Dakota Territory, 1889
The freight train was due in at three o'clock in the afternoon, and the town of Nephilim Falls was all abuzz with anticipation. They were so far away from the main cities that the town usually depended on the bi-weekly Cheyenne stagecoach for things they couldn't get on their own, like fresh fruit and vegetables, flour and tinned goods, but also things like cloth and shoes. The railway - newly installed just last year - brought bigger things like furniture and machinery for the gold mines and assay building where they cast the gold into bars.
But today, the train was bringing something even more exciting - the people who had bought the biggest building in the town apart from the general store. It was also the first building in Nephilim Falls with actual plastered and painted walls. Everyone had come out to watch them put the sign up when the building had been furnished and decorated under the watchful eye of a surly young man named Raphael Santiago, who kept mostly to himself. Today was the day the people who owned the Pandemonium arrived.
For a town with a population of less than 2,000 souls, the town had its fair share of places where the miners could get their entertainment and pleasure. There were no less than ten saloons, practically a whole street of them, and the "badlands" right at the edge of town where the men in their women-starved town went for half an hour of paid company with the fairer sex. But the Pandemonium was going to be the first gambling hall in Nephilim Falls, the posters that had been put up advertising singing and dancing girls and drinking - every form of vice available out here in the frontiers.
Sheriff Alec Lightwood frowned as he stood on the steps of his office and watched Santiago going down Main Street with his wagon, on his way to the railway station. The population of Nephilim Falls consisted mostly of men - lonely, single, and rough men deep in the throes of gold fever. Men who were willing to spend more than 12 hours every day deep in the bowels of the earth looking for the precious yellow metal that would guarantee comfort and luxury for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, the reality was that not all the mines yielded the kind of riches their owners were dreaming of, and far away from family and loved ones, most of the men ended spending most of their gold on drink and women. As it was, he and his brother Jace, who was his deputy, had their hands full breaking up rowdy drunk fights when mining went poorly and tempers rose, and the men ended up brawling over silly arguments. The last thing he needed was someone opening a gambling hall so the men had more reasons to riot.
"Alec! I didn't think you'd be out here waiting like the rest of us. Isn't it exciting?" his sister Izzy called out to him as she trudged her way across the muddy street towards him, ignoring the stepping stones most of the other ladies used.
But then again, Izzy wasn't like the other womenfolk in town. There were less than a couple dozen of the fairer sex in Nephilim Falls, not including the prostitutes of course. Isabelle Lightwood, belle of the town and daughter of the late Reverend, could have had the pick of any man in town, but while she was free with her smiles, Isabelle wasn't going to settle for being somebody's wife and raising babies. Despite their mother's disapproval, Izzy had opened her own business, selling clothes for both men and women that she had designed and sewn herself. And she wasn't just handy with a needle - she had gotten her two brothers to secretly teach her to ride a horse and shoot a gun. If Alec said so himself, none of the men in this town were good enough for his sister.
"Exciting?" Alec repeated sourly. "A no-count gambler comes into my town, and practically flips a finger at my face before he's even set foot in here by setting up a gambling hall almost directly opposite my office. To top it off, he's bringing 'dancing girls' - as if we don't all know what that means. So, no, Izzy, I don't find it 'exciting'."
"Honestly, you're no fun," Izzy huffed when she joined him on the steps. "Nothing wrong with a game of cards or two. Maybe if you went in and played a couple of rounds yourself, you'd loosen up a bit."
"I'm the sheriff of this town, Izzy," Alec scoffed. "My job is to uphold the law and order - and that requires a firm hand."
"You know what they say about all work and no play, big brother," Izzy told him, just as Jace was walking out of the office.
"She's not wrong, you know," Jace said. "Why don't you come along with me tonight?"
"I'm not visiting the whorehouses with you, Jace," Alec rolled his eyes.
"You're the sheriff, not a saint. Nobody's going to look at you different, not here," Jace cajolled. Alec opted to soundly ignore his brother and head back inside.
He heard the banjo music before he saw the group coming down the street in Santiago's wagon. Izzy and Jace were nowhere to be found, probably having gone off to look for a less conspicuous place to watch the newcomers, so Alec let himself give in to his curiosity and stood up to hide in the shadows near the window.
Santiago's buckboard wagon was piled high with luggage and people - three men and two women, to be exact. One of them, a grumpy-looking older man who looked like he would much rather be some place else, was seated next to Santiago. There was a cheerful young man, almost still a boy, standing right behind them, playing the banjo and swaying side to side to the rhythm of the song. The two women sat behind with their legs dangling off the back of the wagon and holding hands while they sang at the top of their voices - one white woman with hair like blazing fire, dressed in a pure white dress, and one black woman in a cherry-red dress that clung to her curves. A third man sat with them with a cheroot clamped between his teeth, laughing. They were singing a song Alec didn't recognise, something about buffalo girls, but he couldn't have paid it any attention even if he tried.
All his attention was focused on the third man, the man with the cheroot. He was wearing a bright royal blue vest under his black jacket, black string tie, and an expensive-looking flat-crowned Stetson on his coal-black hair. The warm tone of his skin indicated that he was of Asian descent, and his eyes were dark and lightly kohled. But it wasn't the bright colours of his clothes or the audacity of him wearing make-up that had struck Alec speechless - it was his unfettered confidence, his beauty, the bright clear sound of his laughter.
Alec watched him flick the remains of his cheroot over the side of the wagon and hop down gracefully, before extending a hand to each of the ladies in turn. He spun around, aware that all eyes were on him and his little troupe and clearly revelling in the attention, and said in a firm, strong voice: "Ladies and gentlemen of Nephilim Falls, I am Magnus Bane, and we'd be pleased if you could join us in the Pandemonium tomorrow night for our grand opening!"
There were some cheers and claps and titters in response to that pronouncement, and he bowed exaggeratedly before leading the ladies into his building, one hanging on each arm.
Alec was suddenly aware that his mouth was hanging open. He shut his mouth with a snap, and frowned.
It didn't take ten minutes before Izzy and Jace came into the sheriff's office, and Izzy was obviously bursting to talk about the newcomers.
"Did you see them?" she squealed excitedly. "I wish I could do that, just once - ride down the street on a wagon at high noon on a fine spring day, singing my heart out."
"I'm sure we'd all rather you didn't, singing really isn't your forte," Jace teased, and she punched him in the arm.
"Weren't the girls just beautiful? And their dresses - no bustles. How I wish I didn't have to hang fifteen pounds of metal on my rump every morning," Izzy sighed.
"Yeah, the girls were really something else alright," Jace agreed, sounding a little quieter than usual.
Alec hummed non-commitally, and didn't look up from his desk.
"Oh Alec, tell me you at least looked out of your damned window!" she scolded.
"Language," Alec chided her. "And yes, I did. Wasn't particularly impressed."
"Hard to impress, I see. Well, I do love a challenge," said a smooth, lilting voice at the door. Alec frowned and looked up, then frowned harder when Magnus Bane strolled into his office as easy as you please, without even bothering to wait for permission.
"I reckoned I'd do the neighbourly thing and stop over to say hello. Besides, I believe I have forms that I need to fill out - licenses, taxes, that sort of thing," he said, then stopped when he noticed Alec glaring at him. "This is the sheriff's office, right?"
"That depends, who's asking?" Alec asked coolly.
"Magnus Bane, owner of the Pandemonium," he introduced himself, unfazed by Alec's chilly attitude. "And you are?"
"Sheriff Lightwood," Alec replied gruffly.
"Welcome to Nephilim Falls, Mr Bane!" Izzy said enthusiastically, offering a hand for him to shake and laughing in delight when he kissed her hand instead.
"And who might you be?" he asked her.
"I'm Isabelle Lightwood, but call me Izzy," she told him. "Please excuse my brother's lack of manners. His name is Alec."
"And I'm the other brother, Jace Lightwood, Deputy Sheriff," Jace said, shaking Bane's hand. "Are you really opening tomorrow night?"
"Of course - as soon as I sign everything I'm supposed to sign. Wouldn't want to start off on the wrong foot with Sheriff Lightwood," he replied with a smile.
Alec scowled and picked up the pile of paperwork he had already prepared the day before, walked over to an empty desk, and slammed it all down perhaps a little harder than necessary.
Bane took this in stride and went through everything carefully, reading through and signing wherever necessary before bringing the stack of paperwork back to Alec.
Alec grunted and didn't look up, stamping all the documents mechanically. "Five dollars."
Jace helped weigh out the correct amount of gold dust from Bane's bulging money pouch and Bane smiled. "Very efficient, Sheriff Lightwood and Deputy Lightwood. Pleasure doing business with you."
"And you," Jace replied amicably.
"Well, I hope to see you at the Pandemonium tomorrow night. Drinks on the house, of course, as a thank-you to our fearless and responsible lawmen," Magnus offered, with a wink at Izzy.
"Much obliged, Mr Bane. I'll definitely take you up on your offer," Jace promised.
Izzy and Jace said their goodbyes, and Izzy immediately rounded on Alec when Bane was safely out of earshot. "Did you have to be quite so rude to him?"
"Nobody said I had to like him," Alec snapped. "Besides, I meant what I said. The Pandemonium is the last thing this town needs, and Bane is a troublemaker through and through."
"Alec, he's been here for ten minutes! You don't even know the man!" Izzy protested.
Alec pretended to busy himself with something on his desk and didn't answer his sister. Who was this man, to stroll into his town, bold as brass, and awaken those old feelings in Alec that he thought he'd managed to kill and bury over the years? Magnus Bane was trouble, alright - trouble for Alec Lightwood.
Yeah... I'm not sure how this happened, to be honest. Might have something to do with the Buzzfeed Unsolved: Supernatural episode on Vulture Mines. Anyway, feel free to tell me how badly I've lost my damned mind in the comments XD
The ruckus started in the afternoon. Alec had been in the middle of paperwork - endless paperwork, it seemed, because their town was too small to afford a town marshal in addition to a sheriff, so he was pulling double duty - when he heard the unmistakable sound of oxen bellowing, and the sharp crack of a bullwhacker's whip. Somebody must have paid a pretty penny for special delivery all the way from the steamboats that plied the Missouri River.
Jace, who had been lounging around and emphatically not helping with the paperwork, using the excuse that his handwriting looked like a chicken had taken a walk across the paper, exchanged a look with Alec and got out of his chair. The both of them stepped out of the office at the same time to see an oxen wagon loaded with bulky frames being unloaded on the Main Street. Of course the special delivery was for the Pandemonium. Who else could afford the luxury of hiring an oxen wagon for what looked like a dozen very large oil paintings?
Magnus Bane himself was out on the street supervising the unloading of the wagon's cargo. The paintings had been kept safe under the wagon's canvas, but didn't seem to have any other wrappings. And what paintings! Scenes of every manner of debauchery, the nude human form on brazen display. There were men, women, men and women in compromising poses, sometimes a whole group of them. But what really got his goat was a huge painting, taller and wider than a man, of what looked like two naked men either wrestling or caught in a passionate embrace while shadowy figures looked on. One of the men looked like had his lips on the neck of the other, and Alec's blood ran hot and cold. He was storming down the steps before Jace could stop him.
"Sheriff Lightwood," Bane greeted him, doffing his hat.
"What is the meaning of this?" Alec barked.
Bane looked surprised. "These are paintings for the interior of the Pandemonium. Works by the great European masters. Some of these are only excellent replicas, I'll grant you."
"And this?" Alec said furiously, gesturing at the offensive painting of the two men. "This is art?"
"This, Sheriff Lightwood, is a masterpiece by the popular French classical painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau," Bane said with a raised eyebrow. "Are you telling me that what is good enough for the Salon de Paris is not good enough for you?"
Alec blinked. He hadn't been expecting to get a lecture in art from a saloon owner. A large crowd had gathered to watch the show, everyone who wasn't currently in the mines. At this time of the day, it was only people like the shopkeepers and saloon owners milling around Main Street, but there were a handful of children too, the precious few in town, who were peeking curious heads out of upstairs windows and getting an eyeful of the lewd paintings. Alec had a duty to protect these people, damn it.
"Well, I'm afraid you'll have to get rid of these pictures, Mr Bane. It ain't decent," Alec tried for a reasonable tone of voice but missed it by a yard.
"They are going to be hanging on the walls inside the Pandemonium," Bane repeated impatiently. "Even if you are unable to appreciate the beauty of the human form and of human sexuality, and find them offensive, once I get them inside, you won't have to see them."
"You're unloading them in broad daylight in the middle of Main Street!" Alec snapped. "Everybody's already seen them!"
"Well, I'm sorry to offend your delicate sensibilities, Sheriff Lightwood. One would think you had never seen a naked woman - or man," Bane bit out sarcastically. "Perhaps it is you who needs to get an education and open your eyes to the world."
Alec saw red. "Magnus Bane, I'm placing you under arrest."
"On what grounds?" Bane challenged.
"For unlicensed wagon freight, for disturbing the peace, for public outrage of modesty and decency, for contempt for the law, and for being an all-round goddamned nuisance," Alec snarled.
"Alec, you can't be serious - you're arresting Mr Bane now, two hours before the Pandemonium is due to open?" Jace hissed.
"I can, and I will," Alec said through gritted teeth. "And if Bane won't come quietly, I'm adding resisting arrest to the list."
The commotion had drawn some of Bane's people out of the Pandemonium, namely Santiago and the banjo player. Santiago looked like he was gearing up to punch Alec in the face, but the younger man put a hand on his shoulder to hold him back.
"I'll come with you, Sheriff Lightwood," Bane said, with a warning look and small head-shake at Santiago. He turned to smile at Alec, a hard smile that didn't reach his eyes. "But if you're trying to shut the Pandemonium down, you're going to have to try harder than that. Business as usual tonight, boys! The show must go on."
There was a small cheer and some clapping from the crowd. Alec scowled. If Bane was trying to make him unpopular with the townsfolk, the joke was on him - he already had a reputation for being the meanest bastard this side of the Missouri. He made to grab Bane by the neck, but Bane jerked out of his grasp.
"There's no need for that, Sheriff Lightwood, I'd already said I was coming with you," Bane said coldly.
He strolled in front of Alec as if he had meant to be there doing exactly that, and allowed Alec to herd him round the back of the Sheriff's office and a little way towards the hills to a small shed that must have been the entrance to a mine once. Alec picked up the lantern hanging off a nail and lit the wick, unlocked the door, then nudged Bane in front of him and down a few steps into a short tunnel that must have once been a part of a mine, but had now been abandoned. There were no windows, but the rest of the tunnel led far underground, past where it had been boarded up on one side, so there was fresh air coming in from somewhere. There was a pile of straw in one corner, and a raggedy horse blanket.
Bane wrinkled his nose. "This is your jail?"
"This is it." Alec set the lantern on the floor and turned to walk out.
"Hold your horses, Sheriff. I believe I have rights to lawyer," Bane said, voice steady and unafraid.
"No lawyers around these parts, Mr Bane."
"That's where you're wrong. My business partner, Ragnor Fell, is a lawyer. I hope there's at least a territorial court in Nephilim Falls?"
"Nope, just Luke Garroway, the grocer. He's the acting judge."
"So I'm being tried by a kangaroo court?" Bane scoffed.
"You're in Nephilim Falls now, Mr Bane. Things are done a little differently around here," Alec snarled. "You want to bring that filth into my town, you're going to have to face the consequences. We're God-fearing folk here."
"I don't think God is what you fear, Sheriff Lightwood," Bane said shrewdly. "I have met men like you, in my travels. And fear is what makes men like you cruel."
"And what exactly is it that I'm afraid of, Mr Bane?" Alec asked, his voice low and dangerous.
"That's a question you're going to have to ask yourself, Sheriff Lightwood," Bane replied, his voice surprisingly quiet.
Alec clenched his jaw and met Bane's dark eyes, but found himself flinching away from the understanding in there and looked away first. He tugged his hat more firmly on his head, walked out, and locked the door behind him.
It took Bane's lawyer pal exactly two hours to round up witnesses and hustle both Garroway and Alec down to their makeshift jail. They found Bane sitting on the pile of straw, cool as you please, though he did direct a small smile and wink at his friend when they came in. And then Fell proceeded to drag Alec through the mud, painting him out to be some uncultured swine with a bad temper and mean streak to boot.
"We will pay the wagon fee, of course, but wouldn't you say Sheriff Lightwood overreacted?" Fell asked.
Garroway, a large black man on whose broad shoulders had landed the duty of acting judge and mayor because everyone in town had voted him as the fairest man they knew, cleared his throat and crossed his arms. "We're simple folk, so maybe you can say we don't know much about art. I'd say this was a misunderstanding all around, for the most part."
"Of course. And we should have been more considerate of the few womenfolk and children around," Fell agreed smoothly.
"What do you say, Sheriff?" Garroway addressed Alec. "Shall we let bygones be bygones?"
Alec tried not to grind his teeth. "Whatever you say, Mayor."
"That's settled then. Three dollars for the wagon, I believe. And I want Mr Bane and Sheriff Lightwood to shake on it - let's not have any bad blood in this town," Garroway said amicably.
Bane held out his hand to Alec readily, and Alec shook it as briefly as humanly possible.
"A drink on us tonight for the trouble, Sheriff?" Fell asked with a slightly mocking air.
"I'll pass," Alec snapped.
"Are you sure? You seem like you could use a whiskey... or ten," Fell smirked.
"Ragnor, leave him be," Bane scolded, and pulled his friend away.
Alec stomped back to his office even though his duty hours were long over. The sounds of music and laughter, cheers and drunken shouts travelled across the empty, muddy street to his ears, the lights from the windows of the Pandemonium becoming the only source of illumination as the sky grew darker. Why he was even here instead of going home to bed, he didn't know. Damn that bastard for presuming he knew anything about Alec just from what - the way he'd reacted to a sheet of colourful canvas? Alec scowled and got out the bottle of rye he knew Jace kept under his table.
And of course that was how Maryse Lightwood found her oldest son the next morning, slumped over his desk with a half-empty bottle of spirits next to him. She sniffed, her thin mouth downturned in distaste. She was dressed head to toe in unrelieved black, her black hair drawn tight against her skull in a strict bun, her whole being radiating sternness.
"Alexander!" she barked.
Alec startled awake, looked around bleary-eyed, and straightened up abruptly when he saw his mother standing right next to him.
"Ma'm. I- What are you doing here?"
"I heard all about what happened yesterday," Maryse Lightwood said, eyeing him critically. "You stood up to those heathens and degenerates, but the people of this town would rather stand by and let scum like them poison the whole community with their corruption. You did me proud, my son, and I will stand by you. We'll show them what happens when they tangle with the Lightwoods."
Alec swallowed uncomfortably. Maryse had never been terribly affectionate as a mother, but the sudden death of her husband had turned her into a hard woman. In place of a preacher, Nephilim Falls had Maryse Lightwood - who couldn't take to the pulpit, but ran the Sunday school, the closest thing they had to a schoolhouse in this town. And if she got it in her mind to shut down the new gambling hall and the saloons, the miners were going to riot.
"I have written to the Women's Christian Temperance Union and Governor Mellette himself," Maryse told him. "With their backing, we will stamp out these rum-soaked allies of Satan before the year is out - mark my words!"
The painting that got Alec all riled up is this, Dante et Virgile.
If he had to listen to Ragnor grumble for one more minute about how Magnus had hoodwinked him into coming to Nephilim Falls instead of going to New York with Catarina, Magnus was not going to be held responsible for his actions.
It was just past noon, and Magnus was hungry, so he set out to explore the town a little, now that the grand opening of the Pandemonium was over and he had a little bit of time on his hands. There was a small eating establishment next to the only hotel in town, The Dumont, and after a meal of wild fowl, bread and coffee, he walked out into the beautiful spring day. Ok, so perhaps the stench of horse manure in the streets was getting a little overwhelming as the day got warmer, and some of the unpainted frame buildings looked like they had been hastily thrown together when the town had sprung up in the wake of the gold rush a few years ago, and the owners had just never gotten round to rebuilding them properly. But after Camille had broken his heart, Magnus had needed a change of scenery. Nephilim Falls was exactly what he needed - a bit rough around the edges, perhaps, but a fresh start away from all the bad memories. And he certainly wasn't the only person in his ragtag troupe who was running away from bad memories.
He had visited the bathhouse the day before when he had just arrived, and he knew that beyond it lay the whorehouses, which Magnus was not interested in. He walked in the other direction, and saw that despite its distance from civilisation, the small town was doing quite well for itself. Besides the saloons on Main Street, there were also butchers (mostly handling wild game), a bakery, assayers, a bank, barbers, gunsmiths, blacksmiths, a brewery, two doctors (who probably doubled as vets in these parts), a livery, and a large general store next to the grocers. There were even two Chinese families running a laundry, probably enterprising immigrants from the nearby town of Deadwood. Magnus only spoke a little of their language, gleaned from his travels as a boy with his wealthy father, but it was enough to start a connection.
He continued his walk, heading away from the main part of town, and passed what must have been a church with an attached house for the preacher and his family, before he reached a lively creek. Beyond the creek lay the woods, towering ponderosa pines blanketing the Black Hills in great rolling stretches as the land rose steeply. And here, of course, were the gold mines that had lured all these folk here in the first place. There were sluice boxes running down from the hillside and into the creek, and here and there in parts of the hills some trees had been cut down to show the gaping holes that led deep into the hills. Some of the men working around the creek doffed their hats at him, already recognising him as the owner of the Pandemonium.
Magnus had always been a city boy. But standing here, breathing in the crisp scent of the pines and listening to the calls of the birds in the woods and spring peeper frogs in the creek, he decided that as fresh starts went, Nephilim Falls would do very well indeed.
His walk had taken up more time than he'd anticipated. The Pandemonium would be opening its doors for the evening in a short while, and Ragnor would want to go over the books with him, and iron out all the details that made sure the Pandemonium ran smoothly. But when he was walking past the general store, he noticed a pregnant lady struggling with a basket, and stopped to help her.
"Dot," he said in surprise when he saw her face.
"Magnus," she smiled, a little self-consciously. "I wondered if I'd bump into you."
"I see someone's made an honest woman of you," Magnus said, noting the glint of the ring on her finger and her body heavy with child. "When's the little one due?"
"Not for another month, at least - probably late spring," Dot replied, cheeks flushing. "I have a little girl already, I left her with Lydia at the bakery for a while while I ran some errands. I'm hoping this one will be a boy."
"Being a mother suits you," Magnus told her sincerely. "You are positively glowing, my dear."
"Thank you," she said, and Magnus noticed that she looked very uncomfortable. Of course - she was a married woman now, a respectable woman. She'd hardly want to be seen in public with a gambler and saloon owner she had dallied with in her wild younger years.
