of Idris, sparring with each other. It was clear to her that Jace needed to release as much of his anger as possible, and Alec was willing to help him in any way he could. Rather than letting Jace go fight in the War at that particular moment, when anger and grief made him vulnerable to all sort of attacks, Alec allowed the younger Shadowhunter to attack him with all his might, doing nothing else but evading those that were a bit too powerful. Finally, when the Wayland had tired himself out, he fell into his knees.

Jace did not cry, Izzy knew that, for she watched closely and saw no tears… Yet it was the most vulnerable position she had ever seen him in. Alec gave him a hug and held him close, like he did with her many times in the past. Jace did not cry, because Jace never cries, but he allowed himself to be sad and vulnerable in front of Alec. If the manner they fought did not speak of how strong their bound was, then that moment that Izzy was not supposed to witness did.

And now they sat there, together, all of them. Alec was injured, terribly so, but his presence still gave out that warmth that Izzy, Jace, and Max loved so much. Their Alec was back, and although the War was still strong, with no end in sight, Izzy could feel herself more at ease now that she had her three boys with her.

Yet there were still many questions that needed answering...

“Where is everybody else?” Izzy asked, looking around the empty room “Where are all the other people from your team? Where is Sebastian and…”

Alec looked at her with grave eyes before shaking his head. Izzy silenced herself, feeling a chill down her spine. Something was wrong and…

“I’m not allowed to talk about this.”

Alec would never tell them what that something was.

“Not allowed?” Jace frowned “Not even to us?”

“To anyone,” Alec said.

“But we’re your kin!” Jace protested.

“Now you are my kin?” Alec asked, smiling slightly.

“No, you are my kin. I told you, I welcomed you all into the Wayland Branch; Honorary Waylands. I don’t know why they haven’t made it official yet, but that’s the way it is.”

Izzy rolled her eyes, before turning back to Alec.

“What about Maryse and Robert? Can they know about it?”

Alec nodded.

“I can only discuss what happened to the Heads of my Branch, the Clave, and those in the Court.”

Izzy felt herself pale at the mention of the Court. Images of Hodge’s trial and execution flashed in her mind. The blade, the blood that she did not know if it had been cleaned from the crystal floor under the mist; her, standing there, giving a full account of what she had witnessed. All of that came back into her mind in a flash; for a second she believed herself to be still there, staring at Hodge’s body as the Crystal Statues stared at her in a silent warning. It all made her feel sick, more so than the state of Alec’s body.

The heaviness of the situation, of the conditions that had brought Alec back, was finally concrete in her mind. Alec was back from the Front Line of the War… No matter how much she dreamed, it would take a long time before the four of them could be happy and carefree like she almost fooled herself to believe they were at this very moment.

“Will you testify?” Izzy asked “In Court? Will you have to go and say what you witnessed in front of the Silent Brothers and…”

Alec shook his head.

“I’m in no shape to go to Court right now.” He said “They were here with Maryse and Robert before, when the Healers were patching me up. I already told them all there was to say; they’ll not need me in Court.”

“Couldn’t they wait?” Max finally spoke “You are injured and…”

“They want me to be back on duty as soon as possible.”

“What?!” Jace asked, his voice louder than Izzy would have liked “But you just came back from the Front Line! They can’t send you back again!”

“They won’t.” Alec said. He smiled down at Max, trying to comfort him, though Izzy could see that the smile held bitterness “I’m in no shape to fight in the War at all.”

“What does that mean?” Izzy asked.

“That I’m not allowed anywhere near the battlefield.” Alec looked away, towards the window. His eyes had a far off look, and Izzy wondered if he was seeing the Clave in the distance, or something ever further off in the past “I’m too damaged to fight, according to them. I would do no good in combat, even if it wasn’t in the Front Line; in fact, they believe I would do more harm than good.”

Izzy frowned, anger boiling inside of her. She wanted to yell, wanted to call bullshit on everything. Alec was not damaged; he was not a thing to be talked about like that! Yes, the Shadowhunter was injured, but those injuries would heal in a few days and he would be as good as new! He would be able to fight, able to join her and Jace in the War, fight alongside with them, just like long ago! Alec was fine! He was an incredible warrior, an obedient soldier, a model Shadowhunter! It was an outrage for them to just keep him out of the War!

Yet she dared not speak a word, for one never questioned the Clave’s orders, no matter how much you disagreed with them.

“What are you going to do then?” Max asked.

“The same as you.” Alec smiled, the bitterness almost completely gone from face, while he turned to look at Max once more “I’ll be taking care of a Charge… My first one in centuries.”

“They are giving you a Charge?” Jace asked, a bit surprised “Who? When will it be born?”

“It has been born already.” Alec explained “Apparently after Hodge’s execution, his Charge has been left without anyone. They needed to give him a Shadowhunter, I needed a new Charge… It worked out perfectly for the Clave.”

Izzy and Jace looked at each other. They knew perfectly well who Hodge’s Charge was, and Izzy could not help but smile; if Alec was taking over Hodge’s Charge, than that meant the three of them would indeed be able to spend more time together.

“Good!” she said “Then I know what we will do to celebrate your return as soon as you are out of the Infirmary!”


This part was always one that he enjoyed playing; after the usage of the rapid bow movements of trémolo, the sharp and well-marked  notes of the marcato, and the occasional detached strokes of martellato, all on the G and D strings, with the application of extra pressure on his bow so he could get the strong and loud fortissimo the part demanded, he held the last note in the measure for a full three beats, dramatically decreasing his tone while his left hand worked a vibrato that he knew left his audience on the edge of their seats.

He paused for half a beat before starting once again, going to the second position and using the smooth strokes of legato on the D string. He occasionally switched to the G string, and changed his tone to one that demanded attention, but at the same time acknowledged his inferiority to the one of the D string. Then he quickly jumped to the E string, separating each note with accuracy, but also adding a bite to it, making it sound screechy and a bit unpleasant. This back and forth between each of the three different voices, as he liked to think of them, went on for another three measures before he started another march sequence, that preceded the most epic part of this piece.

As Magnus Bane played, he kept his eyes closed, slightly aware of the steady beat of the metronome to his right. Like most of the pieces he had written, he knew this by memory, and felt that visualizing the story he was telling was much more helpful than looking at the music score and keeping an eye for future slurs or shifts. It was not a good habit, he knew he should keep his eye on the music, yet he could not help himself.

This particular piece was the one he had been using to open every single one of his performances during this tour. It told one of his favorite stories, that of Sir Gareth going to rescue the Lady Lyoness while her, incredibly annoying, in Magnus’ opinion, sister Lady Lynette followed along.

As a child he had been a fan of tales of brave knights leaving their homes in some adventurous quest. Dragons, magic, sword fights, traveling across the land… What wasn’t there to enjoy? It was only natural, then, that he would eventually find himself enticed with the numerous Arthurian Legends.

Yet it was never King Arthur who caught his attention; sure, he liked the story of the fifteen year old who became King after pulling the sword out of the stone, and then had the great Merlin by his side, advising him on his quests and on the governing of the great kingdom of Camelot… But he often felt that King Arthur’s heroic deeds were overshadowed by the love triangle between himself, Queen Guinevere, and Sir Lancelot. Contrary to what most people would think, the romance of the three tragic figures hardly interested the self-proclaimed Drama Queen; rather, he enjoyed reading about the other protectors of Camelot, the often underrated, in Magnus’ opinion, Knights of the Round Table.

Sir Gareth had always been his favorite. Something about the story of the young noble becoming a kitchen boy, so he could prove to King Arthur that he was worth of being a knight by his skills, and not by his status, drew him. Sir Gareth, young and fair, wanting to win his place in court for his actions, not his name, had always been Magnus’ idea of a perfect man. Whenever he stopped to think about the dashing knight, he imagined him as someone who tried to hold himself with pride, but underneath had an enormous insecurity. He pictured the boy watching his older brothers, and while there would be admiration in his eyes, there would also be fear that he would never be good enough. He also imagined someone whose voice held a certain steadiness to it; someone who would be able to reason with anyone, hence his use of legato when asking his violin to ‘speak’ in Sir Gareth’s voice. It always broke his heart that the young knight, so set on justice, had been slain by Sir Lancelot, a person he admired perhaps even more than his own brothers.

As he continued to play the piece, named after the protagonist of the story, he found himself wondering with whom he identified the most: Sir Gareth or Lady Lyoness. Many times in his childhood he wondered if he was like the fair lady, rescued by a knight. Other times he wished to be like the handsome Sir Gareth; setting out in adventurous far beyond home, helping those in need.

But all of that mattered little now; Lady or Knight, he was as unlikely to be rescued as he was to rescue another. The violin was his comforter now, and he has long given up the dreams of quests, magic, and true love, for one of music, pleasure, and friendship…. In a way, the violin had been his knight, showing him that he needed to look no further than his own mind to live his adventures. His music was his voice, his way of telling stories. He may not be talented with words, but the notes that his fingers conjured could tell tales that would leave writes mad with jealousy.

Or at least, that’s how it used to be.

As he finished the piece, ending with a somber G with a fading vibrato, the room was filled with applause, and Magnus turned around to find that, sometime during his practice, Simon and Clary had entered his apartment uninvited.

Gareth, right?” Clary asked, smiling “I always love how you play this piece! I almost forget how talented you are until I hear it!”

“It’s a fan favorite, isn’t it?” Simon asked “It tells the story well… You know, if this live musician thing doesn’t work, you can always start composing for movies. I’m sure you would be great at it, and it should pay better than concerts and what little money you get from people who still buy music.”

“Yes, well, I’ll wait to see how this goes for a while before I change the route of my music career.” Magnus said, putting his violin down with immense care “What are you two doing here anyway? I didn’t let you in.”

“You gave us the key ages ago!” Clary said, frowning.

“For emergencies, not to burst into my apartment like that.” He tried his best to make himself sound angry, though the slight smirk on his lips probably gave him away. “If you wanted to talk, you could have just called or texted.”

“We live two floors above you!” Simon said “It would be a waste of battery and of minutes to do that.”

“Besides, it’s not like you answer your phone while you’re practicing anyways.” Clary said, putting some really heavy looking plastic bags on his couch, her actions being met by a death glare sent by a white cat that resembled more a fluffy, and slightly bipolar, fur ball “Oh, stop it Chairman Meow, you hardly take up the whole couch.”

“It is his couch.” Magnus said “Or at least, it is while he is there. That’s how it goes with cats, Clary, as soon as they lay down on something the entire surface area belongs to them and them alone.”

“Which is why if we ever decide to get a pet, it will be a dog.” Said the writer, glaring at the cat.

“And that might just be the moment I’ll stop visiting you.” By now Magnus had already put away his violin, turned off the metronome, and got all his music sheets out of the way so the three friends could spend the rest of the afternoon together “What did you buy anyway?”

“Some new art supplies.” Clary said “New York Comic Con is coming soon, and I just want to make sure I have an enough variety of art pieces to sell… I also needed a new sketchbook and some new paints.”

“She bought both watercolors and acrylic.” Simon sighed dramatically “And charcoal, and pastel, and, of course, the proper canvas and paper for each, in many different sizes.”

“Sounds expensive.” Magnus frowned, doing the mental math on the amount of money they spend.

“It is. Not to mention she takes hours to choose between brands and colors and… OW!” the writer turned to look at his fiancée, who had just slapped him on the arm “That hurt!”

“You deserved it!” she said “You know I can’t just simply buy whatever! The material needs to have quality, and the colors need to be not only be right for their own shade, but also for when you mix them with other colors and…!”

“Please, skip the lecture.” Magnus interrupted “So there’s no chance you have some cute designer shirt as a I’m-so-happy-you-didn’t-die-present in those bags for me?”

“No.” Clary said, before opening her purse “But we do have something else for you!”

Magnus raised an eyebrow. The young woman then quickly gave him a piece of paper that Magnus suspected to not be a two hundred thousand dollar coupon to some major shop on fifth avenue.

“What is this?” he said, looking it over.

“It’s your ticket to New York Comic Con.” Simon answered, smiling slightly.

“No thanks.” He answered, giving them back the ticket.

“Oh, come on!” Clary said “You never go to these conventions!”

“For good reason.” Magnus shook his head “You know this is your kind of thing, not mine.”

“But Magnus, there will be some pretty famous people there! And if not that, can’t you at least come to support Clary in her stand?”

“Famous people?” Magnus asked, before smirking slightly “Anyone like James Marsden? He was in a few of those comic book movies, wasn’t he? I wouldn’t mind going to see someone like him.

X-Men.” Simon nodded “No, I don’t think he will be there…”

“And what do you mean someone like him?” Clary raised both her eyebrows.

“Well, black hair and blue eyes is my favorite combination.” Magnus chuckled “Maybe if I could meet someone like him in one of those conventions, take him home and have my wicked way with said man, than I would be more likely to attend one.”

“Is sex all you think about?” Simon asked.

“Sex and music.” He laughed “Not that I’m having much luck in that department, as of late… Music, I mean. I’ve been having plenty of sex.”

“Too much information.” Simon made a disgusted face, which only made Magnus laugh more “But what do you mean no luck in Music? Your concerts…”

“Are doing marvelously, yes, but it’s all my old stuff, darling. I have to start working on a new record, and I haven’t been able to compose anything decent yet.”

“Is that your version of writer’s block?” Clary asked, frowning “Simon is still in his writer’s block.”

“Not writer’s block, but… Lack of inspiration.” He sighed “Even though I had a brush with death not so long ago, I can’t think of anything interesting enough to write about… And it’s not like I can just take another Arthurian tale and put it into song. People get tired of that easily, and as good as Gareth is, it will not put me in the music history books.”

“Maybe we should push you off a cliff, and see if you find inspiration there.” Simon smirked.

“Maybe you need to fall in love.” Clary smiled “Aren’t the best songs based on love?”

“No.” Magnus said, before he laughed once more “You won’t see me composing love sick shit, Clary… If you want a romantic sonnet, ask your fiancée.”

“I’m no good with poetry.” Simon raised his hands, as if in surrender “You need to be some sort of genius to write that stuff.”

“I’m serious!” Clary said “Maybe all you need is to find a nice man-”

“Like James Marsden?”

“to settle down with.” Clary continued as if Magnus had not said a thing “Come on, we’ve known you since forever, and never have you been in a serious relationship.”

“There is a reason for that.” Magnus smiled “I’m Mr. Non-Commitment… And I like it that way. I’m happy like this.”

“You sure?” Clary asked, frowning.

“Positive.” He smiled.

And, honestly, he was. He didn’t see anything wrong with his one-night-stands and friends-with-benefits lifestyle; he was quite content with it. Not to say he thought there was something wrong with falling in love and being in a serious relationship like Simon and Clary; it just wasn’t his thing. Unlike most people, he did not want to go out there, looking for love… He much rather stumble upon it; live his life to the best of his abilities, and if he found love, someone to be happy with like Simon and Clary found each other, then that would be great… But if he didn’t, that would be great too. He could see himself being happy either way, so why sweat over it?

Let destiny take care of that… She certainly would be a better match maker than Clary.

“As long as you are happy, then,” Clary smiled, and Simon nodded in agreement.

“I am.” He smiled “Now that’s all done with, I’ll need the both of you here early on Friday. My party has to be spectacular!”

Chapter Text

..::Part I: Accelerando::..

~Chapter 03~

Although he could never quite put his finger on it, there was something about parties that made Magnus Bane feel… Lighter. It was not the music, he knew; the one he used at his festivities were selected by a DJ, for Magnus always thought, since his early teenage years when he would go into clubs by sneaking through back doors or, sometimes, by paying an enormous amount of money for fake IDs, that although good for dancing, the quick beat of pop and EDM songs were rather irritating. Neither did he care for the, admittedly, incredibly catchy lyrics and vocals that were excellent in making one forget about sleep or bodily fatigue, keeping the listener moving for hours beyond what would be ordinary; they had a tendency to get on his nerves after a few hours, making his crave the soothing voice Frank Sinatra or, perhaps, Jack Johnson.

That is not to say that Magnus was a music elitist; he may not be nowhere near as famous as he wished he was, but he knows what it is like to have his own music unfairly judged by those who will criticize anything that was either mainstream or that came out after the 1990s. His growing popularity had already created debates among those who knew his name; the ones who praise him for taking a creative and "cool" spin to the violin were often meet with passionate critics who accuse him of raping the beautiful and classical instrument. For that reason, and maybe that reason alone, he would defend Lady Gaga, Ke$ha, and even R&B singers like Rihana's artistic license and right to sing whatever they wanted; no matter how much said music made him want to stab both his ears with the sharpest objects in the room.

And so, Magnus would give in during his parties, leaving a stranger in charge of the music, for although he would not be caught dead with these songs in his ipod, his much preferred selection of David Garret, Emilie Autumn, and Lindsey Stirling were not exactly what most people wanted to listen to when they were looking to drink their worries away until they woke up next to a stranger in the morning and had to wonder if a doctor's appointment was in order.

No, it was definitely not the music, Magnus could say with confidence, that made his stress simply wash away, creating a blissful state of carelessness. It was probably the way that the lights both illuminated the room and diminished a person's visionary sense, creating a dream-like quality to the environment. The colorful lights he had requested changed from magenta to a strange moss and neon green, followed by a deep blue, and finishing with a canary yellow that matched his favorite covers, before repeating the cycle all over again. They were strong in their quality, though not bright, drowning all other colors in the room, including those of Magnus' bright walls. The dry ice machine he snuck into his apartment worked to create a thin layer of smoke on the floor, barely half an inch thick, adding to the atmosphere Magnus so desired. His ceiling was decorated with numerous Christmas lights, creating the illusion of stars that had not been seen in the polluted New York City sky for decades. All his furniture had been taken away from the room, not only to provide his guests with more dancing space, but also to protect Magnus' valuable possessions; only a few chairs, his couch, and loveseat remained, pushed to the corners of the room. At his small open concept kitchen, separated from the living room by an expensively remodeled island counter, the hired server was busy creating fruity drinks heavy with alcohol, while at the same time serving overly salty snacks that left the guests thirsty, making them desire more drinks and the drinks making the snacks seem tastier by the sip, trapping the person in an endless cycle of gustatory gratification.

Yes, this was what Magnus enjoyed in parties; the dream quality, the detachment from reality and responsibilities… The permission it gave one to just be whoever they wanted and indulge in their deepest desires, purging away all negativity and welcoming reckless freedom.

It was no quest for Lady Lyoness, nor no rescue by Sir Gareth, but for the exception of when he had his precious violin in his hand, this was the closest Magnus would ever get to said journey.

Magnus knew his eyes had taken a predatory look as he let his gaze wonder the room, scanning each person to the best of his ability. It was a unconscious change, much like how he would straighten his shoulders and smile with a certain seductive smugness, that happened whenever Magnus thought about how soon he would also be throwing caution to the wind. The alcohol, the very same substance he had on his hand and was careful not to drink a great amount this early into the night, incentivized people to leave their inhibitions behind and enjoy themselves to the fullest. To some of his guests that meant joining in the sort of obscene dancing that could only be considered so because of the clothes separating the individual bodies, and even so the suggestive nature of the moves could call that point into question, while to others it meant behaving as if they were high and superior, above all of those whom they observed with the same patronizing nature a scientist does a wild animal. There were a few, however, who had already long passed the first stages of the mating ritual and were heading to the other rooms in order to continue what they started on dance floor, just as Magnus hoped to do as soon as he either found someone who would spark his interest, or the alcohol worked its magic to lower his standards to the point where the appearance of his companion wouldn't matter, just how much pleasure the meeting of their bodies would bring him.

First, though, he needed to end one of the curses of being the host and make sure things were going as smoothly as it seemed.

Clary and Simon were part of the group who stood on the sidelines, where the music was loud enough to get lost in its rhythm and dance the night away, but quiet enough to allow for talking in a reasonable voice. They were sitting on the chairs with their drinks either in their hands or in one of the small stools they managed to bring to the apartment to create cheap makeshift tables. Clary was wearing a short black dress that did not only perfectly fit her petite frame, but also accentuated her curves, causing other women to look at her in envy. Her hair was made into soft curls, and Magnus prided himself on the wonderful job he did on her makeup, given her restrictions. The violinist enjoyed playing with colors and never shied away from wearing make-up that was bright with sparkles and demanded attention; but Clary preferred what she called "the natural look", which was just her way of saying to avoid greens, yellows, and his precious glitter… Magnus himself saw nothing wrong with using those colors; there were ways that a master at make-up such as himself could make them work without letting them be overpowering and, instead, successfully accentuating the best features on a person's face while tying them in with the outfit. But Clary was a stubborn woman, and so he had to make due with a soft, slightly smoky purple for the eye shadow, and dark mascara and eyeliner to bring more attention to her green eyes. The foundation, blush, and lipstick he used on her were barely noticeable, just highlighting her porcelain doll like features.

Simon, on the other hand, wore a tight black shirt that Clary and Magnus had bought for him with well fitted jeans and borrowed boots. The violinist had to grudgingly admit that Simon's refusal to wear makeup, no matter how hard Magnus tried to convince him to just use a little bit of eyeliner, somehow it worked in his favor; the makeup and glitter would have taken away from the nerd-chic look that him and Clary were going for. His usual glasses, with frames that were black and a bit too thick for Magnus' taste, also worked well with his slight curly black hair.

The two were talking to some other friends from college, and going by Simon's frown, the kind of frown that does not read as upset, but rather as someone who is concentrating on the conversation, Magnus can see that they are most likely discussing something about their jobs.

"Why not screenwriting?" asked Maia Roberts, a beautiful woman with beautiful brown skin and curly brown-golden hair whom Simon used to date before she convinced him that his feelings for Clary were not as unrequited as he originally believed "You were great at that class in college, weren't you? Everyone was always asking you to help them out with their scripts…!"

"Maia is right." Jordan Kyle, a man with dark hair, thick eyelashes, and a long lasting crush for Maia, said "The professors would always say your work was the best in the class."

"I mean, why go to film school if you aren't going to work in movies or television?" Maia asked "What good is your degree, then?"

Clary frowned slightly at that, but before she could say anything, Magnus finally made his presence known, standing behind Simon and Clary's chair.

"It's good to suck the fun out of every single movie ever made." Magnus said, with a smile. "Really, he is always blabbing on about how poor the script is and how poorly the director applied film theory to the work… It's a pain."

"I don't do that every single movie," Simon said, taking a sip of his drink, also smiling "Just the ones you like… Those are garbage."

"Really?" Maia smirked "Is your taste in movies as bad as your taste in clothes, Magnus?"

"Or music?" Jordan asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Or men?" Clary joined, also smiling. "I mean, Woosely Scott was…"

"Woosely Scott was something we all rather forget." Magnus interrupted "That doesn't mean my taste in men is bad it is only…"

"Awful. As is your taste in women." Simon quickly added.

"Or anything, really." Maia said with a laugh.

"You wound me, all of you." Magnus said, putting a hand over his heart dramatically "To think I consider all of you as my friends. I'm in shock. Can I trust none of you?"

"You can trust us to go to all your parties and eat all your food." Jordan said, smiling.

"Oh yes, how I could I forget that." Magnus said, doing his best to keep his voice as monotone as possible "Keep going like this and you won't be invited to anymore parties or concerts"

They laughed, despite Magnus' mock attempts to convince them of his seriousness

The banter continued, the five friends talking about Simon's writing career, Clary's art works, and Magnus' future album. He left them eventually, ready to get another drink, when he saw some unfamiliar faces talking to each in one of the corners of the room, ignoring most of the other guests.

Although Magnus could not, right on the spot, create a list of all the people on his guest list, he is fairly good at remembering faces, even if he cannot always associate them with the correct name. The party, his party, was filled with people, many of which Magnus had only had one or two casual conversations, but he knew who they were, or where he knew them from, and made the conscious choice of inviting each and every one of them to this celebration.

These three people, however, were different; the more he stared at them, the more certain he was he had never seen them in his life.

The woman wore tall boots that, curiously, had no heels, dark jeans that clung to her legs as if it were a second skin, a chain hooked to her belt on the left leg, and a black mid-sleeve, well fitted blouse with a boat collar. It was a simple outfit, yet on her surprisingly strong body, it seemed elegant. It was clearly chosen to allow for some comfort, giving her the ability to move in ways other women in the party would not be able to. Her exposed collarbone and forearms bore numerous tattoos of strange marks that Magnus could not quite recognize, yet, if they truly meant something and were not simple nonsense, he would probably be able to find their meaning in his symbol encyclopedia. Her pink eye shadow seemed to, at least from where he was standing, go well with her pale complexion and her matching accessories. She had fine facial features, not quite soft but still incredibly beautiful, slender eyebrows and eyes that were sharp with intelligence, if only slightly harden and melancholic. Her ink black hair, was long, and so soft that hair commercial models would turn green with envy upon resting their eyes on it. Tall, she carried herself with both confidence and grace while keeping her body language relaxed and inviting, if only slightly intimidating, attracting the gaze of numerous men and women around the party.

By her side was a blond man whose tight black shirt revealed that, despite his slim built, he sported some well define muscles. He wore a leather jacket, though Magnus could guess that he too, like the woman by his side, had numerous tattoos, since the edges peaked through his collar, curling around his neck. His face was angular, his eyes, almost hidden behind long eyelashes, were of a light brown that, under the colorful lights, seemed as golden as his fine, curly hair. His narrow lips were curled in smug smirk, leaving it clear that he was well aware that more than a few women had peaked a glimpse or seven at his well-shaped ass, no doubt imagining what it looked like under the jeans that, although not as tight as the one of his female companion, were still fit enough to please those who were not too busy dancing. When he walked to get his friends more drinks, he did it with grace and confidence, despite the fact that his boots seemed heavy enough to cause more damage than a fire extinguisher were one to get hit on the head with them. Like the girl, his presence was strong, confident, and intimidating; yet he made sure to appear open and inviting, welcoming the approach of both potential partners and rivals who felt threatened by the way his presence demanded adoration.

The third person had their back turned towards Magnus, though he had little doubt that whoever they were they had been dragged to the party by the other two. He wore a hoodie that once, perhaps a decade or two ago, could have been considered black, yet time had been cruel to the aged rag, turning it to an ungodly dark gray that even Magnus, who liked to embrace all colors imaginable, would like to see banished it from this Earth. Their jeans seemed equally as old, and unlike his companions', they were baggy, as if a size or two too big. Yet through all those ill-fitted clothes the violinist could see that the person had an extremely thin and wiry frame, his thin shoulders tense, showing how uncomfortable he is in the setting. Their hair, just as black as the woman's who seemed to be attempting to get them to at least relax, was very unkempt, cut at chin-length, though at certain spots it stuck out a bit shorter, the uneven length proving that much of it was cut probably by themselves.

It may have been hypocritical of him to be upset over a few party crashers considering he himself has done the exact same thing quite a number of times. He remembers with fondness the numerous times he dressed Clary out of her boyish clothes so they could go to a club together, where, not even that long ago, he would talk to the bouncers until they were so tired of him that they would let him in. Sometimes it was not so much the party that attracted him, but the thrill of getting into a place where he was never meant to be; of playing a charade with the other guests, seeing how long it took for someone to see that he did not belong there.

Magnus understood that, and he had no doubt those were some of the reasons why the three had, somehow, snuck in without being noticed by the violinist, who stayed by the door once the party started; yet he also knew he could not just allow them to stay. This sort of behavior was one that Magnus, although used to take great pleasure in, would not approve if done to him. The Golden Rule was one he never truly followed in that regard, after all.

He was already making his way towards them, marching with words on the tip of his tongue, ready to throw the three out with a few smart remarks, causing as little of a scene as possible, when the third person turned their body just enough for the violinist to finally see their face.

Magnus stopped dead on his tracks, all thoughts that were previously roaming his head gone. The person, a young man, had pale skin, similar fine facial features to the woman, but with a nose that seemed slightly longer, his face thinner, though his features still seemed softer than hers. His bangs were long, uneven, a further proof that he probably just cut his hair himself instead of bothering to go to a professional that would be able to give that angelic face the hair frame it deserved. Not that Magnus minded; the self-given haircut, gave him a look of almost innocence, of a lost puppy begging to be loved… It was different and unique in a way that suited the man.

What caught Magnus' attention and refused to release it, though, were his eyes. Magnus always said that black hair and blue eyes were his favorite combination but this boy... No words could describe just how strikingly beautiful they were. Even from this distance they were stunningly breathtaking! The more Magnus stared at them, the more hypnotized he felt.

Well, maybe Magnus will let these party crashers stay after all…


Were a lightning bolt strike the top of the building this very moment it would go unnoticed, for the sound would be drowned by the noise coming from the speakers, and any vibration coming from the natural phenomena would be dismissed as just another tremble caused by the loud beat of the tunes. The music was loud… Too loud; thoughts could barely be heard, which left little hope for any conversation to be carried out without shouts that would leave throats sore. The lights that flashed and changed colors created a dizziness that was strengthened by the smell of the artificial smoke, dry ice Izzy had called it, that covered the floor. The room was entirely too small for the amount of people that it was carrying; all of them dancing so close that one had to wonder if personal space was a concept they were aware it existed. How any sane person could find this sort of thing relaxing was beyond the Lightwood Shadowhunter.

And to think Alec believed balls were bad.

He remembered those well; the spacious rooms that could easily fit over a thousand people, built of cold stone walls with fine tapestries hanging from it, sporting all shades of red, oranges, and golds. They told stories of great battles and heroes, the words of which were recited by the minstrels, who took delight on watching others dance to their music. Izzy would always dress him in black shirts of the era, it's loose sleeves causing Alec trouble if he needed to engage in battle. His doublet and jerkins, which highlighted his disgustingly dangly figure, contained intricate golden or silver patterns to boast of a title he did not have while matching the hats he was forced to use in their rich blue color. Sometimes, when the ball was a masked one, he would wear a blue mask with encrusted black and silver details. The expensive clothes, often made of very fine fabrics, were wasted on him, however; all Alec did in those festivities was stand in the corner, playing the part of Izzy's older brother so noblemen would have someone to approach when they wished for permission to dance with his kin. Those nights were spent with great boredom, his only slight pleasure being brought by dusting cobwebs off small grotesques engraved in the walls, or by admiring the new oil paintings and old stained windows in the castles he witnessed rising with his very own eyes. Occasionally a bold lady would approach him, or sometimes even a man who knew how to elude their companions and have a homosexual affairs; those were rare events, however, and more often than not caused him to blush and stutter in embarrassment.

His wardrobe this night had been his choice; he had been told to wear whatever he felt most comfortable in, and so he opted for his newly beloved hoodie and jeans, the clothes a much improvement from the rich garments that made him feel as silly as he would have looked were a demon to appear, requiring him to fight without changing into proper gear. Other than his clothes, Alec had expected to spend the night in much the same way as all those centuries ago; playing chaperone for Izzy and Jace as they indulged on mead and attention, granting his permission to eager, yet frivolous, courting attempts. As far as he knew, they were going to attend a ball; the 21st century version of one, as Izzy and Jace had informed him.

How this was anything like a ball was still a mystery to Alec. As he watched the two sway their bodies slightly to the songs, creating the illusion of dancing with minimal movement as they stood in front of the older Shadowhunter, he could feel the self-indignation as if it were a tangible object; centuries fighting on the Frontline had not erased the memories of all the other festivities his two friends had dragged him to attend… Balls being the most pleasant of them.

Before the war, Izzy would often take him to fertility rites. The flush in Alec's cheeks as he was offered everything from phallic shaped pastries to an important roles in the sacred marriages caused the female Shadowhunter to laugh with an incredible ease. For all the love and adoration she claimed to have for him, embarrassing Alec seemed to be one of the things his kin enjoyed the most.