"Let me help you with this, at least," he said, indicating her basket, and she gave in after a moment's hesitation.
"What brings you out here to Nephilim Falls?" he asked as they walked round the back to where a row of ramshackle frame houses stood.
"My husband has a stake out in the mines," she explained.
"He's lucky to have you."
"And you? No sweet young thing, fresh from her mama's arms?"
"No mother is going to let their daughters out around the likes of me," Magnus smiled.
Dot shook her head. "You're a good man, Magnus. Maybe it just wasn't our time, but things were good between us while it lasted, weren't they?"
"Like I said - your husband is a very lucky man," Magnus told her.
Dot flushed. "Your charms are wasted in Nephilim Falls, Magnus. Not many womenfolk around here, and the whores certainly don't need wooing."
"Oh, Dot. You know someone like me never needs to pay for the pleasure of company with the fairer sex," Magnus smirked.
"We aren't in the city anymore, Magnus. There are maybe twenty women in this town, most of us married," Dot laughed. "The only single, eligible women in this town are probably those two young things you brought in your wagon, and the Sheriff's sister."
"And you also know that a lack of women doesn't necessarily pose a problem for someone like me," Magnus said in a low voice.
"You be careful now, Magnus," Dot said worriedly. "Everybody in this town knows you've already had a run-in with the Sheriff. The Lightwoods are an important family in this town - their father was the late Reverend."
"That explains quite a lot, actually," Magnus murmured.
They were almost at her door when they heard the sounds of a child crying inside.
"Oh dear, Madzie," Dot said, and rushed in.
The house was just two rooms: a kitchen with a rocking chair near the one window, a stove, a table that was both kitchen and dining table, and a dry sink. The other room held a large bed, two large trunks sitting at the foot of the bed, and a small cot for the child next to one wall. The floors were bare pine planks pocked by knotholes, as were the walls - it must get mighty drafty at night, with nothing to block up the gaps between the planks. There were simple curtains on the windows, probably Dot's own handiwork, but there didn't seem to be much else in the way of decoration to brighten up the house. Magnus followed Dot through the kitchen and hovered at the doorway of the bedroom, not wanting to intrude.
There was a blonde woman sitting on the floor next to the bed, apparently trying to coax the child out from under the bed. She looked up when they came in, eyes lingering curiously on Magnus before coming back to Dot.
"I'm sorry, Dot. She was crying so hard at the bakery, I thought she might do better if I brought her home to a familiar place, but she hid herself under the bed and won't come out."
"She's always been shy around strangers," Dot sighed. "Darling, Mommy's home. You can come out from under there now."
The child stopped crying, but didn't come out. The blonde lady stood up and got up out of Dot's way, retreating into the kitchen with Magnus, but still the child did not come out and didn't make a sound. Dot made to get down on her knees to peer under the bed, but Magnus immediately stepped forward to place a hand on her elbow.
"Not in your state, Dot. Let me try," Magnus offered.
He took off his hat and sat down on the floor, crouching down to find a pair of wide brown eyes staring at him. "Hello, sweetpea. I'm Magnus. I'm an old friend of your Mommy's," he smiled at her. "Your Mommy's not feeling well enough to come in there after you, I'm afraid. Would you mind coming out of there on your own?"
The little girl stared at him for a long while, then shook her head. Well, at least she wasn't crying.
"Well, let me tell you a secret - I can do magic. Just a little bit. Would you like to see?"
Her eyes widened even further, and she nodded immediately.
"Well, then you're going to have to come out of there, sweetpea. You won't be able to see it properly from under there."
The girl clambered out from under the bed and sat down a little distance away from Magnus. She was maybe about 4-years-old, a tiny thing with her hair done up in pigtails. Magnus hid his grin and took a normal playing card out of his pocket - he almost always had a deck on him somewhere. He held it up for her to see, then deftly flicked it out of sight behind his hand, showing her his now-empty palm. She gasped in surprise and clapped.
"Again!" she pleaded, and Magnus obliged her by making the card appear and disappear again several times.
"Mommy, look! Magic!"
"Yes, I see it," Dot laughed, and Magnus winked at her.
"Well, I've got to go - the Pandemonium is opening soon, and Ragnor is going to have my hide," Magnus said, standing up.
"I should go too, to help John with the closing up," the blonde woman said.
They said their goodbyes to Dot, and Madzie surprised Magnus by running up to him and giving him a hug. Magnus swallowed hard and hugged the little girl back. "You be a good girl for your Mommy now, alright?"
"Don't be a stranger, Magnus," Dot smiled as Madzie ran back to cling to her legs.
"I won't," he promised.
As he walked out with Dot's friend back to the Main Street, she turned to address him, "You're not what I expected, Mr Bane."
Magnus smiled. "People seldom are, once you get to know them properly. And call me Magnus, please."
"I'm Mrs Lydia Monteverde. I run the bakery with my husband, John," she said, and extended a hand towards him, all business-like and firm. He liked her immediately. "Welcome to Nephilim Falls."
"How do you know Dot?"
"We were friends, when we were children," Magnus lied.
"Well, I'm glad to know she has another friend. It's not been easy for her, being with child out here."
"Yes, I can imagine," Magnus murmured, brows furrowed. "Is there even a midwife in town?"
"No, but we have Dr Starkweather and Dr Whitewillow. In fact, Dot had Madzie almost entirely on her own the last time, with a bit of help from some of the womenfolk."
"That's a relief to hear. I'm sure the women of this town are a force to be reckoned with, even if there aren't many of you."
"Yes, we are. I am the head of the Ladies' Society in Nephilim Falls."
"Well, then it is indeed an honour to make your acquaintance," Magnus told her, smiling.
They came to a stop outside the bakery, and Magnus doffed his hat at her as she waved goodbye. Then he squared his shoulders and sighed as he headed back to the Pandemonium, preparing himself for another round of complaining from Ragnor.
Small nod to Deadwood, which this town is very roughly based on.
It was a small town, but Alec managed to avoid the owner of the Pandemonium for a whole week - until the monthly town council meeting. It was held in the church, with the blessings of Maryse Lightwood, since there was no other space big enough in town, but instead of using the pulpit, they had set up a table and chairs at the top of the aisle just before the altar for the council leaders to sit. Anybody who was interested in the proceedings was welcome to sit in. This generally meant that aside from Alec, Jace, Luke, and Victor Aldertree, who was the owner of the only bank in town and served as the council treasurer, there were maybe a few dozen miners in attendance and a scattering of shopkeepers.
They had already began the proceedings, having already covered Alec's report on the new licenses issued that month, and were voting on hiring a street cleaner and lamplighter for streetlamps, when Magnus Bane walked in quietly through the open doors to take a seat at the back of the room.
"Any other business?" Luke enquired in his deep voice.
"Mr Mayor, if you please," Lydia said, standing up. "I have brought this up many times - we need a school, and a proper teacher to teach it. There are 27 children in this town of school-going age, 6 whom are still too young for school, and another baby on the way. Some of the children are being tutored by their mothers, but not all the mothers are literate."
"And we have told you many times, Mrs Monteverde, that a school is the least of our worries," Aldertree interrupted. "We've only got so much money to work with - we could be using that money to expand the town and provide amenities for everyone, instead of only a few. Most of the people in this town are single men, without families. They are going to raise objections to being tithed for the building of a school, and the land itself is going to be expensive."
"But we live in the richest pocket of land in America!" Lydia protested.
"Mrs Monteverde, you have been to enough of these meetings. You know that some of the mines have run dry recently. We may be a gold town, but we do not have an endless supply of it to be used at your leisure for luxuries like school for a handful of kids," Aldertree scoffed.
There was some shuffling and uncomfortable murmurs at his words. Miners were superstitious folk, and what Aldertree had said wasn't sitting well with the miners in attendance.
"A school is not a luxury! As you say, we might not be a gold town forever, but if our children had an education, they could be so much more," Lydia said hotly.
"Lydia, the children do not need a school," Maryse spoke up from where she had been quietly observing the proceedings from the front row like an empress dowager on her dais. "They study the Good Book for two hours every Sunday. Though it does you credit to be speaking out on behalf of the other womenfolk, the ones who actually have borne children."
Lydia turned white and flinched as if she had been struck. Her husband placed a comforting hand on her arm and urged her to sit down. Alec caught Lydia's eye and tried to send a silent apology her way - his mother had never forgiven Lydia for marrying John when she had been so sure Alec was going to make her his wife.
Bane cleared his throat. "With all due respect, Ma'm, the children need more than two hours a week studying the Bible. That could help them to learn to read and write, perhaps, but what about arithmetic? Science? The arts?"
"Yes, we've all heard about Mr Bane's admiration of the arts," Aldertree said snidely.
"Bane? Magnus Bane?" Maryse hissed. "What are he doing here?"
"I was under the impression that any civic-minded member of this community was welcome to the council meeting," he replied evenly.
"You? You are not a member of this community! You come to our town, plying our citizens with your Devil's brew and tempting men to squander their hard-earned gold on cards and dice, and when you have plundered us enough you will move on to the next town, and the next," she seethed. "Men like you are no more than parasites."
"Actually, Ma'm, I was hoping on staying," Bane said, and Alec's heart most definitely did not skip a beat.
"The church already doubles as a schoolhouse, for Sunday school. Why can't it also double as a schoolhouse for the rest of the days of the week, at least until the new schoolhouse is built? The future of the town lies in the children, so the responsibility of providing their education should fall on us, the general tax-paying population," Bane continued. "With a school, more families will come, and the town can grow. As Mrs Monteverde has pointed out, even if, for some reason, gold mining falls out of favour in Nephilim Falls, our children could be lawyers, bankers, doctors - anything they put their minds to."
Seemingly heartened to finally find an ally to her cause, Lydia stood up again. "As the head of the Ladies' Society here in Nephilim Falls, I could organise a school raising. After all, I would know which families would be most likely to be willing to donate the time and muscle for the sakes of their children."
"And it may be unconventional, but the Pandemonium could contribute a little something - one week's worth of house winnings going towards the funding of the school," Bane offered. Lydia whipped her head around to look at him, dumbfounded, as did many of the other attendees in the room.
Luke chuckled. "Well, now, that's quite the offer, Mr Bane. Then we'd better get cracking on finding that teacher now, haven't we?"
"Magnus, have you lost your goddamned mind?" Ragnor thundered.
"Cool your heels, Ragnor. It's just one week," Magnus sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose.
"Need I remind you that we have six mouths to feed, and we barely manage to earn enough for that every day? We paid a pretty penny for this building, because you said we had to make an impression on the folks of Nephilim Falls. Then you got those damned paintings in, even though I told you not to, and now this? We're in debt up to our ears, my friend."
"I'm buying goodwill," Magnus countered. "We are strangers here, in a small town where everybody knows everybody else. One week's winnings buys us an alliance with the head of the Ladies' Society, and maybe now the womenfolk will feel a bit less upset about their men coming in here for the occasional game of chance. The miners coming in here get to feel good about themselves, doing something for the community, and with a bit of luck they'll like it well enough to develop a taste for it. And Nephilim Falls gets its school. It's a win-win situation all around."
"We're not winning," Ragnor said sourly.
"I told you, if you want to make money, you gotta spend it first. Who's going to come gamble at a gambling house if it doesn't look like we're rolling in gold? We've got to make them want to take us down a peg, don't we?"
"Really? That's all there is to it? Is that why there's an order here for-" Raphael looked down at the paper in his hand. "Three dozen pencils?"
"You stay out of this, Raph," Magnus jabbed a warning finger in his direction.
"Oh, Magnus, you don't have to put up a front with us," Clary laughed, putting an arm around his shoulders. "We all know you've got a heart of gold."
"Too bad we can't use it to pay the bills," Ragnor grumbled.
"Well, we'll still be selling whiskey - it won't be a complete loss," Simon pointed out.
"It's alright, Ragnor, we'll make do," Maia shrugged. "Magnus wouldn't be Magnus if he didn't do something like that every other week."
"If he keeps this up, we'll all be sleeping in the streets," Ragnor huffed, gathering his ledgers and stomping out of the room.
Magnus sighed. "Who wants to bet that he'll be talking about quitting us and heading to New York again tomorrow morning?"
"He knows you're trying to do this for all our sakes," Clary said soothingly.
Raphael snorted. "You do realise, Magnus, that no amount of money is going to change their minds. We're better off just making a killing in this town, then moving on. Nephilim Falls will never be home."
"I don't know - I think the Deputy Sheriff is plenty interested in making sure our Biscuit feels at home in Nephilim Falls," Magnus smirked, as Clary blushed. "Don't think we haven't all noticed him gaping at you every night the moment you take the stage to sing."
"That's all well and good for Clary, but what about the rest of us?" Raphael scoffed. "I'm a greaser who used to ride with outlaws, Simon is a Jew, Maia is an ex-prostitute, and you've gone and stepped on the tail of that bull-headed Sheriff so hard, he's only waiting for an excuse to put a noose around your neck."
"He is a sight for sore eyes, though," Magnus murmured.
"Dios, not this again, Magnus," Raphael snapped. "First Camille, now this Sheriff. You'd think you'd have learned by now not to be taken in by a pretty face. Camille only took your money, this one will get you your neck at the end of a rope!"
"Well, you're not exactly one to be preaching about looking past appearances, Raphael. Any man would be lucky to catch Maia's eye," Clary said hotly.
"Oh sweetheart, ain't no Prince Charming on a chariot coming for soiled-doves-turned-dancing-girls like me," Maia laughed.
"Don't say that, Maia. You're a good woman," Clary insisted, pressing her cheek to Maia's briefly.
"Don't you worry, Clary, I'm done with pitying myself, and I don't need a man to do right by me," Maia declared. "I'd agree with Raphael that the folk of this town will never cotton to the likes of us, but we've got the time and the muscles, so I say we help with this school raising."
"I'm in," Simon agreed cheerfully.
"You're always in for everything," Raphael grumbled, but Magnus knew that meant Raphael would be turning up too, when it was time for them to get this school up from the ground. Maia caught Magnus' eye and winked.
Dinner at the Lightwood's was a tense affair. They said grace, then ate in silence; Maryse at the head of the table, Alec at her right hand, and his other two siblings opposite him.
Maryse Lightwood ate her meal with a simmering fury that the three siblings knew only too well they would soon have to bear the brunt of. It was only a matter of which bone Maryse was going to choose to pick on tonight - Izzy's persistent lack of a husband, Jace's frequent patronage of the saloons and whorehouses, or Alec's failure to shut the offending establishments down.
They were almost done with the main meal when Maryse barked out, "Isabelle, I've arranged for you to have dinner with Victor Aldertree tomorrow night. Make sure to wear your best dress - and definitely not the dreadful red taffeta one. The grey one, if you please."
"What?" Izzy gasped. "Mother, I-"
"There will be no arguments from you," Maryse hissed. "I have tolerated your willfulness long enough. Allowing you the shop was bad enough, and you are not a child anymore. While I am pleased that at least you not gone and thrown yourself at some dirt-grubbing miner, it is high time you settled down. Victor Aldertree will be a suitable match. He is wealthy and respectable, and a man of sound morals."
"Sound morals?" Jace muttered incredulously.
One of the men from the assay building, after having one too many glasses of rum, had accused Aldertree of being behind the accident that had thrown his business partner Langford under the hooves of a spooked horse a few months back. Unfortunately, before Alec or Jace had had the chance to look into it, the same man had been lynched by a group of miners a couple of days later for supposedly mixing in impurities while smelting the gold bars, to make up for the gold he had pilfered.
"Yes, sound morals," Maryse repeated with a hard look at Jace. "He doesn't go drinking and whoring from sundown till morning. Don't think I don't know that you've been going to that despicable scum's den of sin every night since it opened. At least your brother tried to shut him down."
Alec kept quiet and didn't look up from his plate.
"I have never been more glad that you didn't marry Lydia after all," Maryse sniffed. "A disgrace of a woman - no children to show for after two years of marriage, and now associating with that degenerate!"
"Mother, please," Alec muttered unhappily.
"Isabelle, you shall come with me tomorrow while I go round town to speak to the rest of the womenfolk. We will organise ourselves, and convince the men of this town to take pledges of temperance - starting with you two," Maryse said, glaring at her two sons. The rest of the meal was eaten in sullen silence.
Later that night, when it should have been time to get ready for bed, Alec heard a pebble hit the frame of his bedroom window. He had been expecting this - he was still dressed, and grabbed his pistol in case they ran into a bear or the like in the woods.
There were four bedrooms in the house - two upstairs, one for Isabelle and one that Maryse had once shared with her husband, and two downstairs for Jace and Alec. Their mother was a heavy sleeper, which Alec suspected was due to ingesting laudanum, and the three siblings were used to sneaking out of the house under the cover of night to cross the creak and traipse through the woods to an abandoned Sioux camp they had found as children. This was their refuge, their secret sanctuary. They made the journey through the dense growth of pines and spruce in silence - Jace in the lead, followed by Isabelle, dressed in boy's clothes, and Alec bringing up the rear. It was cold still, especially in the nights, so they started a fire in the skeletons of an old fire.
"I can't believe her!" Izzy exploded. "Victor Aldertree, of all the people in Nephilim Falls? I'd sooner marry a mule."
"Alec, we have to stop her," Jace said. "She starts stirring up trouble in town with this temperance movement of hers, and the saloon owners will be out for blood. They're not going to care that she's an old lady. All it's going to take is both of us being out on some duty or other, and they're likely to set the whole house on fire."
"Don't you think I've already thought of that?" Alec said glumly. "Since when have any of us been able to talk her out of anything?"
"Why does she suddenly have it out for Magnus?" Izzy asked.
"'Magnus'? You're on first-name basis with him now?" Jace asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Answer my question," Izzy pressed, ignoring Jace.
They filled her out about what had happened at the council meeting, and Izzy simply laughed. "Good on Magnus."
"Izzy, please don't tell me you're seeing Magnus Bane in secret," Alec frowned.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Izzy sniffed. "And as if I would make a move on a man that's caught my brother's fancy."
"What?!" Alec yelped.
"Nothing," Izzy said, waving a moth away from the flame.
"Well, what are we going to do about Mother?" Jace asked.
"Hell if I know," Alec barked out, briefly resenting the way both of his siblings were looking at him like he held the answers to all their problems.
"Well, then I propose that we all get spectacularly drunk," Jace grunted, and brought out the rum.
Sorry for the delay getting this out. I started watching HBO's Deadwood to get a better feel of the language and setting... and I may have gotten a bit caught up in
binge watchingresearching. Haha.
A "greaser" is an Old West slur for someone who's Mexican, because they used to end up with the lowliest jobs, like greasing the axles of wagons or greasing animal hides.
Feeling very much like a herd of buffaloes were stampeding in his head when he woke up the next morning, Alec went to the bathhouse in hopes that a long soak would clear his head. There were four tubs in the bathhouse, one in each corner of a room that was about 20-feet square. The bathhouse was mainly patronised by men, and the whores took their weekly bath on Monday mornings (no lady would have been caught dead in a public bathhouse), but the bathhouse was empty at this hour. Reclining in a copper tub filled with hot water that came up to his shoulders, Alec tried to concentrate on the unaccustomed luxury of being warm and clean, but his mind refused to empty.
Last night, after they had all had a bit too much too drink, the talk had turned to their love lives. Jace had admitted that he hadn't been back to the badlands after the first afternoon that the wagon carrying the people from the Pandemonium had rolled into town - because of the girl with the red hair, whose name was apparently Clary Fray. So for the past week and some, Jace had been going to the Pandemonium every night, to listen to her sing. And then he had gone on and on about her voice and face and smile, because Jace tended to talk a lot when he had too much rum in him, and Alec may have wanted to throw something at his face at some point to shut him up. Alec had assumed that the girls were prostitutes, but they weren't - they really were just there for singing and dancing, and Jace said that on the first few nights when some of the men had tried to put their hands on the girls, Bane had had them thrown out.
Izzy was friendly with Dr Whitewillow, and had been known to walk out with him, but they seemed to think of each other as entertaining companions, with no serious intentions of pursuing marriage on either side.
And Alec? Alec had ignored Izzy's gentle prodding, and drank his rum.
When he was sixteen, he had asked Lydia out for a walk along the creek, and then he had tried to kiss her, because that was what had been expected of him. But Lydia had stopped him and very gently but firmly told him that she didn't think that was the way things were between the two of them.
For as long as he he could remember, that was just the way it had been for Alec. As Sheriff, Alec had had to go into the badlands to break up fights more than once, and some of the whore masters were known to punish disobedience amongst their girls with a knife through the gut. Contrary to Bane's taunts, Alec had seen naked women before, or women so scantily clad they might as well have been naked. And that silver star on his chest meant that every time he was forced to go into the badlands, he had no shortage of whores offering him their services - or, more accurately, no shortage of whore masters making their girls try their hand at seducing the resident sheriff in hopes of getting leverage on him.
But what set his heart racing and heat pooling in his gut wasn't the soft curves and smooth skin of the female body, but the hard lines and flexing muscles of the men working under the sun. And so Alec had taught himself not to stare, taught himself not to think, and taught himself not to feel. The worst of it had been when Jace had just come to them when they were thirteen, the orphaned son of Robert Lightwood's best friend, a cocky youth who had been very assured in his own attractiveness. Alec had been younger then, and only just figuring out that something was wrong with him. He had been terrified of anybody discovering what Jace made him feel. But as time had gone by, he had realised that his feelings for Jace were more brotherly, the reactions from his body just growing pains, and it had gotten easier to hide that part of him away again behind the dutiful son, the protective brother, the responsible sheriff.
He allowed his mind to drift, and of late it always drifted to a pair of warm brown eyes, bright laughter, and shoulders broader than he would have expected on someone who probably had never needed to do a single second of manual labour in his life. He tried to remember how those hands had felt like in his own - nimble fingers, probably from years of dealing cards. He had held them too briefly to notice if they were smooth. Did dealing cards cause calluses? He was always well-dressed and immaculately groomed, no small feat out here in hell-roaring Indian territory. Would his eyes look different, without their usual kohl? He had seen them flash in defiance, seen them burn with conviction at the council meeting, seen them soft with understanding in the dark of the town jail. Would his lips taste like the whiskey that he sold? What would those lips feel like elsewhere - on his neck, perhaps, like the men in that painting...
Suddenly realising the imprudence of thinking of Magnus Bane while sitting naked in a tub of water in public bathhouse, Alec flushed from head to toe and scrubbed his hair viciously with the grainy, rough soap provided, ducked under the water to rinse his hair, then towel-dried himself vigorously and got dressed in a clean set of clothes.
Then he opened the door, stepped out into the hall, and walked right into Magnus Bane.