Jace, on the other hand, preferred to take him to taverns where ruthless warriors celebrated their victories. Often the Wayland Shadowhunter would start fights, at times by provoking the drunk warriors until they fought amongst themselves as he watched the entire scene protected by invisibility. Other times Jace would directly challenge the men, fighting them with ease. Alec would always have to opt between watching the brawls in mild horror or intervening, neither choice having any particular appeal.

Those events did not compare to the time, centuries and centuries ago, shortly before Emperor Constantine won the Battle of Milvian Bridge, when Jace took him to a celebration being held in a small village in the Baltics. One of Jace's Charges was a resident of the area, and while chopping wood for his family, he had fallen under the interest of a demon, who did not hesitate in attacking. Jace had not thought twice before appearing in his true form, quickly engaging the demon in battle and winning with minimal effort. The Wayland Shaodowhunter, however, enjoyed playing with his opponents, and by the time he was done, the entire village had gathered around to watch him. After his victory the village had taken to worship the blond as a god, creating festivals in his honor, one of which was the one he invited Alec to join. At the time they both were still very young, just recently having taken their Vows, their initiation and fully-fledged status as Shadowhunters allowing them the freedom to roam the Earth while taking care of their Charges; the only freedom they ever truly had, and one that Alec feared would be taken away were Jace to continue to abuse it so.

The village, though, was small, in a remote area near the Baltics, and so the religion never spread much further than that, and Jace became just another forgotten god; a fact that Alec and Izzy were forever thankful for, since their honorary kin's ego was already too big to be called ordinary.

That had been the first, but not last, spiritual festivity that he had seen. Walpurgis Nights, All Hallow's Eve, Yule, Diwali, Lithasbolt, Xiuhmolpili… Alec had been taken to every single one imaginable at least twice, and while the Lightwood Shadowhunter thought it was interesting to see the different religions the Mudanes practiced, he was never one to actively join the celebration, preferring to stay out of sight and observing the people practice their beliefs with freedom and creativity. Jace and Izzy were the ones who forced him to dispel the glamour and, in their own words, "join the fun". This, more often than not, led them to great trouble. The number of times they had been captured by Mundanes, thrown in jail, and at times even sentenced to death, due to their careless was more than Alec cared to count. Jace and Izzy never seemed to care much about that; they thought that being taken to trial or persecuted by numerous Mundanes in the middle of the night was pure fun, no matter how many times Alec tried to explain that for the humans, watching a person burn or be decapitated numerous times without dying was not only astonishing, but also extremely detrimental.

This party, however, was unlike anything he had ever experienced.

"Oh, come on, Alec." Jace voice cut through his thoughts "Will you just relax and enjoy yourself for a bit?"

"Enjoy myself?" he repeated while looking around "How do you expect me to enjoy myself here?"

"It's what these things are for!" Izzy said, smiling "Release all your inhibitions and just… Have fun!"

"You know you need it." Added Jace.

"I think I rather burn in the pyre again." Alec said, sniffing the glass of alcohol Jace had given him.

"Burn in the pyre?" Izzy asked, raising an eyebrow.

"See, that's another thing: Most of the Western world doesn't burn people anymore if they think they are witches… Good times, though." Jace said, raising his glass slightly to Izzy as toast, who did the same thing, demonstrating her agreement over that statement "You need to get in touch with the 21st Century!"

"I can't believe I'm saying this, but Jace's right." Izzy said, frowning at her own words "This is the perfect way for you to see how the world is now!"

"I can think of many other ways… Better ways, to do that." Alec replied, glaring in both confusion and mild disgust as a couple bumped into them without apologizing or even noticing, since they were both too busy exploring new territories with their hands and tongues "And most of them include us being under glamour. Why are we visible to everyone?"

"What's the point of dressing up and dancing if no one can see?" Izzy asked, smirking. "Come on, Alec, this is fun!"

"This is not fun." Alec said.

"It is for your Charge." Jace smiled smugly. "He is the host of this party"

"So what?" Alec asked.

"So it would do well for you to learn what he is like!" Izzy answered, sending a smile to a raven haired man, over Jace's shoulder, who had been watching her for over ten minutes "What humans are like!"

"That's a terrible lie, and you know it." Alec said "We don't even need to be with our Charges at all times. In fact, since the War started we are only supposed to be with them when they are in immediate danger."

"Not you, though" Jace said "You are like Max, right now. Worse, even, since you only have one Charge as of now."

"Jace!" Izzy cried, slapping him in the arm "If you keep saying shit like that, I swear, I'll…!"

"He's right, though." Alec said, his voice becoming somber as he took in the truth in Jace's words "In the Clave's opinion I'm incapable of fighting…" Alec smiled bitterly. "I am like Max, like a Shadowhunter who has yet to have his Ceremony… No, I'm even worst."

Jace and Izzy's smile slipped from their faces, and, even though Alec was now looking down, finding the old combat boots he wore to battle numerous times suddenly very interesting, he knew they had exchanged glances and were now looking at him, sadness, worry, and worse of all, pity, filling their gazes.

"Alec…" Izzy began "The Clave… They are being careful. That's all… They are being careful and stupid. You can fight. You are just as capable of aiding in the War as Jace and I."

"She's right." Jace nodded "They are probably just waiting a while, just to be on the safe side. They are careful like that."

"Right." Izzy nodded "You are a great soldier, so don't worry. Soon your status will be normal again, and you'll be in the same level as Jace and I."

"Yeah, just like Jace and you, protecting Charges and fighting in the War." As he said that, Alec could not help but frown, realization coming to him "The two of you… You still have to follow those rules, don't you? Be with your Charge only when needed, otherwise fight in the War."

Again, both exchanged looks, this time the worry in their eyes emulating the one of a child caught doing something wrong by their parents.

"So what are you doing here?" Alec asked, shifting his gaze from one to the other.

"Well… We…" Izzy started, looking at Jace for help.

"Are trying to make sure you relax and enjoy yourself!" Jace answered, quickly and raising his glass, his smile being challenged by Alec's demanding and disapproving eyes "Have fun, for once!"

"Is that so?" asked a voice coming from behind Alec "I think I can help you with that."


When the man turned around, allowing Magnus to get a proper look at him, the violinist could not help but let his smirk grow a little more flirtatious. At this proximity he could make out details that before had been hidden by the distance. His skin was even paler than he imagined, the tip of his nose turning slightly up. There were small, fading scars from an injury on his jaw, just above his forehead, and on his left cheekbone; they were small, in weird shapes, but barely noticeable, and due to their shallow nature, Magnus had no doubt that in a few weeks or months they would be completely gone, leaving his lovely face completely flawless.

He was tall, almost as tall as Magnus, but his figure was indeed as slim as he had thought, just begging for someone to envelope his wiry frame and protect him from harm. His hair seemed soft and shaggy, the kind of hair Magnus would love to run his fingers through over and over again. The weird, uneven, and incredibly cute, bangs were so long that they covered just the top his… gorgeous blue eyes.

The eyes… Those eyes were the most remarkable thing the violinist had ever seen. They were large, slightly elongated, and looked widely at Magnus, shock clear on those blue orbs. They stared at him, and Magnus stared right back, admiring their beauty. It was hard to describe them properly; electric blue was more appropriate match for its shade, but Magnus preferred to compare them to the ocean rather than to electricity, for even though the shade was not quite right, the way that those eyes seemed so innocent on the surface, yet both melancholic and ominous underneath seemed to fit perfectly with that metaphor.

He was the first to break eye contact, looking at his companions as if unsure what to do. The woman and the other man seemed equally shocked to have Magnus talking to them, perhaps fearing that they would get kicked out now that the host of the party had caught them.

"Oh, come on," Magnus smiled, breaking the silence "I know I'm hot and magnificent, but certainly you would have regained your speech by now."

The blue eyed man frowned slightly, but did not say a word. Instead, one of his friends stepped forward, extending a hand.

"Well, your sheer brilliance does have a certain effect on people." She replied, easily falling into a banter "Forgive if us, mere mortals, are awe struck when standing before the marvelous Magnus Bane."

The blond man laughed at words, as if they were some inside joke, and allowed his posture to relax. The man who had Magnus's interest, however, still seemed incredibly uncomfortable, though he managed to roll his eyes and let out a small sigh.

"Very smooth." Magnus said "Is that how you got in? Used honey covered words to enchant the people at the door?"

"What do you mean?" she did her best imitation of a surprised and innocent face "We were invited to this party."

"No, you weren't." Magnus said. "I remember every single invitation I sent out."

"Maybe you were drunk." The blond man offered, his smirk slightly defiant.

"Accusing the host of being a drunk…" Magnus shook his head, determined to not allow himself to be intimidated "Not the best way to introduce yourself, but an excellent way to start a fight."

"Is it?" the man challenged, smirk still in place. The blue eyed shook his head slightly to himself, obviously not knowing Magnus was paying attention to his every action.

"Well, yes." Magnus nodded "You would know that, though, wouldn't you? You seem like the kind of person who enjoys picking fights at a party."

"Only when they are boring." Magnus did not believe it was possible for him to appear more smug, yet there it was; after gracefully flicking the hair out of his eyes, he proceeded to take a drink from his glass, composure never falling "Though I think you misunderstand me. I didn't mean to say you were a drunk… Merely that you were drunk when you sent out our invitations."

"I must have been incredibly drunk to send out invitations to three people whose name I don't know"

"Well, we can fix that easily, if that's the case! I'm Isabelle; Izzy for short" the woman, Isabelle, said, extending her hand once again with a friendly smile "And the arrogant ass is Jace."

"Oi!" Jace said, frowning "Watch it, Izzy. I'm arrogant, but not an ass, even though I have a gorgeous one"

"My apologizes… I meant to say pig." She said, and Magnus decided right away that he liked her

"A pig?" Jace raised his eyebrows, then smirked "I guess that makes you a bitch, then, doesn't it?"

"Yes, it does." She continued to smile "And considering all dogs are descendants from the wolves and you are just a defenseless pig, I would show be a bit more respect."

"Really?" Although it was Jace talking, Magnus was looking at the third uninvited guest, who watched the two with the annoyance of one who heard many of such childish arguments "If I remember correctly, it were the pigs who won against the wolf in that fairy tale."

"Only because of the smart one." Isabelle answered.

"Which would mean she's safe." Magnus said, earning a laugh from the woman and a glare from the blond man "So, Isabelle, Jace, and…?"

"Oh! Right!" she said "The one dressed for a funeral is Alexander."

"Alec." He corrected on reflex, speaking for the first time.

His voice, Magnus decided, was one he definitely enjoyed.

"Isabelle, Jace, and Alexander" He said, letting the last name roll of his tongue with emphasis, causing the said person to blush. He then proceeded to let out a defeated sight, raising his hands as if in surrender. "All right, I'll let you stay. But only because of the hot one."

"Thank you" Isabelle and Jace said at the same time, the former with honest delight and the other with too much arrogance and little gratitude.

"Oh, I think you misunderstand me." It was Magnus's time to smirk "I meant him; with the blue eyes." And he pointed to Alec, who, somehow, during the conversation, ended up behind both his companions "Alexander, correct?"

Alec's eyes grew wider as a blush spread across his face. Isabelle snickered, enjoying his embarrassment, while Jace seemed to be caught between the same joy Isabelle was feeling, and shock that, for what Magnus could guess was the first time, the compliment was not towards him.

"M-Me?" he said, the stutter only confirming Magnus' assumption that the boy was not used to being openly complimented.

"Of course." Magnus smiled, before turning to Isabelle and Jace "You two are lucky he is cute."

"Aren't we?" Isabelle said as she smiled, putting an arm around Alec and bringing him to the front, closer to Magnus.

"Izzy…!" the man hissed, face still red.

"Come on, Jace." Isabelle said, ignoring Alec and releasing him from her grasp "Now that our adorable Alec has some suitable company" Magnus nodded in gratitude "We should probably go enjoy ourselves. I'm sure there must be a woman in here who won't mind dancing with you and your huge ego."

The two started to walk towards the middle of the room, leaving a panicky looking Alexander behind.

"When you are as good looking as I am, Izzy, you can afford to have one." Jace said.

"Jace, I love you, but your good looks don't make up for your personality." Izzy said, rolling her eyes.

Magnus stared at them in amusement.

"Yes, have fun." He called out "Just try not to murder any of my guests!"

"Even if one of them spills a drink on my new shoes?" Jace asked, only half turning his head to look in their direction.

"Even then" he answered "Though I sympathize with the feeling."

The two laughed before Isabelle accepted a man's request for a dance, and Jace went further in to the crowd, disappearing out of their sight and finally leaving Magnus alone with the man he hoped to have under his canary covers in a few hours.

"Just so you know…" Magnus said, breaking the silence "If they break anything, I won't be so forgiving. I meant what I said before, they are lucky they have you, or else they would be out the door or in a police car, being charged with trespassing or something."

Alec blushed again, and the violinist decided he didn't mind; in fact he was already getting used to the sight of the man's cheeks turning a delightful shade of red, finding it very appealing.

"I-I'm sorry." He said "I didn't know what they planned on doing, if I did, I wouldn't have allowed us to go through it. And I'm sorry about Jace, too… He… He doesn't know how to shut up most of the time."

"Hey, no harm done" yet "He may be a jerk, but despite his and Isabelle somehow breaking into my home and coming to my party, which is not boring, uninvited, they did one good thing tonight."

"Which is…?" Alec looked at him, confused.

"Well, if they hadn't dragged you here, I wouldn't have met you, would I?" he winked, causing the man blushed again. "Oh, come on… You must have had people tell you things like that before, right?"

"Not… Exactly…" he frowned "At least not like this."

"Then I'm the first? I guess that makes me special, doesn't it?" he put his best flirtatious smile on, causing Alec to look down at his drink "What is that, by the way?"

"Alcohol." He answered, looking at it with a frown "I think, at least. Izzy said I should try something new, so Jace brought it for me."

"Clearly it's no good, then." Magnus took the drink from him and set it aside on one of those makeshift stools "Come on, I'll get you something better."

He grabbed him by the wrist, taking note of how thin it was, and started to guide him to his kitchen, where the drinks were being served. Alec stumbled at first before following him, keeping up with his every step, afraid of being left alone. They both sat at the small chairs that had been placed in front of the island counter, Magnus turning his body to the left so he could face Alec.

"What kind of drinks do you like? I have a preference towards the fruity and colorful ones myself, especially if they are strong enough to make me sleep like a baby at night." Magnus said, talking at faster pace than usual, trying to slowly ease Alec into a conversation. He was obviously the shy type, and past experiences had taught Magnus that the best way to handle the shyness was to start the dialogue as a monologue, taking away the pressure from having to talk often, and then slowly transitioning to a more balance conversation "I guess you could say I'm a Sex and the City kind of guy. Perhaps they should have casted me for a fifth leading role… Four main characters never feels quite right for me; go with either three, or five, not four, it doesn't work."

"S-Sex and the City?" Alec asked.

"Yeah, that very popular TV show they had a few years back. I didn't particularly like it, but sometimes there is nothing good on, so you might as well watch the show with the better chance of having a hot guest star." Magnus smiled "Anyway, what kind of drinks do you prefer? I hope you are not a plain beer kind of guy… Pretty sure we don't have that here."

"I… I don't usually drink." He answered, blushing.

"No? Well, I guess that's healthier." Magnus smiled "But it does make it harder for me woo you, doesn't it?"

"Woo me?" Alec asked "Why would you… Why would anyone want to do that?"

"I thought I told you already." Magnues replied "You're hot. Very much so. Buying you a drink would allow me to start talking to you and begin to work my incredibly powerful seductive magic."

He was blushing again, unable to look Magnus in the eye.

"We are talking already… Aren't we?"

His head tilted downwards, but his beautiful blue eyes decided to come out of hiding and peak through the curtains of his unevenly long black bangs as the blush deepened; his voice had been low, holding a note of insecurity, and Magnus could not help but chuckle at the most adorable sight he'd been blessed to see.

"Yes, we are." He stopped chuckling, but the smile remained "So that's part uno of my plan. I can put a check mark on it, I guess, though the methodology was a bit unorthodox."

"And… What would come next?" Alec asked, maintaining eye contact more easily now.

"Next? Well, usually the drink would loosen your tongue and we would both get drunk and share deep secrets and become best friends. Then I would take you to my room where we would have a sleepover and braid each other's hairs and talk about boys while doing our nails."

Alec looked unconvinced.

"If that didn't work, however, I would invite you to dance." Magnus continued "Do you dance?"

"Not this kind of dance." He answered, looking at the guests who were getting lost in the beat of the songs, some rubbing their bodies against each other, while others simply moving their hips as they raised their hands in the air.

"But you do dance!" Magnus counted that as a victory "What kind, then? Is it ballet? I can tell you right now, I wouldn't oppose seeing you in tights, though I would probably die of jealousy of whatever girl you would have to hold in your arms."

Alec blushed even more, lowering his gaze once more, making Magnus laugh. Really, teasing him was so easy and so fun that the violinist could easily spend the night doing nothing but that.

"Not ballet… The type of dance you would do it in a ball, I guess…"

"Ballroom dancing?" Magnus asked, surprised "Really? You don't seem the type to like that…"

"I'm not." He replied "Izzy, though…."

"Ah! Seems like those two are more persuasive than I gave them credit for." Magnus smiled "Alas! I don't think we can do that right now… Not unless we clear everyone out of here, and that will take too long." Magnus sighed dramatically "You, my dear Alexander, are proving to be very hard to woo! I can't follow any of the customary rules with you!"

"You… You don't seem the kind to follow rules." Alec said, smiling slightly.

"Was it the hair glitter, the dark blue lipstick, or the black shirt with metal buckles that clued you in?" he asked, and Alec, for the first time since the violinist laid eyes on him, laughed, causing Magnus to smile brighter "You really ought do that more often… You have a beautiful laugh"

And Alec was back his usual blushing self.

"I… I don't have reasons to laugh very often." Alec said, looking down, a sad smile gracing his lips.

"Well, that's not right." Magnus frowned "We're young. We should be enjoying ourselves to the fullest! Taking pleasure where we find it, when we can find it… You shouldn't… Shouldn't be able to say stuff like that with sincerity. No one should."

Had he been paying attention, Magnus would have realized that the music had changed to Artic Monkey's Do I wanna know?, no doubt a result of either Clary or Simon finally finding his sound system, but right now the violinist was too entranced with the man sitting before him. Magnuskept looking at Alec, taking in his appearance; he was skinny, overly so, and had a few visible scars… He had a lack of self-confidence that was both endearing and worrying, speaking of insecurities that were not created purely out of self-doubt. But it was his beautiful, electric and ocean blue eyes, that sparked both sorrow and curiosity in Magnus. Deep inside them he could see that they were haunted, tormented by ghosts of secrets he doubted Alec had shared with anyone.

What the hell happened to you? Magnus could not help but think.

Magnus never got the chance to proceed with the conversation, however, for the two were soon joined by Clary and Simon.

"There you are!" Clary said, approaching them with a smile "We've been looking all over for you, Magnus!"

"We managed to change the song." Said Simon "Managed to get some of our songs in, if you don't mind."

"You don't say." Magnus said, looking at them with a forced smile. His eyes, however, were quick to return to Alec, whose shoulders were now tense once more, a change Magnus had not even noticed until this very moment, and hated his two best friends even more for it.

"We had no choice." Clary said "There are only so many times you can listen to some of these songs without losing your patience."

"Besides, Jordan and Maia dared us to do it." Simon added "Clary couldn't back down of a challenge… You know how stubborn she is"

"I'm not stubborn! I'm…" she paused, finally realizing that the three of them were not alone. "Hi. Sorry, I-I didn't see… Well, I didn't realize you were there. Sorry."

"It's fine." Alec said, nodding his head, his eyes darting from her, to his feet, and then to some point behind the painter and writer.

"Clary, Simon, this is Alexander… Or Alec, for short." Magnus introduced with an exasperated sigh "Alec, this is Clary and Simon, also known as my former best friends."

"Former?" Simon asked, surprise in his voice "What made us lose our coveted status?"

Magnus looked at Alec and then at Simon, giving his answer without a smile or a word.

"Oh." Said Simon, quickly understanding.

"Yeah. Oh." Magnus said, his smile turning bitter "What do you want?"

"We were just looking for you, but now… I'm sorry, Alec, but… hum…" Clary started, proceeding to take out her phone "Can I take a picture of you? It will only take a second?"

Alec frowned, while Magnus looked at his friend in horror.

"Why would even ask that?" Magnus asked, looking at Alec once more, noticing the boy was becoming more and more uncomfortable as the seconds ticked by, his face redder than he had ever seen.

"His eyes." Clary answered "Your blue eyes, I don't think I've ever seen a shade of blue quite like that! I need a picture to use as reference once I start mixing paint!"

"You know, the picture probably wouldn't get the correct shade." Said Simon.

"I know, but it would still be better than trying to recreate it from memory. By having a picture, I can at least have somewhat the right shade and then I can adjust it!" Clary than turned to Alec "Please?"

Alec looked at Magnus, who was still trying to figure out just how this night could have turned so wrong so fast, and then back to the point behind the engaged couple.

"I-I guess that's fine." Alec replied, looking back at Clary, the fluster never leaving his cheeks.

"Thank you!"

And just as quick as that, Clary raised her phone and snapped a picture of the boy, taking him by surprise. She then proceeded to look at the screen, smiling brightly, clearly satisfied with the result.

"I'm so sorry." Magnus said once he was sure Clary was not listening, and instead showing the picture to her fiancée. He promised himself that, once his party was over and his apartment empty of witnesses, he would kill his best friend "I really am! I…"

"I-It's ok." Alec tried to smile reassuringly "No harm done. I… I have Jace and Izzy, I… I understand how it is."

Magnus laughed at that, hoping to still salvage the night.

"In fact… I should… I should probably go look for them. Make sure they haven't gotten into too much trouble or broken anything" So much for that "It was nice to meet you, Magnus. Clary and Simon."

Alec stood up and quickly started to walk towards the crowd, never turning back. Magnus paused for a second, borrowing a pen from Simon which he knew the man always carried with him, before following the blue eyed man.

"Wait!" Magnus called "Alec, wait!"

He stopped, looking at him surprised.

"Here." Magnus did not hesitate to grab Alec's wrist once more and turning his palm over, barely taking notice of the carved mark that was quickly healing close to his thumb before writing something down. He released his hand and looked at the shocked boy with his most flirtatious smile "Call me?"

The boy nodded before disappearing into the crowd. Magnus' gaze trailed after him until long after he was no longer visible among the sea of people. Returning to the bar, he asked for the strongest cocktail they had, and proceeded to glare at the happily engaged couple.

"I hope you're happy." He said "You just scared off the cutest bed warmer I've ever met!"

"Oh, come off of it." Simon waved off his complaint "You gave him your phone number, didn't you?"

"Of course I did."

"Then you'll have your chance to sleep with him, sooner or later."


Alec found small relief at the fact that no one could see or hear them at the moment; all three of them were under glamour, standing in the middle of the room without concerning themselves with the other guests.

Izzy and Jace were laughing, and had been doing so for quite a while. Alec had seen them follow their Charges to the kitchen, their laughter becoming more and more intolerable as the situation became more awkward to the Lightwood Shadowhunter.

"Stop it, already!" Alec said, fuming at the two "It's not funny!"

"It's pretty funny!" Izzy said, laughing "Your Charge flirting with you all night long,…"

"No doubt hoping to corrupt our adorable Alec" Jace added

"And then Clary breaking the mood and taking pictures of you…!" Izzy continued as if Jace hadn't spoken "Oh, Alec, you should have seen your face!"

"I should try and steal that picture from Clary." Jace smirked "It's too glorious not to have it."

"I want a copy!" Izzy said, still laughing.

"No you don't!" Alec said, furious at himself for blushing even more, causing his kin and honorary kin to laugh harder at him "I'm serious! We're leaving! There is no reason for us to remain here!"

He paused, looking at the palm of his hand, where his Charge had written a sequence of numbers.

"I'll need to clean these off later, whatever they are…" he said to himself, before leaving the building with Jace and Izzy.


Magnus remained by the door for the rest of the night. He watched and bid farewell as each of his guests left, secretly hoping to meet that shaggy mass of uneven cut ink black hair and ocean deep blue eyes that was Alexander. But as each guest left, it became more and more obvious that the awfully dressed man whom Magnus hoped to canoodle with and then forget all about was long gone.

So much for getting laid tonight.

Chapter Text

..::Part I: Accelerando::..

~Chapter 04~

Blood. There was so much blood. When diluted by sweat it trickled from his forehead, dividing his left eye in unequal halves as it slowly made its way down to his mouth, allowing him to taste the watery mixture. It tasted the same way the room smelled: salty, metallic, and utterly putrid.

His body was stretched in an unnatural position – both his wrists were held by tight cuffs that hung from the ceiling, holding his limbs up in an agonizing angle, dislocation his two shoulders. The cuffs around his ankles pulled his lower body down, creating an opposing force that, when aided by gravity, stretched his body to the point where it felt like all of his appendages would surely tear from the rest of his body just like a rubber band that had been stretched beyond its limits before it suddenly snapped.

He could not move. The cuffs held his body midair while the opposing forces – the ones that created a dull and yet intense ache, combined with a sharp pain that could only be a result of the slow tearing of his muscles – transformed his bare torso into a steady canvas, decorated by the works of his capturers' knives, whips, and branding iron.

Even if he managed to break free from those chains, the chances of him making it outside the room were nonexistent; the bones in his joints had been broken so many times that they had long turned into what felt like a mixture of fine powder and chunky calcium. His breathing was heavy and his mouth felt dry despite the fact that it was tightly closed with teeth digging into his lips, drawing even more blood, and successfully preventing him from making any noise. There were cuts everywhere. They had been spreaded all across his skin and muscles, which had been exposed due a skilled Downworlder and her meticulous knife work; the memory of her smile and her jovial voice as she expertly separated skin from muscle – slowly peeling it as a Mundane would an apple, only to later stab the newly exposed surface, and then drag the knife creating a deep cut, repeating the process over and over again – was one he would never be able forget.

But despite its constant presence, he did not feel any of that. All the pain caused by  those  wounds, old and new, was muted by the big hooks that also hung from the ceiling in a similar fashion as the ones from a Mundane butcher shops. Encrusted with rust and mold, they carved into him, holding him steady against the cool stone wall. It was not exhaustion that caused him to drift between unconscious and disorientation… It was the torturous pain, the pain caused by those hooks that clung to him like a parasite did to its host, feeding itself on his energy and slowly draining away his life.

The first thing his brain, which seemed encompassed by a thick fog, registered was the clicking sound of long and thin heels. He could not remember if he had been unconscious or too aware of the pain to notice the heavy wooden door with creaky hinges open. How long had it been since someone had come for him? How long had it been since he last fainted? He could not remember. He could barely remember anything, barely  think  of anything, barely make sense of what was happening and what he was supposed to do.

He knew that he wanted the pain to go away, though. But he also knew that, no matter what, he could never give himself that possibility.

"Oh, don't go drifting off on me, you loyal little soldier," a sing song female voice said. "Today's fun is just about to start~"

A long and elegant finger raised his head up, allowing him to see a smirk on a beautiful pale face through the curtains of his black hair that seemed pasted to his forehead. He knew those fingers too well; they were the same fingers that wielded the knife, that sometimes clung to the handle of the whips, and that, when she was feeling especially elated, held on to the cool end of an iron bar and burned different drawings upon his torso.

Out of all his captors, she was the one who most enjoyed paying him visits.

"Are you going to cooperate today, little soldier? Or is the Clave's leash a little too short for that?"

He gave her no answer. Her fingers left his chin, allowing his head to drop once again, before travelling down his neck, collarbone, and then retreating. He kept his eyes on her hand, all too aware of the way his throat felt so dry that the process of swallowing only seemed to cause the walls on his throat to scratch themselves, making the taste of blood even more prominent. Sweat trickled down the raw, burnt skin on his hip before being absorbed by a cut that sliced the muscles on his thigh. His dislocated shoulders tensed on instinct, causing the chains and the hooks creaked as he took a sharp intake of breath.

His teeth dug deeper into his lips.

"Oh, already so excited, but we haven't even begun playing!" she stepped closer and positioned her hands just below his eyes. "I wonder if your masters will be upset if they found out their little dog has been playing with someone else… Probably not." He could hear the smile in her voice "If they cared at all about you, they would have come to your rescue a long time ago, little soldier"

His eyes narrowed as she started laughing.

"And yet, you remain so loyal!" she said "Just the way they like it! They trained you so well!"

Eventually, her laugher stopped, yet he could still hear her smirk as she continued on.

"Hey, little soldier… How about we start with our favorite little game?"

His blue eyes widened. In one hand was a familiar silver revolver, and the other one held a single bullet.

"You know, the one we always play. It's always so much fun~" as she spoke, her tone carrying a certain melody, her fingers easily slipped the bullet into the cylinder, and with one casual flick, she set it spinning.

The smirk never left her lips.

"This won't kill you..." with one finger she raised his chin again, just as before. He could see her beautiful face, so elegant and enticing that men in the olden days would have fought numerous wars to win her favor. His mind never registered that fact though, for her other hand pointed the revolver at him, the cool barrel touching the center of his forehead, demanding all of his attention. "But it will hurt. A lot."

His breath hitched and his eyes widened, looking at the gun.

"Now… Will you cooperate?" she asked "Will you tell me where they are?"

Despite his shaking, his blue eyes burned with defiance as he forced them away from the weapon and turned to stare at brilliant green ones.

His lips remained shut while her smirk grew wider.

"Wrong answer, little soldier~"

Her finger pulled the trigger

Alec had not realized what he had done until he saw one blue arrow ripping through the black New York City sky, travelling great distances until it finally disappeared from his view. He was panting, his right arm still extended in front of him, clutching to his bow with a white-knuckled grip. As his mind slowly returned to the present, the Shadowhunter became aware of his shaking, feeling the muscles on his face slowly relax from a terrified expression.

He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and lowered his arm. Another deep breath and he could feel his shoulders relax and the grip on his bow slackened. The third time he started moving his aching neck, one hand massaging the back of it as the bow in the other one disappeared. A forth deep breath and he stopped, listening to the honks and car alarms and yells and laughter that were so common in the city, even at night; he listened closely, hanging on to each sound as tightly as he had to his bow, willing them to deaden the sound of heels on cold stone floor and quivering metal chains. The polluted air felt heavy on his lungs, the smell of at least three different types of smoke mixing themselves with the scent of urine and air fresheners.

When his lungs took a fifth fill of that same foul air, Alec opened his eyes again, feeling them sting slightly. He had not realized until then that he had been crying.

He quickly wiped his tears away, before walking away from the edge of the building. He was at the same rooftop where he spent most of his nights, his heavy boots not making a single sound against the clean concrete floor as paced from one side to the other, his mind always paying close attention to his Charge who lay encased by heavy blankets that provided him with warmth, comfort, and peaceful sleep.

Alec smiled bitterly as he sat back on the floor, drew his knees to his chest, and laid his eyes on the starless night sky.


Magnus' eyes turned towards the television, taking in the fight between the women with disinterest. As he lay on Clary and Simon's brown crouch, occupying two out of the three seats as his feet dangled off the edge of one of the arm rests, he wondered once again if he had ever truly enjoyed watching America's Next Top Model. Somehow he doubted. It was probably one of those cases where he had become accustomed to watching it after years of leaving it on in the background as his mind searched for something to contemplate. The only thing that the violinist found remotely interesting in the reality show were the designer clothes and the photos they showed in the last fifteen minutes of the hour long program, and even then it wasn't like he liked them that much. The photos were good, sure, and the clothes were fabulous, but in his opinion they hardly made up for the other forty-five minutes spent listening to the girls either argue or bad-mouth each other in a highly edited version of whatever actually happened inside the house. Honestly, if Magnus had been interested in watching unnecessary drama he would had put on a soap opera; the unrealistic conflicts that were extended long after they were overdue for a resolution always managed to lift his spirits. It was a guilty pleasure that he had never been ashamed of and never considered abandoning it, despite Simon's numerous attempts to get him to watch regular prime time dramas.