"Sheriff," Bane was the first to recover. "Good morning."
Alec scowled, his face flushing involuntarily at the memory of his daydreams from not ten minutes ago. "Let's get one thing straight," Alec growled. "I don't like you. So why pretend to be polite when we run into each other? Just stay out of my way and let me do my job, and I'll pretend to tolerate you."
He turned and stomped off down the hallway, the dirty clothes in his hands rolled into a tight ball, his hands clutching them so hard that his knuckles were turning white.
"...could tell that he'd never done it before. Just stood there with his face redder than a branding iron and the bulge in his pants was bigger than a ham bone. He looked so uncomfortable, I had to pity him. So I took his hand and put it-"
Magnus shook his head and smiled. He popped his head into the back room of Isabelle's shop. "So this is what passes for talk between ladies these days?"
Three faces turned to him in surprise, though Isabelle's held a slight hint of steel, like she had been preparing to put up a fight.
"Magnus! You gave us all quite a scare," she laughed.
"I'm not sure you should have been saying things like in front of poor Isabelle. Please don't give the Sheriff more reasons to want my head on a stick, Maia," Magnus said, although to be frank Isabelle looked perfectly well entertained. Clary, on the other hand, looked about the same shade of red as the man in the story Maia had been telling, even though she must have been used to Maia's blunt talk by now.
"Izzy can decide for herself what is appropriate for her ears," Maia drawled, and Isabelle grinned at her.
"How's the fitting coming along?" Magnus asked.
"Good, we're almost done. I'm sure we'll have the new dresses ready for Maia and Clary the week after the Pandemonium's fund-raising," Isabelle said brightly.
"We're going to have men fighting at the doors to come in," Maia said smugly.
"Izzy's designs are beautiful," Clary agreed enthusiastically. "I can't wait to wear them."
"And I can't wait to do my high-kicks in them," Maia smirked.
"I wish I could come and see you both in them," Isabelle pouted. "After all the hard work I've put in making these dresses, I want to see you dance in them."
"Why can't you come?" Clary asked. "We could sneak you in through the backdoor, and you could watch from behind the stage. Couldn't we, Magnus?"
Magnus shrugged. "I don't mind, but I'm not sure the Sheriff and his Deputy would be very pleased though. And while I wouldn't worry about Sheriff Lightwood ever setting foot in the Pandemonium, don't forget that Deputy Lightwood comes every night without fail to watch Clary."
"I'll wear a disguise," Isabelle said, the excitement plain on her face. "I have some boy's clothes that I use sometimes."
"If you're very sure, darling," Magnus agreed. "But will you be alright, out alone in town after dark on your own?"
"I can take care of myself," Isabelle assured him.
"It'll probably be late, during the second show - after eleven. We want them to be good and anxious," Clary told her.
"I'll be there," Isabelle promised.
"And if it doesn't work out, maybe we can arrange a private show for you," Maia winked, and Isabelle laughed in delight. And was that a blush, just a slight shade of pink in her face? Magnus raised an eyebrow at Clary who smiled and shrugged.
Isabelle sobered abruptly. "I'll have to warn you though - that you'll probably be seeing me earlier in the night as well."
"What do you mean?" Maia frowned.
"My mother," Isabelle sighed. "She's got it in her head to start a temperance movement in town. Yesterday I couldn't meet you for a fitting because she made me go around with her visiting the other women in town. About half of them have said 'no', because of the school-raising you know, and Lydia has obviously been putting in a good word for Magnus. But some of them had the same mind as my mother, and once the fund-raising is over, they're going to be making the rounds once a week in the evenings to all the saloons, trying to get the men to sign pledges of temperance."
"Oh, after the fund-raising. So it's ok for the men to spend money on whiskey and cards if it's for Nephilim Falls, but after that we can all go to hell," Maia said sarcastically.
Clary hugged Isabelle tightly. "We understand. You don't choose your parents."
"She's using me," Isabelle said angrily. "I'm the shining face of all they could have, if only they sobered up. Like bait, or a lottery prize. She plans to parade me around the saloons as if I were a tasty treat and all they have to do to get a chance at marrying me is to put their names on that damned pledge."
"Temperance movement, huh?" Magnus murmured. "For your sake, let's hope that once she sees how futile it is, she'll give up. After all, what does she expect the lonely men in this town to do after sundown, other than drinking, gambling and whoring?"
"Well, you don't know our mother. Alec had to get his stubbornness from somewhere," Isabelle sighed. "Maybe she expects everyone to be like Alec, now that he's signed that pledge - sit in his room like a monk, and read."
"That certainly explains his temper," Maia scoffed.
"Your brother has admirable self-control," Magnus said diplomatically.
Isabelle shook her head. "One day he's going to explode, and everything is going to go to hell."
"Not all men are slaves to their impulses," Magnus said.
Isabelle looked sharply at him then. "I should probably tell you this - when I was making the rounds with my mother, I heard a rumour, that you have been spending a lot of time with Dot Rollins."
Magnus frowned. Damn it. He would have to be more discreet, lest he brought trouble to Dot and Madzie. "Then perhaps you could do me a favour and set those gossiping women straight - there's nothing going on between us. She's an old friend, from when we were children."
Isabelle's expression cleared up immediately. "Oh. That's alright then."
"I take it you were not asking for yourself," Magnus said with a raised eyebrow.
"No, I was not," Isabelle agreed with a twinkle in her eye.
Conscious of the curious glances from Clary and Maia, Magnus did not respond to what Isabelle was implying. So what if Alec Lightwood's tastes did not always run towards the fairer sex? Magnus was sympathetic, of course, but the Sheriff had given him no cause to feel anything towards him other than pity. There was only so far a pretty face and a spark of interest could take them; and even the brightest spark would be extinguished in the face of an unforgiving storm. So perhaps it was for the best that they did as the Sheriff had suggested - stay out of each other's way, and minded their own business.
Alec had been expecting trouble that night. He knew his mother had led Izzy and a bunch of disgruntled women round the saloons for the first time that night, singing hymns and trying to shame or intimidate the patrons of the saloons into signing the temperance pledge. He kept the candle burning brightly in his window, as a deterrent as much as as a necessity for his reading. It was almost half past ten when he saw the shadow moving past the path that led to the house.
The figure had been moving away from the house, so Alec took a lantern and checked the perimeter of the house to make sure no mischief had been done. When he found nothing, he checked the bedrooms upstairs, and found Izzy's bed empty, the sheets untouched.
"For Chrissakes, Izzy," Alec muttered. Of all the nights to go sneaking out on her own!
He shrugged on his coat and hurried after his sister, thankful for the rain in the afternoon so that her small footprints showed easily in the mud. He got into town just in time to see her, dressed in the coat she wore that hid her figure, ducking behind the Pandemonium. By the time he got round the back, the back door was closed.
"Open up!" he called, banging on the door.
"Who's there?" a voice called out from behind the door, which Alec recognised as belonging to Ragnor Fell.
"I'm afraid you'll have to use the front door like everyone else, Sheriff," he replied, and no matter how hard he banged on the door after that, Alec received no further response.
"Damn it," Alec cursed.
He would have had no qualms shouldering open the door if he was sure that Izzy was inside, but forcing his way in with no good reason would be asking for trouble - just because he was the Sheriff didn't mean he was above the law. And if she wasn't in the Pandemonium, he was wasting time. His best bet would probably be to go in and take a quick look around to see if he could spot her. He kicked the door one last time, and went round to the front.
The Pandemonium was filled to its capacity tonight, with people jostling to get in the swing doors. Alec frowned as he pushed his way in, and the men parted to let him in once they saw who it was, a few of them doffing their hats and greeting him. He scanned the crowd, trying to spot the dusty brown hat and coat that Izzy usually wore when she dressed as a boy. The gambling tables were doing a roaring business, with men crowding round for their turn, and on every wall he saw the offending pieces of art that he had arrested Bane for, although the piece with the two men was mercifully absent. The place was a cacophony of glasses clinking and men shouting and laughing, but above the din Alec could still hear the music - Santiago was on the piano, playing an accompaniment to the banjo player's melody, and for once Santiago was actually smiling. He caught a look exchanged between the two men and felt himself growing uneasy - were the two of them...?
Alec startled, and found himself looking down at the mismatched eyes of his brother, who was sitting at a table nursing a glass of whiskey.
"I could have sworn you put your name on that pledge, same as I did," Alec said wryly, eyeing the glass.
"I had my fingers crossed under the table, so it didn't count," Jace grinned.
"I'm not sure it works that way," Alec snorted.
"What are you doing in here?" Jace asked.
He leaned in to whisper in Jace's ear, "I thought I saw Izzy come in, through the back."
"Through the back?" Jace frowned. "So Bane let her in?"
Alec scowled - speak of the Devil. Bane was making his way towards them, indecently attractive in a freshly-brushed black suit and wine-coloured waistcoat. He had a cheroot in his hand as usual, and a variety of rings on his fingers sparkled under the lights of the Pandemonium's lanterns.
"This is a surprise, Sheriff Lightwood. I'd offer you a drink on the house, but I hear you've signed a pledge of temperance," Bane said with a wink.
It wasn't too far of a stretch to assume that Alec had signed the pledge, since his mother was leading the temperance movement, but Alec had a feeling it wasn't just an educated guess. And there was only one person who would be talking to Bane about Alec - Izzy.
"Where's my sister?" he growled, taking care to keep his voice low.
Bane sighed and leaned in close to Alec, so that only he could hear him, close enough that Alec could feel his breath on his collar, "I came out here to pass you this message against my better judgement: your sister says to sit back and enjoy the show."
"Enjoy the- what?" Alec frowned, but Bane was already walking away.
He sat down next to Jace, who flashed him a puzzled look. "What was that about?"
"Watch and wait," Alec shrugged.
When the clock struck eleven, the crowd began to get restless. Evidently they had been told to expect something special going on tonight, which explained the crowd. Santiago struck a fortissimo chord on the piano, and the crowd suddenly went deadly silent. The red curtains behind the stage shifted. The piano and banjo hit and sustained another chord, and a shapely long leg jutted out from between the folds of red. A glissando rolled, and another leg extended from behind the curtains, rotating seductively on a shapely ankle.
"Gentlemen, I give you - Miss Maia Roberts and Miss Clary Fray!" Bane announced as the music swelled, and the two girls emerged from the curtains - black girl in hot red, and the red-head in blinding white.
The crowd went wild, cheering and wolf-whistling as the girls sang and danced across the stage, but Alec wasn't paying attention to their song or movements. Those form-fitting dresses, slit from hem to hip, trimmed with feathers and sequins and with barely enough material to make a corset - that had to be Izzy's work. No wonder she had wanted to be here tonight.
After a few songs, the girls went backstage for a costume change, and came back out with flowy ruffled dresses that seemed to have been made of yards and yards of material to make up for the previous dresses, and danced something lively and energetic. And afterwards there was some ridiculous business of lining up a group of men in front of the black girl for her to kick their hats off their heads, and again, Alec saw Izzy's hand in the dresses.
When the show was over and the men had turned their attention back to the drinking and gambling, Bane caught Alec's eye and gestured that they should go around the back. Bane let them in himself this time, and the moment they were in, they were bombarded by a very excited Izzy.
"Did you see?" she asked breathlessly. "Did you see the dresses?"
"They were amazing, Izzy," Jace nodded.
"You did good, Izzy," Alec agreed. "I always knew you had talent."
"Thank you," Izzy beamed, and threw her arms around both her brothers.
Bane was looking on at them with a strange expression on his face, like he was seeing something he had never expected to see.
"We should go home. I shouldn't have left Mother alone - not tonight," Alex said.
"Oh!" Izzy looked guilty. "I didn't think of that."
"It's alright, I know why you wanted to be here. But we really should go," Alec said.
"Why don't your brothers go on ahead? I imagine your identity would be too obvious if you were seen in their company, even if you are wearing a disguise. I could get Ragnor to walk you home," Bane suggested. "I'd do it myself, but I'm afraid people might find it odd if I was seen going to the Sheriff's house."
It was on the tip of his tongue to reject Bane's offer, but he had to admit it made sense. "Much obliged, Mr Bane," he said gruffly.
"It's no trouble at all - anything for Isabelle," Bane said with a bright smile at Izzy, and Alec thought they'd finally found one thing they could agree on.
The money raised by Pandemonium was enough to buy a plot of land, sold at a heavy discount to the town, and the rest of the donations gleaned from various merchants and miners bought them the lumber, which the owner of the sawmill had been kind enough to sell them at a low price. And when the day came for them to build the school, quite a number of able bodied men turned up, even those who should have been in the mines. The women turned out as well, to prepare food and drinks for the men while they worked. Truly, raising the school was going to be a town effort.
The town folk did seem surprised to see the group from the Pandemonium coming out to lend a hand though. And it didn't escape Magnus' notice that the women gave Maia and Clary a wide berth, even after both Lydia and Isabelle came forward to greet them.
The men, on the other hand, greeted Magnus, Simon and Raphael politely enough (Ragnor had declared that wild horses couldn't drag him out there). They did seem a bit skeptical about Simon being much use around, with his delicate musician fingers, but Magnus wasn't worried - he knew that Simon and Raphael were stronger than they looked.
The men set to work sawing and milling the lumber to planks of the desired length, then nailing them together to form a crude frame building. They also cut some of the wood into foot-and-a-half sections for splitting into shakes for the roofing. The main part of the school would just be one big room, where children of all ages would be gathered and the older children would eventually be expected to help teach the younger children. There was a small room to the side, which would serve as living quarters for the teacher, when he finally arrived.
It was the sweatiest and grimiest Magnus had been for a while, not that he really minded. And from the look on Sheriff Lightwood's face, he didn't mind it one bit either, Magnus thought with a smirk.
They made good progress, raising the structure of the frame building by midday. By the end of the day, they had even managed to complete the framing of the windows and doors, and a cheer rose from the crowd when Luke Garroway rang the school bell that had been fixed on the porch for the first time.
Everyone gathered for a meal of hearty stew and bread after that, and Garroway went out of the way to include Magnus in the discussions about other projects the council was considering.
"We were thinking of a jail, next," Jace was saying. "The abandoned mine really isn't very secure, and we do have a blacksmith in town after all."
"Yes, you do need a proper jail - and I speak from personal experience," Magnus quipped, and everyone laughed. Magnus could have sworn he'd even seen Sheriff Lightwood's mouth twitch a bit, like he'd been about to smile.
"How goes the search for a teacher?" Magnus asked.
The Sheriff surprised him by being the one to answer, "He'll be here in a couple of weeks."
"And the town is paying for his salary, I assume," Magnus asked.
"Yes, we get enough from taxes and licenses," the Sheriff replied. "Seven dollars a week - we wanted a good one."
"That’s good to know," Magnus replied politely, and the conversation shifted to other topics.
It later occurred to Magnus that this was the second civil conversation he had had with the Sheriff in a week. After observing the Sheriff with his siblings, it was good to know that he wasn't as stone-hearted as he had seemed, after all.
The next few weeks went by peacefully, or as peaceful as it got in Nephilim Falls. The Pandemonium continued to draw customers even as its novelty wore off, nobody shot or knifed anybody on purpose or by accident, and the ladies from the temperance movement went about their business unmolested, although their efforts did not seem very successful and Maryse Lightwood's temper shortened as the days went by. There was another town council meeting, which Bane attended without voicing any controversial opinions, and Alec found himself doffing his hat in return when he happened to pass Bane on the street, even if they never exchanged a single word. Alec should have known it was too good to last.
It was four days before the new teacher was due to arrive in town that it happened.
Alec was already asleep when he was awakened by a deafening roar. He was out of bed and reaching for his pistol before he was even fully awake. What the blazes had that been? He got dressed as quickly as he could, keeping an ear out for more noises - someone was awake downstairs, probably Izzy. A quick check told him that Jace was still at the Pandemonium, and his mother was still asleep, the deep sleep of medication.
"Alec? What was that? I'll go with you," Izzy said.
"No, stay here - in case Mother needs you," he told her. "You have your gun?" She nodded, and he went out into the night with a lantern.
There were people coming down the street towards him, people with burning torches held high. For a moment Alec thought it was a scene right out of his nightmares coming true, that they had found out somehow, and they were coming for him - and not even the familiar blond head at the front of the crowd was enough to ease his fears, at first. It wasn't until he saw that Magnus Bane was striding right next to his brother that he came to his senses. These must have been the townsfolk who had still been awake because they were busy getting drunk in the saloons and throwing their money away on cards and dice. The Lightwoods lived the furthest from the main part of town because of the church, and the closest to the mines. Now that he was out of the house, he could hear it again - lingering rumbles coming from the direction of the mines.
"Alec!" Jace called out.
Alec nodded in greeting and they made their way along the creek to the mines. The source of the sound was immediately obvious - the entrance to one of the biggest claims in Nephilim Falls, a claim belonging to the reclusive Arthur Blackthorn, was now nothing but a pile of rubble. The mine must have collapsed, the sound echoing into the Black Hills.
"Was someone supposed to be working in the claim in the middle of the night?" Alec asked, picking up a still-warm lantern from the mess of loose rocks and soil.
There was a chorus of 'no's - Blackthorn had maybe three dozen miners working for him on the claim, and after some discussion it appeared that five or six of them were unaccounted for.
"Fucking thieves! Serves the cocksuckers right! I say we leave them in there till morning!" someone shouted, and there were cheers and shouts of agreement.
Alec and Jace exchanged helpless looks. Even if they managed to rescue the men from the collapsed mine, the gathered drunken mob would probably lynch them. And if Alec and Jace miraculously managed to keep the men safe from the mob, they were due for the gallows anyway. Would it be better to leave them to suffocate slowly in the darkness, or to let them suffer the humiliation and torture of a very public execution at the hands of people they might have once considered friends? As he herded the crowd away from the collapsed mine and back to the saloons, he could only send up a prayer that their deaths had been swift under the crushing rock.
The next morning, half the town turned out to watch them dig out the bodies and clear out the rubble. The claim covered an extensive area, and if the damage to the entrance tunnel proved unsalvageable, they would have to find another way in.
"Looks like they tried to dig through a supporting pillar - idiots," Jace reported back to him. "Guess you could say they got what was coming to them."
Alec scowled and didn't reply, tugging his hat lower.
The clean-up took most of the morning, but by midday everyone was back to work in the mines. Alec went back to his office to catch up on his paperwork and wish for a drink of something stronger than water, and the town went on with its business. The dead men would be buried in unmarked graves in the Potter's field in the graveyard on the outskirts of town, just as if they'd been hanged for their crimes.
It was almost evening when he heard it again, that rumble deep in the Black Hills that echoed all around through the town, this time accompanied by screaming and shouting. He grabbed his hat and ran out. There were miners running into town, calling for help. Across the street, the crew from the Pandemonium - as well as Jace, Alec noticed with a frown - were milling out as well.
"Another collapse?" Bane frowned.
"Looks like it," Alec sighed, already moving towards the Hills. "Someone get the doctors."
"I'll go," the banjo player offered, and the rest of them followed Alec to the mines.
The side of the hills were a flurry of activity, of miners running away from the shuddering hillsides or running towards those who had fallen. Plumes of dust rose from several spots that had once been the entrances to claims. Rocks rattled down the hills, the collapse having triggered several minor rockslides. It would have been foolhardy to get up there before things had settled, so Alec organised the men crowding around instead, barking orders for some of them to gather the equipment they would need to rescue those that had been trapped, and for tents to be erected for the injured and for the doctors to work. Once the dust had settled, the men began the arduous task of gingerly picking through the rubble for survivors and bodies.
"Only Dr Starkweather is in town. Dr Whitewillow went out to Spearfish Valley to visit his family yesterday," the banjo player came back to say.
"This won't do - we're going to need more than one doctor," Luke said grimly.
"We'll fetch more from the other towns then. And call Dr Whitewillow back," Bane suggested.
"The next nearest town is Lead, then Deadwood. Spearfish is in the other direction. Either of them are about a day's ride there and back, if you don't stop to rest," Jace replied.
"Deadwood, then - I'd imagine there'd be more doctors there, and we did stop over when Ragnor was ill on the way here. Dr Fade was an excellent doctor," Bane said.
Alec made a mental note of the name of the recommended doctor, already planning his route through the Black Hills. He would definitely need to try and obtain a map - he had only made the trip a few times before, with Jace and his father. But that had been years and years ago, and even then it had been with the Cheyenne stagecoach. Besides, the sun was setting. Although the peace treaty with the Sioux tribes had been signed more than a decade ago, there were still bands of them lurking in the Hills that would not hesitate to attack a lone white horseman.
"I'll go," Jace offered. "Or at least I'll go with you."
"With your blond hair shining like a beacon in the dark? I think not," Alec said wryly. "No, l need you to stay here and help the Mayor get this mess cleared up. I'll be fine on my own."
Alec hurried back to the sheriff's office to dig through the drawers for a map, and by the time he reached the livery for his horse Izzy was already there with a parcel of dry rations and water.
"Be careful, big brother," she said as she pecked him on the cheek.
Alec was distracted from replying when Magnus Bane rushed into the livery with his own bags packed and made his way to one of the horses that Santiago used for his buckboard wagon, a bay mare.
"Where do you think you're going, Bane?" he barked.
"You can't possibly be making the journey through the Hills alone, Sheriff," Bane scoffed. "Besides, time is of the essence. Who else in this town has been to Deadwood recently and is familiar enough with the place to know exactly where to find the doctors we need?"
"I don't have time to keep an eye out for you as well, Bane," Alec snapped in exasperation.
"And you don't have to. I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself," Bane declared as he loaded his bags on the mare. It whined and skittered away from him, even as he clucked soothingly at her.
Alec highly doubted the truth in that statement. Bane looked like he was going to have trouble with his chosen steed, and Izzy seemed to agree.
"Are you sure about that horse, Magnus?" she asked.
"Raphael says she's the fastest," Bane insisted, and got on her back. The mare reared under Bane, and for a heart-stopping moment Alec was sure she was going to throw him off.
"Do you even know how to ride a horse?" Alec shouted.
"Not a damned clue!" Bane yelled back, miraculously staying on the horse, and once he had gotten her back on four feet, he spurred her into a gallop down Main Street, towards the direction of Deadwood.
"Jesus Christ," Alec cursed, pulled himself up on his own horse and urged it after Bane's.
In the fading daylight, the shadowy forests that blanketed the Black Hills were as black as the Devil's dreams. It felt like once they rode in, they would lose the sun's light forever, and the route Sheriff Lightwood was leading them through would go right into the heart of the forest. They couldn't go quite as fast as they would have preferred, not when the path was so steep and stray tree roots might trip them and break their horses' legs, but the Sheriff had figured that they would save some time going through the shortcut, and Magnus trusted his judgement. Now all they needed was for it to start raining as well, Magnus thought, and he knew it rained often enough here in spring.