And yet, for some reason, the twenty inch screen resting on the east wall of the living room, positioned just a few feet away from where Magnus was, had displayed nothing but America's Next Top Model for the past five hours. And it was not as if any of them were paying attention to the show either; after scrolling through Tumblr, checking pictures of his party on Facebook and Instagram, and reading the tweets about said event, Magnus had spent most of his time reading online arguments on the comment section of a newly released trailer of a yet to be released movie. Simon was sitting by the dining table located five feet behind the couch, next to the big window on the north wall where a cup of coffee had been sitting forgotten on the window sill for the past three days. He wore noise cancelling headphones as he typed restlessly in his laptop. A notebook was opened on his right, and five other books were spread out across the glass surface of the four seat table. There was another cup of coffee to the left of the writer, and behind the dining room table, where they had the same open concept kitchen as Magnus, were three other mugs of coffee by the sink, and two unfinished ones by the counter island. Magnus would often shudder when he thought of what Chairman Meow would do if he were to leave so many unlidded filled containers lying around his apartment; sometimes the violinists considered giving the happy couple a kitten in order to teach them how to clean up after themselves, but quickly discarded the idea when he remembered what happened last time they took care of Magnus' precious feline.

Clary was by the entrance of the apartment – usually referred to as her studio – with only one earphone to her ear as she mixed paint in her palette and frowned at the result. When Clary and Simon first decided to convert that section of the living room into the artist's workspace, Magnus had been the first to inform drinking fairy potion would have been a better idea. Naturally, the couple had ignored his advice, and now every single one of their guests was greeted by the delicious fragrancy of paint and turpentine; instead of trying to create the inviting atmosphere with furniture Magnus had selected for them, the two littered the place with three canvases stands and a small nightstand that had turned from its previous white coloring to a mixture of different acrylic colors and charcoal stains. Large disassembled cabinet doors – which Clary used as drawing boards – were set against the east wall, providing for even more obstacles when one tried to avoid the duct tape rolls and medical masks that were always scattered across the floor. It made the entire place feel incredibly cluttered when combined with the house plants Clary's mother gave them, and Simon's piles of books.

And yet, despite knowing that he would never be able to properly function if he lived with such décor, Magnus found that the place was perfectly suited for the engaged couple – that is, if you ignored the girls' excited screeches coming from the television.

Really, if none of them were watching the marathon, why hadn't Magnus changed the channel yet? Would he even watch whatever other program he found? He highly doubted, and yet the idea of turning off the electronic device seemed unthinkable.

Clary's frustrated sigh prevented Magnus from dwelling any on that possibility further. The violinist smirked as he rolled onto his stomach and perched his face up with his left hand, his other one carelessly leaving his smartphone on top of the coffee table.

"What was that?" Magnus asked "Was it… Was it a sigh?"

Clary glared at him, but said nothing.

"I think it was. A very… Impatient, sigh, I believe." His smirk never left his face "And my magnificent self is never wrong, you know. I do take pride on that."

"A little too much pride, if you ask me." Clary said "Mostly undeserved."

"Excuse me?" Magnus' voice was a bit too high as he tucked his legs beneath his thighs and sat back on his heels "Undeserved? Really? After I went through all that trouble of making you look nice and beautiful for my party last week? That's very hurtful!"

"Your feelings won't be the only thing hurting if you'd stop it, Magnus"

"Are you… Are you lashing out?" Magnus sat up, his eyes not leaving his friend "First a frustrated sigh, and now lashing out… You know, darling, those are two warning signs right there."

"Shut it, Magnus."

"I'm serious. I know you say it has never happened to you, but there is a first time for everything. You should just accept the facts. Your fiancée goes through it, I go through, and now you."

"Stop it, Magnus!" She yelled, setting her paint brush down.

"Frankly, I'm glad it happened now." Magnus continued "This way all three of us can go through our artistic blocks together!"

"I'm not going through a block!" Clary was now fully facing the violinist, eyes blazing with fury as Magnus mockingly tapped his chin with one of his fingers.

"You've been mixing paint for hours without ever actually painting anything. You sigh in frustration, and now you are mad at me because I'm pointing out that—"

"I'm not going through a block! I'm not!" at Magnus' unconvinced look, the woman opened the top of drawer of the nightstand and tossed him a sketchbook "See that? All of it is thumbnails for future paintings! And that's just one of them! I have three others that I completed in this year alone!"

Magnus flipped through the sketchbook, impressed; every single page had at least one detailed thumbnail of a project Clary planned on working on. Most of them were quite elaborate, depicting battles, gothic cathedrals, enormous trees or rooms with high ceilings, angels and demons… Sometimes all of it in one single sketch. The edges of the pages were with notes about details, color palettes, medium of choice, dimensions, and even titles.

"I have tons of ideas! I have more ideas than time or materials to work on them!" Magnus continued to flip through the sketchbook as she redhaired spoke "What I do not have, is an artist's block!"

"Okay, fine." Magnus closed the sketchbook and before raising his hands in defeat "You're not going through a block. It's just me and Simon, then. As always."

"That's right" Clary picked up her brush and palette once more, frowning at the colors. "I've never had one. Never, in my entire life. I've always known exactly what I wanted to do and how I wanted it done. You know that."

"Yeah, I know" Magnus slowly walked towards his childhood friend, being careful to avoid the pastel portrayed of a golden haired man as he maneuvered his way through the living room. "So why all the frowning and sighing? What's wrong?"

She sighed once more before looking at him. Their eyes met and then she looked to the canvas stand in front of them. A cheap and large piece of paper was taped to the wooden framed, its white negative space broken apart by brush strokes of different shades of blue. On the upper right corner, the printed picture of a familiar face stared at them with shocked eyes.

Magnus frowned at the familiar picture; the unfocused lens, combined with the pale flash of the camera, and the poor lighting of the room that day did Alexander's face little justice. He looked too pale, too skinny, and absolutely terrified. And yet, even in this poor representation of the man, Magnus could still say with honesty that he found him beautiful.

"I can't find the right shade." Clary explained, her eyes not tearing away from the picture "I've bought every single shade of blue I could find. I mixed it with orange and with white and mixed all the shades together, and still nothing! I tried adding black, maybe a little bit of purple or green… But nothing works! I just… I can't find it… No matter how hard I try!" she sighed once "That has only happened once before, with a gold that I could see so clearly in mind but for the life of me could not replicate with my paint and… And I can't believe it's happening again! It's just so…! It's so frustrating!"

Magnus nodded. His eyes lingered on the picture before he turned towards the woman, sighing.

"His eyes truly were beautiful. Amazing, even! The most beautiful blue I've ever seen." He grabbed his phone and turning his attention towards the tiny screen before flopping back into the brown couch "If you hadn't scared him off, maybe I would have been of some help, you know. By the next morning that color would have been etched into my memory, and I would have been able to tell you exactly what you needed to change."

"Oh please." Simon finally spoke up "Eddard Stark had more chances of surviving the first book than you had of sleeping with that guy."

Magnus turned to face his friend, one eyebrow raised.

"I thought those were noise cancelling headsets." His tone sounded unimpressed "Expensive noise cancelling headsets. Bought just so Clary and I could talk and you could write in peace."

"They cancel out noise, Magnus. Not bullshit."

"Ouch."

"What's with you and that boy anyway?" Simon closed his computer. He headed to the kitchen and started to fill the coffee machine with water "I've never seen you that upset over a person before."

"It has nothing to do with my two former best friends scaring off said gorgeous person with equally gorgeous eyes – who, by the way, was clearly very into me – I'll tell you that." Magnus also stood up and headed towards the kitchen, siting by the counter "It's the fact that he never called. That is what's making me upset."

"That's not a first, though" Clary joined Magnus and resting both her arms in the fake granite countertop.

"She's right." As the coffee was being made, Simon grabbed a glass cup and filled with grape juice, handing it over to the violinist "Even when they don't call you, you usually forget about possible one night stands within twelve hours."

"Well, usually Clary doesn't have a picture of them hanging there, staring at me every time I come in through the door." Magnus took a sip of his juice before glancing at Simon "How are you not jealous of that, anyway?"

"And risk repeating the middle school incident?" Simon shook his head "It's Clary. I'm not going to be jealous over what man she chooses to draw… Well, not again."

"I don't want to draw him. I just want his eyes!" Magnus had to hold back a laugh "I knew the moment I saw them that they were the perfect color for a painting I want to work on!"

"Well, you settled last time." Magnus tried not to glance at the pastel portrait taped to the cabinet door "Can't you do the same this time?"

"Settling means defeat." She answered "I won't give up. Not until I'm absolutely sure it's impossible!"

"Nothing is impossible," Simon said "Or so I'm told. I'm going through my own block, so everything seems impossible without coffee."

"You mean your bean juice," Magnus said "I don't understand how people survived on that stuff for so long. Thank God for Starbucks."

"It's not like we drink it black." Clary wrinkled her nose at the thought "We don't do it like in Europe. The one we buy tastes very similar to the ones they sell at Starbucks."

"Similar is not good enough. Settling for anything that is not Starbucks would be like settling for a simple ultramarine blue for your painting. It means admitting defeat."

Clary glared at him while Magnus laughed.

"Were you even able to find out anything about him?" Simon asked "You know, besides his name and whatever."

"No, sadly." Magnus sighed "I tried to find Facebook profiles, twitter, tumblr, instagram… Nothing. Not even the two people he was with seem to have any accounts. You'd think after crashing my survival party they would be bragging about it all over social media, but there's nothing. Absolutely nothing."

"That's… Weird." Clary frowned, and Simon nodded.

"I know." Magnus sighed "And I'm afraid I'll keep thinking about this since Clary has that picture up—"

"I need to find the color!"

"—And I have zero inspiration for my next album, even after a terrifyingly close and painful encounter with death."

"Oh, stop with the drama already." Simon rolled his eyes "You weren't even hurt."

"A stage light fell on me, Simon."

"It fell ten feet away from you, Magnus."

"It was three feet," he corrected "You wouldn't know. You weren't there."

"I was there. We both were."

"Then you know I could have died. It was a miracle it didn't happen. It was like God Himself saw I was about to die and decided that no, it was too soon, it was not my time; I still have to grace millions of others with my beautiful music, and so he saved me"

"Amazing." Simon shook his head "How can you not be able to compose anything when you can come up with such crap right on the spot?"

"Maybe that's the reason." Clary smirked "He's brain is too busy coming up with these excuses rather than thinking about music."

"I'm always thinking about music, Clarrissa." Magnus said "My problem is a lack of muse. Of inspiration. I have nothing to write about. Everything seems so… Mundane."

Simon and Clary looked at each other.

"Well… Maybe if things were less mundane you could find some inspiration." Clary said.

"That is stating the obvious, darling." Magnus rolled his eyes "Didn't you hear what I just said?"

"No, what I meant was… Less… Less like your everyday life." Clary continued as Simon opened one of the kitchen drawers "Maybe if you went somewhere you are not used to going… Somewhere you've never been to before, in fact... Maybe the change of scenery would help you."

"Maybe…?" Magnus raised both his eyebrows.

"Maybe. Maybe you need to be surrounded by creativity. Surrounded by people passionate about what they love and expressing that passion through different forms of creativity and…!"

Magnus did not need to see Simon giving him the tickets to know what they were trying to do.

"No."

"Oh, come on!" Simon said "It's just one weekend. Next weekend."

"And that's one weekend I could spend watching…" he paused "Watching America's Next Top Model. I'm pretty sure there's going to be a marathon then."

"There's an America's Next Top Model marathon every weekend. Come on, Magnus! Give it a chance!" Clary said "We already bought you a ticket!"

"This is your thing, Clary." Magnus said "Yours and Simon's. I'm not going to Comic Con. This is not even the big one in San Diego."

"Well, obviously." Simon rolled his eyes "Like we would have the money to buy three tickets, plus airfare, plus hotel stays for the San Diego Comic Con."

"Not that the one in New York City is bad." Clary clarified "It's just smaller. It's still tons of fun, though."

"And it's not during the summer. So no humidity and high temperatures or anything like that."

"I don't know." Magnus grabbed the ticket and looked over it "Like I said, this is not my scene. Nothing against it, but…"

"Well, then why not try it?" Clary asked "Just this once? Just to give me support. This is the first time I'll be selling my art in a convention this big, and I need the support."

"You want me to stay with you in your stand all weekend?"

"Only when Simon isn't there. Maybe." Clary said "You encouraged me to peruse my dream, Magnus, and you have always been there for every major step in my life as an artist, and—"

"Selling your stuff at the New York Comic Con doesn't seem like a big deal compared to showing your paintings off in galleries in hope of winning awards, Clary."

"And it makes me feel less nervous knowing you are around the area, even if I can't see you." Clary continued "Please Magnus…! For me?"

He was silent.

"Come on, Bane." Simon smiled "What have you got to lose?"

The coffee machine beeped, announcing that the couple's coffee was ready, but neither of them moved.

"Alright, fine. You win." He sighed and looked at his ticket "You're right, I guess. I don't have anything to lose."


Alec shifted his weight from one foot to another. Exhaling deeply, he mindlessly tugged at the tattered sleeve of his hoodie. His back faced a concrete pillar as he waited for his companion to return, his gaze wandering through the space, blinking rapidly as his eyes took in as many details as he could: the concrete floor of the lower level which had been embellished with a bright red carpet, long ruined by the mud ridden footwear of numerous attendees, the colorful banners hanging from the high ceiling advertising different products in bold letter, the numerous paper and plastic stalls creating a simplistic – yet still difficult to maneuver – labyrinth, and the massive number of people in elaborate costumes had left the Lightwood Shadowhunter completely aghast.

It was all too much.

He tried to drown away the excited laughter and fanatic chatter, licking his lips and counting his breath, trying to prevent sensory overload. The bright artificial lights gave him a painful headache that seemed to worsen every time a Mundane walked too close for his comfort.

He hated crowds. He hated being surrounded by people, especially if they could see him. Balls and masquerades had been easy to handle; the rooms were big, people kept their distances, and the poor lighting of the time helped calm his mood. Taverns were more complicated – people were loud, drunk, yelling and fighting, wasting their money in games and prostitutes, all within a small confined space that smelled too foul for Alec's liking. But despite all of these conditions, he never had any problems similar to this while frequenting those; Jace was quite found of causing brawls, boasting of his superiority, challenging drunks and fierce warriors alike, and so the slightly older Shadowhunter always had something to distract him from his discomfort.

But then again, even though he always disliked Mundane crowds, Alec never felt as sick around them as he did now. Oddly enough, solitude was no longer a remedy for it either. If crowds made Alec feel suffocated, overwhelmed even, the solitude provided him with a terror far greater than irritation, headaches, and nausea.

It was as if even after the nightmare was over, Alec's mind could not let go of its horror. It grasped at it, allowing the terror to take over his chest and spread through the rest of his body, dominating his being. Crowds were overwhelming - they overpowered his senses and showed him how he did not belong.

Solitude proved to him that he would never know peace again.

"Alec!" he heard the voice call in the distance, and quickly turned his face as a smile grew on his lips, relief washing over him.

"Max." Alec nodded as his kin caught up with him "Everything okay?"

"Yeah," he nodded "It was hard to find her at first, but I did! She's in line for a panel."

"Your Charge?" Alec asked.

"Yes." Max nodded again "I know I don't have to… To know her exact location at all times, but there are a lot of people here. And I just wanted to be certain, you know? Just be certain."

Alec smiled.

"I understand. She's your first Charge, isn't she?"

"She's not my only Charge but…" Max blushed "Yeah, she's my first. I got my second one three years ago. And I look after him as well! I do! I'm always keeping track of him and…!"

Alec chuckled, ruffling his kin's hair as he did so.

"It's okay. Your first Charge is special. It's natural to be more protective of them; to want to be near them and see that they are okay without relying on tracking senses."

"Is it?" Alec noted that his kin's shoulders relaxed a little "Robert says that it's a silly habit… He said it was counterproductive. And Maryse… Well, she said that it's wiser to stay in a place where you can get a better sense of the area, rather than up close. A-And they both said I can't… Can't play favorites."

"And they're right, in a way. Your duty is to protect all of your Charges, no matter what. Favoritism can get in the way. Usually, though, one only gets their second Charge after the first dies, because everyone knows we tend to be a bit more protective of our firsts." Alec sighed "For you and your generation… Things had to be a little different."

"Because of the War," Max stated.

"Yes. The War… It's changing all of us." He shook his head, trying to cast out such thoughts "But don't worry too much; taking care of a Charge is something you become accustomed to over time. The distance and the tracking… Those are all things you grow used to, and soon enough you'll learn what combination is ideal for you. Izzy refused to leave her first Charge alone in a room. Jace, on the other hand, was more comfortable with a little more distance, but he always kept his first Charge within eyesight." Alec had a found smile as he spoke "And slowly, as they got more Charges and became more comfortable with their role as Shadowhunters, they began to be more comfortable with the distance. And so will you."

Max listened with attentiveness. His young face smiled at the story while simultaneously frowning slightly as he tried to take what he deemed as wisdom in his Alec's words.

"Besides, you are still young." he continued "To expect you to behave like a fully-fledged Shadowhunter is just plain stupid. You're doing a great job as it is, Max. Don't worry too much about it."

The young Shadowhunter smiled at the praise.

"But… What about you?" Max asked, after a moment of silence

"What about me?"

"Well… What is it that you prefer? How were you with your first Charge?"

The fondness in Alec's smile was quickly replaced with bitterness

"I'm… I'm not someone you should take as an example, Max." Alec said "My current position is proof of that."

Max seemed to want reply, to object, but instead he lowered his gaze. An awkward silence reined over them until Alec ruffled the younger Lightwood's hair once again, earning an irritated grunt as the younger Shadowhunter tried to slap his kin's hands away. Alec laughed, and soon Max joined, but the heaviness in Alec's words were not truly forgotten.

The two began walking, maneuvering their way through the crowds, careful of photographers and foam swords. Max, dressed in Mundane jeans and a black t-shirt with white and a blue wings crossing at the back, lead their way to the vendors.

The younger Lightwood had been elated when Alec had appeared one day at the abandoned church with the announcement that his Charge would be at the New York Comic Con. He had explained how his own Charge would be attending the exact same convention in the exact same dates. Max smiled broadly as he claimed that this would be a great opportunity for them to spend time together, just the two of them. Izzy and Jace, who had been jumping from one wooden bench to the other as they sparred while Alec watched them in silence, were quick to mock the youngest Lightwood's excitement over the news. The two had made the worst crying pretense Alec had ever seen as they accused Max of liking him better.

"Of course I like Alec better!" Max's face blushed despite the certainty he tried to carry in his voice "He's not an ass, like the two of you!"

Jace and Izzy could not hold back their laughter as Alec reprimanded the boy for his language.

"Besides!" he continued "The two of you already dragged him to a party to show him what the 21st century was like! Now it's my turn!"

Despite Izzy and Jace's claim that the New York Comic Con was not an accurate representation of main stream 21st century culture, Alec agreed that he would attend the event with Max. They decided that they stay together and visible throughout the entire event, so that they could properly enjoy the convention.

Nothing could have prepared Alec for what was to come.

The skies were gray, the cold October winter blew mercilessly that morning, and yet Mundanes still lined up outside the four story glass building, their excitement refusing to die out even as the temperature dropped. While the two waited for Max's Charge to get her badge in the registration area, Alec tried to ignore the sharp pang of amazement and envy that stung his chest whenever he watched the Mundanes' passion over the event.

Now, as he watched Max run his fingers through the spines of the mangas, Alec could feel that same envy grow inside of him again. The younger Shadowhunter's eyes held a hunger, an eagerness that Alec hadn't been capable of feeling for centuries. Although Jace had compared the two Shadowhunters the night of Alec's Charge's party, the older Lightwood could easily see the falsehood in the blonde's words.

It was something that happened to every Shadowhunter at some point in their lives. Alec knew, too, that someday it would happen to Max as well; it was only a matter of time before the amazement that came from reading and listening to stories, from learning and savoring Mundane culture would quickly be killed by cold resentment.

It happened to Alec first. After taking his Vows, Alec enjoyed following his Charges around, learning about the Mundane world as much as he could. The first time he heard a story it had been in the form of a song. It told the tale of a hero who slayed monsters and protected his people while learning, through his journey, that his own hubris was his biggest enemy. Alec knew the tale to be false, the plot line to be so generic that the hero's name had died throughout the centuries, his culture now but a shallow footnote on a history textbook…. And yet, the story had enticed the young Lightwood, just as it did the villagers.

It did not take long before Alec's curiosity grew, and he sought new tales. He watched plays, learned myths, and read books that present historians would have easily killed dozens to see. The world of fiction did more than just entertain Alec – it fascinated him. It allured him… Enchanted him! It encased him within a magic spell of bliss and astonishment… A magic spell so beautiful that Alec wished it would never end.

In those days, he could have easily spent years, centuries, doing nothing but learning and memorizing the stories Mundanes' imagination had created. His natural shyness prevented him from joining cultural celebration, but he would always watch them with a smile on his face, his blue eyes glowing with a happiness that would force him to walk with quick and bouncing steps in order to release some of his excitement.

As it was only natural, soon he began to wonder what stories and what legends his own kind had. He thought about the Clave's building, sitting on the top of a distant hill, unyielding to most Shadowhunter, and wondered if inside there was a library containing numerous scrolls with legends and stories and myths. He thought about the trees that bloomed in an eternal spring, the rivers of cold water so pristine one could easily forget, if not for the way it reflective Idris' pale light, that the water was even there. He also thought of the never ending mist that always swirled in the grounds of the Shadowhunter realm – why it was there and how it knew when to move so it would never be tainted were two enigmas which Alec had never questioned… And as he thought of the beauties and the mysteries of his home, as thought of his kind, Alec discovered that, no matter how hard he tried, he could never find a single trace of any stories, songs, or legends about his own people in his memories.

He felt his throat tightening slightly at the realization, dread slowly creeping into his mind. Denial, a feeling most Shadowhunters relied on, quickly pushed the feeling away, trying to reassure him of the impossible and delay the inevitable.

The illusion was shattered not long after. He had been in Alicante, staring at the beautiful crystal statues that adorned the white stones of the Court. The mist cascaded from their ankles lazily, slowly trickling above the vertical stones before meeting the crystal floor and expanding outwardly, covering the beautiful surface. The light was paler than usual that day, filtering in through the tinted windows and reflecting off the body of the statues, making Alec wonder what colors their true forms had possessed when their counterparts still lived.

Hodge had been with him that day, briefing him on something that his mind had not registered; all he could think about was those statues, how he admired them for as long as he could remember, how taught Izzy, Jace, and Max to respect them, while still knowing nothing about the Shadowhunters who were honored in such an immortal manner.

"Who were they?" he had asked Hodge, eyes squinting against the light.

"Shadowhunters," the man raised an eyebrow, unhappy with the interruption "Shadowhunters who died protecting their Charges."

"I know that." Alec nodded "Shadowhunters are not meant to die. Mundane weapons, Demon weapons… Almost nothing can kill us. And yet they perished while protecting their Charges. That's why those statues were created."

"If you know that, then why did you ask?"

"I asked who they were, not why they are there." Alec finally turned to look at the older Shadowhunter whose branch was so close to his own "What were their names? Their branches? Who were their kins? And their Charges! Why did they need so much protection? And how… How exactly did these Shadowhunters die? What are… What are their story?"

Hodge looked at him with pitying eyes, before turning his gaze to the stain glass windows.

"Do you know why our laws are depicted in the windows of the Court, Alexander?"

Alec frowned, before shifting his own eyes to the glass. They illustrated the laws of Idris with nothing more than colors and illustrations. He, as every other Shadowhunter, had memorized those laws, which had been repeated to him time and time again during this youth.

But why they were there, why their laws and the consequences for breaking them were materialized only in those windows, Alec could not tell. He decided to stay quiet and wait for Hodge to answer his own question.

"It's because the only writing we have is for runes and markings."

Alec's eyes widened and his breath hitched. He tried desperately to cling to denial, but already he could feel its warmth shredding, as if a blanket draped on his form was slowly, and yet suddenly, unwoven.

"We don't. But neither do many other Mundanes." Alec said "There are many Mundane cultures and languages that lack a writing system. It doesn't mean anything."

"But those cultures and languages have rich oral traditions for which they pass down their tales." Hodge did not look at him "We do not have that either. You know it very well. Don't you understand? We have the runes we use for healing, and the markings we use to distinguish our branches and ranks… But that is all we have. We do not have an alphabet – a writing system – of our own. Besides our laws, we do not have anything to pass down to our young. No stories, no records, and no tales."

Hodge's voice was cold as he spoke; detached and stern. Alec had felt the heaviness of those words sink in his heart with dread, trying to swallow away the bitter taste they left in his mouth.

"You asked me their names. You asked me their stories. I know not who they were, and neither does anyone else. They do not have stories. We have no use for them."

Finally, he turned to look at the younger Shadowhunter.

"We are not humans, Alexander. Remember that."

And with that simple statement, all the joys of creativity, were lost to Alec forever. When he returned to the Earthly realm, no play or myth, no poem or song could bring him happiness. He watched and listened in silent, newborn envy embracing him with the familiarity and tender strength of a lover. Tears would sting his eyes as he tried and failed to take pleasure on what he once held so dearly. The spell was broken, its warmth gone, and delights destroyed. Alec now could only feel the cold and bitter resentment choking him as he observed his Charges share tales in ways he realized he never would.

What use were stories to soldiers? What need did servants have for myths and legends? For songs and poems? For imagination? When your existence was made for the sole purpose of war and servitude, why would need something as trivial as an alphabet of your own?

For the first time in his life, Alec wished he had been born a human.

Determination was what kept his resentment from growing into hate. His envy could never completely erase his admiration. He tried to do the same for Izzy and Jace; whenever Izzy showed signs of resentment towards Mundanes, Alec would take her to admire the different cultures humans were able to create with their freedom. He would smile at his kin, drowning away his own animosity in favor of feeding her happiness, of nurturing that same wonder he once indulged in, hoping that, once the inevitable happened, the grudge Izzy already felt towards humans would not grow into something worse.

She had been calm when it happened to her. They had been at a festival, following one of their Charges who were married to each other. Izzy had always been incredibly perceptive. No one had to explain to her why their kind had no stories, no festivals, or songs; everything just feel into place that day, pieces of the puzzle coming together and the answer to a question she never asked finally revealing itself. When Alec attempted to comfort her, she pushed him away. With distant eyes and a cold smile, Izzy said she wouldn't let the truth prevent her from having fun.

She continued to frequent as many festivities as she could. She continued to smile and laugh, dancing and socializing during those gatherings more than ever before. But the bitterness was still there, plain for Alec to see, even if Izzy tried her hardest to hide it from all – especially herself.

Despite Isabelle's great intelligence, denial had always been her fondest friend. Often times she would only see what she wanted to see.

It took a few centuries for Jace to come to the same realization. The blond Shadowhunter had always enjoyed the epic tales and war stories told at taverns. He would laugh and memorize them, retelling the tales over and over again while claiming that he could easily beat the heroes and monsters of said stories. His boasts of strength were usually accompanied by outrageous plans of going on a journey of his own, with Alec and Izzy as his companions, so that their own adventure would become a myth to be told for centuries.

It was while making one of these plans that the truth became clear for Jace. While detailing the heroic acts they would perform together, Jace had claimed that even Shadowhunters would know their story, telling it to young trainees in hope of inspiring them.

He stopped immediately, almost as if realizing how wrong such a scenery was; Shadowhunters, after all, did not tell stories, not even to their young. Just like Alec, Jace soon seemed to realize that he could not think of one story shared among their kind.

This lead to questions; questions Alec did not have the heart to answer. With his eyes blazing in its true golden color, Jace left to the realm of Idris.

Alec had made a move to follow him, but Izzy stopped him.

"Let him go." She had said "He needs to figure this out on his own."

They had found Jace hours later, in front of a burning tavern. His true form was proudly displayed, his natural golden glow even more striking when set against the red flames. Pieces of debris fell to the ground every few minutes, the fire seemingly growing stronger under Jace's hateful eyes.

"Jace, what did you do?!" Izzy had reached for his shoulders and tried to force him to face them, but the golden Shadowhunter shoved the female one away.

Alec was quick to run to Izzy, catching her before she fell on the ground. Once on her feet, her own eyes began to glow in their natural color as they often did when she was angry. She took one step and then another, clenching her fist and raising it, ready to strike.

Alec placed a gentle hand on her shoulder – one she could have easily brushed away as Jace had done with her. Instead, Izzy turned her now pink colored eyes to glare at Alec, then silently, yet reluctantly, stepped aside.

Alec took a step forward, his stance calm, unguarded.

"Jace, did you do this?"

Alec had not been surprised when Jace ignored his question.

"Jace, answer me." Alec tried to put more conviction into his words while keeping his body vulnerable "Did you do this?"

"What do you think, Lightwood?"

From the corner of his eye, Alec could see Izzy, who was standing with her arms crossed, tensing at the other boy's tone.

"Was there a demon nearby, Jace?"

Silence.

"Jace, was anyone hurt?"

When no answer came, Izzy uncrossed her arms, her face morphing from anger to concern.

"Jace. It's really important that you answer me. Right. Now." Alec tried to keep his voice steady as stepped forward "Did you… Did you kill a Mundane, Jace?"

"You don't need to talk to me like I'm some dangerous idiot, Alec." Jace finally turned around to face them "I know the laws. I know what happens to Shadowhunters who kill Mundanes. I'm not a child."

Alec sighed in relief, and was about to respond when Izzy cut in:

"Could have fooled us. Because that – that right there?" she gestured towards the burning building "Is exactly what a child would do! Throw a temper tantrum because they are envious and—"

"I'm NOT envious!"

Jace's yell shocked both Lightwood Shadowhunters. In a mere second Jace was marching towards them, his sword in hand, and his shoulders hunched forward as he put all his weight in each step.

"I'm a Shadowhunter! I'm a Shadowhunter of the mighty Herondale Branch! I've killed numerous – no! Countless demons! My kind – OUR kind is stronger than any Mundane could ever imagine! Stronger than their silly gods! Stronger and more powerful than any other being that has ever existed!"

He took a step at the end of each claim, walking past them before turning around once again. He raised his chin high, his sword still in hand, and his true form still glowing against the darkness of the night.

"I'm not envious of any Mundane."

Izzy smiled, while Alec watched his honorary kin with sadness. He knew his opinion would not be welcomed, and so he kept it to himself for centuries.

Now, as he looked at Max's eagerness to find a new series to read, Alec could not help but wonder how the young boy would react when he, too, came to this realization. Part of him wished for that to never happen; for Max to remain innocent of their position in the universe, of the consequences behind their connections with Mundanes. He hoped Max would always be able to take pleasure in Mundane stories, in their culture and their freedom, and not grow to resent them like all the others of their kind did.

Hesitantly, Alec reached for the first volume of a random series. It had a black spine with white letters, and its cover contained a black haired and red eyed man, dressed in a black suit against a white background; in one hand he held a teacup, while the other held the kettle high in the air, pouring the drink with a perfection that was not humanly possible.