"For someone who doesn't ride, you seem to be doing fine," the Sheriff suddenly said.
Magnus grinned. "I was only joking, Sheriff. I may have been born and raised a city boy, but you didn't think I'd move all the way out here and not learn how to handle a horse?"
"Maybe not this particular horse," the Sheriff muttered.
"Oh, she just needed some time to warm up to me," Magnus said, waving a hand dismissively.
They rode for a couple more hours in silence, until it was too dark to see the path ahead safely, before making camp. It was cold, and very dark in the middle of the woods. Neither of them wanted to risk having a bear or mountain lion coming up and catching them unaware, but being scalped by Indians wasn't a favourable alternative either. In the end they decided not to risk starting a fire, and to take turns keeping watch. They had a dinner of dry biscuits and creek water, and the Sheriff stubbornly refused a swig from Magnus' flask of whiskey despite the chill.
"I don't think your mother would begrudge you a sip, not when it's as cold as a witch's tit out here," Magnus said, feeling slightly exasperated. "It's practically for medicinal purposes."
"A promise is a promise. Wouldn't expect you to understand, Bane," the Sheriff said firmly.
"If we're going to be spending the night together, at least you could call me by my first name," Magnus teased, and he could just imagine the Sheriff's scowl and blush - Magnus had noticed that the Sheriff blushed terribly easy, which had been quite the source of amusement.
"I- fine. Magnus," the Sheriff retorted softly, much to Magnus' surprise, and the tentative way the other man seemed to be tasting the way his name rolled off his tongue sent an unexpected shiver down his spine.
"Now, that wasn't so hard was it, Alexander?" Magnus asked, trying to keep his voice light.
"Alec," he corrected Magnus. "Nobody calls me Alexander."
"But 'Alec' is what your friends call you, and we are not exactly friends, are we?" Magnus asked. Yet, Magnus added mentally.
"No, I suppose not," he agreed, after a long silence. "Go to sleep. I'll take the first watch. I'll wake you in a couple of hours."
"Don't you dare keep watch the whole night and not wake me at all," Magnus warned him.
But when Magnus next woke up, what little he could see of the sky was already starting to lighten.
"Alexander!" he admonished. "You were supposed to wake me!"
"I'm fine. I couldn't sleep anyway," Alec insisted. He got up and brushed himself off. "Let's get going."
They rode into Deadwood in the late morning. Magnus set about seeking out Dr Malcolm Fade, who then recommended another doctor by the name of Dr Isaac Laquedem, while Alec went about gathering medical supplies. They had to rent a wagon, because unfortunately both doctors professed to not being good horsemen, but they were able to set off for Nephilim Falls in the early afternoon. Unfortunately, the wagon also meant that they would have to stick to the main path this time, but Magnus planned to drive on past sundown to avoid having to spend another night in the Hills.
After some arguing and pointed glaring on both sides, Magnus finally managed to convince Alec to get inside the wagon and catch some sleep, fully planning to renegade on his promise to switch drivers at some point. After all, the Sheriff was looking dead on his feet, and Magnus had a feeling he was so used to being the big brother and head of the town that Alec had forgotten how to take care of himself. The main path took them round the outer rim of the Hills, where the trees loomed on either side and small quick streams flowed over smooth brown rocks. On a different occasion, Magnus might have enjoyed the scenery - now they flew down the uneven path at a breakneck pace, the wagon's wheels rattling along in a slightly alarming way, startling magpies in the trees.
As night grew nearer, the storm clouds that had been building throughout the afternoon started rumbling overhead, and lightning crackling threateningly, so close that it seemed that it might strike the tallest pines high up in the Hills.
"Magnus! We should stop for the night," Alec called from inside the wagon.
"But we can't be more than a couple of hours away from Nephilim Falls now, and the storm is coming."
"We've been riding the horses hard, they need to rest soon. Besides, it's getting too dark."
"Then I'll light a torch!"
But he couldn't - it would break the momentum that the horses had going, so he ignored Alec.
Magnus felt a hand on his shoulder, and Alec pulled his lanky frame out from the back, much to the protests of the doctors inside when the wagon jerked roughly from the movement. Magnus shifted a bit to make space for Alec, though it was a bit of a squeeze on the driver's seat, which wasn't really made for two large men.
"You're a damned stubborn sonofabitch, you know that?" Alec grunted, scanning the woods around them for danger as he tried to get a torch to take the flame from a flickering match.
"Guess it takes one to know one," Magnus laughed.
The storm broke when they were in sight of the creek that went round the edge of the town, and Magnus thanked their lucky stars that they'd just started to put up the first of the street lamps starting from the entrance to the town, though they were both soaked to the bone before they'd even reached the town sign. As the wagon rattled down Main Street and towards the makeshift tents that had been set up for the injured, Magnus thought he heard one of the doctors inside the wagon retching - wagon travel wasn't the most comfortable, especially with how roughly he'd driven the wagon.
"Damn," Alec cursed as he jumped off to see to the doctors in the wagon, and Magnus patted the shivering horses, murmuring words of thanks to them.
Dr Laquedem shot him a dirty look as Alec led them towards the shelter of tents, but Dr Fade turned back and waved at Magnus before he left. Magnus supposed he would have to go and help Alec smooth ruffled feathers at some point, but for now he had to see to the horses. As he was driving the wagon to the livery for safekeeping, Magnus heard someone calling his name - it was Lydia. She was waving at him from the level above the bakery, where he knew she and John lived.
He indicated that he would come over as soon as possible, and after he had made the necessary arrangements at the livery, she let him in to her spotless kitchen despite the fact that he was sodden with mud and rain.
"Magnus! Thank goodness," she said breathlessly.
Magnus frowned - he could hear a child crying upstairs. "Madzie? Is that Madzie?"
"Yes, I haven't been able to calm her down at all, and sometimes she calls out for you, so I thought..." Lydia said as she led him upstairs.
"But why is Madzie here? Is she alone? Where's Dot?"
Lydia made a shushing gesture, and for the first time Magnus noticed that Lydia's eyes were red and swollen from crying. "Dot is... we were all so busy with the accident, nobody thought to check on her until we realised that Elias had been one of the miners hurt in the accident. I went to the house to tell her this morning, and - oh God, Magnus. All that blood. The baby must have come quickly, I've heard that it happens some times, with the second one. And Madzie was probably too young and too scared to understand that she had to get help for her mother."
Magnus froze. "Are you saying that...?"
"Dot is dead," Lydia said with a choked-off sob. "The baby - there was something wrong with the way he was inside her body, and Dot couldn't have had him without help. When I got there, I found Madzie just lying on her mother's cold dead body and screaming."
Magnus didn't know what to say, shocked and horrified by the news. "And the baby?" he asked, although he already knew the answer. Lydia shook her head quietly. Magnus closed his eyes, trying to get his emotions under control before facing Madzie.
He found her huddled in the bedclothes on John and Lydia's bed, crying her poor little heart out as John stood to one side looking uncomfortable and at a loss.
"Sweetpea," Magnus called softly, and she launched herself at him, clinging tightly to his neck as she cried into his shoulder. "Shhh. I know, I know."
"I'll bring her back to the Pandemonium," he told Lydia and John. "I would bring her back to her house, but I imagine that's not the best place for her at the moment, considering. She could live with me until her father is well enough. Clary and Maia would only be too happy to help."
Lydia and John exchanged a look, and John said tactfully, "I don’t think the Pandemonium is the right place for a little girl, Magnus. And Miss Roberts and Miss Fray..."
"Would you rather that I stayed here, in your house, then?" Magnus snapped. "Because you know Madzie is not comfortable around either of you. And I'm not going to leave her, not when she obviously needs me right now."
Lydia nodded reluctantly. "Of course, you're right. I'll pack some of her things for you, and perhaps if John could come over to the Pandemonium to see her tomorrow morning?"
Magnus nodded, too emotionally wrung-out to protest. He shrugged off his wet coat and wrapped it around the little girl, hoping it would protect her from the storm outside, and carried his precious bundle into the night.
The insistent banging on the doors of the Pandemonium started way too early in the morning, in Magnus' opinion. Everyone in the Pandemonium had still been awake when he had come in carrying Madzie - they were used to being up until the small hours of the morning, but because of the mining accident Ragnor had opted not to open for business. Instead, Raphael and Simon had gone out to the mines to help rescue the injured, and Clary and Maia had been in the tents playing nursemaid and helping Dr Starkweather, as most of the women in town had been doing.
With Magnus around, Madzie had finally calmed down enough for them to get some food in her, and Simon had heated up some water on the stove so she could have a warm bath. Thankfully, between all of them they had managed to get her settled for the night in a makeshift cot in Magnus' room.
The little girl was still sleeping now, but she wouldn't be sleeping for much longer if whoever was banging on the door so rudely kept it up. Magnus threw on a dressing gown and hurried down the stairs, frowning. John was too well-mannered to carry on like this. Alec was the only one he could think of who would behave like this, but he thought things between them were different now, after the trip to Deadwood.
He threw the door open and was startled to find Maryse Lightwood on his doorstep, a vision of the Reaper himself in her perpetual black mourning clothes.
"Where's the girl?" she hissed.
"Mrs Lightwood," he greeted her coolly. "Madzie is asleep."
"I demand that you hand her over! Don't think I don't know what unseemly plans you have for the poor child!"
"I assure you, Mrs Lightwood, that whatever evil you are imagining is only in your own mind," Magnus replied coldly.
By this time, John and Lydia had arrived at the Pandemonium, looking flustered. Maryse Lightwood must have paid them a visit earlier this morning to check on Madzie, only to learn that Magnus had taken over the care of the child in the night. Maryse turned on them immediately.
"You were given care of the child because you claimed you were friendly with her mother! But you threw her right into the lion's den instead!"
"Mr Bane was only trying to help. He was an old friend of Dot's and Madzie is very shy, but she was taken with Mr Bane right from the start," Lydia tried to defend herself. "She was so upset, we thought-"
"Help? By corrupting a little girl with his calico queens in this den of sin?" Maryse screeched.
From upstairs, Magnus could hear Madzie starting to cry. She must have woken up and discovered that Magnus was not in the room with her.
"As fascinating as this conversation is, you'll have to excuse me - I have a child to take care of," Magnus bit out.
"This is not over!" Maryse screamed.
Magnus ignored her and slammed the door in her face, already running up the stairs. If Maryse Lightwood wanted to make this a battlefield, he was going to give her a battlefield - he'd be damned if he was going to turn Madzie's care over to anybody but her father.
Alec had never been happier to have the excuse of paperwork to sequester himself inside the Sheriff's office. He had spent most of the night dealing with the ornery Dr Laquedem, and his mother had woken him up demanding that he barge into the Pandemonium to "rescue" Dot Rollin's little girl, whom Magnus had taken under his wing while the girl's father was being treated for his injuries. As far as Alec knew, Elias' leg had been crushed - he would probably live, but he was likely to be crippled.
Alec had only just barely managed to stop his mother from trying to force her way into the Pandemonium by using his Sheriff badge as a battering ram, with the promise that he would check on the girl personally, at some point today. But he was putting it off because he didn't want to face Magnus just yet. It was one thing to admire Magnus for his physical attractiveness and strength of conviction from afar; it was another thing to get to know him as a real person, with flaws and idiosyncrasies. Working together with Magnus to get the doctors into town, spending almost a full day exclusively in his company, had been... confusing. The tentative friendship they had struck up felt like something to be handled carefully, like a fine bone china cup - not thrown under the relentless wheels of his mother's mindless crusade. Anyway, Elias would probably be free to go home in a couple of days, back to his daughter and to see to the funeral arrangements for his wife and stillborn child.
There were footsteps on the stairs outside, breaking his reverie, and Alec looked up just as a blond man came into view.
"Good evening, Sheriff. I'm sorry to bother you, but I wasn't sure where to go," the man said with a nervous smile. He was skinny in a slightly unhealthy sort of way, but his blue eyes were bright and intelligent.
"Who are you?" Alec frowned.
"Um. I'm the new teacher," the stranger replied, fiddling with the handle of the small trunk in his hands.
"Oh, of course - pardon me, it's been a rough couple of days around here I'm afraid," Alec said, getting up to greet the man and trying not to wince at the limp and rather damp handshake that was offered.
"Yes, I was expecting someone to meet me off the train at the station, but the station master told me about the mining accident," he nodded solemnly. "A terrible tragedy."
"I'm Sheriff Lightwood. My brother, who's also my Deputy, is out at the mines at the moment, but I'm sure you'll have a chance to meet him at some point. I'm afraid I didn't catch your name."
"My name is Sebastian Verlac, and it's a pleasure to meet you, Sheriff Lightwood."
"Calico queen" is Old West slang for a prostitute.
"Do you want something to eat, sweetpea?"
Madzie shook her head, eyes downcast, fingers absently shredding the fraying dress of the rag doll Lydia had fetched from her house.
"Not even some cookies? Lydia made them specially for you," Magnus tried, but she shook her head again.
Madzie was a quiet child by nature, but after she'd stopped crying, she hadn't spoken a word since she'd woken up this morning. Magnus knew from experience that healing and grieving would take time, and that there was only so much he could do for Madzie, but still he felt helpless. Ordinarily, Magnus' own remedy for grief was to keep busy, and there was plenty that needed doing - he ought to go go down to the tents to make nice with the doctors, who were probably still upset from the bumpy journey here, and he wanted to speak to Madzie's father personally to assure him that his daughter was in good hands. And they would probably be opening the Pandemonium for business again soon, and Magnus had the rest of his troupe to consider. But he wasn't sure how Madzie would react to him leaving her alone - even sweet Clary trying to come into the room with the offer of playing with her had sent Madzie hiding under the bed.
There was a knock on the back door of the Pandemonium. Magnus looked out of the window and spotted the Sheriff's hat. Well, it looked like Maryse Lightwood had decided to begin hostilities with her biggest and arguably only effective weapon - her dutiful, stubborn mule of a son, who never seemed to be able to stand up to her. Magnus rolled his eyes - at least Alec wasn't trying to ram the door down.
"Sweetpea, I have to speak to the Sheriff. I'll be back real soon, alright?" he told her. She looked at him in wide-eyed panic and shook her head. "Oh, Madzie," he sighed, and pulled her into a hug. "I don't suppose you want to come with me? Between you and me, I think the Sheriff can be nice."
Madzie pulled away from Magnus and slowly retreated under the bed, her usual safe space. Magnus closed his eyes, heart breaking all over again. "I'll be back as soon as I can," he promised her.
Ragnor was standing on the landing when Magnus came out of his room, obviously waiting to talk to him.
"How's she?" Ragnor asked. Magnus shook his head.
"Do you want me to handle the Sheriff?" Ragnor asked.
"Don't worry, I've got this," Magnus replied. "Besides, what are you going to do? Read a ledger to Alexander until he goes away out of sheer boredom?"
"Oh, now he's 'Alexander'?" Ragnor asked with a raised eyebrow. "I see the trip to Deadwood was rather more exciting than you let on."
"Nothing happened, Ragnor," Magnus huffed, straightening his cravat as he made his way down the stairs.
He opened the door, and waited for Alec to finish the rather unsubtle once-over he always gave Magnus every time he saw him, because it did a soul a world of good to have a handsome man like the Sheriff look at you like that. "Tell me, Alexander - are you actually going to insist on seeing the girl, or will you be content with me promising that she is as well as the circumstances will allow?"
Alec met his eyes easily. "I spoke to Lydia. It was good of you to take the girl in."
"I did what anyone would have done," Magnus shrugged, surprised but still annoyed enough with Maryse Lightwood's behaviour that morning to say, "Now run along and tell your mother you've done what she told you to do.
"I don't take orders from my mother," Alec frowned, though he did drop his gaze immediately.
"Yes, this has absolutely nothing to do with your mother, which is why you're here, even after Lydia's explained everything to you," Magnus said sarcastically. "Or hasn't Lydia told you that Madzie is very shy, and so far she won't let anybody get near her except me?"
"I just need to take a look at her, to make sure she's alright - so I can tell her father down at the tents," Alec insisted.
"You mean so that you can keep your promise to your mother! Are you serious, Alexander?" Magnus asked, his voice sharp. "Madzie has just lost her mother! The last thing she needs is a stranger gawking at her. The sooner you admit to yourself how ridiculous it is for the Sheriff to be involving himself in private matters like these because your mother told you to, the sooner we'll get along."
"Are you accusing me of abusing my authority? It's my job to protect the people of this town," Alec seethed.
"Oh, 'protecting' the people of this town - like you did, throwing me in jail because seeing a picture of two men in a compromising position reminded you of things you wished you could have?" Magnus said snidely, his exhaustion and heartache getting the better of him.
There was a sudden burst of movement, and Alec seized him by the lapels of his coat, his face a mask of fury. It was like all the weeks of careful cordiality between them had abruptly been undone. Magnus struck Alec's hand away and jerked out of his reach, meeting Alec's fury with a fire of his own.
Alec's voice dropped, low and angry, "Do you know what they do to men who desire to lie with other men, the way a man should lie with a woman?" he hissed. "In this parts, they are hanged, drawn and quartered."
"Is that a threat, Alexander?" Magnus asked him fiercely. "If I told you that my bedfellows are not always women, is that what you're going to have done to me?"
Alec looked away, jaw clenching. "No, I would not wish such a fate on you. I would not wish such a fate on anyone. But just because I'm the Sheriff of this town, does not always mean I'm the one who wields the hangman's noose. You know as well as I do that the men are just as likely to take the law into their own hands."
Magnus took a deep breath, voice softening a little. "Alexander, I understand your fears, and of course they are not unfounded. But you cannot change who you are."
Alec shook his head, the violent movement reminding Magnus of a distressed horse. "You don't understand anything. I... There's something wrong with us. With me. You have bedded women - you have a choice in this."
"No, Alexander. There's nothing wrong with you, or with me. This is just the way we are, and the only choice I have in the matter is that I chose not to live a lie," Magnus told him firmly.
"Better to live a lie, than to be dead," Alec replied gruffly, tugged his hat lower, and walked away.
The funeral for Dot and the baby was attended by her husband Elias, Lydia and John, all the employees of the Pandemonium, the Lightwoods (minus Jace, who was sending the doctors back to Deadwood with the Cheyenne stagecoach), and of course little Madzie. They didn't have a preacher in town, so they had asked the new teacher to fill in and lead the ceremony, which he did with all the charisma and confidence of a wet rag. Maryse Lightwood had spent the entire time glaring daggers at Magnus, and Magnus had ignored her very pointedly.
Alec had not spoken to Magnus since their argument.
It had been terrifying to admit his secret to Magnus, even knowing that Magnus would be sympathetic, and infuriating for Magnus to talk about choice, as if it was such a simple thing. Alec wasn't afraid of death, even a painful or horrific one, and it would have been so much simpler if his life had been the only thing at stake. What would happen to Izzy, if her brother was torn apart by an angry mob? Who would look after Maryse Lightwood, an old woman addicted to laudanum who behaved as if she could change the world to her liking if she glared hard enough at it? It was a hard life out here, and Jace, with his lackadaisical attitude and cocky demeanour, would never be taken seriously as head of the house, not when he wasn't even a Lightwood by blood. It was so easy for Magnus to say these things, when he just didn't understand.
He had no doubt that Magnus would mock him for being at the funeral - probably say something about how he and Izzy were behaving like mindless puppets, part of the perfectly crafted image Maryse liked to put forward. The truth was, he was here because Izzy had asked him to be, and while he wasn't privvy to the way his sister's mind worked, he trusted that she had a reason and a plan.
Alec couldn't help but notice that Maryse wasn't the only one glaring daggers at Magnus. He knew Magnus had tried to speak to Elias, but that Elias had refused to see him. Elias had been lucky enough to come out of the mining accident with only a busted leg - he was walking with the aid of a stick and his leg was still in bandages, and he would probably always limp. At present, Magnus was carrying Madzie in his arms while she sobbed quietly into his shoulder. Elias would not be able to carry his daughter like that, not for a very long time yet. To be honest, Alec didn't think Elias had ever carried his daughter in this manner, not even when he had had use of both his legs. He had always only seen Dot with the girl, and now that he thought about it, he might have seen Dot with a blackened eye once.
After the service was over, Magnus walked over to speak to Elias, Madzie still clinging on to him. Izzy tugged on Alec's arm to indicate that they should linger for a while longer, pretending to need to adjust her shoe.
"Mr Rollins, I'm so sorry for your loss. I trust you are well enough for me to hand Madzie back to you?" Magnus said. He patted the little girl on her back lightly, trying to coax her to show her face. "Madzie, your daddy is waiting to bring you home, you'll be alright now."
Much to Alec's surprise, Elias reached forward and pried Madzie off Magnus rather forcibly, causing the little girl to cry out.
"You'd be that Bane, who runs the gambling hall," Elias stated. "I hear you've been sniffing around my wife for weeks. Too bad for you that the dumb cunt went and bit the dust before you could fuck her properly, huh?"
Magnus gaped at the man in shock. "I assure you, I had no intentions on your wife! Dot and I were just friends!"
"I went to the Pandemonium the first few nights that it opened, you know. And I'd bet anything that greaser is counting cards," Elias sneered, indicating Santiago. "Cheating honest men of their gold, and diddling our wives while we're out there in the mines working our fingers to the bone. Now snatching our kids too? If you want to have a brat of your own so much, why don't you go knock up one of your own whores?"
There was only so far Elias' behaviour could be blamed on grief and the fact that he was obviously drunk. Alec itched to step in and lock Elias in a dark hole and throw away the key, but Magnus had been right about one thing at least - the law was public, and this was private business. The Sheriff had no business butting his head in, not in an official capacity. Madzie was crying and struggling to get back to Magnus, and that was the last straw for Elias.
"Quit snivelling!" Elias barked, and cuffed the girl about the head. Even Maryse Lightwood looked horrified at the rough treatment of the child at the hands of her own father.
"She is your daughter!" Magnus said, aghast, grabbing Elias by the arm before he could strike Madzie again.
Elias' face twisted into something ugly, and he might have struck Magnus instead, but Alec found himself moving forward as well, and the movement drew Elias' eye. He pulled back, looking at Alec warily.
"Yeah, she's my whelp, and I'll deal with her as I see fit. Mind your own fucking business, Bane," Elias snapped. "And that goes for the rest of you too."
With an iron grip on little Madzie's wrist, Elias Rollins spat in the ground near his wife's grave, and dragged his crying daughter away. Magnus made to go after them, but Ragnor laid a hand on his shoulder.
"He's her father. We've got no right," Ragnor murmured.