Alec knew he would not take any joy in this story; he knew that reading this would bring him nothing but that cold feeling in his chest – that feeling of resentment that he had grown so accustomed to, but detested it all the same. And yet, part of him also knew that reading fiction, that partaking in creativity, was one of the few ways he could ever hope to know and understand all the things he missed during his time in the Front Line.

Alec had learned long ago that history as Mundanes told each other, as they wrote in books, was often biased. Their world was created in bloodshed, in the destruction of civilizations; one religion overtaking another, one empire destroying all traces of their enemies… Propagandas not only fueled wars, but also contributed to the erasure of all that which was different. History was always written from the perspective of the winner. Alec had seen the same thing happen over and over again; seen many cultures laid to waste, many customs forgotten by time, their knowledge denied from history by simple altering of scrolls or burning of buildings… The only faint remains of those lost civilizations, the only proof that they had ever existed, could be found in fiction alone.

Fiction, literature, mythology, music… They were some of the few things capable of surviving cultural genocide. Creativity always managed to slip through the tight grips of tyranny, hiding itself in clever words, only to be seen by those who searched for them. The creative product of a people told more about their history, about their beliefs and values than most realized. They were, most times, honest insights to the minds of those who helped shape the world, even if their contribution had been a mere dent in the fabric of their reality.

They gave Alec a small glimpse of what it was like to be human… What it was like to be free.

And so, even if the books he read were nothing but cruel reminders of the chains that held his kind, Alec decided to read as much as he could. He knew it would bring a heavy coldness in his chest, accompanied by a bitter taste, and the pain of resentment… Yet the same determination that kept from hating his Charges fueled his resolve to expose himself to this new era.

The reminder of the consequences of his existence was not nearly as painful as the fear that came with being lost and alone in an unfamiliar world.

And with that in mind, Alec frowned and opened the manga, counting his breaths as he attempted to ignore the people who were too close for his comfort.

He almost dropped the volume when a familiar voice spoke right beside his right ear.

"That is an interesting choice you got there, Alexander."


He wore the most hideous hoodie Magnus had ever seen. It was like the fashion witch had cursed the old piece of rag so that it's supposedly black color would forever maintain a gray so bland and worn out that the loose threads and tattered hems were considered an improvement. And yet, somehow, Alexander still managed to look even more adorable than Magnus remembered; the way his shoulders slumped slightly with discomfort and uneasy, similar to a lost puppy, the way his dark strands of hair framed his beautiful – albeit a bit too pale – face, and how those beautiful blue eyes examined the manga in his hands with a mixture of curiosity and confusion… It all called out to Magnus like the scent of freshly baked bread called out to a starving man.

And after already having been denied that bread once, the scent was even enticing.

With a smirk, Magnus slowly made his way towards his prey, much the same way as he had the night they met.

"That is an interesting choice you got there, Alexander."

His response was a surprised yelped. Magnus could not hold back a laugh as Alec quickly turned around, looking at him with those blue eyes widened.

"M-Magnus?!" his face turned an adorable shade of scarlet. He took one step back before he hit the makeshift bookshelves, causing it to rock slightly.

"Hey, stranger," Magnus tried to suppress a grin as Alec's blush became even brighter "Didn't expect to find you here."

"I… I didn't expect to run into you… either…" he turned to the shelf, making sure it was steady before stepping forward, biting his lower lip.

"Well, you know how it is… Trying out new things is important." Magnus said "This doesn't seem to be much of your area of expertise, though; if you don't mind me saying, that is. You seemed pretty uncomfortable. Or maybe it's just that you don't like crowds?"

"Both, actually..."Alec shifted his weight from one foot to the other, looked down, and ran his fingers through his hair, leaving Magnus to wonder if it was possible for this man to be even cuter "I've never been to a… Well, to an event like this." He paused, finally meeting Magnus' eyes. "Is it… Is it yours? Area of expertise, I mean."

"I said 'trying out new things', remember?" Magnus winked and then chuckled as Alec blushed even more.

"Right…" he nodded "Sorry… um… So… What are you doing here, then?"

"Clary asked me to come." Magnus shrugged "You remember her, right? The girl who interrupted us last time? She is selling some of her artwork here, and… Well, I'm just being the awesome and supportive friend that I am."

"Really?" Alec smiled a little "That's nice of you."

"Yes, very nice of me. Noble, I would dare say, actually. Quite heroic and magnificent, actually." Magnus felt himself smiling when he finally got Alec to laugh "Except now she told me to get lost and I have absolutely nothing to do." He sighed dramatically, earning another amused smile from the man "Anyway… So, what was it that brought you here?"

Alec bit his lip once again, and as he was about to answer a child's voice spoke first.

"Alec!" a boy appeared by his side, carrying in his arms 5 volumes of manga "I'll be buying these, okay? Oh? What's that? Do you want to buy that one?"

"No, I was just…" Alec looked at the manga he was holding, then looked back at the boy and smiled "Well… Why not? Do you think it's good?"

"Dunno." The boy shrugged and adjusted his glasses "It could be. Do you want it?"

"Sure. Yeah, I'll take it." Alec nodded, then turned his attention back to Magnus "He is why I'm here. Max, this is Magnus Bane."

The boy, Max, was small, with thin shoulders and skinny limbs that would have made any shirt or coat look too big on him. He appeared to be no more than seven years of age, but the way he seemed to almost stretch his neck so his chin would be held high without needing to actually tilt his head upwards told Magnus that the boy was older than he appeared. He shared Alec's pale complexion and dark hair, which was cut short enough to keep his features exposed, yet long enough to have long strands that looked as soft and well cared as the fur of an award winning Persian cat. His over-sized glasses – which reminded the violinist of the ones Simon used to wear when they were younger– were perched on top of the narrow bridge of his upturned nose, hiding his wide gray eyes that were surrounded by thick eyelashes.

The resemblance was clear for everyone to see, causing Magnus to smile.

"A pleasure." Magnus said, looking at Max "So you're Alec's younger brother?"

"Yes." The boy seemed happy to be addressed, nodding "And you are the guy from the party, right? The one Izzy and Jace forced Alec to go to?"

Magnus laughed.

"That's me alright. Nice to know I made an impression." He looked at Alec "So was the girl, Izzy, also your sibling?"

"Yes," Alec nodded "My younger sister, I guess."

"And the blond idiot was…?"

"That was Jace." Max replied "He's… He's like an adoptive brother of sorts."

"That's a good way to describe him, I think." Alec smiled.

"An ass would be another good way to describe him." Magnus said. "I got a few complaints from my guests. Some of them were… Less than pleased with his behavior. Something about a motorbike, I don't remember."

"That does sound like Jace." Max murmured under his breath.

"It actually does. I-I'm sorry about that." Alec blushed, looking down at his feet "He and Izzy can be a handful and—"

"Hey, you have nothing to apologize for. I really enjoyed your company, in fact. Just don't bring them next time, okay?" Magnus winked causing Alec's blush to further across his cheekbones. The violinist grinned at the adorable reaction, before turning to Max "You can come, though."

The boy's eyes lit with excitement while Alec frowned, shooting Magnus a disapproving glare. Ah… So he was the protective older brother type. So cute.

"Thanks!" Max smiled, then turned to Alec "I'm going to pay for these, okay?"

"Yeah, no problem." Alec nodded.

To the older brother's surprise, Max grabbed the manga from his hand and walked towards the cash register. Alec's eyes followed the boy, not noticing that Magnus' own gaze rested on him, a smile playing on his lips.

"So, is this how we'll always meet?" Magnus silently cursed his skinny jeans for being too skinny when he failed at trying to place his hands inside his pockets, in order to play it cool. Thankfully, Alec didn't seem to notice "Casually bumping into each other while you babysit your siblings?"

"Max wouldn't like to hear you saying that I'm babysitting him." Alec seemed slightly amused by the idea, smiling at Magnus. "He's very mature for his age,"

"I can see that. Is he what? 12 years old? He looks younger, but he does sound very smart. " Magnus nodded, glancing quickly at Max before turning back to the man who held his interest. "But Jace and Isabelle…"

"Oh, no. No." Alec shook his head "In their case it was babysitting. I was most definitely babysitting them."

Magnus laughed, eyes softening when he heard the sound Alec's own laughter. As they eased into a comfortable silence, the violinist couldn't help but noting that Alec's shoulders were not so rigid anymore; in fact his entire posture seemed more relaxed, and a shy smile was now gracing his lips. He still showed signs of discomfort – his fingers were absently touching the tattered hems of his sleeves, and his head was tilted downwards, so to allow his bangs to cover those beautiful blue eyes in the cutest of ways – but overall, it was clear that the shy and socially awkward man was steadily growing accustomed to Magnus' companionship.

And for some reason, that made Magnus' chest swell with happiness.

"Sooooooo…" he kept his tone light "Since I have nothing to do, do you think Max would mind if I tag along with the two of you? Or will I be getting in the way of some brother bonding time ?"

Alec shook his head.

"I don't think he would mind." Alec said "Max is very understanding."

"Magnificent!" Magnus smiled brightly "I can buy both of you pizza, how does that sound?"

"You don't have to." Alec shook his head "You shouldn't spend your money on us."

"Nonesense!" Magnus waved away Alec's protest.

"But—"

"Well, how about this: I buy lunch for the three of us, and you pay me back by finally giving me a call," Magnus said "Or, if you would prefer, give me your number and I'll call you. How does that sound?"

That adorable blush returned to Alec's cheek.

"Well, actually… You see, I—"

"Alec doesn't have a cellphone."

Magnus blinked. He hadn't realized the younger brother had approached them once more. He looked at Alec, then at Max – whose hands now carried a plastic bag that seemed ready to burst – who stared back at him, adjusting his glasses. The eldest of the two brothers kept staring at the ground, avoiding the violinist' gaze as if he had been standing before Medusa.

"You… Don't have a cellphone?" Magnus raised an eyebrow. He fought the urge to check the date on his own cellphone to make sure that they were, indeed, in the 21st century.

But with the way the blush only seemed to deepen in its shade, and how Alec's fingers pulled at his bangs, almost as if trying to hide his eyes away, Magnus could not help but believe them.

"Yeah… I… I was away for a while and…" he bit on his bottom lip, shifting his stare from the floor to a crowd on his right "Izzy said she would get me one soon, but I… I lost your number."

He let out a long sigh. Well, that certainly explained a lot, didn't it? Then again, cute Alec couldn't exactly be perfect. Shaking his head, Magnus smiled fondly at the man before turning to Max.

"What about you?" he asked "Do you have a cellphone?"

"Yes." Max nodded.

"Do you think you can keep my number, then?" he asked "At least until your brother finally decides to leave the dark ages behind and join us in the marvelous indulgences of modern technology?"

Max nodded, handing Magnus his cellphone so he could put in his number. From the corner of his eyes Magnus could see Alec frowning, pouting slightly as he watched the scene play out.

"There you go." Magnus handed back the device to the boy, chuckling slightly when he noticed that, although it was dimmer than before, Alec's cheeks were still adorned with an adorable shade of red "Make sure your older brother gets it once he gets his own cellphone, okay?"

"Yeah, no problem." Max nodded, looking at the number then placing the cellphone back in his pocket.

"Fabulous!" Magnus smiled "So, how about we get some pizza? I'm starving!"

Alec smiled and nodded. The two started took three steps, heading away from the vendors.

"Actually…" When Max spoke up, both men turned to see that the boy had not moved. "I was planning on going to see this panel with a friend" at this he sent Alec a look, biting his lower "Do you think that's okay, Alec?"

Alec blinked once. Twice. And then smiled.

"Of course it is." He said "I told you before, right? You should do whatever makes you feel more comfortable. Soon you'll grow used to it."

Magnus frowned, but said nothing; whatever it was they were talking about, it was clearly something between the two of them, a subject that they discussed before, and one that Magnus probably wouldn't understand right away. Maybe the kid was asking help with a crush? Somehow Magnus doubted Alec would be the best one to give the boy some love advice, but they seemed close. The thought made the violinist smile. He could perfectly picture Alec pretending to know all matters regarding sexuality just so his little brother would ask him for advice, and not their other siblings. Maybe he would even give him those no pre-marital sex lectures. He seemed like the type to want to keep his siblings young and innocent forever.

"Are you sure? You don't mind, then?" Max asked "I promised we would stay together and—"

"Don't worry about it, Max." Alec smiled "Go ahead, I'll be fine."

"He sure will!" Magnus then threw one of his arms around Alec's shoulder. He didn't need to look to know that the other man's cheeks were probably bright red once again, and that his blue eyes were wide "I'll take good care of him!"

"Thanks." Max smiled and nodded.

They both watched the boy run in the direction where the panel rooms were located. Beneath his arm, Magnus could feel the Alec's shoulders tensing. Sighing, he released the man, smiling as he watched him tug one of the long strands of hair behind his ear.

"I guess that's another tradition, right?" Magnus said "Your siblings ditching you so we can be alone together, I mean."

"I guess it is." Alec tried to smile.

"Clearly they are trying to send you a message." Magnus turned, continuing his walk.

"A message?" Alec took a few hurried steps to catch up, then started to match at his pace, placing both hands in his pocket.

"Yep!" Magnus nodded "Clearly they are trying to set us up!"

Alec snorted.

"I'm serious! I mean, look at the evidence!" Magnus smiled "They are obviously trying to hook us up. It's honestly pathetic how obvious they are being."

"Is that so?"

"Well, yeeeeaah," Magnus rolled his eyes "What else could it be, my dear Alexander?"

"I can think of a few other possibilities."

"Can you?"

"I can, yes." Alec nodded "Somehow I find it hard to believe that any of my siblings would want to hook us up."

Magnus let out an offended gasp, placing his right hand over his heart.

"Alexander, I am hurt!" he made sure to lace his voice with as much drama as he could muster. "Are you saying your siblings don't like me? That they wouldn't approve of our relationship?"

Magnus' gaze softened at the sound of Alec's laugh, that dim warmth swelling up in his chest once again.

"No, I don't think they would approve," Alec answered "Scratch that, I'm sure they wouldn't approve. At all."

"Well, that only makes it more exciting, doesn't it?" Magnus said "Forbidden lovers! Star-crossed and all that jazz! We're like the gay version of Romeo and Juliet!"

"Romeo and Juliet?" Alec raised his eyebrows "Is that what you want to compare us to?"

"Well, minus the suicide, deaths, and the teenage stupidity." Magnus waved his hand, as if shooing those things away "But other than that, I don't see why not!"

Alec rolled his eyes and smiled.

Their banter continued until they reached a small food stand on the second level. Magnus bought each of them a slice of pizza with nothing on top and a bottle of soda while Alec grabbed more than a few napkins and two straws. They silently made their way to one of the less crowded areas of the convention center, sitting down side by side on the dirty carpeted floor.

A heavy sigh escaped Magnus' lips, taking with it the tight tension that he had not realized was clenching to the muscles of his thin legs until he stretched said limbs in front of him. He leaned his head back against the concrete wall, closing his eyes as he took in the noise around him. Even in this less congested part of the building the droning sound of excited voices seemed to hum at the background, like callings of cicadas and crickets in rural areas. It was the kind of sound that you only noticed when isolated from its source; the type of sound that when it surrounded you, you would barely took notice, allowing yourself to fully immerse into the ambience – the people and the atmosphere and the lights and the emotions – but once far away, once it became just background noise, it filled you with exhaustion, solitude, and left you just a tad bit disoriented.

It was like a party. Like the exact thing Magnus would feel once he arrived at a hotel room after a successful concert and gently placed his violin inside the case, giving it greater attention than he did any of his past lovers. It was like getting off a roller coaster, entering the car after a long day at the beach – it was the feeling of riding off the excitement that was almost as satisfying as the high itself.

And in his times of greater turmoil, it was something Magnus had always craved and cursed under the same breath, for he found that often, unless he had someone to hold his hand as they let the afterglow wash over them, the satisfying happiness would soon be replaced with overwhelming loneliness.

He pried his eyes open, tilting his head only slightly to the right. Alec sat barely a few inches away from him, their arms almost touching. The man did not seemed fazed by their proximity; instead, he was holding his slice of pizza in one hand, five napkins separating the skin of his fingers from the sandy surface of the crust. His nose wrinkled as grease and oil slid through the cheese and dripped onto the paper plate, soaking it in a tiny and yet noticeable puddle.

Magnus could not help but chuckle at the pure disgust displayed in Alec's face.

"So you're a health freak," despite his words, his smile remained the place "I should have figured, considering you refused to drink any alcohol at my party."

"I'm not a health freak." Alec frowned "But even you have to agree that this doesn't look very appetizing."

"Even me? I'll try not to get offended by that."

"You know what I mean." Alec rolled his eyes.

"No, I don't actually." Magnus laughed, holding up his own slice without the protection of napkins "Thin crust New York style pizza with enough melted cheese to clog your arteries and so much grease that it shines under these florescent lights. And all of it for under two dollars! There's nothing more appetizing than this, darling."

"Yeah, there is." Alec shook his head "Even your description sounded disgusting."

"Of course it sounded disgusting, but that doesn't mean the pizza itself is disgusting. It smells heavenly, in fact!" and as to prove his point, Magnus ate his first bite. He chewed slowly, savoring the flavor "Sure, it needs a little bit of salt, but other than that, it's perfect! This is the epitome of cooking! Chef Ramsay would bow down to this pizza and make it his god."

Alec gave him a look that clearly stated his disagreement.

"Okay, fine, so I was exaggerating a tiny bit, but it's good!" Magnus said "Certainly better than that shit they serve in Chicago."

Alec snorted, shaking his head. He reluctantly ate a bite, before smiling.

"It does need a bit of salt." He agreed.

"Well, yeah, I told you that already." Magnus rolled his eyes "But other than that it tastes good, right? Divine, I would say!"

"I wouldn't go that far." Alec said "But yes, it tastes good. Very good."

"I told you so."

They smiled at each other as they continued their meal, the two bottles of soda resting by their sides. Magnus lent Alec his hand sanitizers when they were done, but none made a move to stand up and throw away their paper plates and napkins.

Magnus let out another heavy sigh before leaning towards Alec, resting his head on the man's shoulder. He felt him tense at the contact, and for a moment he thought the blue eyed man would push away, but after a few seconds he let out a small exhale of his own, as if willing his body to relax. Magnus wondered for a moment if he should move away, but decided against; the violinist could still feel some tension, some discomfort radiating from the one beside him, but he could also feel a desire to grow accustomed to the close proximity.

"You're tired already?" there was trace of amusement in Alec's voice.

"Of course I am." Magnus said, glaring half-heartedly at the man "You are too, aren't you?"

"I am." Alec agreed "But I don't like crowds. I don't like being around people."

"Neither do I."

"Oh, please." Alec rolled his eyes, snorting "You're like Izzy and Jace: You love being in crowds and being surrounded by people. Based on that party I'm shocked just a few hours in a convention would drain you this much."

"Fine, you caught me." Magnus smiled "I was up really late last and only got a few hours of sleep. I wasn't even going to come, but Clary and Simon have the key and I'm pretty sure Chairman Meow was also trying to get me out of my bed so he could have the entire apartment to himself. I wouldn't be surprised if right now he isn't throwing some wild cat rave and allowing all his cat friends to destroy my beautiful walls as they shoot up catnip."

"So like owner like cat?"

"Of course." Magnus said "Let me correct myself, actually. I would be incredibly disappointed if that's not what he is doing right now. I raised him better than that."

"I'm sure you did," Alec was smiling, chuckling to himself. After a short pause, he frowned, concern showing in his eyes "What were you doing up so late at night anyway? Was something keeping you up?"

"Not something. Someone." Magnus crossed his legs before using his knee to support his elbow. He moved to rest his chin on his hand, finally freeing Alec's shoulder from the weight of his head, and gave the boy a smirk "I can actually show you what we were doing once you finally get that cellphone. I'm sure my bed would love to get to know you."

He winked, and, just as expected, the paleness of Alec's skin was replaced with a shocking red. Magnus could not stop himself from laughing.

A comfortable silence enveloped the two. Magnus' smile refused to slip even after he tore his gaze away from Alec, taking in their surroundings. From where they sat the pair had a clear view of the main entrance and the large atrium just below their floor, where people were posing to take pictures.

"Do you think some of those weapons could hurt people?" Magnus asked absentmindedly "I know some are made of cardboard and Styrofoam and a crazy amount of skill and dedication, but what about the knives and the bows?"

"We're too far to know about the knives, but most of the bows I've seen could never be used properly." Alec answered, looking at a blond man in a green tunic and a matching green hat who held a bow and arrow while also carrying a shield and sword on his back "They look authentic enough from a distance or for posing purposes, but most of them would never be able shoot an arrow."

"You know about archery?" Magnus asked, slightly impressed.

"Yes." Alec was smiling, eyes still on the man "I really like it, too,"

"Do you have your own bow and everything? And you know how to use it?"

"Yes. And I love it." Alec's smile grew wider, brighter "It's one of the few things I'm good at it… One of the few things I was allowed to love."

Magnus frowned slightly at the statement. He remembered the party, and how Alec had told him he had no real reason to laugh. He wanted to ask about it, to know what made the man by his so sad, but instead he just shook his head, deciding not to question it.

There was only so much you could ask of a man he'd only met twice.

"Damn… Ballroom dancing and archery. I have to say, I'm both impressed and a bit turned on." Magnus rested his back against the wall again, turning his head so he could continue to look at Alec "Are you some sort of medieval Arthurian knight?"

Alec turned to look at him, smile still in place. His blue eyes, those beautiful blue orbs that had first captured Magnus' attention, shone with age and melancholy that contrasted the upward curve of his lips in the most breathtaking manner.

"Maybe I am," He said.

And maybe, for less than a fraction of a second, Magnus believed him.

Then the rain started. A loud roar of thunder was followed by heavy drops of water falling restlessly on the glass roof. Magnus looked up, noticing the gray in the sky and the way the water hit the glass, forming puddles above their heads and then slowly sliding through the slope before meeting the vertical walls.

He closed his eyes, trying to drown out the buzz from the crowds and concentrate only on the steady sound of rain hitting the roof over and over and over and over again. He smiled at it, then opened his eyes again.

"I do love that…" Magnus said, almost to himself.

"The rain?" Alec asked.

"Yeah." Magnus nodded, eyes still casted upwards "Always have. It used to bother me, when I was little, whenever I heard people calling rain bad weather or ugly weather or things like that. I didn't think it was ugly at all. Still don't."

"It's not." Magnus finally turned to look at Alec, only to see that he still had his head tilted up, eyes staring mesmerized at the view the glass roof gave them "It's beautiful, I think."

"It is, isn't it? I always thought everything looked so much prettier after it rained. Colors seem brighter and it just… It's like the rain washed away all the dirt and made everything pure again," Magnus smiled "But the rain itself, the water falling from the sky… That's beautiful too. I mean, sunny days are beautiful, and amazing, and oh so wonderful and nice when you want to get out, but that doesn't make the rain is ugly… You know? They are both beautiful, in their own way. They are just different." Magnus chuckled "Sorry, got a little carried away there. A bit too deep for just sky water."

"No," Alec shook his head, smiling. He finally tore his gaze from the rain and allowed his blue eyes to meet with Magnus' green ones "It is beautiful. The rain, that is. And the sun too. The outside world… It can be really beautiful."

The two smiled at each other before tilting their heads up once again.

Magnus thought he had seen a hint of melancholy in Alec's eyes during his last statement, but he chose to ignore it in favor of indulging in the gentle happiness that came from admiring the rain together.

Later that night, when he finally arrived home, Magnus kicked off his boots and grabbed his composition notebook. He turned on the lamp, turned his love seat so it was facing the balcony instead of the television set, and started to write the first notes of a new composition – the first one he had done in months.

He titled it Sky Water.

His smile did not escape his lips as he thought of blue eyes and stared at the rain, listening to its constant tapping against the glass doors.

Unknown to him, the owner of those blue eyes was standing on the top of the roof, just a few floors above his head. In his hands was a half empty bottle of soda with the label almost completely torn off.

He was not smiling, though. His eyes, those blue eyes that shone so brightly in the night, were filled with pain and despair. His ears were deaf to the rain or the busy sounds of New York City's night streets.

All he could heart were the terrifying echoes of the past.

Click.

He opened his eyes, letting out a breath of relief. He was shaking. He was shaking so much. His throat felt like it been tied on a knot. His eyes stung, and soon tears mixed themselves with sweat, cascading nonstop down his cheek, then his chin, and then the ground. His body continued to shake; shaking uncontrollably trying to push through the pain, the movements creating a terrifying melody as shackles, chains, and rusted rooks moved accordingly. Blood coated his lips as his teeth tried and failed to hold back a chocked sob.

One sob, then another. And then another one and another. Many soon followed, and Alec's mind barely registered the fact that this was the first sound he made since he was first chained inside that dungeon.

The blonde Downworlder's greens eyes widened while her brows frowned. She stared at the enemy in front of her as if seeing him for the first.

It didn't take long for her to compose herself, though, and slowly she started to walk away.

"hum… Maybe you don't know where they are is after all."

The sound of the heavy door closing did not drown out Alec's crying.

At the time, he had not known it would be years before he heard the sound of those cringes again.

Chapter Text

Truth's Shadow

..::Part I: Accelerando::..

~Chapter 05~

The late October air filled Magnus' lungs with a delicious chill. Among the tall trees of Central Park, the scent of mud, leaves, and water stood out as a small piece of Eden inside the concrete and polluted jungle that was New York City. The buzzing of the people, the barks of the dogs, the joggers' shoes hitting the pavement were the exact sounds one would expect to hear on such a fine and sunny Saturday morning.

Not that Magnus was paying any attention to that. As he strolled through the park, a Starbucks cup warming his right hand – filled with those infamous, but oh so delicious, pumpkin spice lattes – he tilted his head upwards, basking in the sunlight as a relaxed smile played upon his lips. Letting out a content sigh, the violinist marveled at how the warmth of the sunrays made the light almost seem tangible, the tree branches forming shadows of cool intricate patterns on his face. His left fingers, buried inside his long coat's pocket, moved rapidly against his phone. In his mind, the blue and purple sparkly case had been transformed into the neck of his violin, and the sweet melancholic melody of his new piece, Sky Water, played over and over again in his head.

Magnus had spent most of the week perfecting the newly composed piece. He played it repeatedly until he had the notes memorized. He made marks on his notebook, changed dynamics, then returned them to what he had originally, and then changed them again. He experimented with different tempos, switched octaves, modulated from one key to another. He spent the past few days neglecting everything that was not related to his music, – from his reality shows and social callings, all the way to sleep and food, with only his personal hygiene being spared – focusing solely on perfecting his brand new song. He wasn't quite there yet, but after a week of nonstop work, the violinist felt that a walk through Central Park while drinking those fabulous autumn drinks, and reminiscing the old days was well deserved.

Breaks were also a needed evil in creative work, Simon had reminded him. Even when one was in the zone, deeply devoted to their craft, it was always important to step back and give yourself a break. Clear your head so you could back to your work with fresh eyes and see flaws that had gone unnoticed before.

And he deserved a break. Sky Water, after all, was brilliant; one of his best and most unique pieces. While not as good as his master piece Gareth, after such a long and exhausting creative slump, its composurehad been a great victory for Magnus. It had been so long since he had been able to write anything that good, since he was so excited about a piece… Even now as he rewarded himself with a morning out, as he enjoyed the sound of his boots stepping on crunchy orange leaves, and as he forced himself to think of Halloween plans – perhaps rather than a regular party this year, he should throw a masquerade? Like in the Phantom of the Opera? Maybe he could even perform a few pieces from the play as well and dressed up as the Red Death – inside his chest he could still feel a bubbling eagerness to go back to his apartment and work on his new song some more, to make sure his performance was at its best.

The excitement and the pride he felt for his new creative triumph made it hard to forget his art… As well as a certain blue eyed man.

Another sigh, this one tired, slightly frustrated. His left hand left the comforting warmth of his pocket to run through his dark hair, the strands coated with colorful glitter. Smile gone, his nose wrinkled slightly, he rolled his head as his hand travelled from his hair to his neck, and he took a small sip of his drink.

The familiar taste of pumpkin and cinnamon greeted his tongue, the faint smell of the coffee and brown sugar assaulting his nostrils. Magnus closed his eyes, but kept walking, his mind far away.

It had been a week since he composed Sky Water, and a week since he had last seen Alexander.

There's nothing that can be done about that, though. He sighed, watching as two women passed by him, jogging side-by-side I gave his brother my number. All I can do now is wait for him to call.

He bit his bottom lip, and then took another sip. Normally such a thing wouldn't bother him. Losing his chance with one very cute guy was hardly something that could wipe a smile off his face, but Alec… Well, Alec was different. With those blue eyes, that shy smile, that laugh… Magnus smiled. He actually really enjoyed the other boy's company. While their meeting at the party had certainly been entertaining, their day together at Comic Con had been… Fun, if he were to put it simply. Sitting side-by-side with Alec, getting to know each other little-by-little, teasing and talking over pizza and soda – all friendly and innocent, if not for a few flirtatious remarks on his part, meant to get the other boy flustered – had been pleasant. It had been simple. Comfortable. An easy and comforting type of interaction that was incredibly fulfilling for its simplicity. Spending time together, letting the hours fly by without much concern or thought of what they should do next had assured the violinist that the two had the potential to be great and close friends.

And you could never have too many friends, right?

Magnus almost dropped his drink. A small boy, no more than eight, with sandy hair and brown eyes bumped into his legs, cutting through his musing.

"I'm sorry!" came a high pitched voice from behind him "Are you alright, sir? I'm really sorry! Tommy, don't run off like that."

Magnus looked back, seeing a young couple approaching him. The woman who had spoken was pretty, probably no older than thirty, with freckles spread across her high cheek bones, and hair the same shade as the boy's. Though she had an apologetic smile, the way her green eyes would flicker at the little boy in front of them gave away her annoyance at her own child.

"Tommy," the man's voice was deep, which the violinist thought matched perfectly with his square jaw and dark hair "You should apologize."

"Oh, don't worry about it." Magnus shook his head "It's half my fault, too. I was miles off."

He flashed them his best smile, feeling satisfied when the woman's eyes widened and the small hint of annoyance vanished her features. In its place was flirtatious smile that went unnoticed by her partner.

"Are you sure?" Her tone was friendlier as well, her eyes on Magnus even as her son approached her "Tommy, you should still apologize, even if he says it's okay."

Tommy looked at him, his cheeks puffed.

"Sorry,"

His voice told Magnus he was anything but. Still, the violinist kept his smile.

"Yes, and I'm sorry too," Magnus said "I shouldn't have spaced out like that."

"Well, we're sorry again," The man said. Magnus fought the urge to ask them where they were from. There was no way a couple who apologized this much were natives to New York City, after all. They nodded and continued their walk, the little boy clearly fighting the urge to run ahead of his parents once more "Have a nice day,"

"You too!"

Magnus waved and waited patiently for the small family to walk ahead of him, friendly smile still in place. He took another sip of his drink, standing in place, watching the family disappear out of sight.

A small, wishful smile, and an even smaller sip of his drink. The violinist wasn't entirely sure where to go once he reached the other side of the park, or how long he would stay out. He was mulling over the possibilities – maybe he should take the long way, add an extra hour to his walk before heading back to his apartment? Or perhaps he could do some much needing shopping, and maybe invite Simon and Clary for lunch or dinner – when, from the corner of his eyes, he caught a glimpse of the world's most hideous oversized hoodie.

Alexander was sitting on a bench a few feet to his right, his head hanging down. His blue eyes were covered by his – adorably – crooked bangs, staring at the screen of what looked like to be a brand new phone. His lips were twisted downwards in frustration, his long index finger tapping at the device impatiently.

Magnus was stunned. Had the boy been there all along? Certainly he would have noticed, even if he had been lost in his thoughts… Right? Either way, the violinist couldn't believe his luck. He'd have to remember to Fate for this chance encounter later.

"Well, well, well," he let his voice ring with clarity, his surprise being masked by a mixture of a smirk and a content smile "Look at what the cat dragged in."

Alec glanced up, those brilliant blue eyes staring straight at him. There was no surprise showing in his face, but the frustration and the impatience quickly melted into a small, tired, but pleased smile.

"Hello, Magnus." His voice was lower than his, only loud enough for the two of them to hear it properly "It's good to see you. You look…" a blush "Nice."

"Do I? Why, thank you, Alec. I put a lot of effort into my outfit and make-up today. It's nice to know it's appreciated" A wink, and another blush. The familiar exchange filled Magnus' chest with warmth. He laughed as he sat by his side, stretching his legs in front of him "You do too, by the way. But then again, that's nothing new, is it?"

Another blush, and Magnus laughed again.

"I'd say it is. Most people would say so, as well."

"Fools. The lot of them, all fools."

Alec shook his head.

"Thanks, though."

"No need to thank me for the compliment." Magnus leaned back on the bench, eyes still on Alec "Nor for simply stating the truth."

"You did it, though." Alec said "Thank me, I mean."

"Well, I'm different. Haven't you learned that yet?" Magnus winked "Rules don't apply to me."

Alec shook his head again, a found smile on his face.

"Of course they don't." he chuckled slightly "I'm sorry I forgot."

"You're forgiven." Magnus moved closer to Alec, so their sides were touching. He felt the man's posture go stiff, and then, after a deep breath – one Magnus pretended not to notice – he forced himself to relax. Only afterwards did Magnus lean further in, eyes turning towards the brand new phone "And what is it that you got there?"

"A phone." He replied, handing it to him and moving away just enough so they weren't touching anymore. Magnus, again, pretended not to notice "A new phone. Izzy and Jace just got it for me."

"Aaaah… They heard you were still stuck in the 80s?"

Magnus turned the phone in his hand, noticing the lack of case and how the protective plastic was still stuck to the screen.

"Max told them." Alec informed "After laughing at me, they finally decided I should the latest model of… whatever type of phone that is."

"iPhone." Magnus was not one bit surprised that the man by his side could not even name the brand "I'm more of a Galaxy man myself, if I were to be honest. Don't show this to Simon, though. He'll droll all over it. Clary told me he's been purposely leaving his phone to charge in the bathroom so it'll fall inside the toilet and he'll have an excuse to buy a new one."

Alec frowned.

"So… I take it it's a good phone?"

"Better than not having one at all, wouldn't you say?" Magnus smiled at the boy, then his eyes returned towards the screen. There were no new downloaded apps, he had no songs on it, no pictures, no passcode, no games, no contacts… Somehow he knew that if he were to check, the ringtone would still be the standard default one "When did you get this?"

"Just yesterday." Magnus raised his eyebrows, letting his surprise show "Izzy and Jace said they were going to teach me how to use it, but…" a pause "Something came up. They had to leave and haven't been back since."

Magnus smiled.

"And you weren't able to figure out how to use it by yourself?" his tone was light, teasing. He found the image of Alec struggling to use his brand new phone utterly precious.

"I didn't try." From the way he pouted, Magnus could only guess that Alec did not find the idea as cute as he did. He looked only a smidge bit offended that Magnus seemed to think him incapable of working with modern technology. Magnus would apologize, if the pout and the light blush on Alec's cheeks didn't make him look so adorable "I figured they would be coming back soon, so I might as well wait for them. If I had tried to figure it out on my own, I would have been able to."

"Yes, I'm sure you would." Magnus nodded, biting his lower lip to contain his laugh.

"I would!" Alec's blush grew darker "It's not that hard."

"I know, I know. I can see you are totally kicking your iPhone's ass." Magnus said "So, what changed your mind, then?"

Alec shrugged.

"I got bored. I had nothing to do, and I don't know when Izzy and Jace will be back. So I thought I might as well learn it by myself."

"It shouldn't be that hard, right?"

"Right…" Alec looked away, embarrassed "Anyway, I was… trying to do something when you showed up. And here we are."

"Here we are." Magnus nodded "So, do you want me to teach you how to use it?"

"You'll do that?" Alec blinked "Aren't you busy?"

"Not busy at all!" Magnus replied "In fact, I'm free all day! So if you're really that bored that you couldn't wait for your deserting siblings to help you, and you don't know when they're coming back, perhaps we can spend the day together?"

Alec paused. For a moment Magnus thought he was going to turn him down, but then he gave him that beautiful smile, and Magnus couldn't help but smile back before he even heard the answer.

"I'd love to." A pause "But first you really do need to teach me how to use this thing."


It turned out that Alec wasn't as bad with technology as Magnus had expected. He was a fast learner, which more than made up for his unfamiliarity with the device or the terminology Magnus kept using. The violinist hardly ever needed to explain something twice, and Alec knew exactly what questions to ask whenever Magnus skipped or overlooked something in his teachings. He was quick to adapt his way of thinking, Magnus observed, for whenever he was told that his assumptions were wrong, Alec would throw away his old mindset and replace it for a new one rather quickly, without insisting on the "but it should be this way"s or "that doesn't make any sense"s that most people clung so tightly to whenever they were learning a new skill. The entire time he had a look of pure concentration on his face, determined to absorb and correctly process every bit of new information that was thrown his way.

And Magnus had no doubt he would be able to do it very easily, as well; after this time together, he now knew that the boy's lack of knowledge in regards to technology was not due to some mental block, – some old fashioned mentality that prevented him from wanting to learn these things – but simply due to lack of exposure.

Which, that in itself, was odd. How could a young man, in his late teens to early twenties, living in 21st century New York City, have never been exposed to a smartphone? What sort of life had Alec been living so far?

Magnus was curious, but he knew better than to ask.

"And that's how you organize yours apps. You don't have to put them in those little gray square things if you don't want to, though. Clary hates them, but Simon finds them useful. It will be more helpful once you start downloading some apps and…" Magnus paused "I think I'll make a list of some fun games I think you'll enjoy later. I already taught you how to download things, right? It's pretty much the same process as downloading music and ringtones. Got it?"

"I think so." Alec nodded, looking at the screen. His brows were furrowed, his lips slightly puckered in concentration. His long, pale fingers were quick to go to the main screen, sliding and finding the apps with an ease that was lacking a mere twenty minutes before.

"Good." Magnus smiled "Okay, so now, for the pictures—"

"Uhhmm… Actually… There's something I want to do before that" Alec handed Magnus his phone, than searched for something in the pocket of baggy jeans. Magnus watched with curiosity as he retrieved a small piece of paper, neatly folded "Could you tell me how to… How to add this to my contacts?"

Magnus blinked and reached for the paper, mentally slapping himself. In his hurry to teach Alec all the other features of his new iPhone, the violinist had overlooked the device's primary function. Of course Alec would want to know how to add contacts and how send them messages and things like that.

He unfolded and felt his own eyes widened at the sight of his own phone number, neatly written in his handwriting.

"That's… That's my number. The one I gave to your brother at Comic Con… Right?" Magnus looked at Alec in shock "You kept it?"

Alec tilted his head in confusion.

"Was I not supposed to?"

Magnus stayed quiet for a second, then laughed. He could not help it. The boy was so adorable.

"Yes… Yes, you were." He nodded, still smiling "Here, I'll show you how to do it."

Moving a little closer to the boy – and this time he did not flinch or stiffen – Magnus explained how to add the contacts, how to make a phone call, and how send text messages.

"So now you have no excuses for not calling me," he said "Do you know your siblings' numbers so you can add them now?"

"No," Alec's eyes were still on the screen "I can ask them later, though."

"You do that." Magnus said "Now, to the pictures! If tap the–"

"Why…" Alec interrupted, still not looking at Magnus.

"What?"

"Why is that you're listed as" Alec finally looked up "The Magnificent Magnus Bane?"

Magnus smirked.

"What, don't you think I'm magnificent, darling?"

Alec's frown deepened.

"That's not answering my question."

"And that's not answering mine." Magnus laughed "Oh, don't worry about it, it's just a fun. If it bothers you that much, you can change it by yourself later. Consider it a mini-quiz, or something like that."

Alec seemed like he wanted to say something else, but instead just shook his head, a tiny found smile on his lips.

"So, pictures?"

"Pictures!" Magnus nodded, pointing at the camera icon "That's your camera. Tap it to open."

Alec did it, raising the phone so it was at eye-level with the two of them

"If you want to focus on something, tap it on the screen. To take the picture, you tap that white circle there at the bottom."

Again, Alec followed the instructions, taking a picture of the scenery in front of them; beige gravel floor, grass that was losing its green, tall dark brown barks of trees all over the background, holding up the orange colored leaves of autumn. There were a few people on the shot, none looking at them, none paying attention. A jogger with purple sweats, a little girl eating ice cream with his father, two teenagers talking and walking a large golden retriever together. Most of them were a little blurred, having been caught in mid motion.

It wasn't a particularly pretty shot. Very ordinary, very bland, everything looking tiny with minimal detail. The picture did the happy and comfortable atmosphere little justice.

"You can delete that later if you want. Camera phones are fun to take some pictures of boring, everyday life events, but not if you want to get a real artistic shot, or record memories from a trip or any special event. A good old fashioned, proper camera is still the best thing for those." Magnus said, and Alec nodded, not needing any instructions as he tapped the little garbage bin and deleted the photo "These are good for taking selfies, though."

Alec looked at him, confusion clear in his eyes.

"Selfies?"

"You know, maybe a month ago or so I would been surprised that someone as handsome as you, or with the conceited siblings you seem to have, does not know what a selfie is." Magnus shook his head, a teasing smile on his lips "But I think I learned not to expect anything ordinary from you, my dearest Alexander."

"I… I think the feeling is mutual," Alec's lips mirrored his, showing Magnus his own teasing smile "Magnificent Magnus Bane."

Magnus smiled.

"I'll have you know that Magnificent Magnus is but one of my many, many names, Alexander." Magnus said "Some of them are not so kind, though."

"But probably well deserved, I imagine."

"You wound me." Magnus let out a mocking hurtful gasp, perfectly manicured on top of his chest, on the opposite side of his heart "I mean, you're not wrong, but you still wound me."

"I think you'll live," Alec said "It doesn't look fatal."

"And how would you know?" Magnus challenged "Are you a doctor? Or a medical student, at least."

"I'm not." Alec shook his head. "But I wouldn't let you get fatally wounded. Not ever."

"Is that so?" Magnus thought it was strange how Alec's voice had turned serious, but elected to ignore it and continued the banter "Is that because you're my prince charming, then? My valiant knight?"

The smile Alec gave him was mysterious, as if he were in on some private joke.

"I was thinking more along the lines of guardian angel."

"Really?" Magnus raised his eyebrows, impressed. Where was the stuttering, shy, socially awkward boy from his party? Who would have thought that Alexander could flirt? "Then let me assure you, my little angel, that you've been doing an excellent job so far."

"I would hope so." Alec said "You'll let me know if you have any complaints?"

"I'll let your superiors know." Magnus winked "Can I have the number of the big guy up there, or does he only answer to prayers? What kind of system am I working with?"

Alec laughed. A bright, honest, and heartwarming laugh. Magnus watched mesmerized as one of the boy's hands went to cover his mouth, trying to contain more of the carefree sound.

That night they met at the party, Magnus had thought Alec looked beautiful when he laughed. He hadn't been wrong.

"Jokes aside, I still need to teach you how to take a selfie." He said, still smiling. He held Alec's phone and raised it up, the screen tilted towards them "If you tap on that tiny camera right there – can you see it? Right there on the right – the camera will flip" Magnus did as he explained, and screen of the camera changed from the blue sky to the two of them, sitting side-by-side "Then you can take a selfie."

"Selfie…" Alec repeated, then turned to look at Magnus "As in self-portrait?"

Magnus grinned.

"Exactly." He pointed up "Now, look up there."

Alec hesitated, but then turned towards the camera. Magnus glanced at the boy, smiled, then looked up as well, taking the picture.

They moved apart, and Magnus brought the cellphone down, both pairs of eyes on the screen. The difference between the two of them was striking. Where Magnus was tanned, his make-up and shirt colorful, and his hair styled to perfection, complimenting his high cheekbones and long cat-like eyes, Alec was pale, his wardrobe a mix of black and gray, and his dark hair falling around his thin and delicate features like curtains meant to hide a beautiful jewel from unworthy eyes. While Magnus' eyes shone with confidence, his posture well aligned, yet still graceful and elegant, Alec seemed to want to curl into himself, form tiny ball shielding his heart, his wiry limbs long and awkward. Magnus' lips curled into a flirty and teasing close lipped smile. Alec's lower lip was held captive by the boy's front teeth, the shy right curve of his mouth barely noticeable enough to be considered a smile. Magnus looked both mysterious and sensual, and Alec looked uncomfortable and self-aware, an air of melancholy radiating through those beautiful blue eyes.

They were opposites in every single way.

No… No, that was wrong. Yes, they were different, but Magnus wasn't sure if "opposites" was the right word for them. Not entirely. The longer he stared at the photo, the more he could see it, the more he could understand, that the terms "different" and "opposites" were not synonyms. While Magnus' posture was straight, he had still tilted himself to the right, seeking to be closer to Alec. The boy, whose shoulders were hunched, head tilted downwards, was also leaning towards Magnus, – and when had they gotten that close? How come Magnus did not notice? – so much so that a mere half inch would have put their bodies against each other. Their positions fitted well together, with Alec's head almost resting against Magnus' thin shoulders, and Magnus' right hand almost reaching to encircle the boy's waist in a protective embrace. There was an air of comfort around them, one that was not visible to the eye, but clear to see all the same.

There was also something that they added to each other. Alec's presence in the picture toned down Magnus' overconfidence, making him look less conceited, less self-absorb. Somehow, Magnus found that the person in the screen had a softer look to him, one that was protective, friendly, and made him seem more approachable. Many times his friends had accused him of looking intimidating, of his confidence, wardrobe, and sharp wit scaring off strangers. He knew they weren't wrong; he knew that his harmless teasing at parties had many times been seen as cruel, that his shameless flirting and his liberal views on sex had labeled him as both a player and an asshole. Magnus knew that while many admired him, his disregard towards the public opinion could make him seem cold and harsh.

And yet, in this simple image, he found the man looking back at him was different than the one featured in numerous pictures all over the internet. This man was still confident, still flirty, unconcerned with other's opinion, but he wasn't arrogant, too promiscuous (at least, he didn't appear to be), or cold. Instead of being the unapproachable party host who would mock you if you were to say or wear the wrong thing, Magnus seemed more like the friendly and outgoing person who would go out of his way to make one feel comfortable, to make sure they felt included and were enjoying themselves.

Alec, too, seemed different in the picture. It was true that Magnus had never seen pictures of the man by his side, but he felt like he knew him well enough to imagine those pictures with clarity; he could see the boy's wide eyes, looking at the camera with fear, maybe hostility, and even surprise. Or perhaps in some pictures he would blend into the background, arms crossed, looking away to the side – a figure most people would not even notice was there unless they were searching for him. Magnus had seen Alec at his party, he had seen him at Comic Con. The young man was always on edge, always anxious, never at ease. He was alert to everything around him, eying the world as if every molecule in it was seeking to harm him. He followed those he loved, fusing with the shadows while he allowed others to shine so bright that his own unique sparkle became invisible to everyone, including himself. He sought protect, both those dear to him and himself, sought to remain unseen and unnoticed, fearful of everything, and also ready to cause harm if needed. An air of somberness, of sorrow, covering him like a blanket. He was both prey and predator, as dangerous to his enemies as he believed they were to him.

But in the picture, almost none of that was to be seen. Magnus' presence made Alec's forgotten shine to sparkle brightly. He seemed relaxed, welcoming eyes of onlookers without feeling too nervous. The fear was gone, as was the anxiety. Instead of a fearful deer, Alec looked more like a shy puppy, one who would stay by your side and play with you, but only if you approached them first. The sadness remained there, that mysterious melancholy, that pain that seemed so attached to those haunted blue eyes, but the tentative smile made Magnus believe that perhaps happiness and joy were not a complete impossibility for Alec.

Yes, they were different from each other. Undeniably differently. But when looking at this picture, Magnus also found that they complimented each other perfectly.

He smiled.

"You're sending me that." he said, and without waiting for the boy's reply, sent the photo as a text message to himself.

His phone vibrated in his pocket. Magnus reached for the device, smiled, and quickly saved photo and number, the later under the name Alec.

"Soooooo," Magnus got up, stretching his back and only now remembering his pumpkin spiced latte, that sat on the floor by his feet "I think I taught you all the basics of owning your own smartphone. The rest you should be able to figure out for yourself, don't you think?"

Alec smiled and nodded. He also got up.

"I think so, yes." He said "Thank you, Magnus."

"Don't thank me yet, we still have something to do before you can call yourself a proud owner of an iPhone." Magnus reached for his latte, took a long drink of it, then threw it in the garbage bin.

"And what's that?"

"We need to buy you a new case, of course." Magnus started walking, hands inside his pockets "I know a great store for those, not too far from here. Afterwards we can get something to eat, if you're still in the mood to put up with me."

"It depends on what we're having." Alec followed him, quickly matching his pace as the two walked side by side "What were you planning?"

"Well…" Magnus' smirked "How about pizza?"

Alec laughed, then shook his head.

"I thought so." Magnus smiled "We can decide together, though it's still a little early for lunch. There's this Japanese bakery and take-out close by, and we can buy some anpan there, then just walk around and decide where to go once we get really hungry. How does that sound?"

"It sounds good to me." Alec nodded "But what do you mean by walking around? Where do you plan on taking me?"

Magnus shrugged.

"This is New York City. We can go anywhere and there will be something to do." Magnus said "It's the upside of having so many tourists all year around. I'm sure we can find something to do."

"As long as it's not too crowded…" Alec gave him a small smile "I… I don't really…"

"Like crowds. I noticed." Magnus nodded "A hard problem to deal with in this city, but not impossible. Don't worry. I won't let you down."

Magnus winked and Alec shook his head, still smiling. The air around them was comfortable, their eyes straight ahead as they walked, taking turns kicking a small pebble, hoping it would skid in a straight line so they could kick it again without having to deviate from their path.

"I'm going to send you some song titles for you to download" Magnus said, frowning as he kicked the small pebble with his left foot and it landed too far on the grass to their right "You need to fill that phone with music, or else is no fun at all."

"Is that so?" Alec reached for another small pebble by the side of his right feet. He dropped on the ground and kicked it, the little rock landing a few paces away from Magnus' right foot "No offense, Magnus, but I… I don't think I would like any of the songs you recommend me. If they are anything like the ones at the party, I—"

"Oh, no. No, no, those are not it at all." Magnus laughed. He tried kicking the new pebble again, but instead his foot slide right over it. He frowned as Alec laughed, and decided that kicking pebbles was childish anyway "I was thinking about giving you the title of my album. It's criminal that we've known each other for a little over a month and you've never listened any of my songs." He paused "Have you ever listened to any of my songs?"

"I haven't, no." Alec shook his head "Sorry."

"Like I said: criminal." Magnus said "But I would love it if you gave it a try. And then maybe you could tell me what you think. Give me your honest opinion, even if you don't like it. I'm serious. I'm a big boy, I can handle it."

"I would like to listen to your songs, actually. I'm very curious about them," Alec said "When Izzy told me you were a violinist I was surprised. I didn't really expect that from you."

"I get that a lot." Magnus said "So, you were surprised, but not surprise enough to listen to them for yourself?"

"I… I considered it." Alec blushed "But then I figured that… That the first time I listen to you play, I want it to be live. Well… I want you to know that I'm there."

Magnus was silent, momentarily stunned. How many times had this boy managed to surprise him into silence in the short amount of time they've known each other?

"Hear me live, huh…?" he repeated slowly, almost to himself. Inside his pocket, his fingers grasped for his phone "That could be arranged…"

"How did you get into playing the violin anyway?" Alec asked, as if he had not heard Magnus.

"Well, how did you get you into archery?" Magnus countered with a smirk.

"I asked you first."

"You did." Magnus nodded "That you did. Okay, I'll tell you. But it's a long, and sometimes rather unpleasant story. Are you sure you want to hear it?"

Alec nodded.

"Positive."

Magnus sighed. He stared up ahead, taking in the view of the trees from opposite sides reaching towards each over the path they walked, their stretched branches forming a natural archway. At this point in the park there were more shadows than light on the ground, the twigs forming crisscross patterns on the landscape. He could faintly hear the sound of running water close by, probably from a fountain to their east. The wind blew, causing dozens of leaves to slowly descend upon their path, and the remaining ones to rattle in a quiet and comforting sound.

They still had over a mile to go before they reached the exit of the park. Magnus wished this would be the longest mile he had ever walked.

"Well, we start our story a long, long time ago, in a land far, far away." He smiled as he spoke, his eyes still turned straight ahead, not looking at Alec "And by 'a long, long time ago' I mean twenty-two years, and by 'a land far, far away', I mean New Jersey."

"New Jersey?" Alec asked in surprise.

"Yes. Unfortunately. Don't tell anyone, I'll just deny it."

"I won't."

"And don't interrupt." Magnus raised one finger as he mockingly chastised the other man "It's bad manners. Understood?"

He looked to see Alec nod, the expression on his face so serious that Magnus could not help but laugh.

"Don't look so serious, I'm just joking." Magnus shook his head "But yes, I was raised in New Jersey. So were Clary and Simon, by the way. All of us came from the same small suburban town, just off of highway 78."

The words brought back memories of that small town, secluded by the trees and hills that surrounded the area. Magnus could see perfectly in his mind the place he once called home; he could see the neighborhoods with houses ranging from Victorian mansions to small ranches, with the occasional colonial or craftsman builds. He could see the streets without sidewalks or lampposts, forcing the residents to have at least two cars per household in case they ever wanted to go anywhere. He could see the schools – elementary, middle, and high school – all built similarly, with over thirty acres of land, hundreds of clean classrooms, and an exterior composed of bright and expensive red bricks that screamed money. He remembered the town square, with all those family owned restaurants, antique shops, and a cemetery right next to the library, with vine encrusted headstones dating back to the revolutionary war. He remembered where they would set up tents for the annual festivals, where Christian charities would sponsor their events, and where middle school children would sit and chat, excited to be out of class and out of their parents eyes for a few hours.

He remembered how the closest movie theater was half an hour away, inside the closest shopping mall. He remembered how most of the parents knew each other from their own school days, and how the faculty that once taught them were now teaching their kids. He remembered how, unless you signed up for after school clubs or sports, you had nothing to do for the entire day. How every single resident attended the same church or synagogue, how you weren't free from the community even on the weekends. He remembered how kids got so bored that they turned to drugs, taking their white collar parents' money and using it to get high on the nights they weren't cramming for AP exams.

"My parents loved it there. They were hard workers, the both of them, and they enjoyed the strong sense of community the town had. That whole knowing your neighbor thing, participating in community events, being part of a loosely conservative and perfect small paradise, where only the lucky few were privileged enough to live in." Magnus was still smiling, his tone almost soaked with nostalgic as his eyes started to drift far away "It was a strange, but very usual sort of place. A town where a millionaire could live comfortably in luxury while pretending they are part of the struggling middle class."

"You sound like you hated it there." Alec noted.

"Do I?" Magnus looked at him, still smiling "Why?"

"Well, despite your tone, your words…" Alec struggled "They make it seem like you really hated it there."

"I supposed I did, but not for those reasons." Magnus shrugged, then chuckled "If this was a romantic comedy, I feel like I should use this as an opportunity to rant about the socioeconomic situation of our country – of the world even. Like I should just start ranting about the privileged white American, or about the self-centered mentality of small town America, of how they are blind to the world, and that sort of thing."

"But…?"

"But things are hardly ever that simple, aren't they? Don't get me wrong, there were a lot of things wrong with that place, and there's a lot of merit to those rants, but I hardly have the expertise to give anyone a proper lecture. And besides, I'm very bias. Like you pointed out just a few seconds ago, I really hated that place." He paused "Clary and Simon love it there, though. They love New York City, but they also love it there. Their parents still live that town, and they visit them at least three times a month, if not more. They go stay over for every major festivity, no matter what. I wouldn't be surprised if they decided to live there again, once they got married and have kids of their own."

"You won't, though."

"No, I won't." Magnus shook his head "I suppose if I had been like them, I would. I would have loved that town. Maybe my hatred for it is just envy. Everyone there is so… They are so connected, so involved in each other's lives… I think it would have been nice to have been part of that. To be an insider in their little community. But since I was the outsider, the odd person out, I think… I think that made all their flaws that much greater for me. Because I wasn't part of them, every single wrong thing in their perfect little world was just another reason for me to hate them, another reason to overlook all the nice qualities of their lives that I envied so much."

"Why were you an outsider?" Alec asked, with genuine curiosity.

Magnus looked at him, one eyebrow raised.

"Oh, come on, Alexander. Look at me."

Magnus stepped in front of Alec, arms open wide. The man looked him, up and down, then tilted his head, his brows furrowed in confusion. Magnus let out a loud laugh, shaking his head.

"Ah, you are too adorable, Alec! Really!" He placed his hands inside his pockets and started walking backwards, taking delight on Alec's blush "To answer your question, though… I think the obvious reason would be my sexuality, my wardrobe choices… They clearly didn't approve of either. But at the same time, I don't like to blame those things for our negative relationship."

"You don't like to?"

"Like to, want to… At this point they are all the same. Clary and Simon, as well as their families and some other people at school, were all perfectly okay with who I was. So I would really like to give them the benefit of the doubt, to believe that they are more tolerant and accepting than I give them credit for. I don't want those things to be the reason why I felt like I couldn't fit in with the rest of the town." Magnus sighed, then turned around, his back now facing Alec "But I guess if I do that, then it means that something else was wrong. Or that maybe the probably wasn't really with them, but with me.

"I don't like to think about it, though. I refuse to be a cliché, after all." Magnus continued "No, that's something I definitely won't be. One of those kids who got out of the small town and now won't stop ranting about how much they hated back home, about how everyone there is so close minded and live in a bubble, and how awesome and cultured the big city is when compared to their old home. No, I won't go there. I won't be a cliché."

"I think that's the last thing anyone would accuse you of being."

Magnus stopped and turned around, smiling at Alec. The boy smiled back at him, catching up so when they started walking again, they were side-by-side once more.

"Regardless of all of that, the truth is that I never truly fit in very well. My parents did, though. Despite their race and their accents, they were very welcomed into the town, having tons of friends and hosting game nights, wine tasting parties… All those fun, things." Magnus resumed his story "We lived in a big, five bedroom house, even though there were only three of us. We lived comfortably, never had too many financial problems, but still worried about college tuition and taxes. We were almost perfectly ordinary.

"'Almost' being the key word there. Of course, the only thing that didn't fit into my parents' equations was… Well, me." Magnus sighed "They were very conservative, you see, very old fashion, in their own way. My mother worked, but she still valued gender roles. She was a receptionist at my father's firm. She wanted a boy who would play sports, get good grades, marry a nice woman who would be her stay-at-home daughter-in-law and bear her three to five grandchildren. But instead, she got me.

"My father was like that, too. He believed in strict discipline. That it was a men's job to look after his home and his family. A man's home is his castle, his kingdom to rule, and the rest of the family should happily bend to his will, since he is the breadwinner. He believed that wives should strive for perfection, feminine, loving, but intelligent and quiet, and that children should obey their parents and seek to emulate them, to follow their examples." Magnus paused "You can imagine how happy they were when their seven year old boy's favorite pass time was to play dress up with the girl who lived with her single mother."

From the corner of his eyes, Magnus noticed Alec's frown.

"Clary, Simon, and I all attended the same elementary school. We also lived in the same street. Simon right across from me, and Clary at the end of the road, in an old, run down house, which, aside from an even smaller condo, was the only thing her mother could afford in that town, even though she had a nice salary. She was a private music instructor, believe it or not. And she put so much work into that house. I saw it change from what seemed like something out of a horror movie to a pretty decent living place. Still, it was never Jocelyn's ideal home. She and Clary would cut out pictures of houses from magazines and hang on their walls. Clary would draw a lot of those, too. They constantly complained about the water pressure, about the broken fence, or that noise step they could never manage to fix properly. When I was young, I could never figure out why they stayed there when they clearly wanted to move out. Now I know that it was because of the school district." Magnus said with a fond smile "Anyway, the three of us would always play together. Hopscotch, tag, hide-and-seek… All those games with all the children in the street. Sometimes we would go down to the river that ran close by and see if we could catch a frog, or maybe we would jump on the water and try to splash each other.

"A lot of times, though, I would go to Clary's house, and we would play dress up. We would put on make-up and Jocelyn's clothes, and then we would play pretend. There were times we could even convince Simon to join in. Jocelyn didn't mind. She would even help us out, sometimes film us while we act on little plays Simon would write. No… Jocelyn didn't mind at all. My parents, on the other hand…" Magnus sighed, his smile gone "I was eight when I came back home with painted nails for the first time. My father was so furious that he… He beat me."

Magnus did not look at Alec, too lost in his story. His father's voice echoed inside his head, the insults he threw him, the rage audible in his words. He could feel the ghost of the his knuckles knocking the air out of his lungs, of the feel of his hands – at the time so big, so much bigger than his thin wrist – as he threw Magnus against the kitchen wall. His mother's face, looking at them, watching, but not daring to say a word, was clear in his mind, as if she were standing right there… Not a drop of sympathy for her child visible in her eyes.

"I had been slapped before. My parents… They weren't affectionate. Not towards me, anyway, and especially not when it was just the three of us. Hugs and kisses… All those things that Clary had, they were nonexistent in my family. But that—That was the first time he ever beat me like that. The first of many." Magnus tilted his head down "From there it just… Just escalated. They forced me to remove the nail polished that day, but when I came with a different color the week after, the beating continued. At first I couldn't figure out what was wrong, what I was doing to make them so angry. I tried so hard to fix it, but I could never get it right. Eventually, it all clicked. Mother and I were at a store, buying some new clothes for school when… When I realized the problem was with me.

"I don't remember exactly what I did after that. I supposed I tried to play along with their game, tried to be their perfect son. But I wasn't happy. I was eight years old and not happy, can you believe it? So I started spending more and more time with Clary and Simon. I would try to find any excuse I could to stay with them for as long as possible. I would sleep over at their homes almost every weekend." Magnus said "They noticed something was wrong. All of them. Clary and Simon asked me about it, but the adults never did. I could see it on their eyes, though. I could see that they knew something was not quite right, that there was something off. Either way, I never talked about it, and eventually even Simon and Clary stopped asking.

"Their parents allowed me to stay over, though. I would still play dress up with Clary, still put on those plays… In a way, the time I spent with them was liberating. I could dress however I wanted, play with whatever I wanted to play, and no one would beat me for it. Hell, Jocelyn would even help me out, taught me how to do my make-up and everything." He smiled fondly at the memory "She used to say I had a natural talent for that. I was always better than Clary, after all. But she always seemed sad whenever I took it all off before returning home. The first time I told her I needed to clean my nail polish before going back she was so shocked. But after a while she would help me without a second thought. I think that's when she started to realize why I spent so much time away from my own house, and why I never invited Clary or Simon over.