"You expect me to stand by and do nothing?" Magnus asked incredulously.
"I'll go check on her in a while, hopefully he'll have cooled down some," Lydia said. "I usually went to the house when Elias was out at the mines, but now, with his leg... He might feel less threatened if I went alone, though."
"I'll go with Lydia," Isabelle offered.
"But he might hurt both of you!" John protested.
"I'd like to see him try," Isabelle replied, her voice hard, and Alec knew she would have liked nothing better than an excuse to punch Elias.
"How old is Madzie? Is she old enough for school?" Alec asked Lydia.
Lydia nodded. "She'll be five this year."
"Lydia, at the next town council meeting, raise the issue of making school mandatory for all children of school-going age. And Mr Verlac, I want you to come to me if Mr Rollins doesn't send his daughter to school like he's supposed to," Alec said grimly. If he wasn't supposed to meddle in private business as the Sheriff, then by God he was going to make it his business.
Little bit of artistic license taken with truancy laws. It was more established in the big cities like New York and Chicago, which started enforcing such laws in the 1850s. But out in the Wild West, when Dakota wasn't even part of the States so the federal government had no jurisdiction, and the Sheriff often had bigger problems, truancy laws were only put in place after 1900.
Unfortunately, it's a fact that domestic abuse wasn't something the Sheriff could get involved in, unless someone died from it. And they didn't exactly have Child Protection Services back in the day. We've made a tiny, tiny bit of improvement in that area over the last 100 years.
Elias must have known Alec was keeping an eye on him. In the week after the funeral, he had grudgingly allowed Lydia into the house once or twice, mostly because he seemed incapable of keeping the house tidy or providing food for Madzie, and seemed to treat Lydia as some sort of free servant. But it seemed there were no more violent outbursts from him, even though he was drunk more often than sober.
The town council was in less than two weeks, and Alec planned to get the truancy law passed in Nephilim Falls immediately - one of the few perks of not being under the jurisdiction of the federal government. Once the law was passed, if Elias didn't let Madzie come to school, he would have to pay a fine - a fine he wouldn't be able to afford in his current state. Then Alec would have a solid excuse to throw him in jail, and Alec didn't intend to ever let him out once he'd got him in. He was going to have him shipped all the way to the nearest State for a trial, and that should keep him out of town for a good long while.
Jace popped his head in the office. "You're still here?"
"Got work to do," Alec grunted. "You're heading over to the Pandemonium?" He still hadn't spoken to Magnus, relying on Izzy and Lydia for news on him. Unfortunately, Izzy had caught on pretty quickly, and had informed him in no uncertain terms that if he wanted to find out what was going on in Magnus' life, he could damn well find out on his own by speaking to the man.
"I'd help, but you know how I am with paperwork," Jace said.
"Maybe you need to go back to school, now that we've got a proper teacher in town. Learn your letters properly, together with the little children," Alec said mockingly.
"Speaking of which - what do you think of the teacher we got? Jumpy fellow, isn't he? I walked into the classroom a few days ago in the evening after the kids had gone home, since I hadn't had the chance to introduce myself, and he damn near jumped out of his skin," Jace commented.
"I haven't had any complaints from Lydia - the opposite, in fact. She says he's very patient with the children," Alec frowned. "You think there's something wrong with him?"
"No. Maybe he's just the nervous sort - as long as he's good with the children, I suppose that's fine. The strange thing was, though, he called me 'Jonathan' at first. Ain't anybody ever calls me by that anymore, not even Mother," Jace said musingly. "How did he even know that was my name?"
"It's not exactly a secret," Alec pointed out, and Jace shrugged it off.
"Anyway, I'll be right across the street if you need me," Jace said with a wink, and left.
The candle was half gone by the time Alec was done filling out the last license. He signed his name and blew on the ink, then added it to the finished stack. He rubbed his tired eyes and stretched out his arms. He had a cramp in his hand from all that writing. It was too late for any of the eating establishments to be open, and Maryse wouldn't have kept dinner for him this late, so Alec resigned himself to dry biscuits for dinner again. He stepped out of his office, eyes lingering on the bright lights of the Pandemonium, then began his walk home.
The din from the rest of the saloons echoed down Main Street, but despite the clamour, the town had an eerie feeling, half-lit from the light from the saloon windows and blobs of faraway street lamps which were slowly being erected but hadn't quite reached the middle of Main Street yet. Alec looked up - it was a clear night with no moon, and a narrow strip of starlight glowed overhead in the gloom. Alec was not a man prone to fanciful thoughts, but for a moment he recalled the childish rhyme: Star light, star bright, the first star I see tonight...
But what was the point of wishes and "what if"s? You could "what if" yourself right off this world, if you put too much hope into it.
Something moved in the shadows at the edge of his vision. Alec turned, hand already reaching for his gun, when he realised with a shock that the small shape as Madzie. Aware that she was skittish around strangers, Alec approached her very slowly. He hadn't had the opportunity to be around children much, and felt entirely too large and awkward when she shrank away from him.
"Madzie? I'm Sheriff Lightwood," he told her in a soft voice. "What are you doing out here all on your own?"
He saw her eyes light on the silver star on his chest, and to his surprise and relief, she stepped forward and out of the shadows. It had only been a week, but already Alec could see the signs of her father's neglect. Her hair was tangled in a braid so messy it had completely lost its shape, her clothes were soiled and rumpled, and there was a nasty-looking cut on her forehead, still crusted with dried blood. Alec felt sick with pity and anger - what kind of man would treat his own child like that?
"Where's your father?" he asked her gently.
She shook her head. "He ain't been home."
Alec frowned. She was much too young to have been left alone at home, and he wondered how she'd gotten out of the house to be wandering the streets alone after dark. "Are you lost? I could take you home."
She shook her head vehemently at that, eyes wide with fear and backing away from him.
"Alright, alright, I won't take you home just yet," Alec said hurriedly.
"Magnus," she said pleadingly. "I want Magnus."
Jesus, Joseph and Mary. Alec cursed inwardly - he should have known it would come down to this. "I'll bring you to Magnus."
She came forward readily then, and held out her arms so he could carry her. Alec picked her up, feeling completely out of his depth - she weighed next to nothing, her ribs entirely too prominent under his fingers when he placed a hand on her back. Madzie's skinny arms tightened around his neck, and Alec felt a lump forming in his throat.
He carried her all the way back through the dark streets to the back of the Pandemonium, and rapped on the door, hoping he could be heard above the din inside. The piano wasn't being played, so it meant Santiago was dealing cards at the tables together with Magnus and Ragnor. If he was lucky, he had caught them between shows, so the girls would be free. Sure enough, the door opened a crack and Maia's dark eyes appeared.
When she saw who it was, she gasped and threw the door open. "Sheriff! What's happened to Madzie?"
"I need Magnus," he told her grimly.
"I'll go get him," she assured him. "Why don't you go right upstairs first? Magnus' room is the one right at the end of the corridor."
Madzie seemed happier once she found herself in Magnus' room, and immediately located a stash of toys Magnus must have collected for her when she had been staying here. While she was occupied with her toys, Alec glanced around the room. Most of it was taken up by a huge bed, but there was a dry sink in the corner, a dresser with a variety of brushes and bottles, and a very large wardrobe.
Magnus rushed into the room after a few minutes with iodine and a pail of water as Alec had requested from Maia. "Where is she? Is she ok?"
"Magnus!" Madzie exclaimed and threw herself into his arms.
"Oh sweetpea, you're hurt," Magnus said, and Alec could hear the pain and anger he'd felt earlier echoed in Magnus' voice.
Madzie was quiet after that, but neither of them pressed her for an explanation. "Do you want something to eat?" Magnus asked, and when she nodded enthusiastically, Magnus sent Alec down to the pantry to bring up some rusks.
She sat still and let Magnus clean her wound and check her for other injuries while she ate, and Alec's stomach growled rather audibly as well at the sharp smell of cinnamon. Magnus raised an eyebrow at him. "Did you not have your dinner?"
"Lost track of time," Alec muttered, rubbing the back of his neck.
"Well, then help yourself, please," Magnus snorted. "There's no need to stand on ceremony."
Alec nodded and took a piece. An awkward silence descended on them.
Magnus sighed. "Alexander, I'm afraid I overstepped myself the other day. I know it wasn't easy for you to tell me the things that you did."
"We were both tired," Alec replied. "I... may have said some things that shouldn't have been said as well."
Magnus looked closely at him. "You should know that I've forgiven you a long time ago over the business of throwing me in your sorry excuse for a jail. I shouldn't have brought that up again. Can we be friends?"
Alec nodded, and Magnus smiled. "If you don't mind, I think I've gotten used to calling you 'Alexander', though."
"I don't mind," Alec shrugged, surprised to find that this was actually true.
After Madzie had had her fill of the food, she drifted back to her toys. Alec and Magnus watched her play for a while, both feeling troubled. Two weeks to get the law passed and remove Madzie from Elias by legal means was too long to wait, Alec saw that only too clearly. Two weeks, and she might be dead at the hands of her own father.
"We can't let her go back there, Alexander. We simply can't," Magnus said in a low voice.
"You can't hide her here, Magnus. This is the first place Elias would search, and it'd be entirely within his rights to have you arrested."
"And Lydia's is out too," Magnus said musingly. "How about your house? Surely Elias wouldn't be bold enough to go storming into the Sheriff's house?"
"My house?" Alec balked. What did he know of looking after a child? "But Madzie only wants you."
"She's warmed up to you, too, it seems," Magnus observed.
It was on the tip of his tongue to refuse, but Alec thought about how upset his mother had been after the funeral, and how she'd cursed Elias with the same ferocity that she'd used to curse Magnus, and wondered if Magnus' idea might actually work after all, with an unexpected ally in Maryse Lightwood. If Elias dared to come knocking on the door of the Lightwoods' looking for Madzie, Maryse would probably bite his head off while denying all knowledge of the girl's whereabouts. Of course, all of this would hinge on Madzie actually being alright with Maryse.
"It might work. I couldn't in good conscience let her go back to her father," Alec admitted.
"We will have to keep this very quiet, of course. I don't want to get you into trouble," Magnus said worriedly. "None of my crew will say a word, but perhaps it'd be better if they didn't know any specifics."
"I don't think I'll be able to hide this from Jace and Izzy, since they stay in the same house, but they will be supportive. My mother has been sympathetic to Madzie's situation as well."
Magnus raised an eyebrow at that. "Well, will wonders never cease."
Magnus packed some of Madzie's stuff for Alec, then saw them both out of the Pandemonium's back door.
"Be careful, Alexander. Good night, sweetpea," Magnus murmured and leaned closer to kiss Madzie on her forehead, so close that Alec could have counted every eyelash.
Alec kept an eye out for Elias as he made his way home with Madzie in his arms. She was already half asleep, tired out from her little adventure, and turned to bury her face in Alec's neck.
"Magnus said you'd be nice," she said sleepily, and Alec's heart clenched. Even if he lost his badge over this, it would have been well worth everything to keep her safe.
Deciding that it would probably be better not to surprise Maryse with the little girl sleeping on a pile of thick blankets on the floor of his room, Alec went to his mother as soon as he heard the sounds of her stirring in the bedroom upstairs. He found Maryse at her dressing table, doing up her hair in her usual stern bun - she looked up in surprise when he knocked on the door lightly and entered the room.
"Mother, I need your help," he said, and a strange expression flickered over Maryse Lightwood's face.
She let him lead the way to his room, and let out a soft gasp when she saw Madzie lying fast asleep in the makeshift cot Alec had tried to make up for Madzie the previous night. Alec tried to hush her, but his mother was one step ahead of him, already dragging him out of the room and closing the door softly behind them.
"Is that Dot Rollins' little girl?" she asked in a whisper.
"I found her wandering the streets alone last night, so I brought her home," Alec nodded, deciding that it would probably be better to leave Magnus out of the story.
"Oh, the poor child," Maryse sighed.
"I couldn't bring her back to her father."
"Of course not, Alec! You did right, that scum does not deserve to call himself her father," Maryse said immediately. "Don't worry yourself with this, my son - this is woman's business. You go about your day now, and I will take it from here."
"But Madzie, she's really shy-" Alec began, but Maryse waved a dismissive hand in the face of Alec's concerns.
"I brought the three of you up just fine."
Alec imagined that if Izzy and Jace were here to hear Maryse say that, there would have been some very pointed muttering. As it was, he tried not to hover too obviously, intending to stay in the house at least until Madzie woke up. He was in the kitchen lingering over a cup of coffee, Jace and Izzy already awake and having their breakfast, when he heard sounds from his bedroom. He dashed off to his room, and found Madzie sitting up and rubbing her eyes.
"Hey, good morning," Alec said, approaching her slowly and wondering if she would have forgotten the events of last night and start screaming, but she seemed pleased enough to see him. "I'd like you to meet some people alright? My mother, my sister, and my brother."
Madzie stared a bit, then shook her head. Alec ran a hand through his hair nervously, wondering how the hell he was going to get around this, when Maryse swept into the room confidently.
"Hello, Madzie," Maryse Lightwood said in a gentle voice, and she was smiling - not the cold, thin smile that she sometimes gave people she saw as beneath her, but a genuine one. It suddenly struck Alec that it seemed that he had not seen his mother really smile in years.
"Are you hungry, love? What would you like for breakfast?" Maryse asked, and Madzie surprised Alec by not hiding away, and just shrugging her thin shoulders. "How does fried potatoes and eggs sound?"
Madzie considered this for a while, then nodded. Maryse held out a hand to the little girl, and Madzie took it and allowed Maryse to lead her to the kitchen, where apparently Maryse had told Izzy and Jace to make themselves scarce in case they intimidated the quiet little girl.
"I'm Mrs Lightwood, and I can tell that you and I are going to get along just fine," Alec heard his mother tell Madzie.
Maryse helped Madzie up onto one of the chairs at the kitchen table, then set about cooking breakfast. She spotted Alec hovering at the doorway and arched an eyebrow at him. Alec ducked his head and went to retrieve his hat from his room, and on his way past the kitchen to the front door, he overheard Maryse saying a little wistfully, "You know, if I had been a luckier woman, my grandchildren would have been right around your age." Feeling oddly guilty for having overheard that, Alec got the hell out of there, satisfied at least that Madzie was in good hands.
It was some time after four in the afternoon when Elias Rollins finally realised his daughter was missing, and Alec knew this because he heard the sound of breaking glass and yelling from across the street, at the entrance of the Pandemonium.
"Bane! Come out of there, you motherfucking sonofabitch, and give me back my kid!"
Alec and Jace were out of the office in minutes. They saw Elias draw back his hand to throw something, and and Jace ran forward to grab his arm.
"What the hell do you think you're doing, Rollins?" Jace barked, forcing Elias to drop the large rock he was holding.
"Well, Sheriff, Deputy - you have gotten here just in time," Elias said in a falsely contrite tone of voice, and Alec could smell the reek of alcohol and sour bile on his breath. "My little girl is missing, and I know Bane has taken her."
Magnus sauntered out of the Pandemonium, stepping over the shattered remnants of a liquor bottle that was now scattered all over the front steps of his gambling hall, expression cold. "You are welcome to search the Pandemonium. She is not here."
"The hell she isn't! Where else would she be?"
"That’s an excellent question - since as you say, she's your child," Magnus replied.
A crowd had gathered by then, including Lydia and John, who had come over even though this meant leaving the bakery unattended. Alec could see the questions at the tip of Lydia's tongue, but she had always been been far too bright to have it wasted on mixing bread dough. She took one look at the stony, stoic faces of Alec, Magnus and Jace, and immediately figured out something was going on and shushed John.
Elias looked around, realised nobody was going take his side in the matter, then snarled and made a rush at Magnus. Jace got right in front of Elias and shoved him away - Elias wobbled unsteadily on his bad leg for a bit, then tumbled face-first into the mud. Elias roared incoherently with rage, struggling to pick himself up from the squelching mud. Nobody stepped forward to offer him a helping hand. After many long, painful minutes, Elias finally got on his own two feet, casting a baleful glare at the crowd that had gathered.
"I see how it is, then," Elias said. "Turns out you can buy anything with gold, and there isn't a single honourable man in this town - not even the Sheriff."
"I'd be careful about what I was accusing people of, if I were you," Alec said coolly, arms crossed.
Elias knew he was beat for now, though Alec wouldn't put it past him to try to get at Magnus in another way. "This isn't over, Bane," Elias spat at Magnus, and limped off down the street.
The Pandemonium usually closed for the night at around three or four in the morning, depending on how business was doing - Ragnor wasn't the type to shoo people out if they wanted to keep throwing their gold away on cards when they were too drunk to think straight, much less play poker. Magnus had been expecting trouble from Elias all day, and was a lot more sober than he would usually have been at this time of the night - which was probably why he had heard the sounds coming from the back alley behind the Pandemonium even though he was already in his bedroom.
Frowning, Magnus looked out of the window but couldn't see anything. He made this way downstairs quietly, then threw open the back door suddenly, hoping to take whoever was there by surprise - and found Elias trying to light a match with shaky hands. It was only then that Magnus noticed the smell of alcohol was a lot stronger than it should have been out here, and that the wooden back door and stairs were wet even though it had not rained since the morning. He knocked the matches out of Elias' hand in a fury and shoved him down the steps.
"Guess it would have been too much to expect you to grow a pair of balls," Magnus growled. "Sneaking around in the middle of the night trying to catch people unawares and taking your frustrations out on defenceless women and children - that's all the guts you have, isn't it?"
Elias grinned in the dark, looking slightly deranged. "Look at you, all fancy clothes and gold dust coming out of your fucking ass. Bastards like you have got it made, eh? And the rest of us spend our lives down in the dirt and you come along and rob us of what little we have left."
"You had a loving wife, and a sweet child, but all you did was hurt them," Magnus snarled. "Every good thing you had you spat on and tried to drag down into the dirt with you. We didn't steal Madzie from you - we were only trying to save her from you."
"So you admit it then - you're the one who took Madzie," Elias said.
"And what if I did?" Magnus challenged
"I'm going to kill you," Elias promised, and lunged at Magnus.
Elias was almost the same size as Magnus, but his reactions were slower from the amount of alcohol he had drank and he had a bad leg - it should have been an easy fight to win. But Magnus hadn't expected Elias to be armed until he saw the glint of the knife in the dark and the blade sliced across his arm. Magnus hissed in pain and grabbed the arm that was holding the knife, but even in his inebriated state, Elias was strong from the years he had spent hacking at solid rock.
Then there was a loud bang of a gun going off, a warning shot fired into the air, and a familiar voice saying loud and clear, "Drop the knife, Rollins."
Magnus startled, but Elias seemed too drunk to care that the law had arrived and ignored Alec. Alec still had his gun out, but with Elias grappling with Magnus like this, Magnus knew he wouldn't be able to get a clear shot in the dark, for fear of hitting Magnus instead. Alec moved forward, perhaps with the intention of pulling Elias off Magnus forcibly, but Elias turned on him instead, throwing himself at Alec like a man with nothing left to lose - which, Magnus supposed, was probably true. Alec's gun went off, and Magnus saw Elias jerk once when the bullet hit him, then slide to the ground. Then Magnus saw that Elias' knife had found its mark after all - in Alec's shoulder.
"Alexander!" Magnus cried out, dashing forward. Alec grimaced and made to pull the knife out, but Magnus stopped him. "Don't do that, it'll make you bleed out faster," Magnus scolded, getting his uninjured arm around Alec to support him.
"Magnus? What's going on?" Simon called from the open doorway, Raphael already heading down the steps towards them.
"Get the doctor, and Jace - Alec's been hurt," Magnus said quickly. "Raph, help me get Alec inside."
"Who's that on the ground?" Simon asked. "Don't we bring him inside too?"
Raphael had his fingers on Elias' neck, to feel for a pulse. He looked up at Magnus and shook his head.
"Elias Rollins, but I'm afraid it's too late for him," Magnus grunted under Alec's shifting weight. "He's dead."
Apologies for the late update, was busy writing Christmas fic :P Updates will be slightly slower from here out though, because I'm writing a third fic simultaneously (for the SH Hiatus Big Bang - so you guys won't get to read that until March, unfortunately!). But I'll definitely be trying my best to post a new chapter at least once a week.
Deciding that it would be too much strain on Alec to get him upstairs to one of the bedrooms before the doctor came, the girls helped clear a space on the raw pine flooring of the Pandemonium and laid out some clean blankets to put him down on. Magnus hadn't had a chance to take a good look at the knife when Elias had been coming at him with it, but it was deep in, all the way to the carved bone handle. Alec had left off his coat when he'd presumably come rushing out of his office to Magnus' rescue, but he still had a dark grey vest on, and the knife had gone through that too. The sleeve and chest of his white shirt was soaked red with blood, and his forehead was shiny with sweat. Magnus quickly undid Alec's tie and collar buttons and tried to remember what Catarina had attempted to teach him about stab wounds, but came up with a blank - he really should have paid her more attention.
"Don't you dare die on me, Alexander," Magnus said fiercely.
"Just a flesh wound," Alec insisted, eyes already a little unfocused from the pain and blood loss.
Magnus bit his tongue at that - it would probably be better for Alec if nobody antagonised him. After all, what did Magnus know of these things? Maybe shoulder wounds just bled a lot even if they weren't all that serious, like head wounds.
Just then, Dr Whitewillow burst in through the door with his nightshirt tucked into a pair of trousers. Magnus tried to move aside to give the doctor space to work, but Alec kept a firm grip on his arm. Magnus wasn't even sure Alec realised what he was doing, but he patted Alec's hand comfortingly anyway.
"I'm not going anywhere, I'll be right here," Magnus promised him.
They cut away Alec's vest and shirt according to Dr Whitewillow's instructions, while Dr Whitewillow took out from the equipment from his black bag.
"I don't have ether, so we're going to have to use laudanum for the pain," Dr Whitewillow told Alec.
"No," Alec shook his head vigorously, looking a little wild-eyed. "No!"
Dr Whitewillow huffed impatiently. "Whiskey then, and quickly - and we're going to need a fresh bottle of it, the Sheriff is a big man."
By then, Jace had already arrived, face pale with the strain of seeing his brother injured. Raphael handed Magnus the bottle, and between Magnus and Jace, they held Alec's head up and fed him the whiskey as quickly as they could. The liquor trailed down Alec's cheek, but still his eyes did not close - he blinked up blearily at Magnus.
"There's nothing for it - best to get this over with," Dr Whitewillow sighed. "Anybody that's queasy get out!"