"It didn't help much, though. That first incident… Well, if you want to use a cliché, I guess you could say that that fist incident just set the ball rolling. Once the beating started, it was hard to stop, even when I tried so hard to be the son they wanted." Magnus paused his story, then laughed "Ah, are you listening to this? This makes it sound like I was a teenager, like I was already in high school. Instead I was just a kid… Not even twelve years old yet."

Magnus turned to fully look at Alec. His smile fell. The other man was looking at him with immense earnest, his eyes so sorrowful that it made the violinist shift from one foot to the other in discomfort. Alec's head was slightly tilted, his attention fully on Magnus, as if seeing and understanding him for the first time.

The two stopped walking, staring at each other in silence.

If Magnus were to be honest with himself, it wasn't entirely unpleasant; having Alec's full attention, having him look at him with so much compassion, as if in that moment, Magnus and his story were all that mattered. No, it wasn't unpleasant at all. And yet he still felt uncomfortable, exposed…

He felt vulnerable.

"You… You don't have to look at me like that." Magnus spoke simply to break the silence, unsure of what to say exactly "Things got better for me, in case you can't tell. A lot better."

"I know." Alec nodded "Doesn't mean you can't acknowledge that what you went through was hard. And it doesn't mean people can't express their condolences."

"Condolences?" Magnus let out a small chuckle "You make it sound so… I don't know… Tragic."

"But wasn't it for you?" Alec had a frown now "You said it started when you were eight, and by the sound of it, it continued on and on, probably way past when you were twelve or thirteen."

Magnus stayed quiet, knowing he couldn't deny it.

"When you say that to someone, they think 'Oh, that's so awful'… And they are right. But… But I don't think they understand how it really was for you. To endure beatings since you were eight years old, maybe every week, sometimes every day… That means that for, at the very least, four years of your life you were enduring the abuse of your parents. Every day you had to put up with it, even if they didn't do anything, and it probably haunted you every hour and every second, even during those times you when you were happy." Alec continued, his voice gaining more conviction "Words… Words cannot properly convey how it feels to live with that. How long and painful those four plus years must have been for you, and how agonizing it all was. People who did not go through what you did cannot possibly understand what all those years were like for you. Not really. Saying it went on for a period of time, and actually living and experience that period time are completely different things" Alec paused "'Oh, that's so awful'… That doesn't even begin to cover it, does it?"

Magnus simply stared. No, it really didn't. Simply telling his story, simply saying that he lived in that environment for eight years – eight, not four… eight long years – did not even begin to cover how it had felt. Those were eight years when Magnus dreaded going home, dreaded being in the place that was meant to keep him safe, be in the presence of those who were meant to love and protect him. Those were eight years of constant insults, of bruises, of tears, of going to bed wishing tomorrow would never come. They were eight long years of putting on fake smiles to throw people off, of learning not to wince when others accidently bumped into his bruises, and of wishing and praying in vain that, if tomorrow really had to come, that it would be a good day.

A soft breeze started to rattle the leaves on the trees, and in the distance Magnus could hear children laughing, joggers running, and dogs barking and playing. Those were eight years that felt far longer than anything else in Magnus' life. Eight long years that felt like they would never end.

Alec was right. "Oh, that's so awful" did not even begin to cover.

Magnus gave a bitter smile, his eyes searching the man in front of him.

"Do you speak from personal experience?"

Alec smiled back at him. He didn't need to say anything else.

The two started resumed their walk, side by side, their paces matching perfectly. Magnus let out a sigh, noticing they were just a few minutes from the park's exist.

"I still meant it, though. You don't need to look at me like that. Things got better for me. I rose above what happened. I also had my time to grieve over it, you know? Mourn that lost time and the family I could have had." Magnus said "It's all in the past now. It still makes me sad to think about it, and I still rather avoid it if I can, but I can finally say with honesty that I'm over all of that. I don't know if I can forgive and forget, like they say you should… I don't know if I'll ever be able to do that, quite frankly, but it doesn't matter anymore. I'm happy now. I'm finally happy, and that's what matters."

"That's good." Alec smiled gently at him, his blue eyes still focused solely on Magnus "How long did it take for that happen?"

Magnus snorted, throwing his head back and looking at the sky.

"How long? Aaaah, I don't know. A few years, I think. It was very hard, at first. It's still hard at times, even now. Most movies and books say that there'll come a time when these things stop bothering you, but I wonder if that's true. If you can ever truly erase the trauma, forget it to the point it doesn't affect you anymore. The way I see it, you never truly forget those things. The trauma becomes a part of you, for better or for worse." Magnus shook his head "But that's not very uplifting, isn't? Certainly not very inspirational. Not what people want hear. It's not comforting."

"But you think it's true nonetheless?"

Magnus shrugged.

"From my experience, yes. Maybe to someone else it isn't. Things like that are too personal to generalize too much, I think. Or maybe I'm just a sucker for tragedy and angst. Either way, I can't hold the truth for every single traumatized person on the planet, and I can't comfort them all. I can only speak out of my own experience." Magnus said "And my experience tells me that I don't need to completely forget what happened to me as a child to be happy now. What happened is part of who I am, it shaped me, it still affects me, and I think it always will, but… But I'm happy. It may sound paradoxical, and maybe it is, but I'm happy. I'm happy with who I am, I'm happy with what I'm doing, and I'm happy with the company I keep. I'm happy every day I wake up, and every night I go to sleep I can't wait for the next morning. To me, that means I'm finally over what happened with my parents, even if there are moments when those memories make me sad. Screw what anyone else thinks."

Alec laughed.

"Well, if you want to know my opinion, I think you're right." Alec said "At least from your experience. Even if some would say those facts are conflicting, I think human emotions are often too complex and irrational for it to be anything else. It's… It's what makes humans so interesting, I think."

"It's also why they'll never make a hallmark movie out of my story." Magnus said "Though I do keep a list of actors that could play me. Some are based on looks, some are based on acting skills, and a small percentage fit into both categories."

"Is that so?"

"Uh-hum. But I'll have you know, I'm hoping some young, undiscovered actor will be given the honor. My role will be the big break of his career, that's how I think it should go."

"I bet he'll be very thankful."

"He better be. If I don't get chocolate and flowers on my doorstep, I'll be very offended." Magnus said "But as I was saying, and as you probably already guessed, my relationship with my parents only went sour from that point on. When I was—"

"Wait, wait." Alec interrupted. Magnus turned to him, confused "You don't have to keep going. I mean, you don't have to tell me anymore, if you don't want to."

"Well, but I want to." Magnus said "We haven't even gotten to the part of when I first started playing the violin! Plus, I feel like now I really need to tell you the rest of the story so you'll stop looking at me like that."

"Like what?"

"Like you were before." Magnus said "With pity."

Alec frowned, confused.

"It wasn't pity." Alec said "At least not a bad sort."

"Is there any other sort?" Magnus asked.

"Pity is sorrow… It's feeling compassion towards someone else's suffering." Alec said "What's so bad about that? About empathy?"

Magnus paused, tilting his head.

"When you put it like that, nothing." He said "But generally I guess… I guess people feel like it's the same of being looked down upon. Or maybe it acknowledges only the pain, and not the strength. Maybe the word just has a bad agent. It should really try to change its reputation, do some interviews or something."

"Well, I'll acknowledge both, then. Compassion and admiration, how is that?" Alec said "Then it's not pity, right? Or at least, not the bad sort."

"True." Magnus sighed "But then I don't get to give you that line. The 'I don't need your pity'oneYou're kind ruining the mood here, Alec."

"Am I?"

"Yes." Magnus said, his tone serious "I should give you my tragic story, but end it in an inspirational note of how I overcame everything and therefore, 'don't need your pity'I mean, it's the cliché of all clichés, isn't?"

"But I thought you didn't want to be a cliché."

Magnus smiled, and Alec was well.

"Well, touché, my darling." He said "But allow a humble man some indulgence, will you not? Besides when will be the next time I'll get to talk this much about myself?"

"I think… I think from what I know about you, pretty soon."

"Ouch. Right in the heart." Magnus placed his hand over his chest – this time on the correct side – and threw his head back dramatically "You don't pull your punches, do you, Alexander? And here I thought you were supposed to be my guardian angel. Where's your boss' number? I think I have my first complaint."

"I don't think I'll give it to you." Alec said "Not for free, anyway."

"Bribery? My, my, am I corrupting you, dear little Alec?" Magnus chuckled. Ahead of them was the exist of the park, a few of New York City's skyscrapers and the expensive, slim mansions of fifth avenue coming into full view "We're going to buy those anpa, aren't we? How about I pay for yours, and then you'll give me that number?"

"We'll see."

They exited the park and turned right. Magnus noticed how Alec's shoulders immediately went rigid, his steps firm, less easy and graceful. His eyes were downcast, his lips pressed on a firm line.

The sound of the buses pulling over and taxis honking was hard to ignore.

"So, continuing where we left off… And this time, no interruptions. I'm afraid we have a tendency to digress when you interrupt, dear, and that's just not productive story-telling wise, is it? Neither is it very polite, actually."

Alec gave him a small smile, and Magnus counted that as a small victory. A loud yell from a jaywalker wiped it off, though, and they were back at square one.

Better keep talking Magnus thought Talk and give him something else to focus on. Help him relax.

"Anyway, at first, I tried to play along with my parents' plan. Tried to be their perfect child while in their presence, even if I did stay away from them for as much as I could. But by the time I turned twelve, I think I stopped caring. I started having the liberty of buying my own clothes, of dressing more the way wanted to dress rather than what my mother wanted me to wear, and with that came a sense of freedom." Magnus said "A bit too much freedom, perhaps. I committed some serious fashion crimes back when I was trying to find my style. But that's how it is in middle school, right?

"Clary and Simon were also trying to figure out who they were back then. For Clary it was easy; while everyone in our year stopped bothering with coloring long ago, Clary found she was enjoying it more and more as the years went by. And she was really good at it, too. So she started taking her art more seriously, buying those deluxe color pencil sets, and she stuck with it. Once she realized that her drawings could be something more than a pretty picture that mother stuck on their fridge, she started to really blossom." Magnus explained "Simon took a while, but eventually he, too, figured out what he liked. He was always good at coming up with stories, writing those little plays I told you about, but it wasn't until our seventh grade English teacher praised him in one of his creative assignments that he realized that maybe he really did have a talent for it. So he, too, started spending a lot more time writing.

"It's funny, I think… Most people say they discover who they are in high school, but Clary and Simon figured out way earlier than that. They knew what they liked, and they were lucky enough to not only be good at it, but also have parents who supported them. Though Simon did experiment with music for a while. The bastard was cheating on his writing with my music." Magnus shook his head in mock disapproval "He was good at that too, to make it worse. Don't you just hate talented people?"

They waited to cross the road, their attention equally split between each other and the traffic.

"Aren't you a talented person?"

"Why yes, yes I am. My point still stands, though. And no interrupting!" Magnus put one finger on his lips, and Alec let out a quiet laugh "I also found my passion at that age, though. But unlike them, it was something I had never done before. And I was really bad at it in the beginning, too. If the me from now met the little me from back then, I would have thought I was tone deaf."

They crossed the road, the bakery now just four blocks away, and two avenues down from where they were.

"I used to visit Clary a lot more than I did Simon. A lot of times I would do so after a fight with my parents. Twelve was also the age when I decided I was going to stop taking their shit silently, and started talking back. I followed my rebellious early teen instincts without hesitation, and let me tell you, that was very counterproductive. The one thing my father hated more than my newly embraced flamboyant personality was my new conviction of not letting anyone talk to me like that anymore. The thing is, my father was almost in his forties at the time, and no matter how big I felt, I was still only twelve. Needless to say, the beatings just got worse. I still felt better, though. The beatings got worse, but I fighting back, even if it was only with my words, made it more tolerable" They turned a corner, walking side by side still, Alec's eyes fully on Magnus "But when it got really bad, I would run to Clary's house. Jocelyn always welcomed me. Like I said before, she probably knew what was happening, even if she never questioned me.

"One day Clary was out when I got there. I was about to leave, but Jocelyn invited me inside. I told you she was a private music instructor, didn't I? So even though their home was really old and in full need of an extreme makeover, she had top notch instruments. A beautiful piano, some amazing flutes, a big and heavy cello… And violins. Beautiful, amazing violins." Magnus smiled, remembering Jocelyn's old music room and how it had looked that day, with the late afternoon sun seeping through the narrow windows, tiny particles of dust slowly waltzing together, and the music sheets spread all across the coffee table and small loveseat where parents would seat and watch their children practice. "Her last student of the day had cancelled his lesson for some reason, and since Clary was out, she let me play with the instrument of my choice.

"I wonder how different things would have been if I had chosen the flute, or maybe the piano. As luck would have it, I chose the violin, and Jocelyn started to teach me how to play." Magnus said "I played for hours and hours, learning the very basics from those books that are meant for little five year olds. They even had little drawings to color, can you believe it? It took some time for me to get the hang of it all, and, like I said, my intonation was beyond off, though I was perfectly in beat. I was having so much fun… While playing that violin, it was like nothing else existed. Just me and the music. And so I came back the next day. And the next day. And the next day. And the day after that. Soon enough I was going there every day to practice, and eventually I actually got really good.

"I still have that violin; my very first one. Jocelyn gave it to me for my thirteenth birthday, and I started to practice all the time. She also gave me a few books, so I soon learned how to read music as well. By the time I entered high school, I was ready to join the orchestra." Magnus' nostalgic tone was back, along with that wistful smile "Clary and Simon both joined the art club. Clary because she loved art, and Simon because he started to realize he had a slight crush on her. He followed her around like a puppy, and she was completely oblivious. It was really adorable to watch, in a very I-can't-believe-my-best-friends-are-such-idiots sort of way. But despite everything, we remained close.

"Things with my parents, though… You'd think having their son be second chair in the school's orchestra when he was a freshman and had only been playing for two years would make them proud, but it really didn't. As it turned out, I took the violin far too seriously for their liking. My grades slipped. I didn't do my homework. I wasn't in any honor classes, much less any advance placement ones. Frankly, if it wasn't for the orchestra, I sometimes wonder if I would have even bothered to show up to school at all. I spent most of my time with my violin, and the time I didn't spend with it, I spent with Clary and Simon outside of school.

"They weren't the only ones who noticed. The rest of the kids in school… They too, took notice of my failing grades. And in that school… In that town, grades were everything. It was a public school, but they had expectations for every student, they had a standard, and if you didn't meet it… Well, then you were an outsider. You were different. To them it didn't matter how good I was in the violin if I wasn't excelling in academics as well. There were kids who were doing drugs, some really hardcore expensive stuff, and everyone knew it, including the teachers. But because they had four advance placement courses, two honors, and were in a sports team, they were praised. I wasn't like that. I was only good at one thing, and that one thing was not enough for them. Not for my parents, not for my teachers, and not for my peers." Magnus sighed "You can imagine how that killed any motivation I might have had of at least trying to do well. That, coupled with my parents finally deciding they weren't going to give me an allowance if I was only going to spend it on make-up and skinny jeans, made me start a part-time job as a waiter when I was fifteen.

"Simon used to drive me to work, even before he got his driver's license. I'm not sure how he never got caught, but I'm not complaining. I started saving up money. I took extra shifts, which meant I was doing even less homework than before. At times I even skipped school because of work. Violin, work, and Clary and Simon. My life revolved around those three things. Thinking back, it is a miracle I even graduated high school. I guess the orchestra really did save me in that regard." Magnus shook his head "Jocelyn, though… She used to love my talent for music. She used to talk about Julliard, of all things. Said I should think about applying there, about how there was no way I wouldn't get in. She used to say that even my parents would support a music degree, since it was better than no degree at all.

"But fate, my dear Alexander, is a bitch. Most of the time, at least. I've been having a good run with her these past few years, so I don't want to jinx it by badmouthing her, but when I was younger? She was a total bitch." Magnus took in Alec's appearance. His shoulders were relaxed, his lips slightly parted. Those blue eyes looked at Magnus only, seemingly oblivious to the crowd. "And the other thing that made me an outsider was, as I told you before, my flamboyance. Bright clothes, eyeliner, glitter gel… I was wearing it all by the time I was fifteen. Got in trouble with the principal because of my wardrobe a few times, too. And people noticed. Everyone noticed.

"They never said anything, mind you. The people in that town… It's hard to explain. They liked to preach tolerance. Not acceptance, but tolerance. And so although I was never actively bullied – with the exception of a few 'fags' and 'fucking fairy' thrown my way every other month or so – I still knew I wasn't entirely well liked. I could feel their disapproval, though. I could feel it on their stares, on the way some of them would turn towards each other when I walked by. That's the thing about hate, you see… You don't need to say it out loud for it to be felt. It doesn't need to be verbalized, or even put into action for it to hurt.

"It wasn't all that bad, though. Like I told you before, I don't want to blame my sexuality or my appearance for my outsider status, and I have a reason for that. The first time Clary heard someone call me a fag was on a Friday, during a football game. On the following Monday, she and Simon came to school with gay pride flags painted on their cheeks. On Tuesday, some of the kids in the art club had them as well. By Thursday, all the kids in the art club and drama club, as well as a few others, had done the same. We did the same the following year and the year after that. It became our school's unofficial pride week." Magnus had a big smile now as he spoke, remembering how in their senior year, he and Clary both walked with pride flags draped around their shoulders, how some juniors were taking names to sign a non-bullying pledges, how the school's oldest and toughest physics teacher also hung a pride flag in front of his door, and how their history teacher had a pride flag on her desk all year round "We didn't have an official gay-straight alliance. We never got approval for that, but we still had our own, unofficial support system. We tried to balance out the quiet disapproval with our loud acceptance. And it worked, for the most part.

"Hate still hurts, though. Acceptance and love may move you to tears, but sometimes, no matter how much of that you have, the hate still stings. Especially when you are a teenager, and your skin isn't as thick as you would like. By now I've learned to deal with that, and I'd like to be optimistic, to think people have grown more accepting… but back then, those looks of disgust could ruin my day. Especially if the ones on the other end of them were my parents." Magnus smile turned melancholic "Clary and Simon did their best to lift up my spirits, though. They were always good at that. I tried to think of all the good things they did for me, rather than all the bad things my parents did. Balancing out the negativity, you know?" he paused "I really could not ask for better friends."

They were a block away from the bakery. Magnus could see the sign now, diagonally to their right.

"I was fifteen when I had my first kiss. With a girl. She was my first girlfriend and we dated for a month. I really liked her, too. Then after we broke up, I had a two week fling with this boy from the debate club in our year. After that I went out with a few dates with a girl a year older than us, and then I went out to make-out in the movies with another girl, and by the end of that year I was crushing on a boy from my math class. That's what it took for me to figure out that I wasn't necessarily gay, or that I wasn't experimenting, but that I swung both ways. Some may say fifteen is a bit young to know all of that, and maybe they're right, but for me, I think it was the right calling. Not that it would have mattered much if I was right or wrong." Magnus explained "It didn't really bother me anyway. I took the label as a sign of freedom and ran with it. Commitment was never my thing, though, and so after that first girl, and that first boy, I stopped trying to look for a relationship. I went on dates when I wanted to, and only with people I liked, but it was never… Never anything serious. Well, of course it wasn't serious. I was fifteen, after all.

"And then I turned sixteen. That's how it usually goes. The town was having this annual winter festival – very Stars Hollow like, one that everyone went to, and the entire community got involved in. We had those stands, and local, family owned stores and restaurants were selling their products and giving coupons with fifteen percent off. It was one of those events. Clary and Simon dragged me to it, then ditched me for some reason. I can't really remember it. My being mad at them lasted a whole five minutes before this one guy, two years my senior, approached me. He was tall, and gorgeous, and had strong arms, and a nice looking face, a beautiful voice, and did I mention he was stunning?"

Alec laughed.

"We hung out most of the night. We talked about things I don't remember, then we went behind the library, away from the all the stands, and started doing a little more than talking." this time Magnus was the one who laughed at Alec's blush "And that's how my parents found us. Him, pinning me against the wall, me, with my arms around his neck, our tongues in each other's mouths, and our hips grinding together. After we broke away and he left me at the mercy of his parents – not without first asking me if I was okay, mind you. Don't look like that, he was nice enough, and with the repulsed look my mother was giving us, I really wouldn't have blamed him if he had left without saying a word. But still, after he left, my parents… Well, they were silent at first.

"We had a lot of bad arguments before. By that time I had been enduring eight years of abuse; I had been beaten, I had gone two days without being given a meal by them. I had been insulted, kicked… Hell, there was even a time when my mother almost drowned me when I was ten. I had put up with a lot from the two of them. Screaming, yelling, fists… I was used to all of that. I hated that I was used to it, but I was." Magnus closed his eyes, and he could almost feel his mother's eyes on him. He could almost feel the cold of that night, the sick wave of dread he felt at the pit of his stomach as he waited for the screams and the insults that would never come "They didn't do any of that, though. Not that night. My father just quietly handed me the keys to the house and said I had until they came back from the festival to pack all my stuff and leave."

"They kicked you out?" Alec's eyes were wide, his mouth agape "For being with that boy?"

"Not that boy. boy." Magnus corrected "I think they had their suspicions before, but tried to ignore it. The moment they caught us, they couldn't do that anymore. Couldn't just turn a blind eye and think that their son was just a little different. So when that happened, they just… They just kicked me out."

"And what happened? What did you do? You were only sixteen, right?"

"Yep. Sixteen going on seventeen. So that night I—Hey, look!" Magnus stopped and pointed up "We're here."

Wedged between a generic New York gift shop and a large make-up store was a tiny storefront, with a simple white sign and dark red Japanese letters. Inside was a glass display case filled with pastries, and in the back a separate small register with a wooden take-out menu on top. They entered inside, the smell of the sweet sugar and strong bread aroma clashing with the scent of rice and grilled fish as both fragrances filled their lungs. Three two-seat small tables were fully occupied, right in front of the registrers, giving the two men barely enough space to walk side by side.

"Are you going to stop your story?" Alec asked, his voice barely a whisper now that they were inside, his eyes falling on the pastries, and then meeting Magnus' again.

"We're simply taking a small break, my dear. Something to keep our stomachs full until we buy your phone case." Magnus reached for his wallet and turned towards the register. An old Asian woman with a stony face and kind eyes waited patiently. Magnus raised two fingers "Two anpan, please." He turned towards Alec as the lady grabbed two paper bags and reached for the tonsils "Anyway, every good story needs a cliffhanger."

"So you're building up suspense?" Alec asked.

"No. To be honest, the story from here on is a bit short. Thank you." Magnus paid the cashier, then handed Alec his bun "But I want to milk our time together as much as possible."

He winked. Alec blushed. Their customary routine both comforting and endearing.

"You don't need to prolong the story to do that." Alec said. He quietly stepped out of line, but didn't take a bite of bun "We agreed to spend the day together, didn't we?"

Magnus smiled. The two headed towards the door, turning right, the quietness of the store being replaced by the noise sounds of the street. Magnus looked up, taking a bite of the pastry. As his tongue tasted the sweet flavor of the red bean paste, he couldn't help but notice how, even in bright sunny days such as these, New York City always managed to look a little gray.

"We did." He said, once he finished chewing "But just in case you wanted to back out and ditch me—"

"I wouldn't do that." Alec said, a bit too serious, his own anpan still inside the bag"I wouldn't… Wouldn't abandon you."

"I wouldn't call it abandoning." Magnus shrugged "And you don't have to be so serious about it. I was just… I was just joking."

"Well, I wasn't."

Alec had that same intensity from before, from when Magnus started telling his story. The violinist had to avert his own gaze before he could speak again, trying to ease them away from the indescribable atmosphere that those simple words had created.

"All part of your little angel duty, right?"

The joke caused Alec to smile and shake his head, giving Magnus more confidence. There was another moment of silence before Alec finally took a bite of his pastry.

"It's sweet." His tone showed his surprised, though the only indication on his face was the slight tilt of the head.

"A good sweet, right?"

"Right." Alec nodded, taking another bite "A good sweet."

"Good." Magnus smiled "So, where did we leave off? Oh, yes! My parents kicked me out. Heartbreaking. Cruel. 100% true, though at the time I was in shock and couldn't believe what they had told me. It must have taken me half an hour to call Clary and Simon and ask for their help and by that time… Well, I'm certainly not proud of it, but I was crying. At first just a few tears, so quiet that I hadn't realized I was crying at all until I started wiping them away. And then that did it. I was crying and sobbing as my parents' words finally sunk in. I was sitting against the wall, snow falling, and crying desperately as I faced the library's empty parking lot. My palms were on top of my eyelids and I was pressing so hard that it hurt, but I couldn't stop. Once I started crying I just… I just couldn't stop. Pretty sure I cursed a lot too. Yelled the f-word very loudly.

"There was a graveyard by the library. It was old, with a huge tree in the center. There were tons of people buried there. Earlier that year one of the school's guidance counselor had joined their numbers. She was laid to rest with her husband on one side, her parents on the other. I remember… I remember looking away as I wiped my nose. I remember turning my head and looking at the graveyard and realizing I probably wouldn't be buried side-by-side with my parents. Or my grandparents. Or anyone. And as I realized that I couldn't… I couldn't help but think 'Am I going to die alone? Am I going to be alone for the rest of my life?' Now that I think back, it was silly of me to even think something like that, but at the time… At the time I really thought I would be alone forever. That I didn't have anyone anymore…I thought I had hit the bottom of the pit so hard that I would never be able to climb up." Magnus smiled sadly, his eyes far off. Distantly, he recognized some of Alec's melancholy in his own voice, and were he not so lost in his own story, he would have wondered once more what kind of life the man by his side had lived "Those minutes – they couldn't have been more than ten, but they felt like an eternity to me – they… Those minutes while I waited for Clary and Simon were the loneliest minutes of my life.

"I was in a bit of a daze when Clary and Simon finally found me, so the details from that moment on are a bit hazy. They guided me to Simon's car – this time he had just gotten his license, so he was driving legally – and started driving back to my parents' place. I think they kept asking me what happened, what my parents said, why they kicked me out, but I didn't answer them. Not this time, at least. I was so out of it that I didn't even notice Clary calling her mom. She met us at the front door, and she had three big garbage bags with her. We went inside and put everything that was mine inside those bags. Even my comforters and pillows. We just… We just threw everything inside, fast. I didn't want to see my parents again, and I was afraid of what would happen if they came back and I was still there. So we tried to be as fast as possible. After we loaded up everything in the car, I left the keys by the doormat and… And that was the last time I ever stepped inside that house."

They stopped at a light. A taxi decided to cut off the driver of a small Honda, resulting on said car's horn blasting loudly for a full ten seconds. Neither Magnus nor Alec noticed.

"That's when I started crying again. Second time that night. I… I suddenly realized I had no place to go. I had nowhere to live. I had cousins, uncles, grandparents, sure, but we weren't close. They lived far away. And I don't think any of them would have welcomed me either. Not if they knew the reason why I was kicked out." Magnus continued the story "I knew things between my parents and I were bad. They were really bad. I knew their views on… on homosexuality and bisexuality and… Anything of that nature. But it never occurred to me that they would kick me out. Hate me? Sure. Hell, I think they've hated me since that time I came back with painted nails. But somehow I figured that I was safe until I graduated college. I thought that to them, to have me have anything less than a bachelor's degree would be a disgrace to their family name, to say the least. I thought the shame of that would force them to keep me around long enough until I could sustain myself. I never had a plan B and now… Now I had no idea what to do.

"So I started crying again. I was sixteen, I was hurt, I was desperate… And now I was homeless, and had no idea what to do. I cried because… because that was all I could do. I was terrified. I had nowhere to go, or so I thought. I had some money saved from my job, but not nearly enough to rent something. And who would rent anything to a sixteen year old brat?" Magnus shook his head "I think I may have said all of this aloud, but I didn't even notice it. I didn't notice much until we pulled over by Clary's house, and everyone but me started grabbing my stuff and bringing them inside.

"Turns out that they had all decided I would be rooming with Clary and Jocelyn from that moment on. They had a small guest room with a sofa-bed which became my new room that night. I was shocked, to say the least. I was a proud boy, but not proud enough to deny their help. Even now, I'm thankful to both of them. I wouldn't be where I am if it weren't for their help." Magnus smile turned gentle, fond "But if you think my grades were bad before, after this… Well, the moment my parents kicked me out I gave up any dreams of ever going to college. Jocelyn still talked about me attending Julliard, but… But I knew it could never happen. I wouldn't be able to afford it, even if I took out loans. My grades were awful, so I doubted that I would be able to get any scholarships, even if I did play rather well. And despite being thankful for all of Jocelyn's help, I refused to allow her to help me with that. She was already determined to help Clary, had been saving for that for most of Clary's life… I couldn't add to her expenses, not in that sense.

"So, with college out of the question, high school just… It just became so trivial. Now I know I should have taken it more seriously from the beginning, and that maybe it wasn't as much of a loss cause as I thought, but at the time? Getting kicked just… It just made everything else seem unimportant, you know?" Magnus sighed "So I started working more hours. I wanted to repay Clary and Jocelyn in any way I could, and I figured trying to pay for as much of my expenses as I could afford would do it. I started taking extra shifts and got promoted to manager. Clary and Simon used to say that I worked full time and studied part time. They weren't wrong, either. I also did most of the chores on my new home, and whenever I could, I would help Jocelyn with her students. It was a lot of work, and my life was definitely a lot less comfortable than before but… But I was happier. For the first time since I could remember, I was truly and honestly happy."

"And your parents?" Alec asked quietly.

Magnus shrugged.

"I don't know. I saw them a couple of times in town, but we haven't talked since. I'm not sure what they are doing, how they are doing, and… And frankly, I don't care to know. We're done with each other, and I'm happy like this." Magnus swallowed the last bite of his anpan, and threw the paper bag away "I don't have any wish to reconcile, any lingering longing for their love. I've found my family. My true family. It wasn't the one I was born with, but I love them just as much as I would if we were related by blood. And I know this may sound conceited, but I also know they feel the exact same way."

"That's good." Alec smiled, also finishing his own pastry and throwing the paperbags away "I'm happy that you're happy."

"Well, and I'm happy for that." Magnus chuckled "But it took a while for me to get here. While I was happier than ever when I moved in with Clary, at the time part of me still ached for my parents love. I blamed myself. I thought… I thought maybe I had done something wrong. Maybe if I had just been the perfect son they wanted, things would have been better. Sometimes, no matter how happy or satisfied you are with your life, doubt can creep in and just… Just destroy everything. And it does it so quietly that you don't even realize it. But I did, thankfully. I felt it, and every time I started to doubt myself, every time I started to feel that sense of dread eating away my happiness I grabbed my violin and played."

Magnus smiled again, looking at his hand. His left fingers moved to play the first two measures of Sky Water, his wrist moving with the invisible vibrato, and his right hand softly mimicking the grip of his bow.

"My music… It became everything to me. It was already a big part of my life before, but after that day it just…" he shook his head "It's hard to put in in words. I played when I was happy, to celebrate my happiness. I played when I was feeling sad, to both keep the sadness away and to channel it into something productive. I played when I was bored so I could have something to do. And whenever I wasn't playing, I was thinking about playing. Everything started to translate into music. Books I read, movies I watched, conversations I had… Suddenly everything had a melody, a rhythm… Everything could be translated into notes, and when I picked up my violin, I could translate those notes into sound. I think… I think that's when my playing really began to blossom. That's when I found myself, found who I was as a musician.

"But like I told you before, from here on, the story gets a little short, a little typical. I began working more, as Clary decided she wanted to attend art school, and Simon decided he wanted to study film. The two of them began to work on portfolios, to look at colleges, and I began putting money away so I could eventually afford my own place. Then, when Clary and Simon both got accepted into the same school here in New York, I decided I also wanted to start working here. I got hired by this very expensive fine restaurant here in Manhattan, and my income got a lot better, and eventually also got promoted to manager there. I even managed to get Clary and Simon a summer jobs. We would wake up early in the morning together, commute all the way here, and then we would go our own ways. While Clary and Simon went to class, I would play my violin until it was time to begin my shift.

"I would play at Penn Station, at Grand Station… I would play on parks, at the subway… I played wherever I could. The whole commuting thing left little time for me to practice at home, and so I figured that I should play here in the city and see if I could make some extra money. It worked." Magnus put his hands back in his pocket, looking Alec from the corner of his eye "After two years of this, Clary and Simon decided they were too tired of commuting. So the three of us agreed to rent a small apartment here in the city.

"Jocelyn flipped. She was against the whole thing at first. She's protective like that, you see. I bet if she could, Clary would still be living with her, right now, even as she is about to get married. Clary… For a long time Clary was all Jocelyn had, and the idea of losing her, of letting anything happen to her, was too terrifying." Magnus grinned "But luckily, as you know, I can be very persuasive. And Simon's parents can be too. So with time, we managed to get her on our side, with the condition that she would have to approve the apartment, terms of agreement, and all that other nonsense. I tell you, finding an apartment that two sets of protective middle class parents approve of for their children is way harder than it sounds. But we did it. A small two bedroom apartment in Brooklyn."

"Small?" Alec frowned "So it's not the one you have now?"

"Oh, heavens no. No, I only bought that little piece of paradise recently. The apartment I'm speaking was very tiny, and had ghosts that haunted their ghosts." Magnus explained "The bedroom I shared with Simon was barely enough for both of our beds."

"Simon? But… But I would have thought—"

"At the time, Simon and Clary weren't together. In love with each other? Yes, very much so. Disgustingly so, in fact. Simon had been head-over-heels for Clary for a good six years at that point, and Clary started to return his feelings about two years prior. They both tried dating other people and, I swear, I came very close to just playing matchmaker and falling into another cliché."

"And you don't do clichés." Alec added "I think we established that a few times, today."

"I most certainly don't. I thrive on being unique and unexpected, and while clichés are good too give you that nice warm and fuzzy feeling, or to be a good unhealthy bowl of chicken soup for the soul, I want to be a Gordon Ramsey dish. I'll be special, memorable, and completely unique." Magnus nodded "So no, no clichés. Though I did come so close to at the time."

"Were they that infuriating?"

"Oh, you have no idea, darling. You think comforting one best friend over their supposedly unrequited love for your third best friend is bad? Imagine having to do that to two of them. I kept boxes of tissues under my bed and a box of chocolate hidden inside the fridge. Clary says I'm not romantic, that I don't take relationships seriously… Honestly, I think that's all their fault. They lovesickness for each other just broke and shattered every romantic bone my body ever had."

"Every single one of them?" Alec asked "So which ones are left?"

"The bones of shameless flirting, and one night stands." This time, when Magnus winked, Alec laughed "But despite how much all of that made me want to bang my head against our ghost haunted walls until my brain managed to slide through the cracks of my skull, I refused to play matchmaker."

"It's surprising… You wouldn't expect that from you." Alec smiled "I would have thought you would have been all over this, if only to take the credit for it."

"Oh, I consider it. In exchange they would have to give me their first born child, or at least let me name it. I don't think that's a position they would want to be in, though." Magnus shook his head "No, no. I've read Emma before, I know how bad matchmaking can be. If I'm going to be the star of a Jane Austen novel, I'm not going to be Emma Woodhouse."

"Then which character would you be?"

"Which one? Let me think…" Magnus paused "Well, my first instinct is to say George Knightley, but are we allowed to move away from Austen?"

"You were the one who brought her up."

"True, but I feel like I'm more of a Wilde character." Magnus said "Lord Henry Wotton. I think I'm more like him than Emma."

"And…" Alec paused, "That's supposed to be a good thing?"

"Not at all, but at least I can claim to be self-aware." Magnus smiled when Alec shook his head "Anyway, luckily I didn't have to wait long. Three months into living together and my two beloved but completely idiotic best friends finally got together, and I got my own room. Which was very close to theirs and made me realize that I wanted my own apartment.

"Life continued on like that. I continued to save money, continued playing my violin. Now that we lived in the city, I could spend a lot more time playing outside." Magnus paused "I actually played a lot in the park, close to where we were."

"You did?"

"Yeah, I did." Magnus smiled "I would play anything. Classical, covers of pop songs, originals, musicals… But nothing drew an audience more than when I played a Disney song, believe it or not. Adults stop to be lost in nostalgia, children pull their parents in because that's a song they can recognize… One time I started playing Beauty and the Beast, and everyone around started to sing along. It was a really touching moment, really. Then this couple started to dance to it, and by the end of it, he proposed to her. Everyone applauded and she said yes. It sounds cheesy when I tell it now, but in that moment… In that moment I realized my music wasn't just something for myself. I realized I could move others, too. That it was something that needed to be shared, that could help and be special to other people. It wasn't… It wasn't something just for me anymore."

Magnus smiled, as the memory of that day replaced the one of his parents. He remembered standing on top of a bench, his makeshift stage, and he remembered how the first few notes caused people to stop in their tracks and turn towards him. He remembered when the first woman – young, with long brown hair and hazel eyes, and a voice of someone who was classically trained – started to sing, the lyrics carrying through the air beautifully, inviting others to join in. Soon even small children were singing along, and the couple, both dressed in running track suits and coated in sweat, began to waltz happily out of rhythm.

It was a moment Magnus would always treasure, even Clary claimed that he wasn't a romantic.

"I didn't realize that someone very special had taken notice of my playing. I get so lost in my music that, most of the time, I don't take much notice of my audience. It's not a good habit, I think, but I can't help it." Again, his left fingers played the first two measures of Sky Water "After everything, after all the ways my music has helped, has become a part of me, I just get lost in it."

Alec smiled at him.

"Now I really want to hear you play," he said "Live. At least at first. I would love to watch it."

"Oh, don't say it like that. Please. You're going to make me blush." They both smiled at the joke "But as I was saying, someone took notice of my playing. An agent, actually. A music agent, if that wasn't clear enough. He saw me playing in the park, watched that performance, and he came every weekend, just as I did, and he would hear my performances from start to finish. One day he caught me playing at a subway stop, as he was going to work, and that's when he finally approached me.

"His name was Luke Graymark, and, as it so happens, he was also Jocelyn's close childhood friend. They fell out of contact throughout the years, but since they were young they shared a passion for music; while Luke decided to work on the business side of it, Jocelyn decided to teach." Magnus said "He wanted to sign me a deal, and after much talk, and much advice from Jocelyn, I agreed. We recorded my first album, The Runaway Queen, and it was an instant hit. I got enough money to get my own apartment, and when Clary and Simon graduated, I managed to score a deal with the landlord and have them move in to the same building.

"Jocelyn and Luke started dating again. Then they got married. Clary was the maid of honor, and I played a song I composed for them at their wedding. The two sold Jocelyn's old place – and Clary cried so much when it happened, it was heartbreaking – and then moved to a larger house in the same town; one that has a room for Clary and Simon, one for any future grandchildren, and an extra guest room. After that I had my first national tour, with its last stop being right here, in New York City. The date of the final concert was supposed to be a month ago, but, as you probably already know, there was an accident during rehearsal. A stage life almost fell on me, nearly taking my life away. Simon and Clary say I'm exaggerating, but really, it was a miracle I survived."

They stopped at a light. Magnus looked at Alec, a joke on the tip of his tongue when he noticed his blue eyes narrow, something dark shadowing them. The corner of his lips were turned downwards, his expression troubling.

The light turned green for the pedestrians, and the people around them started to walk. Something on the back of Magnus mind nagged at him, begging him to ask the boy what was wrong, but he decided to ignore it.

Something about the end of his story deeply bothered Alec, and Magnus wasn't sure he wanted to know what it was.

At least not today.

"So, the date of the concert got pushed back. I threw a party to celebrate my victory over death, and that's where we met." Magnus spoke quickly, trying to get a smile out of the other man "And… I think that's it. You are, officially, updated on my life. How does that feel?"

"It feels good." Alec nodded with a tiny smile. His eyes, though, showed that there was still something troubling him "Are you sure you didn't miss any details?"

"None that would matter." Magnus shrugged "It was a pretty impressive life, wasn't it?"

"Very impressive." Alec nodded "I'm… humbled… to be in your presence."

"Good. You should be." Magnus grinned "As you should be humbled about me buying you that anba, and about me teaching you how to use your phone."

"I am." Alec nodded again, his smile growing "I am forever in your debt."

"Yes. Yes you are." Magnus agreed. "And I know just how you can repay me."

"Thought of something already?" Alec's eyebrows shot up, surprised "Okay. What is it? How can I show you my eternal gratitude?"

Magnus did not bother to hold back his smirk.

"You," he said "will allow me to choose your new phone case."

Alec looked at Magnus with exaggerated suspicion, causing the violinist to laugh. Soon, the blue eyed man was laughing as well.

"I think I'll regret this," he said "But fine. You can choose my new phone case."


Choosing Alec's new phone case had been more fun than the violinist expected. After looking at the ones full of glitter (which caused Alec's eyes to widened in horror), the ones with bows and peacock birds on the back (cue Alec's horrified "no", and Magnus' "we have a deal"), and sparkly bows (Alec's glare said more than words ever could), Magnus had settled on a blue Hello Kitty case that matched the man's gorgeous eyes.

And just as promised, the two spent the rest of their day together. There was no more talk of the past, no more talk of ghosts, or of hatred. No more personal questions were asked, no more serious subjects were brought up. They spent the day enjoying each other's company, walking and talking about things Magnus' couldn't quite recall. What he could remember, though, – and always would – was Alec's smile. It was Alec's eyes looking at him and only him, and Alec's voice as they felt into banter. He would always recall perfectly the warm feeling inside his chest, that was both comforting and new, and the smile that refused to leave his lips, even when they fell into silence. He would remember laughing when the curry Alec ate at the Indian restaurant they went to was too spicy, and the man's own teasing when Magnus tripped over a step as they visited one of the galleries Clary had told him about. He remembered taking the long way to Brooklyn bridge, avoiding the subway and bus so Alec would not feel overwhelmed by the crowds, and he remembered how he didn't even care that his feet were aching so much as they continued walking, coming into a consensus that in the end, it didn't matter if someone bought an used or new copy of a book, as long as they didn't downloaded it as an ebook – both agreed that those lacked character.

The sun had now long since set, the darkness of the night never quite overtaking the city that never slept. As Magnus' building came into sight, the violinist wished that this day – this day when he walked from Manhattan to Brooklyn in leather boots, jeans, and a long coat – would last just a little longer. The silence presiding over them was no longer comforting; instead, it filled Magnus with anxiety, with the baseless fear that unless he said something, then he wouldn't see this wonderful melancholic man again.

And so, Magnus said what had been on his mind since early that morning:

"We should meet again tomorrow, if possible." He tried to keep the uncertainty out of his voice. If Alec had noticed, he didn't say anything "I have something I want to give you."

"Something you want to give me?" Alec frowned "Thar awful phone case wasn't enough?"

"Don't say that. You love it."

"No, I don't." Alec said "But I'm sure Jace and Izzy will."

"Tell them 'you're welcome', then." Magnus shook his head "I'm serious, though. Even if we don't go out again like we did today, I have something I want to give you."

They arrived at Magnus' building. Alec stopped in front of the main gate, hands inside his pocket.

"What is it?"

"Tickets." Magnus answered "Well, ticket. To my concert. The one that got postpone."

Alec blinked.

"You want me to go?"

"Well, yes." Magnus smiled "Otherwise I wouldn't be offering it. You… You still want to go, right?"

Alec nodded, then smile.

"Of course."

"Good," Magnus nodded as well, relief clear in his voice. "Good. I'll give you the ticket, then. See you tomorrow, right?"

Alec continued to smile.

"See you tomorrow."

Magnus opened the front gate and began to walk. He glanced back once, twice, three times, and every time Alec was still there, staring back at him. As the violinist made his way inside the building and walked towards the elevator, he pulled out his phone.

One ring. Two rings. Then he was greeted by a female voice.

"You won't believe the day I had," Magnus said, as he watched the elevator doors opened "It involves a cute, shy, and very precious blue eyed boy."

"Tell me everything" Clary said "No, wait. Simon and I will be right over. Then you tell us everything!"


Unknown to Magnus, said man stood on the rooftop of his building, even hours after their parting. His blue eyes were shinning brighter than any light in the city, brighter than any mortal eye ever could.

A human shaped creature, with ashen skin and red eyes shrieked, as it ran on all fours, circling the Shadowhunter. It stopped, crooked its head almost all the way around, screeched again, and resumed its running, faster than before. The Shadowhunter simply watched as it gained momentum and it leaped off of the building.

The creature started to gallop through the air. The Shadowhunter did not blink, stoic eyes following the demon's every move. A bow quietly materialized in his left hand, an arrow on his right. He watched as the demon circled the air over and over, gray smoke visible only to those like them trailing after the creature.

He set the arrow and drew it back, holding it in place. His eyes followed the creature as it howled and then charged, its lips pulled back, exposing its gums and sharp teeth.

He released the arrow. It ripped through the air quietly, a blue glow that matched its shooter's eyes enveloping the heavenly weapon.

It hit its mark. The demon let out a ghastly and agonizing wail as it convulsed in the air and died, the blue glowing arrow disappearing along with it.

Alec's bow disappeared from his hand just as quietly as it had appeared. His blue eyes, no longer glowing, continued to stare straight ahead.

"I don't understand…" his voice was quiet, even though no one could hear him as he was under glamour "Why are there so many demons and Downworlders targeting him?"

Chapter Text

Truth's Shadow

..::Part I: Accelerando::..

~Chapter 06~

"How about this?"

Alec looked at his kin. The light that seeped through the broken stain glass windows blended perfectly with the light pink aura she naturally emitted when in her true form. Her hair lay over her left shoulder, her eyes glowing softly, her lips morphed into an excited smile. She was holding an outfit that could only be described as tight; leather black pants that looked barely big enough to fit the legs of a dining room chair, a white shirt with a fabric so shiny and stiff Alec wondered if it was made out of marble, a small black vest, and a blue tie.

"Are you serious?" he searched Izzy's eyes, trying to find any sign that this was her sad attempt at a joke.

"Of course!" it was her turn to look confused. "Why wouldn't I be? I even picked something that was mostly black, since you seem allergic to any other color. And see, this blue tie would bring out your eyes! It reminds me of that outfit you wore to that ball back in – oh, when was it? 1678? 1732? It was in France..."

"Before or after the incident with the guillotine and the shoes?" Jace asked in what appeared to be genuine curiosity. He was sitting by the altar, his true form also exposed. It bathed the abandoned church's walls with a soft golden light, one that matched the glow of his eyes. In his hands was a silver dagger with its hilt encrusted in ambers. It, too, was surrounded by a golden aura.

Alec was the only one who had decided to keep his true form hidden. He sat in the old oak benches on the left side of the aisle, three rows from the front. He leaned forward as he used the seats in front of him to rest his folded arms, eyes on the two other Shadowhunters. Inside his pocket, his phone vibrated, gently demanding his attention.

"I think it was before that," Izzy said. She stood not too far in front of him, a pile of clothes littering the floor to her right. "Yes, definitely before."

Alec shifted in his seat as his phone vibrated yet again.

"Was it the one hosted by that guy with the weird moustache?" Jace grimaced, the dagger spinning around his right fingers while his left ones traced the skin under his nose. "You know, the party where your Charge had got drunk and almost fell asleep on a fountain?"

"No, no, that wasn't it. I think it was –Oh, it doesn't matter!" Izzy made a gesture with her hands, swatting the conversation. "Still, Alec would look amazing in this!"

Alec looked at the outfit once more. It perfectly illustrated why he stopped letting Isabelle choose his clothes for him centuries ago.

"No," he shook his head. "Absolutely not."

"But you'd look so good!" She said. "Magnus would agree! The combination of black and blue will totally bring out your eyes! And he loves your eyes!"

"My decision still stands. I'm not wearing that to his concert."

"You're impossible. Fine. Then I'll just find something else," Izzy walked towards a pile of clothes. She looked over each garment carefully, occasionally glancing at Alec before tossing them aside. "Then how about… This!" she lifted her new choice, looking satisfied. "This should do it!"

"Ah, yes, it's perfect," this time it was Jace who spoke. "Make him wear that and we can stop making fun of his Hello Kitty phone."

Alec tried not to smile. Said phone vibrated yet again.

"Shut up," Izzy laid the clothes down by the wooden benches. "You don't understand anything about fashion."

"I don't understand anything about fashion?" Jace asked. "I have a few pictures of you from the 70s that proves otherwise, Izzy."

"I'll have you know, those clothes were very much in style back then."

"Of course they were," Jace said. Alec wondered how hard Jace practiced his sarcasm every day in order to convey so much of it in four simple words.

"They were!"

"Yeah, sure," he nodded. "Let's pretend that's true. It still doesn't make them any less hideous."

"Well, what about you? Do you remember Italy, back in 15th century?" Izzy stalked towards Jace, her pink eyes glowing bright. "Remember when that Charge of yours was being targeted by a group of demons and you—"

"Now, that's not fair! That incident was—"

"It's completely fair! If you can bring up the 70s then I can bring that up! Besides…!"

Alec tuned them out. As they continued to bicker, he finally reached for his phone, seeing three unread messages from his Charge.

 

Today

From: The Magnificent Magnus Bane

To: Alec

there's a chopped and cutthroat kitchen marathon my night is set

received 3 minutes ago

 

Today

From: The Magnificent Magnus Bane

To: Alec

reindeer pate alec. someone is going on the naughty list for killing little Rudolf

received 3 minutes ago

 

Today

From: The Magnificent Magnus Bane

To: Alec

how much money do you think those judges get paid? because you couldn't pay me to eat some of the ingredients they use on this show

received now

 

Alec smiled, shaking his head lightly.

 

Today

From: Alec

To: The Magnificent Magnus Bane

And to think you were strongly against the existence of the Food Network four days ago.

sent now

 

Today

From: The Magnificent Magnus Bane

To: Alec

I've seen the error of my ways. having the tv get stuck on it was destiny. I could have used this instead of rewatching cycle nine of antm for the seventh time last week

received now

Today

 

From: Alec

To: The Magnificent Magnus Bane

ANTM?

sent now

 

Today

From: The Magnificent Magnus Bane

To: Alec

I still have so much to teach you

received now

 

Alec chuckled. He quickly looked up, only to find that Jace and Izzy seemed to have forgotten his presence.

His phone vibrated again.

 

Today

From: Magnus the Magnificent

To: Alec

What is my young grasshopper doing?

received now

 

Grasshopper? He wasn't sure what that particular insect had to do with their conversation, but smiled all the same, shaking his head again before typing his reply.

 

Today

From: Alec

To: The Magnificent Magnus Bane

Izzy is trying to pick clothes for your concert. It's not going well for her.

sent now

 

Alec didn't have to wait long for a reply, his smile only widening as he read the message.

 

Today

From: The Magnificent Magnus Bane

To: Alec

pictures darling pictures. you cant just say something like that and not send pictures

received now

 

Today

From: Alec

To: The Magnificent Magnus Bane

I obviously can. I'm not sending you any pictures. I'm not even going to wear anything she picks out.

sent now

 

Today

From: The Magnificent Magnus Bane

To: Alec

you have crushed my dreams. all of them turned to dust and swiped away under a ratty old rug because of you.

received now

 

Alec bit his lower lip, holding back a laugh.

 

Today

From: Alec

To: The Magnificent Magnus Bane

You'll live

sent now

 

Today

From: The Magnificent Magnus Bane

To: Alec

hardly. the only reason why ill survive is because youre my guardian angel. but you must right this wrong. describe everything to me. in DETAILS

received now

 

He glanced at the clothes, then at the other two Shadowhunters. They were holding a pair of gray pants as they continued to argue.

 

Today

From: Alec

To: The Magnificent Magnus Bane

Shirt and pants? I'm not good at describing these things, Magnus, you know that. They are tight, though. All of them. Really tight. Jace said something about super heroes? He said something a bat man and a robin? I don't think he's making sense, I don't see what a bat and a robin have to do with each other, they are completely different animals.

sent now

 

Today

From: The Magnificent Magnus Bane

To: Alec

OMG

received now

 

Alec raised his eyebrows.

 

Today

From: The Magnificent Magnus Bane

To: Alec

Alec tell your sister that if she gets you in some 1960s batman style tights i will love her forever and ever.

received now

 

Today

From: Alec

To: The Magnificent Magnus Bane

Not sure what a batman is and why you felt the need to specify the decade, but I have a feeling I don't want to look like it, whatever it is.

sent now

 

Today

From: The Magnificent Magnus Bane

To: Alec

excuse you. I take personal offense to that

received now

 

Today

From: The Magnificent Magnus Bane

To: Alec

I personally think would look amazing in those pants that leave nothing to the imagination even if you dont use your underwear over it

received now

 

Today

From: The Magnificent Magnus Bane

To: Alec

i promise

received now

 

Today

From: Alec

To: The Magnificent Magnus Bane

Nothing you said made any sense. I don't trust you

sent now

 

Today

From: The Magnificent Magnus Bane

To: Alec

you have wounded me twice this day alexander and the north always remembers

received now

 

How utterly Magnus. Often Alec wondered if there would come a time when he'd be able to fully understand what his Charge was saying. It seemed unlikely; half the time his words words resembled a riddle or secret code, his jests lost to the Shadowhunter. It should have been annoying. It should be something that would make his teeth grind and his eyes roll. But in reality, all he felt was a combination of found exasperation and amusement. That absolute nonsense was just so Magnus that Alec could not help but find it endearing.

He began to type his reply – ready to ask how a cardinal direction could remember anything and what it had to do with pain – when he noticed the arguing that had been buzzing in the background had stopped. He looked up, only to find Izzy and Jace staring at him.

"Talking to Magnus again?" Jace asked.

Alec put the phone back in his pocket, his reply half typed.

"Yeah. He likes to narrate the shows he watches," as if to prove a point, his phone vibrated again. Alec could just imagine Magnus on the other end, whining as he waited for Alec's text, or maybe gasping dramatically at whatever was happening on his television screen.

Jace and Izzy looked at each other, their eyebrows knit.

"What?" Alec asked, looking at the two of them.

"Nothing," Jace said, a little too quickly.

Alec raised his eyebrows, still waiting for an answer.

"We're serious," Izzy said. "It's nothing, Alec. Don't worry about it."

"Well, that just makes me worry about it more, doesn't it?"

"That's because you are worrywart," Jace said. "Always have been."

"He's right," Izzy said, and then made a face. "Well, those words tasted horrible in my mouth."

"They sounded really good to my ears," Jace said.

"Well yeah, you probably don't hear them that often," Izzy said. "Or at all, really."

"I hear them about as much as you do."

"Oh, you think so?" Izzy crossed her arms. "I can think of at least sixty other Shadowhunters who would say otherwise."

"Sixty?! You're exaggerating!"

"Am not! Off the top of my head, I can name them all!"

"You cannot!"

"Can so!" Izzy said. "Let's see, starting from the Featherstone Branch, there's—"

"Hey, hey! Back to the point!" Alec snapped his fingers in front of the two, getting their attention back. It was something he always did to them when they were younger, something that never failed to stop them from arguing whenever they digressed. "What was with that look you were sharing earlier?"

Jace sighed, rolling his eyes. He moved to sit down by Alec's side, resting his feet on the bench in front of him, "We told you already: It's nothing. Stop worrying."

"Can't," Alec said.

"See? Worrywart," Jace said. "Point proven."

"Point not proven," Alec said. "Point irrelevant, in fact."

"You can't decide if the point is irrelevant," Jace said. "That's not how it works."

"Will you stop changing the subject?" Alec asked. "You two shared a weird look when you found out I was talking to Magnus just now. Why?"

The two looked at each other again. There were a few moments of silence, but neither seemed willing to break it.

"Does it…" Alec bit his lip. "Does it have to do with Hodge?"

Their eyes widened, but Alec couldn't be sure if it was because his guess was right or wrong.

"What makes you say that?" Izzy walked towards them and knelt on the bench in front the two male Shadowhunter. She pushed Jace's feet off of it, and looked at Alec, her brows knitted, her eyes searching his. "Why would you bring up Hodge?"

Alec took a deep breath. Why, indeed? There was no reason for him to assume Hodge would be connected to whatever that look Izzy and Jace shared was. His question was sudden, out of nowhere, the subject one they never brought up. It didn't make sense, but…

Inside his pocket, his phone vibrated again. Alec glanced at the pile of clothes – clothes that he had no idea how Izzy had acquired and, if history was to be trusted, he knew he did not want to – and then at his kin. Magnus' concert was but a short week away, the incident that delayed it a full two months behind them.

"Well… We never really talked about what happened. Not really," Alec said. He was playing with the hem of his coat, pulling at a loose thread and tying it around his finger. "What Hodge did… It just… It doesn't make any sense."

Izzy sighed, twirling a lock of hair around her fingers. "It didn't make sense to any of us. After you, Hodge was one of the most diligent Shadowhunter I've ever met."

"He taught us almost everything we know. All of us," Jace said. "May even had taught Maryse and Robert, too. I don't know. Never bothered asking. He seemed old enough to do it, though."

"Regardless, it really did came out of nowhere," Izzy shook her head, frowning. "It's just… Out of all the Shadowhunters, he was the last one I ever expect to turn on us."

"Yeah…" Jace nodded. "I mean, I know the Downworlder's cause is appealing, but –"

"It's more than that," Alec said, quietly. The tip of his finger looked red, and he could feel a light tingle beneath his skin.

Both Izzy and Jace stared at him, shocked.

"What?" they asked in union.

"It's more than just… Than just being appealing. Their cause is…"

Alec ran a hand through his hair, shaking his head. His breathing was growing shallow. Outside, he could hear the noises of cars driving by, their sounds being the only indication that this church existed in the Mundane Realm. He tried to focus on that, tried to pay attention to every sound and smell his senses could pick up, naming them all in his head. His fingers continued to play with the thread as he tried to adjust his breathing.

Anchor… He needed an anchor.

"Appealing doesn't feel like a strong enough word," he said, though his mind was still paying attention to the sounds; on crickets and car honks and leaves and…. "There's a reason why… Why I was the only rescued from the mission. Out of my squad, I… I was the only one who…"

Alec didn't have to finish. Jace and Izzy knew perfectly well what he meant.

"Traitors," Izzy scoffed. "All of them, traitors."

"They are, but like it or not, their numbers are increasing," Jace spun his dagger around his fingers, then stabbed the wooden bench in front of him. "Like it or not, more and more Shadowhunters are deserting The Clave. They are joining the Downworlders, giving them manpower and all our secrets. Soon there will be more of them than there are of us."

"I never thought it would come to this," Izzy said. "If someone like Hodge can become a Downworlder, what's to stop everyone else? Other higher ups? It's a miracle we haven't lost this war yet."

"It has nothing to do with miracles, Isabelle," Alec continued to pull on the loose thread, trying hard to concentrate on the task. His index finger felt numb. The air felt stuffy. He counted in his head, inhaling and exhaling, trying to focus on Izzy and Jace as his hands started to shake. He could almost smell the blood, almost hear the hooks. There was a phantom feel of that silver revolver's barrel touching his forehead. When he spoke next, his voice came out strained. "We are still fighting because we have one big advantage over them. As long as we have that, they can't win, no matter how large their numbers are, or how powerful they become."

"It doesn't feel like it will ever be over, though." Jace said. When Alec turned towards him, he saw that his honorary kin was looking out the window, showing no indication of noticing Alec's distress. For that, the older Shadowhunter was only half thankful. "Even with that advantage, how long would it take for us to get ahead of them? For us to eliminate all of them? Unless something is done, we're either going to be stuck like this for centuries more to come, – maybe even a millennium or two – or… Or we'll end up losing because we won't have anyone else on our side."

"It's scary, isn't it?" Izzy asked. "All of our efforts are worthless, when you think about it."

"Then don't," Jace said.

Izzy reached over to slap him behind the head. "I'm serious!"

"So is he," Alec said. "Izzy, it's no use trying to figure these things out. It's not our job. We're just—"

"Just soldiers," Jace nodded, though his tone was bitter. He pulled the dagger out of the bench with more force than necessary. "I'm not even sure if that's the right word for it. We're like dogs, or worse. Do as you're told, ask no questions. That's all we do. That's all we'll ever do and all we'll ever be."

"Yes," Alec tried to drown out the voice in his mind. He tried to forget that female laugh and that cruel smile, tried not to slip away. Worry and confusion clouded Izzy eyes. She seemed to want to reach out for him, though for some reason, she decided against it. Alec was thankful; he feared that if she did he would flinch, or worse. "We have our own role to play in this, and it may not feel like it's a very big one, but it's important all the same. I know it's hard, but if thinking about all those what ifs and all those possible outcomes of the war scares you, then it's better to just… To just not think about it."

Izzy didn't seem satisfied with the answer, her lips pressing into a thin line.

"And what is that going to solve?" Izzy asked.

Alec shrugged. "Nothing. But will thinking about all of this help? It will only distract you. We can't do anything about it, Izzy. It's better to—"

"Just follow your orders," again, Jace's tone was bitter. Again, he stabbed the wooden bench, the knife digging in half-way through the solid oak surface.

Izzy sighed. "I am following my orders. I've always followed them! We all have! And that's not going to change. Not now, nor ever. I intend to keep my Vow, the one I took during my Ceremony. But you can't tell me not to think about all those things, Alec. It's impossible! How can I not wonder about these things after you disappeared? After your entire squad betrayed us? After Hodge's execution?!"

"It was pretty surreal," Jace said. "I never thought I would see a Shadowhunter die."

That caught Alec's attention. Suddenly all the noises of the past seemed to go away, together with the smell and the pain. He could hear the honks, the leaves and the wind, the birds and the crickets. He could smell the soft sour scent of the old granite altar, the lingering odor of wooden finishing, and could feel the dust that tickled his nose. He was anchored to the present once more, his concern for his two kin strong enough to momentarily ward off the ghosts of the past.

In his pocket, his phone vibrated without him noticing it.

"Y-You saw his execution?" Alec stared at the two. "You were there?"

Izzy nodded. "We had to give our testimonies. Then they passed judgement right there. They brought out the sword and… And it looked so normal. It was scary how normal it looked. I never thought… I always thought those weapons would feel different, you know? Have some sort of power radiating from them, an aura that is different from its wielder, that it's unique to itself, or maybe… I don't know, just something. But it didn't even look like a Shadowhunter weapon! It looked like a plain mundane one!"

"You'd never have thought that it was one of the few weapons in existence that can kill a Shadowhunter," Jace said. "Or Downworlder."

Alec continued to stare at them. "I didn't know you watched that. I didn't know you had to see that."

"Like Izzy said, they needed our testimonies," Jace's voice was oddly quiet, almost like a mumble. "We were there, too, you know? During the incident with Magnus. We're actually the reason why your Charge is still alive."

Alec nodded. "I know. Thank you for that," he paused. "But… Still… You shouldn't have had to see that. No one should."

Izzy shrugged, giving Alec a small smile. "We're all grown up now, Alec. We can handle it."

Her words did little to dissolve the lump stuck inside Alec's throat.

"Besides…" Jace said. "Serving in the Front Line and all that, you've probably seen worst, haven't you?"

Alec didn't answer. He looked down, noticing how his dark boots contrasted the gray stone floor of the church. The sound of the cars outside filled the air. None of the Shadowhunters dared to look at each other.