They had to hold Alec down while Dr Whitewillow pulled the knife out of Alec's shoulder, with Alec clenching his jaw and trying to stay quiet until an agonised cry escaped from him anyway. Magnus' hands were slippery with blood, and the blankets underneath Alec were soaked - he exchanged a worried look with Jace but they kept silent except for murmured words of encouragement to Alec, feeding Alec as much whiskey as he could take. When Dr Whitewillow dipped the needle and horsehair in the whiskey and started sewing up the wound, Magnus felt his stomach turn - but he couldn't bring himself to leave Alec.
"You're going to be alright, the doctor is almost done now," Magnus tried to tell Alec soothingly, keeping his eyes on Alec's face. But seeing Alec's eyes glazed over, his teeth clenched around a leather belt, made Magnus' heart hurt, so Magnus held on to Alec with his eyes screwed shut as Alec's body convulsed with pain.
By the time Dr Whitewillow was done, Alec had passed out cold from the pain. Dr Whitewillow wrapped the wound up with bandages and gave them instructions to change the dressings frequently if the wound bled through.
"I'll check on him again later today," the doctor said tiredly. "Get some food in him, when he wakes up - he's lost a lot of blood."
"But he'll be alright?" Jace asked worriedly.
"God willing, as long as his wound doesn't infect," Dr Whitewillow nodded. "I know it looks bad, but it could have been a lot worse - he was lucky, the blade just barely missed the artery. I doubt you'll be able to keep him in bed for more than a few of days, but he might not have full use of his right arm for a while."
Dr Whitewillow's eyes lighted on Magnus' arm, and he frowned. "Here, I'd better see to that too."
Magnus glanced down in surprise - he had almost forgotten about his own injury. He rolled up the sleeve and winced. The cut looked deep, but Dr Whitewillow decided that it would heal on its own without stitches. Magnus didn't think he could bear to have a needle near him anyway after tonight, not unless someone knocked him out cold first.
"And remember, try to make the Sheriff stay put for a few days," Dr Whitewillow said before he left.
They fashioned the blankets Alec was lying on into a makeshift stretcher and decided to put him in Magnus' room because that was the biggest room, and Magnus would bunk in with Ragnor for as long as Alec needed to stay at the Pandemonium. Satisfied that Alec was settled in as well as they could hope for in the circumstances, Jace went off to placate his mother and sister, who must have been frantic with worry. He promised to be back with fresh clothes for Alec, and also promised to convince Maryse to let Izzy come stay at the Pandemonium for a while to serve as nursemaid to their brother.
Dawn was breaking when Magnus went into his room to grab a change of clothes. He hadn't expected to find Alec awake, and looking very confused about his surroundings.
"Where am I?" Alec asked, his voice barely more than a croak. He was bare chested and seemed much paler than usual, his dark hair standing out against the cream sheets.
"My room," Magnus explained, pausing at the door.
"Your room?" Alec frowned, then slowly realised that it meant he was currently in Magnus' bed. His face flushed with colour Magnus wasn't very sure he could afford at the moment. "Oh."
"Yes. When I dreamed of having a handsome man in my bed, this wasn't exactly what I was thinking of either," Magnus said lightly, trying to insert some levity into the situation. "The doctor said to get you something to eat when you woke. It's early, but I'm sure we can turn up something."
Alec shook his head. He looked a bit sick at the mention of food. "I'm feeling fine, I should go."
Magnus went to him immediately, and said firmly, "Don't worry about it, Alexander. I'll be sharing Ragnor's room in the meantime. You just concentrate on getting better. Now lie back down and go back to sleep before you pull your stitches."
Alec struggled to sit up more fully and winced. There was already a small red bloom of blood seeping through the white gauze that was wrapped around his shoulder. "I shouldn't be in your room."
"Why must you be so goddamned stubborn?" Magnus sighed and perched himself at the edge of the bed. "I told you, it's no trouble." Alec seemed to freeze at Magnus' sudden proximity to him. He stared at Magnus with wide eyes, then glanced at Magnus' bloody shirt.
"Don't worry, its not all mine," Magnus assured him softly. "You gave me quite a turn tonight, Alexander."
"Because we are friends?" Alec asked quietly.
Magnus hesitated. He could hear the question Alec wasn't asking outright, and he'd be blind to deny the attraction between them, but they had only so recently become friends. He settled on, "I care about you. Do you understand that?"
Alec's eyes dropped to Magnus' lips, and before Magnus could do anything - lean in or move away, he wasn't even sure what he would have decided on - Alec was kissing him.
Alec's lips were hot and dry, and still tasted of whiskey. Magnus made a small sound of surprise, and Alec took the opportunity to deepen the kiss, one hand twisting into the front of Magnus' shirt to pull him towards him and pressing harder into his mouth. In a second the kiss became something raw and desperate, turning Magnus inside-out and upside-down. It was unpracticed and unyielding and so Alec. Alec, who was half drunk on pain and whiskey. Alec, who had never had the opportunity to be with someone like this, who had almost died taking that knife for Magnus.
Magnus pulled back, breathless. "This is not a good idea."
"Why not?" Alec asked, eyes shining in the morning light and lips swollen from their kissing.
"I'm not going to take advantage of you, Alexander."
"You say that like I'm some kind of innocent, not a grown man who knows his own mind," Alec grumbled, his good arm reaching for Magnus again.
Magnus shook his head and pushed Alec gently back down onto the bed. "Tell me that when you haven't just drunk an entire bottle of whiskey, and maybe I'll believe you. Go to sleep, Alexander. You probably won't even remember any of this when you wake up."
"I could never forget you," Alec said, grabbing Magnus' hand and pressing a kiss into his palm; but his words were slurred and eyes were already closing, and Magnus refused to let himself believe any of it was true. After all, Alec wouldn't be the first person with the reckless urge to do something life-affirming with the nearest willing warm body after a close brush with death.
"Sweet dreams, Alexander," Magnus murmured, and pulled the covers over Alec before he left the room.
In the late afternoon, the Pandemonium saw an unusual group of visitors passing its front doors - Maryse Lightwood, holding Madzie Rollins' hand, and Isabelle Lightwood in a simple and practical dress. If anybody in town saw this, nobody commented on it because gossip travelled fast in a town this size, and everyone had heard about the Sheriff getting stabbed while trying to protect the owner of the Pandemonium.
"Magnus!" Madzie cried in delight when she saw him and immediately broke away from Maryse to throw her arms around him.
"You're all she talks about," Maryse Lightwood said, and was Magnus imagining it, or did Maryse seem almost... approving? Well, not disapproving, at least. Alec was still asleep when his visitors arrived, but Izzy promised their mother that she would take good care of him, and Maryse left with Madzie quite quickly. The effort of remaining civil to everyone in the Pandemonium must have required superhuman self control.
Alec and Izzy stayed at the Pandemonium for two days. Alec was ornery about being laid low and wasn't the easiest patient, and as much as Izzy loved her brother, she soon lost her patience and ended up escaping his sickbed to seek out Maia and Clary's company. This made things difficult for Magnus, who was determined not to find himself alone with Alec for the time being, which meant he could only go to his room for his things when he knew Izzy would be there.
Elias Rollins was buried the day the Lightwoods left the Pandemonium for home. His funeral was attended by Magnus, Alec, the Monteverdes and little Madzie, with no other mourners - which was probably still a bigger turnout than he had deserved. Madzie did not shed a single tear.
And all through that, Alec did not behave as if he remembered kissing Magnus that morning - so Magnus swallowed his disappointment, and decided to pretend it had never happened as well. After all, it had only been the drunken dream of a man not fully in his own mind. It had only been a kiss.
The sling stayed on for two weeks, and even after Dr Whitewillow removed the stitches, Alec felt an ache in his shoulder that he feared he would always have. He also appeared to have upset Izzy during his convalescence, and not only had Magnus avoided Alec during his stay at the Pandemonium, a distance seemed to have reappeared between them. His memories of the night he had been injured were largely hazy from the point after Dr Whitewillow had removed the knife, but there was a recollection of something - but it was so far beyond the realm of possibility that it could only have been a vivid dream.
His one consolation was that Madzie seemed to be recovering well from the tragedy that had plagued her young life, and that her presence had greatly mellowed Maryse Lightwood. For once, dinner around the Lightwood table lost its intense pressure - for the first time since Robert Lightwood's passing five years ago, it almost felt like they were family again.
Even though the threat to Madzie's safety had passed, when the town council meeting came around, Alec was determined that the truancy law would still be passed. Victor Aldertree, on the other hand, seemed to have other ideas.
"The school was a mistake. Many of the mines have not been recovered since the accident, many miners have abandoned their claims or left for other towns to strike new claims, and every month we waste gold on a stuttering nervous wreck to teach children things they could learn at home from their mothers!" Aldertree said with a sneer.
"I cannot believe you are arguing about this again, even after the school has been built," Magnus said impatiently.
"Since the Sheriff wants to force every child to go to school-"
"What would you rather have them do, then?" Magnus interrupted Aldertree incredulously. "Put them to work in the mines?"
"Precisely. A 10-year-old child would be more profitable being put to work in the stamp mill, or lumber mill," Aldertree began, to great uproar from Lydia and Magnus, as well as several other people in attendance.
"Enough," Alec cut in. "Mr Aldertree, the school is here to stay, and that truancy law is getting passed. I suggest you deal with it."
Victor Aldertree had glowered at all of them, but he had been overruled. And that had been the start of the trouble.
Alec came down to breakfast one morning to find Maryse in a temper, banging pans around. Madzie was cowering in her chair, eyes wide, and crawled into Alec's lap before he was even properly seated at the table.
"What's the matter?" Alec frowned.
"Nothing," Maryse snapped, slamming the pot of coffee on the table.
At the end of breakfast, Madzie refused to be left alone with Maryse, which resulted in Maryse raising her voice at the child - something that Maryse had never done before this.
"Mother, that's enough," Alec said firmly. "I'll send her to the schoolhouse today, it's no trouble."
In the late afternoon, Alec was surprised by Sebastian dropping by his office with Madzie in tow. "Your mother never showed to pick her up, and I thought..." the school teacher said in his usual jittery way.
"Sorry for the trouble, Sebastian," Alec nodded. "How's she settling in?"
"Oh, Madzie is settling in very well, she doesn't speak much yet but she's keeping up with her lessons and always helping out with cleaning duties. It's a delight to have her," Sebastian answered, his face lighting up the way it only did when he was speaking about his young charges. Madzie smiled shyly up at him, and he beamed back at her.
After Sebastian had said his goodbyes, Alec put on his hat and took Madzie's hand, intending to drop her home and check on Maryse. "I don't want to go back," Madzie immediately said. "Nana is angry."
Alec hesitated. "You know, I think you might be right. Shall we go to Magnus' instead?"
And that was how Alec found himself knocking on the back door of the Pandemonium, half hoping that it wouldn't be Magnus who answered the door. Of course, luck had never been Alec's strong suit.
"Is something wrong?" Magnus asked when he greeted them at the door.
"I think my mother is ill. Could you...?"
"Of course. Come here, sweetpea," Magnus smiled at Madzie and dramatically swept the little girl off her feet, and she giggled in delight.
"I'll come over to pick her up after dinner."
"Oh, she can stay the night. If it gets too loud for her to sleep, I'll get Raph to kick everyone out by midnight if I have to," Magnus assured him. "How's the shoulder?"
I care about you. The memory of the dream surfaced, and Alec's gaze flickered to Magnus' lips before he could stop himself. Magnus' expression immediately became more guarded, because of course he had noticed - he always noticed.
"It's better," Alec managed to answer.
"That's good to hear. Now, I'm afraid you'll have to excuse me - I promised Ragnor to help him with the inventory of the whiskey," Magnus said with a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes.
"Of course," Alec replied, doffed his hat and left. He knew better than to stick around where he wasn't wanted.
Alec turned around in surprise.
"I never did thank you properly for coming to my rescue," Magnus said.
"Just doing my duty," Alec replied gruffly, and tried not to read too much into the slight slump in Magnus' shoulders when he shut the door.
The kitchen in the Lightwood house was quiet when Alec arrived home when Maryse would usually have been busy with dinner, the dishes from breakfast left unwashed in the dry sink. Sensing something was amiss, Alec dashed up the stairs to Maryse's room, and found her lying on the bed, pale and sweating and shivering. The room was dark, heavy curtains drawn against the daylight, and there was a sour smell of sickness in the room.
"Mother! What happened?" Alec asked in shock. He tried to think back to remember if Maryse had shown any signs of illness before this, but to tell the truth he had been too preoccupied with his own troubles.
"Alec," Maryse's eyes rounded when she saw him, her grip on his arm almost painful. "Did the doctor give you anything for your shoulder?"
"I didn't take the laudanum," Alec replied, immediately realising what was going on. Maryse released him and sighed, lying back down on bed. "How long has this been going on?"
Maryse turned her face away from him, and did not answer.
"Mother, please. Let me help you."
When Maryse turned back to look at him, there were tears in her eyes. "How much do you remember of your father's death?"
Alec had been 18 years old then. His father had gone to Deadwood alone for his biweekly sermon, a trip that Alec and Jace usually made with him. They'd hung around to listen when they were younger, but when they had gotten older Jace had gotten restless and Robert Lightwood had allowed them to wander the town unsupervised, provided Alec promised to keep them both out of trouble and both of them promised not to tell Maryse that he had allowed it. There had been an urgent message from Dr Starkweather, who had been a resident of Deadwood back then, and Maryse had gone on her own to bring back her husband's body. Maryse Lightwood had never been the same after that.
"You said he was accidentally shot by a drunk," Alec replied.
Maryse shook her head slowly, as if the memory still pained her. "His heart gave out. He died in the bed of a prostitute. It turns out he had been giving her master large amounts of money for years, in hopes of buying her freedom - so that he could run away with her."
Alec didn't know what to say to that, so he took Maryse's hand. All those times Robert Lightwood had sent Alec and Jace away to run wild in Deadwood... no wonder he had made them promise not to tell Maryse. They had unwittingly played a part in this deception, providing a cover for his affair.
"I had trouble sleeping after that, so Dr Starkweather prescribed laudanum. I was so ashamed, but he already knew the circumstances surrounding your father's death, and he was the only person who I thought would understand. Before I knew it, I was taking the laudanum not just for sleeping, but just to be able to go about with my day."
"And Dr Starkweather's supplies have run out?" Alec asked. "I would ask Dr Whitewillow for you, but perhaps this might be a good chance to quit."
Maryse laughed hollowly. "Dr Starkweather's supplies haven't run out. Victor Aldertree is making sure he doesn't give me any until I've made you withdraw that truancy law."
"What?!" Alec stared at his mother in shock.
"That's not the first time he's used it against me. I've done things I'm not proud of," Maryse admitted, her eyes red but dry now. "He tried to force me to make Isabelle marry him. He wanted to shut down the Pandemonium. Although, at that time, I thought it might be for the best - Aldertree is a powerful man in this town, and Isabelle would never need to worry about money if she married him. And the Pandemonium would just be another place for Jace to throw his life away. I only wanted what was best for all of you."
"I'm going to kill the bastard," Alec said through gritted teeth.
"Alec, you mustn't be hasty. It's not just the laudanum - he could expose what Robert did all those years ago, it would tarnish the Lightwood family name," Maryse said in alarm.
"To hell with the family name," Alec growled. "He's not getting away with this. I won't stand to have scum like him in my town, not when he thinks he has a hold on us. I'll get the laudanum for you, if it makes you ill to go without it. I'll say it's for my shoulder."
"No, Alec. You're right, it's time to put an end to this," Maryse said, taking a deep breath. "We're Lightwoods. We'll do what needs to be done and accept the consequences, come hell or high water."
Victor Aldertree's bank had the very high-sounding name and verbose name of "Aldertree & Langford's Merchants and Miners Emporium of Gold, Bills and Exchange", a name that must surely have been thought up by Aldertree's now deceased partner, Edward Langford. Alec was made to wait for a good half an hour, but he kept his cool throughout Aldertree's little power play, his anger simmering beneath the surface but well under control. He was glad that he hadn't brought Jace along.
Aldertree smiled smugly at Alec when he came in to his office. "I've been anticipating this talk of ours, Sheriff. A good, solid talk, man to man. What do you drink?"
"Clear headed! That's a good call - then I believe I won't either," Aldertree said, and sat down behind his desk. He indicated the seat in front of him. "Have a seat, please." Alec sat down and pinned Aldertree with a hard look, waiting for him to make the first move.
"Now - we're both busy men, so I think you'll appreciate if I get straight to the point. Withdrawing the truancy law is no skin off your back. After all, the little girl you and your new friend Mr Bane have taken in is safe now," Aldertree said with his lips curled in a sneer.
"Why do you care whether the law is passed or not? You have no children of your own to press into labour."
"Mine production is dwindling. Children can go into places an adult cannot reach, especially in the places where the tunnels have collapsed. Or, as the lovely Mrs Monteverde has pointed out, we might not be a gold town forever. We will need able little hands for other things - sawmills, factories... You see, I only have the town's greater interests in mind."
"So the town prospers, and people come in, and all the gold you sunk into buying land and raising buildings doesn't go to waste like it would have if the town withered and died - is that it?"
"That is a favourable side effect, yes," Aldertree shrugged.
"I'm the law in this town, Mr Aldertree. And maybe that don't mean much to you because you think are above the law. But we're a rough town, and the men like to take the law into their own hands," Alec said evenly.
"What are you trying to say, Sheriff?" Aldertree asked, face stony.
"I'm saying that the rumour mill spins both ways. You can put it out that the late Reverend slept with whores, and maybe people lose a bit of respect for a dead man. What do you think would happen, though, if someone put out a rumour that the bank's been investing the gold it's been entrusted with on failed speculation? What happens if a rumour starts going around that the person who's been diddling with the gold is the owner of the assay building himself? I think you'll stand to lose more than a bit of respect."
"You have no proof," Aldertree said, but there was a fine sheen of sweat on his brow now.
"And neither do you. All you have is a doctor who's been drugging an old lady, and a business partner who died under suspicious circumstances. It's your word against mine. And in case you've forgotten, I was elected into office - the folk of this town chose me as their Sheriff."
"I didn't take you for a gambling man, Sheriff," Aldertree finally said. "But as it happens, Edward's brother Robert Langford is making his way out into the Hills, due to arrive any day now. I'm sure he will be pleased to buy out my share of the business before I leave for Cheyenne."
"Fair enough. But once he's here, I want you out of my town," Alec said, standing up and getting ready to leave.
"Don't think I'm leaving just because of your threats, though," Aldertree said quickly. "Mark my words - Nephilim Falls' days are numbered. I'm just cutting my losses."
"Whatever helps you sleep at night," Alec told him, and left.
I'm so sorry for the late update, been a bit caught up in SH Hiatus Big Bang stuff. I'll try to be a bit more timely for the next chapter!
Magnus had missed having Madzie around. It had been difficult to visit her when she had been living with the Lightwoods, but now that Maryse was indisposed, the only natural solution had been to have Madzie stay at the Pandemonium. It had only been a few weeks since her father's passing, but already Madzie seemed like a different child - she was less shy, having warmed up to most of the other crew of the Pandemonium as well, and it was clear that she enjoyed her time in school. She was cheerful, playful, and even her throwing her first temper tantrum had pleased Magnus in a way - that she was confident enough to demand something, to expect more than what she already had. And maybe he spoiled her a little bit - but could anybody blame him?
Few knew of the true reason for Maryse's sickness of course, but Alec had told Magnus, and Magnus had not been blind to how much that meant - for Alec to trust him with this, for Alec to share a small part of the many burdens he carried with him constantly. In less than three months, they had gone from being at each others' throats to working together in council meetings and caring for little Madzie - being friends, at least, even if Alec couldn't find it in himself to admit that they could be something more.
The hours they ran at the Pandemonium were not terribly conducive to a small child's schedule, but they made do. Magnus' days fell into a rhythm revolving around Madzie. Magnus would wake up after only a few hours of sleep to help get Madzie ready for school, before heading back to bed, then waking up in time to pick Madzie up. Sometimes the other crew in the Pandemonium took turns sending Madzie to school or picking her up, or the school teacher Sebastian would obligingly send her back. And on most days, Alec would drop by after his duties at the Sheriff's office were done, to bring Madzie to visit "Nana", as Madzie had taken to calling Maryse, and bring her back in time for bed.
But every time Alec came around, Magnus felt his walls go up, and despite the fact that he now saw Alec almost every day, the distance between them seemed unbreachable. Magnus had promised himself that he wasn't going to hold it against Alec for not remembering his drunken promise, but he was only human. It wasn't even the memory of the heated kiss they had shared that was haunting Magnus, but the tender press of lips into his palm - it would have been easier to ignore this feeling if it had just been a matter of physical desire. And because of how it was with Alec, this was one relationship where Magnus could not be the pursuer, where he could only let Alec set the pace.
Magnus had to thank Lady Luck for sending Madzie his way. Without her to focus his attentions on, he didn't know what would have become of his heart.
One morning, Magnus was sitting in front of his dresser, applying the kohl around his eyes and getting ready for the day - because even if he was desperately sleepy, Magnus still had standards - when there was a soft knock on the door, and Madzie came in.
"Magnus, could you do my hair today?" Madzie asked him, holding out some hair ribbons.
"Of course," Magnus replied, surprised. Usually it was either Maia or Clary who did Madzie's hair, since she slept in their room now, but Magnus wasn't too bad at it, if he said so himself. He sat her down on a stool and brushed her hair - still baby soft, despite everything - and carefully plaited it into a braid, revelling in this moment of quiet morning calm. "All done, love."
"Could you draw my eyes pretty like yours, too?" she asked, and Magnus chuckled.
"Maybe when you're a little older."
"Alec said the eyes are windows into the soul," Madzie chirped. "And he said your eyes are the prettiest eyes he has ever seen. What's a soul, Magnus?"
"Did he, now?" Magnus murmured. "You might have to ask Alec to explain what he means by that. And now it's time to go to school, because Mr Verlac will frown at me again if we're late."
God, Alec was going to be the death of him. There was only so much of this his heart could take.
His mother was asleep by the time he'd returned home from sending Madzie back to the Pandemonium. There was colour in her cheeks again, and the tremors in her limbs were much less, according to Izzy. With luck, despite her age, Maryse Lightwood would be able to beat the addiction in another couple of weeks, and Alec wouldn't have to see Magnus every single day, and be reminded of all the things he couldn't have.
He knocked on Izzy's door, hoping to talk to her about Maryse's condition, but the door swung open at his touch to reveal an empty room and neatly made bed. He frowned and quietly searched the house, but it was completely empty. He didn't have to wonder where Jace was, but where could Izzy have disappeared to? He sat alone in the dark kitchen, thinking. During the two days that he had been forced to stay at the Pandemonium, it hadn't escaped his notice that Izzy was always going off, ostensibly to look for Clary and Maia - except that he would then hear Clary's voice coming from downstairs, practicing her singing with Simon. He had a sneaking suspicion that both his siblings were at the Pandemonium tonight - Jace for Clary, and Izzy for Maia. And wouldn't it be a pretty pickle, that all the three Lightwood siblings had left their hearts in the Pandemonium?
He sat there waiting for Izzy until it was past one. As expected she was dressed in her boy's clothes, and before she noticed him sitting there, Alec caught a glimpse of her face, looking almost giddy with delight. Then she saw him, and let out a small scream.
"You'll wake Mother," Alec hushed her.
"Alec! Why in hell are you sitting here in the dark?" Izzy gasped.
"Where were you?" Alec asked.
"None of your business," Izzy said defiantly, taking off her coat and shaking her long hair loose of the tight bun she'd twisted it into to better hide it under the hat.
She was already making her way up the stairs to her room when Alec asked her, "Does she make you happy, Iz?"
Izzy stilled and turned to face him, searching his face for judgement or censure, then finally said, "She does."
"And it's mutual? Your understanding with each other."
"Then I'm glad for you, Izzy," Alec told her, getting up and stretching, his bad shoulder aching after sitting in the same posture for too long. "Go to sleep soon, alright? It's late."
She hesitated, then said, "Do you know what would make me even happier? If you would allow yourself to be happy too."
"Don't, Iz," Alec sighed. "It's not a matter of what I allow myself or not."
"Have you actually tried talking to him?"
"I don't need to," Alec said gruffly.
Izzy huffed in frustration. "And how do you expect to come to an understanding with each other if neither of you will even talk to each other? For two otherwise intelligent men, the both of you really are exceedingly stupid," she said, before flouncing off upstairs.
Magnus didn't know why he hadn't seen the trap for what it was until it was too late. For one, Ragnor did not believe in rest days, so it should have been unconceivable that he should have decided to declare one for the Pandemonium. The second clue should have been how everyone seemed to have plans that conveniently removed them from the premises, and Isabelle and Maia helpfully offering to take care of Madzie for the day. Magnus had just been glad to have a chance to catch up on his sleep, and hadn't thought much of it until he was awoken by an insistent knocking on the back door of the Pandemonium. The sun had barely began to set - somehow he had managed to sleep the whole day away. Magnus dressed quickly, and threw open the door to find Alec standing on the steps.
"Alexander. To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"Is Jace here? I noticed you aren't open today."
"No, we're not. Ragnor decided everyone deserved a day off," Magnus said, and stepped aside. "Why don't you come inside?"
"Where's everyone?" Alec asked, sitting down at one of the tables.
"Off somewhere - I forget," Magnus said, frowning as it began to dawn on him that their friends and family had staged this whole meeting.
Alec seemed to realise what was happening at the same time, and stood up abruptly. "I should go."
Magnus couldn't respond to that - he couldn't find it in his heart to agree with Alec, but it would have taken too much out of his pride to ask Alec to stay if he didn't want to. Alec had taken his hat off when he'd come in, but he didn't put it back on, fidgeting with the rim of his hat.
"Magnus, of all the places in the world, why did you choose to come to Nephilim Falls?" Alec asked, and Magnus tried not to hear it as an accusation.
"I suppose you don't wind up in a place like this for no reason, do you?" Magnus murmured, and cleared his throat. "I was escaping from a broken heart."
"I see," Alec said, and he seemed to shrink in on himself. "You must have loved them very much."
"I thought I did," Magnus said, and was only mildly surprised to find that it was true, and that it no longer hurt to think about Camille.
"And you no longer do?"
"She loved my money more than she loved me, which was not an acceptable situation. You see, when I choose to be with someone, Alexander, they must want me like they can’t take another breath without me,” Magnus said archly, intending it as a joke.
“But I do want you like that,” Alec said quietly.
"I beg your pardon?" Magnus said in surprise, certain he had misheard.
"When I confronted Aldertree, he asked me if I was a gambling man. I'm not - and never have been. And loving someone, for someone like me, is a bigger gamble than most. But there comes a point when a man's got to stop arguing with himself. I don't want to fight it anymore," Alec said, meeting Magnus' eyes squarely. "I'm not telling you this because I expect you to return my feelings. I know you don't feel that way about me. I just... never mind. I apologise if this has made things between us uncomfortable, I hope we can still be friends-"
"Alexander, I thought I made myself clear how I felt about you the night Elias hurt you," Magnus interrupted him gently. "Don't you remember?"
It was Alec's turn to look surprised. "I thought I had a beautiful dream, where I kissed you and you kissed me back," Alec whispered.
"Oh, Alexander. It wasn't a dream," Magnus said, stepping closer to Alec, his heart breaking at the thought that he had never even considered that Alec might think himself unworthy of being loved. "And maybe love is a gamble, but some things you can't win at unless you take a risk and place your bets on the table."
"But when I was staying at the Pandemonium, you were obviously avoiding me," Alec said, bewildered.
"Only because I was trying to protect my own heart. I thought you'd forgotten, you see," Magnus said.
"No, I promised you, didn't I?" Alec said. "I didn't forget."
"We've been such fools," Magnus said with a small laugh, and placed a hand on Alec's cheek, and Alec's breath hitched. Magnus took a deep breath. "Would you like to come upstairs?"
Magnus had never had a lover touch him this way, with such reverence, as if he were something holy or sacred. Alec was slow and methodical as he undid the many buttons on Magnus' waistcoat and shirt, and despite the thrumming desire running through his body, Magnus willed himself to be patient.
"I've never seen anybody as beautiful as you," Alec said, his hands lingering lightly on Magnus' skin as if he was afraid that if he allowed himself to touch Magnus properly, he would wake up from the dream.
"Are you not in possession of a mirror, Alexander?" Magnus teased him lightly.
Alec's mouth twitched just a little into a small smile, then he slipped a finger under Magnus' chin to draw him closer so that he could kiss him sweetly.
Off came Alec's shirt as well, then both of their trousers and underthings, and Magnus pressed Alec down into the bed, mindful of his healing shoulder. They shared kisses that were soft and slow, a simple pressing of lips, that then ignited into deeper, more urgent kisses, tongues sliding against each other as they pressed their bare bodies into each other. Magnus broke off first, only to start tracing the shell of Alec's ear with his tongue.
"Let me take care of you," Magnus murmured.
Alec watched him, wide eyed like he was afraid to blink, as Magnus pressed kisses down Alec’s body - lavishing attention on his neck and chest, the tantalisingly flat abdomen, then past his navel. Magnus ran his hands down Alec's thighs, spreading them to make a space for him to kneel between his legs, and Alec shivered. Magnus kissed his way up Alec's inner thighs and around his hip bones until Alec was vibrating with need - then he took Alec into his mouth. Alec's shocked gasp of pleasure went straight to Magnus' groin.
"Magnus, I- god," Alec whispered, one hand finding the back of Magnus' head and running a hand gently through Magnus' hair.
Alec was still warring with himself, biting down on his own lips in an effort to stay silent as Magnus licked and sucked and kissed his leaking erection, and Magnus was having none of that. He dedicated himself to making Alec lose his self-control, teasing with lips and tongue until Alec was bucking up and thrusting artlessly into his waiting mouth, encouraging Alec to be selfish in the pursuit of his own pleasure. Then Magnus took him deeper still, until he could hardly breathe from the weight of Alec pressing into his throat, and Alec arched up with a cry of Magnus' name.
Magnus kept his mouth on Alec until he had drank every last drop of him, and Alec was boneless and moaning brokenly under him, then slowly kissed his way up his body until he could look into Alec’s eyes.
"Magnus," Alec whispered, voice rough, and he spoke it like a benediction to a saint.
His hand was still in Magnus' hair; he pulled him closer, hungry lips seeking to capture Magnus' with his own. Alec moaned at the bitter-salty taste of himself on Magnus' tongue, and kissed him harder. One of his legs lodged itself between Magnus' thighs, pressing up against the sensitive spot behind Magnus' testicles, and Magnus ground himself down on it, giving himself over to the pleasure of Alec's gentle exploration of his body. Lips on his neck, tongue tasting the salt of his skin and the hard nubs of his nipples, and hands tracing the curves and lines of his body until they finally wrapped around his length and stroked him to completion as he cried out Alec's name against his shoulder.
"I never expected it to feel like this," Alec said, when he'd finally found his voice again.
"And how does it feel like?" Magnus asked curiously.
"Like everything is right with the world, and I've finally found my place in it," he said, and Magnus smiled, a hand reaching out to find Alec's.
"Because you have, Alexander - and it's right here, next to me."
A rumour began to spread in Nephilim Falls. Word was that the three eligible Lightwood siblings had all fallen in love, even if their choices were somewhat scandalous. Isabelle Lightwood did not seem to care about the stares she got walking around town on the arm of the owner of the Pandemonium, and the news that her two brothers had found themselves bedfellows in the two dancing girls that entertained the crowds of men at the Pandemonium every night was shocking to say the least. Everyone knew the adopted Lightwood had been going to the Pandemonium every night since its opening to gawk at the redhead, so that was no surprise. But for the upstanding Sheriff to abruptly take a shine to someone who was practically a high-class prostitute had certainly set tongues wagging. There was no denying, though, that on several occasions the Sheriff had been seen coming and going at the Pandemonium when the gambling hall hadn't been open for business - so that was that.
"You hate this, don't you? All the sneaking around and lying," Alec asked Magnus. The sun wasn't up yet, and their bodies were bare under the sheets except for a light sheen of sweat, having just spent themselves making love to each other.
Magnus' hand slipped around Alec's hips, pulling him closer until they were almost touching - so close that his skin tingled from the warmth radiating from Alec across the half-inch of space between them. He kissed Alec tenderly, and shook his head. "I'm not used it, yes. In the big city, it was easier to go unnoticed. But I understand why it's necessary in this town."
"My whole life, I've never found it as difficult to have to hide who I am, than now that I have you. And I hate that we will always have to hide like this," Alec whispered vehemently into the crook of Magnus' neck. "When will this end? Will I actually have to marry Maia, and will Izzy have to marry you so that we can preserve this farce?"
"That would not be ideal, even if it's just pretend," Magnus agreed. "I don't think I would be able to stand seeing you at the altar with someone else."
"I'm so sorry, Magnus."
"This isn't your fault, Alexander," Magnus said gently. "It will take a lot more than two people being in love to change the world."
"You've changed mine," Alec replied seriously.
"And you, mine," Magnus promised him. "Don't think so much about it - just let it bring us where we're meant to go."
Alec sighed into Magnus' shoulder, arms tightening around him.
"Let us go back to sleep, Alexander. The sun is rising, and we will have to start our day soon. I don't think Mr Verlac will take very kindly to me bringing Madzie in late for the fourth time this week.
"Then maybe we shouldn't go back to sleep, so that we won't wake up late," Alec murmured, nuzzling at the sensitive spot under Magnus' jaw.
"Indeed? Then whatever shall we do instead?" Magnus smirked, then moaned and arched into Alec when he reached downwards to take Magnus in his hand.
"Make up for lost time," Alec replied, and kissed him.
The stranger rode into Nephilim Falls on a tall black horse. The town was small enough that if Alec had had a few more hours, he would have heard the news before anything happened. As it was, the stranger seemed to know exactly where he could find his quarry.
Alec only knew that trouble was upon them when he heard the shouting out on Main Street. He stepped out in time to see Sebastian Verlac running down the muddy street as fast as he could, his soiled clothes evidence of the number of times he had already stumbled and fallen. He was obviously running towards the sheriff's office, and was just close enough for Alec to see his expression of terror. A man on horseback came round the corner and onto Main Street, hot on his heels, and Alec reached for his gun at the movement. Sebastian's eyes met Alec's, and he opened his mouth, maybe to cry for help - when a shot rang out. Sebastian jerked like a puppet whose strings had been cut and flew a few feet to land face down in the mud, his blood rapidly pooling out of his body to mix with the filth in the street. There were some screams from the people in the shops and houses along Main Street. Alec didn't need to check him to know that he was dead - the bullet had hit him in the centre of his neck.
It was the middle of the school day - Alec's first thought was for the children. Across the street he saw Jace coming out of the Pandemonium. They both had their revolvers out and pointed at the stranger, who had dismounted and was walking towards them without a hint of fear on his face even as he held both his hands up, open palmed. He bore a passing resemblance to the recently-deceased Sebastian Verlac - blue eyes, blond hair, and a sharp pointed face - but was closer to Jace in build.
"Who the fuck are you?" Alec growled, fingers itching to pull the trigger first and ask questions later.
"Jonathan Morgenstern," the man said, looking Alec up and down, then adjusting the sneer on his face to something a little less belligerent when he noticed Alec's badge. "Bounty hunter, and sharp shooter - at your service, Sheriff."
"Morgenstern," Alec repeated, frowning. He knew that name.
"Yes - my father is the notorious outlaw Valentine Morgenstern," the bounty hunter admitted readily. "He is the reason I became a bounty hunter."
Alec nodded at Jace, indicating that he had the situation under control, and Jace reluctantly ran off in the direction of the schoolhouse.
"Don't worry yourself, Sheriff. I didn't touch a hair on their little heads," Jonathan Morgenstern said. "My only target was this man here."
"You have some nerve, coming here and shooting a man in broad daylight," Alec said, his revolver still trained on the bounty hunter.
"I have a legal warrant," he shrugged. "Shot him fair and square, and did the public's welfare."
"What did he do that warranted you putting him down like a rabid dog in the streets?" Alec asked disbelievingly.
"He stole a horse back in Cheyenne," Morgenstern said. "You know that's a hanging offense. He skipped town before the law could get to him, but by a lucky coincidence an old friend of mine told me he'd run out here to be a teacher. You might know this friend of mine - Victor Aldertree. Good man."
Alec gritted his teeth, the guilt rising like bile in his throat. If he hadn't run Aldertree out of Nephilim Falls... "I'm going to need to see that warrant."
"Of course," the bounty hunter said with an unfriendly smile that was all teeth. "Just as soon as I've collected my proof."
He took out a wicked-looking blade from his belt, and nonchalantly reached down to grab Sebastian's corpse by his long blond hair. The force of the lead shot had torn through most of his neck, leaving the head attached to the rest of the body by only a few inches of muscle and skin. Morgenstern sawed through that with his knife, then swung a leather bag off his shoulder and placed the head in it. Alec was no soft-bellied weakling, but that was too much even for him. Sebastian Verlac had been kind and gentle, and a friend. He didn't deserve to die like this. Alec put his gun back in his belt and went back to his office to try to hide how deeply rattled he was, taking care not to walk with his back to Jonathan Morgenstern.
Alec was seated behind his desk when Jonathan Morgenstern strolled in, the leather bag on his shoulder bouncing a bit as he walked. Alec eyed him warily, careful to keep his face impassive, hand hovering over the handle of his revolver under the table - although with his shoulder still busted up, he wasn't sure he could draw faster than the self-professed sharp shooter who was sitting down in the chair across him. That had been one hell of a shot from a moving horse.
The bounty hunter took out a neatly folded sheet of paper signed and stamped by the Sheriff of Cheyenne, the legal warrant for Sebastian Verlac's arrest, and handed it to Alec. Then, before Alec could do more than skim through the paper, Morgenstern placed the bag containing Sebastian Verlac's head - mercifully tied shut at the top by a piece of rawhide - on Alec's desk.
Alec glared at him. "What the fuck is the meaning of this?"
"This head is worth two hundred dollars back in Cheyenne - but I've just got here, and I don't fancy riding all the way back. You saw me shoot him myself. So how about you give me the two hundred dollars right here?"
"Sebastian Verlac's head isn't worth a nickel in Nephilim Falls," Alec said, jaws clenched so hard they were starting to hurt, pointedly refusing to even look at the bag on his desk.
"You could arrange it to be," Morgenstern said, sounding bored. "Tell you what - let's make it a hundred and fifty, and I'll even throw in the bag as well."
"I'm not giving you a single speck of gold dust. If you want your blood money, you'll have to go back to Cheyenne, Mr Morgenstern," Alec said coldly.
"Fine," Morgenstern snapped. "But I'm not forgetting who caused me this inconvenience, Sheriff." He got up from his seat, and thankfully picked up his bag with his the gruesome trophy from Alec's table. "I hope there's a hotel in this town."
Alec scowled. "You're not planning on staying, are you?"
"Oh, not for long. The longer I stay in this heat, the less this is going to be recognisable as Sebastian Verlac," Jonathan Morgenstern replied, indicating the bag in his hand. "But since I'm here, I might as well sample what this town has to offer - I hear the dancing girls in the gambling hall across your office are quite the jewels of the Hills."
"You have until sundown to clear out of my town, Mr Morgenstern. And if I see your face around town after sundown, you'll wish you listened to me. Is that understood?" Alec growled.
Something ugly flickered across Jonathan Morgenstern's face before he got himself under control. "It almost sounds like you have something to hide, Sheriff," he said with a thin smile. "You forget that you and I operate on the same side of the law. Most sheriffs would be grateful that I captured a dangerous criminal hiding in their midst."
"I'm afraid I don't take kindly to people coming into my town and shooting my school teacher's head off. Horse thief or not, Sebastian Verlac was well-liked in this town - and I wouldn't say the same for you," Alec replied icily.
Morgenstern's lips curled up in contempt. "That's too bad then, because you haven't seen the last of me. Good day, Sheriff."
After he'd left, Alec had to fight the urge to scrub every surface that he had touched.
Jace had made sure that all the children had been sent home safely to their parents. They had been frightened, but not overly so - from what Alec understood from Jace's report, when Sebastian had seen the bounty hunter in the window of the schoolhouse, he'd told the children to hide themselves and gone out to meet his death by drawing Morgenstern away from the schoolhouse. They removed Sebastian Verlac's broken body from the streets as quickly as they could before the children could see it, with Lydia and John volunteering to help arrange for the poor man's funeral since he had no next of kin. Alec would see to it that he had a proper grave, too - no potter's field or pauper's grave for him, no matter what they said he'd done in Cheyenne.
Once he was sure Jonathan Morgenstern had left Nephilim Falls, Alec made his way to the Pandemonium to check on Madzie. Much to his surprise, he was greeted at the door by Raphael.
"Is he gone?" Raphael asked sharply.
"Yes," Alec replied. "Is everything ok? Is Madzie...?"
"Madzie's fine, she's with Magnus. But it might be best that you're not here today, Sheriff."
"What? Why?" Alec frowned. "Raphael, if something is going on-"
"This is not your business."
"You're Magnus' family. If something has happened to anyone in the Pandemonium, it is my business," Alec said stubbornly.
Raphael glared at him, and Alec glared back.
"Fine," Raphael finally said. "But only if you keep this a secret from your brother."
Alec frowned, but nodded after a moment's hesitation.
Madzie was taking a nap in Magnus' room. "I haven't told her about what's happened to Sebastian yet - I thought that given her past, we might just want to say that he had to leave to visit his family," Magnus told Alec in a low voice.
"Why didn't Raphael want me in here?"
"It's to do with Clary," Magnus sighed. "I'm not sure she wants anybody else to know."
"It's the bounty hunter, isn't it?" Alec asked. "Is Clary... is she an outlaw?"
Magnus made a face at that. "Maybe it'd be better if she told you herself. I think this is one of those things where it might be best to have the town's sheriff on your side."
Magnus went into the room Clary and Maia shared, and came out after a few minutes, beckoning Alec in. Alec stood near the doorway, uncertain about the propriety of being in a lady's bedroom. Maia and Simon were on either side of Clary, hugging her, but Clary wasn't crying - just shaken. Even though she was seeing his brother, Alec had not had much opportunity to talk to her. She met his questioning gaze squarely though, and pulled herself upright.
"Who is Jonathan Morgenstern to you?" Alec asked, hoping very much that he wasn't some husband she had fled from.
"He's my brother," Clary said, her voice trembling very slightly.
"Your brother? But that means-" Alec stared at her.
"My real name is Clarissa Morgenstern," she said in a small voice. "My father is Valentine Morgenstern, and my brother - my brother is a monster."
"I have never met Valentine Morgenstern - he left our mother before I was born. Our mother brought us up all on her own, but maybe there's something evil that runs in our blood, because Jonathan had always had a streak of cruelty in him," Clary continued, hugging herself. "The number of times I found him pulling the wings off insects when we were children... then gutting stray dogs and cats when we were a little older. Ma never did have the time to do much about him, she was trying so hard to earn enough to feed a family of three."
"The worst of it was that Jonathan could be charming when he wanted to be. He always knew the right people to be friends with, and he's smart enough to never find himself on the wrong side of the law. If he wanted someone dead, if anyone made him angry, he'd find a way to get a warrant for it."
Alec wondered if this was what had happened to Sebastian. Then he wondered if when Jonathan Morgenstern next rode into Nephilim Falls, he would have a new warrant - for Alec's own head.
"And you ran away to get away from your brother?" Alec asked.
"Jonathan has it in his head that if he has me by his side, we'll be able to find our father together. I honestly do not know if he means to join him or to kill him - but after our mother died, I didn't stay to find out."
"You think he knows you are here?" Alec asked, thinking back to his conversation with Jonathan Morgenstern - if he had spoken to Victor Aldertree, he might have heard about the dancing girl in the Pandemonium with the striking red hair. And he had mentioned wanting to visit the Pandemonium...
"I know he knows I am here," Clary replied with a shiver. "We are bound by blood, for better or for worse. He wouldn't have come all the way out here for Sebastian Verlac."
"I think you don't know Jace very well if you think he's going to mind any of that," Alec said, and Clary smiled sadly.
"Oh, I know he's not going to mind. I don't want to tell him, because I'm leaving Nephilim Falls."
"We're going to New York," Ragnor said.
"What?" Alec said, and heard Magnus echo his exclamation only a split second later.
"When was this decided?" Magnus said angrily. Alec shot a look at Maia - she met his gaze squarely, and didn't seem at all surprised by the announcement, which meant she had been part of this decision. Alec felt his anger rising, that she could break Izzy's heart so casually...
"It was the only logical decision," Ragnor replied evenly.
"I told you we were better off just making a killing in this town, then moving on," Raphael said. "If we don't keep moving, the past has a habit of catching up."
"But it's just going to be me, Raph, Clary and Ragnor," Simon added quickly. "Maia is staying, and we assumed Magnus would want to stay as well."
Magnus looked stunned. "But..."
"You have your own family now, Magnus," Clary said gently. "You have Madzie, and Alec. And Maia will be staying here as well, with Izzy."
Family. The thought alone was making Alec's head swim - that Magnus was now part of his family, and Madzie too. In the short space of a few months, Magnus had turned his life around. All the things he had never even dared to dream of, things he had assumed he could never have...