Alec was the one to finally speak up again, his voice hesitant.

"Was there any reason why he tried to kill Magnus? Did he hate him or something?"

"No. That's what made it so odd," Izzy answered. "Hodge showed Magnus the same amount of interest as he did any of the other Charges that was under his care at the time," she then tilted her head, looking mildly thoughtful. "I wonder what happened to those."

"They probably got reassigned," Jace said. "Still, even though Hodge didn't seem to care much for Magnus, he also never seemed to hate him. At least, not enough to kill. Not like Izzy and that woman, a hundred years ago in Argentina…"

"Oh, no, don't even talk about her," Izzy grunted, rolling her eyes. "Mundanes have such short lives, so it usually doesn't matter when they are annoying, but that woman—"

"Anyway, I don't think I ever saw him hating him or anything," Jace said. "Demons target Clary a lot, so I tend to spend more time around her than my other Charges. So I saw a lot of Magnus too. Sometimes Hodge and I would watch over the two together during their sleepovers when demons were around the area. He never seemed to have anything bad to say about Magnus. Or anything good. Like Izzy said, he never showed any particular interest on him. Not until recently, at least. I told them that on my testimony."

That shocked Alec more than anything.

"He wasn't interested in Magnus? At all?"

Alec remembered that Saturday he spent on the park, of Magnus' life story and all his struggled. He thought about the man's smile, the way his hands moved around as he told his story, and how his eyes held all of Alec's attention, so bright and jovial while simultaneously wise and longing. He thought of those texts, of all the things that made little sense to him. How could Hodge not, at the very least, sympathize with the boy? Especially if he had watched over him all his life?

"How can that be?" Alec asked.

It was Jace and Izzy's turn to be surprised. They looked at each other, that same expression from earlier reflecting on their features.

"Alec, Magnus is a nice guy, but… But he is just a human. A regular human, not unlike any of the others populating the Mundane Realm," Izzy said. "And soon his life will be over. Just like that," she snapped her fingers, the sound echoing loudly inside the church. It only lasted a few mere seconds, but it stretched far too long for Alec's liking. "Why would Hodge – or any of us – care about him?"

"Because—"

Before he could even begin to answer, Jace started talking. "No. There's no 'because'. Think about it, Alec. Before you were selected to go to the Front Lines, before you were assigned to your squad and given those secret missions, did you ever care for any of your Charges? Any of them? Did you pay them any more attention than what your duties required?"

"No," Alec admitted, shaking his head. "Of course not. I mean, they were my Charges, but that was it."

"Charges. Not friends. You taught me that," Izzy's eyes bore into him, making him shift uncomfortably in his seat. "They are just humans, Alec. Mundanes. That's all they are. Our duty is to protect them, but…"

"It's not like they matter," Jace completed with a shrugged. "Even before this whole War started, that's how everyone felt."

Alec didn't say anything. He didn't say that it was because of this sentiment that the War began in the first place. They knew that already.

"You only think he's special because it's been so long since you've had a Charge, and since you are on Leave, The Clave only assigned you one for now," Izzy tried to give him a reassuring smile. "How long has it been since you disappeared? A few decades? Maybe a century? And what about since you were drafted to the Front Lines and stopped taking care of humans? That's two centuries, maybe three, at the very least. For you, it's like having your first Charge all over again. That's why you're getting so attached to Magnus. It'll wear off soon. You'll see."

Alec nodded, though the words didn't seem true to him. They should be right, but he knew that they weren't. No matter how hard he tried, Alec could not dismiss his care for his new Charge so carelessly. It was hard to explain. For some reason, Magnus seemed different from all the other Charges Alec had ever cared for. Even his very first Charge – a Greek boy with wild black hair, green eyes, and skinny limbs who died at the tender age of seventeen in an unfortunate sailing accident – hadn't ignited such intrigue in him. Magnus was Magnus, and that made him special somehow. It was as simple, and as complicated, as that.

"But you said Hodge never showed him any interest until recently?" Alec asked, shaking his head as he tried to ward away that train of thought. "What did you mean by that?"

Izzy frowned.

"It was strange. Not until about a year or so ago, Magnus barely registered in Hodge's radar. He would scold Jace and me every time we left our War duties to just… Well, you know," Izzy waved around to the three of them and to the church surrounding them. "Then, suddenly, he was doing the same."

"Only he wasn't training Max like usual, or hanging out with us. Not that we would let him. That would have been weird," Jace said. "Suddenly he would stalk Magnus everywhere. And I mean, serious stalking, even by concerned Shadowhunter standards."

"We started to spend more time with him because of that," Izzy continued. "We had to. At the same time this began to happen, more and more demons started targeting Magnus, and since Clary and Simon are always somewhere near Magnus, we had to stay close together."

"They started to target Magnus?" Alec asked, frowning. "I have noticed that demons target him with an unusual frequency. Downworlders too. I thought it was strange, but I didn't think it was something that started only recently."

"Don't get me wrong, Magnus always seemed to attract a lot of demons. Not as many Clary – not nearly as many as Clary, to be honest – but a large amount all the same. But in the past year or so, that amount almost tripled," Jace said. "What made it even weirder was that, at the same time, the targeting on Clary decreased."

"On Simon too," Izzy said. "Simon was never in immediate danger as much as Clary and Magnus, but since they were always together… Well, collateral damage always happens; it's inevitable if a Shadowhunter is not there to protect their Charge. Still, when the numbers on Magnus started to rise, the ones for Simon diminished until they were close to nonexistent. Now that was weird. Seriously bizarre."

"Of course, now it's clear why it was happening," Jace said. "Well, sort of. We know why it was happening, but not why. Hodge and other Downlworlders were probably manipulating the demons to go after Magnus. But the 'why they did that' is still a mystery."

"He wasn't interrogated?" Alec asked, looking at the two of them.

"If he were, we weren't there to see it. I don't think he said anything, anyway. Don't think they would be able to force it out of him either. He's too powerful for tricks like that. But it was because of the demons that were there during that rehearsal that Jace and I managed to see the attack. They were swarming outside, those demons, just waiting," Izzy stood up and posed as if she were holding a violin, ready to play it. "Then, suddenly, while Magnus began playing those first few notes—"

"Clash!" Jace interrupted. Alec nearly jumped out of his seat, then glared at his honorary kin when he started to laugh. "Sorry, sorry. Anyway, as you probably already know, the overhead light fell only a few feet away from the guy. Or at least that's how it looked like for the Mundanes. It was all a freaky accident, as far as they were concerned. None of them could see the truth."

"It was a good thing we noticed what Hodge was doing a second before he did it. Jace and I were just talking; sitting on the seats far in the back after we found out the bar had no alcohol whatsoever."

"False advertisement. A real bummer," Jace made a face. "Maybe they'll have it at the actual concert."

"I don't drink, Jace," Alec said.

"Your loss. Anyway," Jace said. "We knew Hodge was there with us, but he hardly ever stayed with us when we were all minding our Charges together. We didn't really care since it meant he wouldn't have to nag us all the time. We figured he found that as annoying as we did."

"Ends up that wasn't the case after all," Izzy sighed. "I don't like to listen to Magnus playing, just like I don't like music, but for some reason I always pay attention, even when I don't want to. I guess Magnus' playing just has that effect on people. It was a good thing this time around since that's when we saw Hodge, with his chakram."

"He didn't look like Hodge, though. Not the one we knew, at least," Jace said. "It was clear what he was going to do, so we jumped into action."

"The light was already falling, so there wasn't much we could do besides diverging it so it wouldn't squash Magnus."

"We did a lot more than that!" Jace looked at Izzy as if she had spoken some sort of blasphemy. "Not only did we save that little human, but we also managed to apprehend Hodge! As soon as he saw that we knew of his betrayal, he tried to run! We didn't let him, naturally, and we managed to hold him back until Robert and Maryse arrived to take him back to Idris. And he put up quite a fight, too! But, of course, he was no match for me."

"Or me. You weren't fighting alone, you idiot, don't take all the credit!"

"Weren't you the one who just said 'so there wasn't much we could do besides' blah, blah, blah?" Jace asked. "If I had let you end the story there, there would be no credit to take!"

Izzy simply slapped on the back of the head, then turned her focus back to Alec. "As Jace was saying, we fought Hodge. And we did very well, too! Oh, you would have been proud, Alec!"

Alec smiled, "I've always been proud of both of you."

"No, but this is different! We managed to win against Hodge! I know it may not sound that impressive since he is an old man, but it was still a pretty awesome deed! I mean, he was a pretty big deal back in the day! One of the strongest Shadowhunters of his generation!" Jace said. "Not that I doubted that we wouldn't be able to do it. I knew we would win. There was no way I would have lost that battle. I haven't lost one in centuries, after all. I'm just surprised they haven't given us any proper recognition or anything."

"There's a war going on," Alec reminded him. "You won't get official recognition for anything for the same reason why Max has two Charges even though he has yet to go through his Ceremony."

"A promotion would have been nice, though," Izzy said. "You should have seen it, Alec!"

"You should have been there," Jace corrected. "You are a way better partner than Izzy is."

"Hey!"

"What? It's true!" Jace raised his hands in a mock attempt to appease her, a smirk playing on his lips. "Alec and I fight in perfect harmony. Everyone says so. We have a partnership, a connection like none other!"

Alec shook his head fondly at Jace. Though his words were meant to provoke Izzy, there was a truth in them nonetheless, a truth that no one could deny. Their connection and bond was a special one, one found rarely among Shadowhunters these days, one that some considered stronger than those shared by kin of the same Branch. It was one of the things Alec treasured most in his life, one of the things that made the burden of their duties easier to bear. How many times during his imprisonment had he wondered if things would have gone better if Jace had been by his side, having his back in a way no one in his squad could? If they had fought the enemy together, like they did hundreds times in the past, what would have happened? Maybe if Jace had been there, the two of them would have managed to escape once they were ambushed, and then Alec wouldn't have been inside that cold dungeon for so long, haunted by the sound of hooks and that laughter.

But it was no use to think of all those "what ifs". No matter how much Alec dreamed, nothing could erase his failure.

"Well, I think I hold myself up pretty well with the two of you," Izzy said, crossing her arms, nursing a small childish pout when confronted with a point she could not argue against. "Besides, Alec and I are kin. We're both Lightwoods. That counts for something."

"Not as much as our bond."

"Maybe, or maybe not," Izzy shrugged. "But we Lightwoods are great in battle when working together. We're practically invincible. Everyone knows that."

"Not as invincible as Alec and I when we're together."

"You wanna bet?"

"I don't need to bet, but if you want to humiliate yourself…"

Once again, Alec tuned them out. His mind tried to process all the information they had given, the extent of Hodge's crime. Why did he become a Downworlder? Alec knew the Downworlders' goal was tempting to many Shadowhunters, that more than a few on their side did a little more than just sympathize with their cause; their sense of duty and loyalty to The Clave, to their Marks, the inherent need to honor their Vow, were the only shackles that kept them on their side. But he never thought that that sympathy, that temptation, would be enough to cause the head of the Starkweather branch to betray them, going back on all the teachings he passed down to countless of young Shadowhunters throughout the centuries.

But what confused Alec the most was what seemed to be the most important piece of the puzzle: What did all of these things have to do with Magnus?

His phone vibrated. Glancing at Izzy and Jace, he noticed the two were still arguing. He reached for his phone, uncovering only half of it from his pocket so he could read the newest message without alerting the others.

 

Today

From: The Magnificent Magnus Bane

To: Alec

clary and simon have agreed that we are going to try to cook a nice dinner together while using some of our favorite sabotages. that means using dental floss as a knife. wanna be our guinea pig?

received 1 minute ago

 

Alec simply stared at the message, brushing his bangs away from his eyes. Sooner or later he would get his answers; someday, somehow. But in the end, it didn't really matter. Alec would never break his Vow, and he would always protect Magnus against any enemies, regardless of the truth.


Magnus decided a long time ago that old clothes were a lot like old boyfriends; after a while you looked at them in horror and wonder how the hell you ever went out in public with that. It was a lesson he learned when, while trying to find space to hang a new jacket, he saw this hideous lime green button up shirt that would have killed the immortal fashion gods faster than Medusa's hair petrified any hairstylist worth their salt. Clary's ever helpful comment of how the shirt reminded her of a man Magnus had broken up with ten months prior – who must have appealed to him in some way that the violinist just could not remember – solidified the comparison in his mind. And thus, the two of them started a quarterly tradition of cleaning out Magnus' closet so that the lime shirt incident – as it was now dubbed – would never happen again.

Though at first the idea seemed like a tedious chore, after the first year Magnus found that there was something incredibly rewarding about the task. He could never put his finger on it, but for some reason, going through his clothes, separating what he was going to keep and what he was going to give away to charity, always put him – and Clary, no matter how much she denied it – in a good mood. It took them hours to do it, sometimes even an entire day, but by the end of it, the two friends felt a strong sense of accomplishment, coupled with that satisfaction that followed a nice bonding experience.

The seasonal event always began on a Saturday morning; together they would both leave at around 10AM to go to the local market to buy two dozen of those factory made sugar cookies that tasted like Styrofoam, six chocolate cupcakes with bright artificially colored icing, six of the strongest and, as per Clary's request, most ecofriendly garbage bags they could find, and thirty new hangers. Clean out day, they decided, was not a day to worry about health or the importance of fine cuisine, so their constant sugary snacking was accompanied by a lunch and dinner that consisted of cheap Chinese food that never left the take-out box, eaten with the help of plastic sporks.

Taking everything out of the closet and dressers was the first, easiest, and shortest part of the day. But even that could take a while, their record lasting over two hours to get through everything. Clary often liked to remind Magnus of how he owned more clothes and shoes than anyone should ever be allowed – a complete and totally uncalled for exaggeration, if you asked him – and clean out day seemed to all but prove her theory.

After piling everything on the bed came the boring part of the day; together, Clary and Magnus would check the condition of every hanger – hence the need to buy new ones – and made sure the dressers and closet were actually clean and functional. That last part had proven to be a very necessary step the day Clary found that two of his drawers needed replacing, as well as after they found some mysterious purple goo of unknown origins stuck to the wall of his closet.

Then came the fun part. All of Magnus' clothes, with the exception of his underwear, were divided into three different piles: the keeper pile, the maybe pile, and the ex pile. After everything had been properly categorized, Magnus would try on all the ones dubbed as a maybe, and with Clary's help, they decided if it should be moved to the keeper pile, or if it should be dumped together with all the other clothes in the ex pile. Though the idea was pretty straight forward, they could take anywhere from a minute to half an hour to reach their verdict. Then there were times Clary would find something that would catch her interest and she would join the dress up game, sometimes because she honestly wanted whatever she was trying on for herself, and other because she found it so outrageous and ridiculous she felt the need to put it on before they gave it away.

Finally, once the entire maybe pile had been divided, Clary would help him find a new organization system. And on the next day, Magnus would shop for new clothes to fill in any new empty space.

Less than a week before the concert, Magnus and Clary decided it was time to do the autumn clean out. The four o'clock sun illuminated the room with a nice orange color as they continued to sort through the maybe pile, Clary sitting crossed legged on his bed among hundreds of folded clothes with her opened sketchbook resting on top of her lap. On top of the dressers and nightstands were half empty take-out boxes and plastic containers with the cupcakes and cookies, as well two empty soda cans, and two mugs of now-cold-hot cocoa. Magnus stood in between his large mirror and his friend as he tried on a jacket that, while incredibly comfortable and well fitted, he could not remember ever owning it.

"Are you sure it's yours?" Clary asked. "Maybe someone forgot it here?"

Magnus put his hands inside the pockets, then turned to look himself in the mirror.

"Maybe," he pursed his lip and tilted his head. "It fits too well, though."

"Maybe they wore the same size as you?" Clary suggested.

"I don't think so. It fits way toowell," Magnus turned again, facing Clary. "Not even the clothes my stylist picks for me are this precise. And those are specially tailored for me."

"Yeah, but those also have some weird stuff added in. And I bet all the extra glitter you add on to it later doesn't help. It's probably what makes the fabric so stiff."

"Very funny," Magnus said. He then sighed and turned his head so he could see himself from the back. "It looks nice, though."

"It does," Clary agreed. "Maybe you just forgot where you bought it?"

"Impossible. I remember everything I buy, especially clothes."

"Everything?" she raised an eyebrow. "Now that's impossible."

"Maybe for a mere mortal such as yourself, but for Magnus the magnificent it is as easy as making toast."

Clary did not seem impressed.

"When we were living together you once tried to make toast without plugging the toaster in, Magnus. You complained about how long it was taking for twenty minutes before Simon pointed out the problem."

"Your point?"

"You're unbelievable," she rolled her eyes. "But now that I think about it, I don't think I ever saw you wearing that."

"See? That's because I never did! I have no idea how it got here," Magnus said. "But mystery jacket's origins are not something for us to investigate right now. We have more pressing matters," Magnus opened his arms. "Ex or keeper?"

Clary hummed, then tilted her head, her nose wrinkling a little. "Can we put it on the maybe again and come back to it later? There's always a chance that you might offend some minor fashion god by making the wrong decision."

"And thus my origin story would begins," Magnus took off the jacket and threw it on top of the bed. "What's next?"

"Next is…" Clary reached for a pair of skinny jeans then tossed it at him "This. Try it on."

Magnus examined the pants before nodding. "Be back in a second, then."

"I'll be here," Clary said, grabbing one sugar cookie, turning her attention back to the sketchbook.

It took Magnus less than thirty seconds put on the pants in the bathroom then return to the room.

"So? How does it look? Ex or keeper?" Magnus walked towards the mirror with long strides, giving a short spin before examining his reflection. "I'm on the fence myself; I mean, on one hand its age shows, but on the other, my ass looks fabulous in these. Maybe if I could pull off the whole 'old jeans' thing, but I don't think that goes with my look. I can't decide. What do you think?"

Magnus waited a second, then two. When Clary didn't answer him, he turned towards her, noticing her attention was not on her sketchbook as it had been before, but rather on Magnus' phone, which she currently held in her hands.

"You better not be reading my texts," Magnus crossed his arms, though he had a teasing smile on his lips. "I know we're close, darling, but there is such things as boundaries."

"I wasn't reading them," Clary said, though she didn't let go of the phone. "You got a text, so I just checked to see who it was. In case it was Luke, or something," then, as an afterthought, she added: "Sorry."

"Its fine," Magnus shrugged. "So, was it?"

"Was it what?"

"A text from Luke?" Magnus clarified with little interest.

He put his hands on the jeans' pockets, eyes back on his reflection. He tried to picture a colorful belt or some other accessory that would better compliment the pants, but it still didn't feel right. He just couldn't decide. They felt comfortable enough, but he kept coming back to their color: they looked far too washed out, far too bland, no matter how great they fit him. He could easily give it away, though he could also move it from being something he wore outside, to something he wore just in his apartment or when he visited Clary and Simon. At least if Clary's paints got all over it, he wouldn't be too upset. Color wise, it would actually be an improvement.

"No," Clary said. "It's from Alec."

Magnus blinked before turning to face Clary, jeans suddenly forgotten.

"Alec?" he tried to fight back a smile, his fingers itching for the phone.

"Yes, it's from Alec," Clary said. "The two of you have been talking a lot lately, haven't you?"

"Well, yes," Magnus climbed on top of the bed, careful not to undo the piles of clothes before taking the cellphone out of Clary's hands. "We're friends, after all."

Sitting back onto his heels, Magnus opened the text, already losing the fight against his smile.

 

Today

From: Alec

To: Magnus

I just tried out that drink you suggested. How can you call it coffee? It tastes nothing like it.

received two minutes ago

 

Magnus chuckled to himself before replying.

 

Today

From: Magnus

To: Alec

thats the beauty of it my dear alexander. all the perks of coffee and none of the disgusting bitter taste.

sent now

 

Magnus didn't take his eyes off the screen, waiting for Alec's response. In his head, he could perfectly picture Alec holding the caramel frappucino, his blue eyes staring at the phone screen with that mixture of confusion and mild annoyance that was so adorable.

"Friends?" Clary asked.

"Yes," Magnus nodded, still not looking at her. "Friends."

"And he is going to the concert, right?" Clary asked "You said you gave him a ticket. And a backstage pass as well, right?"

"Yes, he's going, but sadly, I had no backstage passes to give that day. I'll talk to security, though, make sure they let him in," Magnus answered. "I'm thinking about asking him to come over after I'm done with all that after-concert stuff. I think I have a few books he'd love to read. Did you know he loves history? Though he says he is a bit rusty on the 18th, 19th, and 20th century, he knows, a lot from before then. I think I have a book that he'd be interested in, that one about Victorian London. You know how much I love the Victorian era. I'm 90% sure he would enjoy it as well."

"You're planning on inviting him over?" Clary asked, frowning. "After the concert?"

"Just if he wants to. If we're not too tired, that is," Magnus said. "Like I said, I think I have a few books that he'd enjoy. Or maybe we'll just hang out. He says he doesn't like reading much, though he hates not knowing things, so he does it anyway. Weird, don't you think?"

Clary straightened her posture.

"You're planning on inviting him over?" she repeated.

"Well, yes. I think we established that already."

"Just you and him, and no one else?"

"Of course," Magnus said. "Alec hates crowds and being around strangers."

"I see…" Clary said, her tone thoughtful. "So is that when you're planning to sleep with him?"

Magnus nearly dropped his phone. He finally looked towards his friend, his eyes wide.

"What?"

"Because this one is taking a long time," Clary continued. "Usually when you want to sleep with someone, you manage to get them in your bed within two weeks or so."

Magnus opened and closed his mouth, then opened it and closed it again, and yet no sound came out. He stared at Clary as if she had just spit on some homeless orphan's food after kicking his stray three-legged puppy.

"Sleep with—No! No! T-That's not it at all! Where did you even get that idea?!" finally Magnus' vocal cords began to work properly again, and the words flew out of his mouth with little warning, giving him no control over them. "I'm not trying to get in his pants, Clary!"

"Really?" though she did not sound completely shocked – only slightly skeptical and maybe a tad bit curious – Clary's tone still managed to irritate Magnus. "Because that's not what you said at the party when we met him."

"That was before."

"Before what?"

"Before…." Magnus sighed, waving his hands in the air. "Everything, I guess."

"Everything?"

"Yes! Will you stop doing that? Stop… Stop repeating what I'm saying in the form of a question? It's really annoying, and it doesn't go well with your shoes."

"Not wearing shoes right now," she wiggled her socked toes then pointed at her old sneakers by the door. "I'm just trying to understand why you suddenly had a change of heart. At the party you were dying to get him naked and in your bed, and now you… You don't. You said it was before 'everything'… What does 'everything' even mean?"

"It means everything," Magnus sighed. He didn't know when exactly he stood up, but now he found himself pacing the room, running a hand through his hair. "It means it was before we ate pizza together at that stupid convention you and Simon forced me to attend. Before that Saturday we spent together, when I told him my life story in excruciating detail and instead of running away like any normal person would, he listened! He actually listened in the way most people don't. It was before… Before I taught him how to use his cellphone, and before we started texting every day!"

Magnus paused, realizing he was out of breath. His speech had picked up speed and volume with each word, the conviction in his tone surprising even himself. He looked down at his phone, noticing the message was still displayed on the screen.

He couldn't help but smile softly.

"That was before I got to know him, and before we became friends."

Magnus met at Clary's eyes. She looked stunned by the end of his speech, but that look was soon melting away into something else, her eyes narrowing ever so slightly, her lips parted. Magnus knew that look. He knew that look very well and he absolutely hated it; Simon called it her "scientist stare". It was the look she got whenever she was observing something, examining with great detail, analyzing it over and over again as her mind dissected every bit of information into tiny little pieces. He had yet to meet one person who could stand comfortably still as those green eyes bore into their core.

"Alexander is a friend, not a one night stand," Magnus' voice was weaker, though his words were true. He took a deep breath, regaining some of his composure. "I wouldn't risk losing his trust for something like sex."

"You've slept with friends before," Clary raised her chin, as if daring Magnus to challenge her claim. "You had plenty of friends-with-benefits. I'm also pretty sure that there are some friends of ours now that you wouldn't mind taking to your bed."

Magnus chuckled. "Oh yeah, that's true. I can think of a few."

"So why not him?" Clary asked. "I've never seen you raise such a great wall between sex and friendship before."

"I don't know. I really can't put it into words," Magnus said. "Alec… Alec is different. If we were ever to do something like that, it would have to be meaningful."

Clary looked at him for a few more moments. Her gaze seemed to pierce into him, and it took all of Magnus' self-control not to fidget. He wasn't sure what Clary was looking for, and he was even less sure if he wanted her to find it.

She set her sketchbook aside, closing it before straightening her posture.

"Magnus," she started, slowly, uncertain. "Are you in love with Alec?"

Magnus laughed. He couldn't help it. Really, he couldn't. He wished he hadn't to be honest, but as soon as the question slipped Clary's lips, said in such a quiet and serious tone, he couldn't help but burst into laughter. It was just like a scene from a movie, and he could just hear the violins in the background, imagining the camera zooming into his face as he looked at her in stunned shocked while reaching some sort of glorious epiphany.

Oh, it was so cliché that Magnus couldn't help but love it. Things like that just didn't happen in real life. They couldn't. Thirty years from now he would look at this as one of the best moments in his life. It was just so perfect that even the sappiest of all romance writers would roll their eyes and grunt before pressing backspace and rewriting the whole scene over again.

Clary didn't seem to find it nearly as funny, though. She didn't hesitate to hit him with one of his feather pillows over and over until he stopped.

"It's not funny! I'm being serious, Magnus! Very serious!"

"I'm sorry!" Magnus was still laughing, though after a few more hits he managed to get it under control. "I'm sorry, I just couldn't help it!"

"Jerk," Clary hit him one more time.

"Fine, fine," Magnus took a deep breath and smiled. "I stopped. See? Happy?"

"No," she hugged the pillow, pouting the same way she used to when Jocelyn would tell them to close their coloring books and put their pencils away. "I don't understand why you had to laugh so hard."

"Because, did you even listened to your question, darling?" Magnus asked. "Am I in love with Alec? Seriously?"

"It's a legit question!" Clary protested. "One you haven't answered, by the way."

"Because I just can't believe you even felt the need to ask," Magnus said. "Of course I'm not in love with him. Really, Clary? We, Alec and I, have known each other for what? Two months? Maybe? And we only started really talking to each other a few weeks ago."

"So?" Clary frowned.

"So love is a very strong word, and one I cannot use so freely to describe the feelings I have for a guy I'm just starting to get to know."

"But you admit you have feelings for him!" Clary pointed out. "And you want to get to know him better! I know you do. You talk about him all the time, and you are always wondering about why he is so sad, and why he hates crowds so much. You never stop talking about all these things you've notice about him but can't understand."

"You have a point. Yes, I do want to get to know Alec. I want to know all those things about him badly. And I really do care for him," Magnus agreed. "But I don't love him. We're just friends, Clary."

Magnus turned towards the mirror, his eyes looking at the jeans once more. He hoped they could end this discussion soon and start talking about things that really mattered since he still couldn't reach decision about those pants. From Clary's reflection in the mirror he could see that the artist had pressed her lips together in a firm line, clearly not interested in getting back on task.

"You don't talk about him as if here just a friend," she said. "Definitely not one that, as you pointed out, you've only known for a short while. You don't even get like this about friends you've known for years."

"True. That is also true, I'll give you that one too," he looked at her through the mirror, giving her a teasing smile. "Ever thought about becoming a lawyer? Or a detective? You're far more perceptive than you appear, you know that?"

"It doesn't take a genius to notice those things, Magnus," she rolled her eyes. "And I've known you for almost our whole lives. You can't hide these things from me."

"I guess I can't," he agreed, his tone casual, his eyes back on his own reflection. "Fine, then maybe 'just friends' isn't the right term. But love is still too strong of a word."

"Then what is it? What do you feel towards him?"

Magnus was silent. What did he feel for Alec? It certainly wasn't love, he knew that. But could it be considered pure friendship? When they first met, at that party, he couldn't deny that he had every intention of bringing the boy to bed with him. Then during that convention, his feelings started to change. He found himself at ease when in his company; they were comfortable talking, joking, spending time together. It was similar to how he felt when together with Clary and Simon. He knew it that it meant that the two of them had the potential to be close, that they could share a friendship that he thought he could only have with his two childhood best friends. The way he saw it, his and Alec's relationship was like a seedling; it was still young, in its early developing stages, fragile and small. But with the right amount of care, with proper sunlight and water, it would become the strongest and most beautiful tree in the forest. Magnus wanted to nurture that bond, to care for the seedling and let it reach its full potential. He knew it would take time and effort, but he could see how that tree would grow, see how it would look if properly cared for. He knew that if he kept trying, Alec would be a great and indispensable person in his life. That wasn't something he was willing to give up on, at least not without being certain did his damn hardest to flourish their friendship.

Besides, spending time with Alec made him happy; being with him felt as natural and incredible as playing the violin.

And yet, there was also something more. That attraction he felt towards the shy young man during the party was still there. It hadn't gone away as his feelings of friendship grew. If anything, it had grown stronger, Alec becoming more and more endearing and beautiful as Magnus got to know him. God only knew how he loved to see those cheeks blush, and how, at times, he just wanted to run his fingers through those crooked bangs so he could stare at those unbelievably gorgeous blue eyes forever. And his smile… Alec's smile was as enticing as a siren's song, calling to him, pulling him like a magnet. There were times when all Magnus wanted to do was envelop him in a hug. He wanted to keep him in his arms, comforting him, listening to all of his mysterious problems, as he tried to brush away all his sadness, and vanquish all his fears. Magnus wanted to protect Alec from being hurt again, he wanted to keep him safe… He wanted to understand him, to know every secret he had locked away inside his heart.

But more than just wanting to see Alec happy, what Magnus really wanted was to be source of said happiness.

"It isn't love," Magnus repeated to himself, quietly. He turned to look Clary, then sat down by her side. "But I guess it's something close to it. It's a little earlier on the road. I think… I think you could say I'm infatuated by him. Drawn to him, even. I look at him and I feel a rush of affection, and I feel the need to protect him, and to make him happy. And I wouldn't mind being in an exclusive relationship with him, either. In fact, I think I'd really like that. I think we could be good together like that, even though I'm still on the fence about this whole serious monogamous relationship thing. I think we could make each other happy."

"And after saying all of that, you're still sticking to the whole 'I'm not in love with him' thing?" Clary asked. "What you just described sounds a lot like love to me, Magnus."

Magnus shook his head. "Love is stronger. At least I hope it is. It has to be; it can't come as easily as whatever is happening between us. This infatuation I feel for Alec is just not at that level. Not yet, at least," Magnus smiled. "Let's just call it a crush. How about that?"

"A crush? Really?" Clary raised her eyebrows, giving him the most unimpressed look she could manage.

"A very strong crush," Magnus nodded, his smile still in place.

Clary shook her head, still dissatisfied. "Magnus, there is nothing wrong with falling in love, you know."

"I know. But like I said, it's just not what this is," Magnus said. "You asked me about it, I'm just answering honestly."

Clary slumped back, crossing her arms. Magnus laughed, shaking his head. He stared at his best friend for a few moments.

"But… I guess when I think about it, Alec is someone I wouldn't mind falling in love with," his smile turned soft as he let out a small sigh. "I think loving him like that would be rather nice, actually. If I had to fall for someone, I would want that person to be Alec."

Clary beamed at him, the gentleness in his voice guaranteeing her of his honesty.

"That's something for the future, though! For now, we have other things to occupy ourselves with!" Magnus got up, and opened his arms. "These jeans: keeper or ex?