"We will have to close the Pandemonium, of course. But I've done the calculations, and we won't be losing any money even if we leave now. In fact, after we sell this place, we'll even have a tidy little sum to tide us over while I find us a new place in New York," Ragnor said.
"Ragnor, I-" Magnus looked around at the faces of his little found family, words lost in his throat.
"Jonathan Morgenstern will be back, I'm sure, but it'll take him a while to get back here from Cheyenne. I estimate that we have about a week to get our affairs in order," Raphael said.
Ragnor nodded. "The four of us-"
"Five," Alec interrupted. "I am almost certain that you will find that Jace will not be taking 'no' for an answer."
"Do you really think so?" Clary asked, quiet but hopeful. "But his family is here..."
"Only one way to find out - you must tell him," Alec replied. "But I think you'll find that his family is not just the Lightwoods. And, well - all of us will be sorry to have to see you leave."
"Is that your way of saying we are your family too, Sheriff?" Ragnor asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Don't push it, Fell," Alec muttered
There was some laughter and smiles all around at that, and even Clary smiled a little, but Alec could not help noticing that Magnus' brows remained furrowed.
It was decided that Magnus would handle the sale of the Pandemonium. There was no sense sticking around tempting fate, so the other things - furniture, and the bulk of everybody's personal belongings - would be sent to New York on the freight train when Ragnor had a proper address for Magnus. They arranged to give both Clary and Maia some privacy to break the news to Jace and Izzy respectively, and after that there were plenty of tears all around, especially between Clary and Izzy, who had become very close.
"It seems only fair that you should take care of my sister, and I, your brother," Clary had said through tears.
"Oh, but Clary - you are my sister too! I only wish we could have seen you and Jace married before you had to leave. I would have made you the most beautiful dress, and you would have been the prettiest bride," Izzy declared.
That night, in the quiet of Magnus' bedroom as they got undressed for bed, Alec found Magnus sitting at his dresser staring down at his cuff buttons as if he had forgotten their purpose. Magnus had been uncharacteristically quiet since the rest of the Pandemonium crew had announced their intentions to leave, and Alec feared that he knew exactly why.
"You do know that you do not have to stay behind in Nephilim Falls with me?" Alec told him quietly.
"No, it's not that," Magnus said, startled. "It's just... did you know that I grew up with Ragnor? My father travelled all over the world, and I travelled with him. Ragnor's father was in business with my father, so I saw him often, and sometimes we were all each other had for company while our fathers were busy."
"He is more than your best friend. He is your brother."
"He is both - the way it is between you and Jace. I know you will miss him too, when he leaves."
"Yes," Alec admitted. "But it's not like I can leave Nephilim Falls. I'm the Sheriff."
"I know, and that's why I am staying," Magnus said, turning around to face Alec properly. "You are my heart, Alexander. There is nowhere I would rather be than to be by your side."
Alec sat down on the edge of the bed and reached out to take Magnus' hand, his heart overflowing with the emotion that statement had brought about. "But you still seem troubled - beyond the fact that the rest of them are leaving for New York."
Magnus sighed and looked out of the window. There wasn't much of a view, just the back view of rows and rows of ramshackle buildings along Main Street. He curled his fingers around Alec's hand. "I've got a feeling - a premonition."
Alec frowned. Magnus was not one prone to dark thoughts and black feelings, the way some people were - even when things got rough, Magnus almost always found the silver lining. "What about?"
"I don't think Clary can run from this forever. Her brother is going to realise what happened, that we helped her get away from him, and he is going to raze Nephilim Falls to the ground - before he goes after her again," Magnus said.
"He's going to have to get through me first," Alec said grimly.
"And that's exactly what I'm afraid of," Magnus said softly.
"There's nothing to worry about, Magnus. I'm not going to let a bastard like Jonathan Morgenstern be the one to take me down," Alec said. "You know I am a careful man. I promise you, I will do all in my power to see that he doesn't harm anybody we love."
"You can't make promises like that when a madman is involved," Magnus shook his head. "I've almost lost you once already."
"I don't know what I can say to ease your fears," Alec admitted. "I can only repeat what you said to me - that we can only let it bring us where we're meant to go."
"Yes, I suppose you are right," Magnus said with a ghost of a smile. "I have been known to give very good advice."
Alec let out a huff of laughter, and flipped Magnus' wrist over to help him with the buttons on his sleeves, then those on his shirt. Magnus let Alec lead him to the bed, and they wrapped their arms around each other as Alec kissed his hair.
Magnus closed his eyes, then whispered, "I can't sleep. Help me not to think, please."
So Alec obliged, distracting him with lips and tongue and teeth, then later with the fervent rhythm of their bodies rocking against each other until the only thing on their minds was a rising litany of each other's names. And afterwards, Alec tried not to think about how it had felt too much like they were saying goodbye, not to the family that was leaving them, but to each other.
The crew of the Pandemonium were ready leave Nephilim Falls in four days. Since they could put it off no longer, the three Lightwood siblings decided that it was only right that they told their mother what was going on before Jace left with the train the next morning.
Magnus had brought Madzie out for a walk along the creek since there would be no school in session for some time yet. There were trout and frogs in the streams, and birds and chipmunks in the trees behind them, and the pair had a pleasant, peaceful afternoon, with the little girl collecting pretty rocks on the banks until the shadows grew long.
When they returned to town with Madzie sitting on Magnus' shoulders, however, Magnus felt a chill go down his spine - there was a black horse trailing its reins in front of the Pandemonium. He dropped Madzie off at the bakery with Lydia and John, then ran as swiftly as he could towards the Pandemonium. He knew Ragnor, Simon and Raphael had gone down to the train station to make the final arrangements for their departure, leaving Clary and Maia alone. He could only hope that since the horse was still there, and nobody had raised any alarms, that he was not too late.
He was halfway up the stairs, trying to climb them quickly and quietly, when there was the sound of a gun going off, and a scream.
He rushed into the girls' room and almost had his face blown off when the gun went off and splintered the door frame. He ducked to avoid a second shot, suddenly realising his folly - in his haste to get to the girls, he hadn't thought to bring a weapon. Maia and Clary were struggling with Jonathan Morgenstern, trying to wrestle the gun away from him, and from the broken furniture in the room, it looked like the girls had been putting up quite a fight. There was already a bruise blooming on Clary's cheek, her lips split and bloody, and both girls' hands were bloody no doubt from trying to claw at their attacker. Morgenstern himself was not unscathed - his sleeves were torn, and from the marks on his arms it looked like Maia had actually bitten him
Before Magnus could do more than take a few steps into the room, Clary's brother struck Maia across the face, sending her tumbling to floor where she cracked her head on the edge of a travelling trunk.
"Maia!" Clary cried out in horror when she did not move again.
Magnus picked up a chair lying on its side on the floor and smashed it on Morgenstern's head, making him stagger, but it was too filmsy to knock him out properly. Morgenstern turned on him with a snarl, already readying his revolver, when Clary grabbed her brother by the wrist. He flung her off easily, but Magnus took advantage of his distraction to lower his head and charge at Jonathan Morgenstern, catching him right in his middle and slamming him against the wall so hard that another shot went off harmlessly into the ceiling.
Four shots, Magnus counted grimly. That left at most one more in the barrel still. He twisted Morgenstern's wrist hard enough to loosen his grip, and Clary pried the gun out from her brother's hand.
"You stupid little bitch!" Morgenstern growled, and kicked Clary hard in the stomach - she crumpled to the ground with a whimper.
Morgenstern shoved at Magnus, trying to get to Clary and the gun, but Magnus thwarted him with a punch in the nose, and Morgenstern returned the favour with one that caught Magnus in the side of the head and made his ears ring. The two men grappled with each other, tripping over the detritus of the ruined room, but although they were both of similar build, Morgenstern had the advantage of being a more seasoned fighter than Magnus and soon had him by the throat.
"Well, well. You must be Magnus Bane, my sister's whore master," Morgenstern sneered. "I should slit your throat from ear to ear for that. Or maybe I should ask for my share of the profits you've reaped from getting her to spread her legs for all those men."
"What do you want with Clary?" Magnus wheezed, struggling to breathe.
"Two years, I've been searching for her - and from the looks of things, the bird almost flew the coop again," Morgenstern said. "It was a lucky thing I managed to get rid of Verlac's head in Fort Laramie for the full two hundred to another sheriff, one more inclined to honour the duty I did for the public than yours did. You see, Clary is mine - was mine from the moment she was born. And it's time I took back what belongs to me."
"You're not going to get away with this," Magnus gritted out. Surely Ragnor, Raphael and Simon would be returning soon - all he had to do was stall for time until the reinforcements came.
Morgenstern seemed to have arrived at the same conclusion - no matter how good a fighter he was, it would be a harder fight if he was outnumbered. "Of course I am. Were you hoping that your sheriff would come and save you? Oh yes, I heard all the stories from Aldertree, about your little friendship. Unfortunately, I've met enough sheriffs from small towns to know the type - preferably arriving at the scene in time to collect the prisoner alive before the crowd lynches the unfortunate bastard and makes a mess out of his paperwork, but late enough not to get shot at."
There was a sharp snick, and Morgenstern held his blade sideways in front of Magnus' nose. "You ain't got anyone around to protect you now. It's time to meet your maker, Magnus Bane."
The three Lightwood siblings exchanged glances over dinner, wondering how to broach the subject of Jace leaving with their mother. Maryse Lightwood had mellowed greatly after her convalescence and the exposure of Aldertree's plot, but old habits died hard - the three siblings had spent years with only each other for support, fearing the wrath of their mother for every thing they did in their lives. It wasn't like she could stop them from doing what they wanted, now that they were adults, but that habit of wanting their mother's approval died hard too.
The Lightwood matriarch observed her children quietly, then finally asked, "When do you three leave?"
"What?" her children replied in unison, staring at her in surprise.
"I've heard the talk in town that the people who run the Pandemonium are leaving Nephilim Falls. Were none of you going to tell me that you were leaving with them until you were gone?"
"I'm the only one who's leaving," Jace finally said.
"Why is that so?" Maryse asked, frowning.
"Maia and Magnus are both staying in Nephilim Falls," Izzy responded tentatively.
Maryse nodded at this, letting out a deep breath that they hadn't realised their mother had been holding in. Maryse turned to Jace and said, "I expect you to do right by that girl, and marry her properly. Is that understood?"
"I- Yes, ma'm," Jace replied, looking slightly dazed at this turn of events.
"I assumed that if Magnus Bane was leaving, that Madzie would leave with him. I must say I am glad to hear that he is staying after all," Maryse said stiffly. "Is he still going to be running that gambling hall all on his own?"
Alec cleared his throat. "He thought he might try to start a pony express, or a brickworks."
"Both greatly needed in Nephilim Falls," Maryse approved. "And much more respectable. At least if Isabelle marries him, it will be less of an embarrassment than being the wife of a gambler."
The Lightwood siblings kept quiet at that - no matter how much their mother had changed, there were some things they knew better than to tell her.
Just then, there was a frantic knocking at the door. Alec got up at once, Jace close behind him, and opened the door to find John Monteverde standing outside, looking beside himself with worry.
"What's wrong?" Alec frowned.
"Magnus dropped Madzie off with us with no explanation, and a few minutes ago we heard gunshots," John said. "And - there's a black horse outside the Pandemonium."
Magnus' lungs were on fire, and he was dizzy from all the blows he had taken in the face and head. Jonathan Morgenstern's grip around his throat would at the very least leave bruises, but it was the blade flashing in front of his face that was making his entire body seize up from the effort not to move, to not show how afraid he was. Perhaps if he could just summon the strength to kick Morgenstern somewhere where it would hurt with little effort...
"It's just too bad that I can't take my time with you, to carve you out piece by piece," Jonathan Morgenstern said conversationally. "Or perhaps I do have time - just a little. Shall we start with the eyes?"
Before he could bring up his blade to touch Magnus, there was a loud bang, and a hole was punched through the plaster and pine wall beside Magnus' shoulder, showering both him and Morgenstern with dust and splinters. Morgenstern barely flinched, but turned his head slowly to look at his sister behind him. Clary had the gun in her hand, her hands trembling but face determined, already trying to cock the gun for the next shot, not realising that the chambers were already empty.
"Such loyalty to your master - he must be moved," her brother laughed. He barely spared Magnus another glance before driving his knife viciously into Magnus' gut, then releasing Magnus to gasp and choke on the floor, so he could turn his attention fully on Clary.
Magnus was dimly aware of Clary backing away from her brother, but his entire focus was on the sharp spike of pain in his gut. His abdomen was on fire, a bright lick of flame spreading rapidly even as he pressed a hand to his wound. He could feel the blood spilling out of his body, warm and slippery, and he didn't have to look down to know that there was far too much of it. He couldn't have moved to help Clary even if he wanted to - all the muscles in his body had locked up, trapping him on his knees in this hunched position as he bled out onto the pinewood floor.
His mouth opened, but no words came out. What could he say, anyway?
He heard Clary scream. There was the sound of scuffling, a roar of rage from Jonathan Morgenstern, then the dull thud of a fist connecting, and Clary dropping to the floor. There was a grunt, and a pair of boots came into view. Magnus made one last desperate attempt to stop Morgenstern, letting go of his abdomen to grab at the bounty hunter's ankles, but all he got for his efforts was a sharp kick to his head that sent him sprawling.
"You've gotten your filthy blood on my boot," Morgenstern growled, and through his blurry vision Magnus saw that he had Clary in his arms, her head lolling backwards. Then he grinned cruelly at Magnus. "I hope it takes them a while to find you."
Magnus watched him leave, swallowing hard. The room was spinning, and the pain had faded into a distant thing. He pressed a trembling hand to the wound, but he couldn't feel his hand, or the place where the knife had gone in, all sensations turning meaningless.
Alexander, he thought, before everything went black.
"It can't be him," Jace was saying as they ran towards town. "He can't have gotten back from Cheyenne this quickly."
Alec didn't bother answering. They were running down Main Street now, and there was no black horse in sight, but that only meant that if it had indeed been Jonathan Morgenstern, they were too late to even catch him. There were certainly hoof prints in the mud, and fresh boot prints on the steps - Magnus' prints, Alec recognised. The door of the Pandemonium was hanging ajar.
"He took her," they heard someone say, and saw Lydia rushing towards them from the bakery with Madzie in her arms. "I saw her red hair from upstairs, but I couldn't stop him-"
Jace cursed, and immediately turned to go to the livery, but Isabelle stopped him with a hand on his arm. "He's too far now, and we need a plan. You can't go after him yourself," she said reasonably. By the time they turned around, Alec had already gone into the Pandemonium on his own.
It was too quiet in the Pandemonium. Alec knew at least Maia and Magnus were in here, and neither of them would have let Jonathan Morgenstern take Clary without putting up a fight. He took the stairs two at a time, and from the landing he could already smell the gunpowder.
Magnus was lying just inside the door of the girls' room, eyes closed and one hand clutching his own abdomen, and the floor was sticky with his blood.
"Magnus?" Alec whispered. He couldn't be dead, he couldn't.
"Get the doctor!" he bellowed.
Heart in his throat, he knelt next to Magnus and slid an arm under Magnus' neck as gently as he could, careful not to jar him. Up close, he could see the very slight rise and fall of Magnus' chest, but Magnus was pale around the lips, and his face was twisted into a grimace of pain. There were bruises blooming all over his face and neck, and there was a thin stream of blood trickling out of one ear. Hands shaking, Alec shifted Magnus' limp hand away from his wound so he could press down on it properly. He heard Izzy cry out and shove past him. There was movement and talking elsewhere in the room, sounds from downstairs as more people arrived at the Pandemonium. But all he could see was the rise and fall of Magnus' chest, convinced that if he took his eyes away from Magnus for one second it would fall, and not rise again.
"Hold on, the doctor's coming," Alec murmured, his fingers curling around Magnus' shoulders. "Hold on, Magnus. Please."
"Meliorn is still in there with him."
"And Maia? Is there nothing Dr Whitewillow can do for her?"
Izzy shook her head. "Meliorn said she hit her head hard. Nothing else seems to be wrong with her, except that she won't wake up," Izzy said softly. "It may be days, or weeks - and if it goes on, even if she wakes..."
Lydia pulled her into a hug. "Oh dear. Jace is out gathering a posse, we'll get the bastard yet."
"Lydia!" Izzy said in surprise at her language.
"Well, he is a bastard, so I'll call it as it is," Lydia said defiantly.
"Is Jace at the livery?" Alec asked suddenly, startling the two women when he stood up abruptly from one of the rickety wooden chairs outside the doctor's office.
"He'll come over to get you once they're all organised," Lydia told him gently. "Why don't you... go clean up?"
Alec looked down at his hands. They were still stained red from Magnus' blood, and his clothes, too, were ruined. "I'm fine," Alec said, and sat back down, clenching and unclenching his hands.
Alec didn't have to wait long. Not more than fifteen minutes had passed since Lydia had come by with the news, when they heard the sound of horses outside. Alec stood up and went out immediately - there were only three horses; one carrying Raphael Santiago, and two horses led by Jace.
"That's all?" Lydia said uncertainly. "Were there no more able men willing to go with you?"
"It's just one man," Jace said, and exchanged a look with Alec. Alec understood immediately - they didn't want anybody else coming along in case they accidentally found out Clary's connection to the Morgenstern family.
"I'm going with you too," Izzy declared.
"What? No!" Jace said.
"This is no job for a lady, Isabelle," Raphael agreed.
"I can shoot and ride as well as any man," Izzy insisted. "He hurt Maia and Magnus! And Clary is like a sister to me. You cannot expect me to sit here and wait - I shall go mad," Izzy said fiercely.
"But surely Maia would want to see you when she woke up-" Jace began half-heartedly, already knowing this was going to be a battle he would not win.
"I would want nothing better than to be here for her when she wakes. But if I am not here because I went after that bastard, Maia would feel nothing but pride. She knows me well enough, and loves me for it. She would want me to be indomitable," Izzy said.
"The more we stand here wasting time arguing, the further away he gets," Alec said curtly. "Go get ready, Izzy, and we'll leave as soon as you are."
Izzy nodded and swung herself up on one of the horses, then spurred it down Main Street in a gallop, to the Lightwood house. Jace went to get them another horse, and Alec went back inside to sit helplessly outside the room where his lover was currently walking the thin line between life and death.
Clench. Unclench. Clench. Unclench.
When he finally caught up with him, Alec wasn't going to give Morgenstern the quick death of a bullet through the skull - he was going to kill him slowly, with his bare hands. He was going to make Jonathan Morgenstern rue the day he rode into Nephilim Falls.
They left Nephilim Falls just shy of midnight. The moon was full, providing just enough light for Raphael, who claimed to be an expert tracker, and they followed Jonathan Morgenstern's trail into the Hills.
"Why would he be going into the Hills instead of to the next biggest town?" Jace argued.
"You forget - Clary told us her brother thinks they can find their father if they are together. I imagine Jonathan Morgenstern had some information about Valentine Morgenstern's location," Raphael replied evenly.
The Lightwood siblings exchanged a look at that - it was bad enough risking running into wandering bands of Sioux in the Hills. But if Jonathan Morgenstern joined forces with his father, how would the four of them be able to go up against a gang of notorious bandits head on?
"For all our sakes, I hope you are mistaken," Alec finally said grimly.
Mindful of the head start Morgenstern had on them, and how slowly they had to go for fear of missing a clue or spooking their quarry, they didn't dare stop to rest. Alec felt like he was going through everything in a waking dream - or nightmare; he was wide awake and filled with righteous fury, but also so weary of heart that he felt like he had aged fifty years in the five hours since Magnus had been hurt.
They were a couple of hours into the Hills when Raphael stopped to pick up a scrap of light blue cloth that had been caught in a bush, although Alec was damned if he knew how Raphael had seen it with the moonlight washing everything into varying shades of black and blue.
"That must be from Clary's dress," Izzy said. "I remember that she was wearing a blue dress."
Bolstered by the confirmation that they were definitely on the right track, their spirits lifted slightly, and Alec felt his focus sharpening at the prospect of finally bringing Morgenstern to his knees.
Just before dawn, they rode through a stand of evergreens so thick that the trees seemed to change colour inside. Everything in there turned dark, and the only sound Alec could hear was the steady breathing of Izzy's horse directly ahead. And when they came out towards the edge of this grove of trees, they found themselves on the bank of a flooded creek that was at least fifty yards wide and deep enough that the bottom was not visible. There was a camp on the other side of the creek - six men sitting around a fire on which something was cooking or brewing. They looked like they might have just woken up, and there was some cussing drifting over the water to the ears of Alec's group. A number of horses had been tethered loosely to the trees - one of them a tall, black horse.
The men had probably slept out in the open, but Alec couldn't help noticing that there was one tent, hastily pitched. There was a man sitting on a piece of dead wood right next to the tent, as if on guard, and he was the only blond head among the group. Jonathan Morgenstern.
"Four on seven," Jace said. "We could do this, if we take them unawares."
"Only if we can get across the creek unnoticed," Izzy pointed out.
A man came out of the bushes on the other side just then, a balding, older man - bringing the enemy party on the other side of the creek up to eight men. He walked up to Jonathan Morgenstern and clapped him on the shoulder as he passed, and when he stood close enough to the fire for Alec to see his face properly, Alec recognised him from the wanted posters immediately - Valentine Morgenstern. He was the leader of the notorious Circle, with at least fifteen murders to his name - an outlaw and robber, a known Southern loyalist and guerrilla who had fought on the side of the Confederates in the Civil War, and a man who had been accused of continued atrocities against former slaves.
"There's a bend in the creek up ahead," Raphael said, returning from where he'd gone ahead a bit to scout out the place. "If we cross there, out of sight, we could sneak up behind them. Can all of you swim?"
Alec had gone swimming with Jace in the creek a few times when they were younger, and while Jace was confident in the water, Alec was only a passable swimmer at best. Izzy had never even had the opportunity to learn. Raphael claimed to be a good swimmer as well, but in the end it was decided that Jace would go across and fasten a length of rope to a tree on the opposite bank, so the rest could use the rope as a guide to help them cross. The water was swift and cold, probably fed from melted ice higher up in the Hills, and Alec felt the chill all the way to the marrow of his bones as his frozen fingers struggled to move along the rope as he was buffeted by the water, his bad shoulder aching. Once, Izzy's small frame was almost swept away by the current when she lost her grip on the rope, and it was only luck that Alec had been close enough for her to grab on to. By the time they dragged themselves up on the other bank, Alec wondered if they hadn't already done half the job for the Circle by almost killing themselves.
"It'll b-be better wh-when the s-s-sun is up," Izzy said bravely, fighting the way her teeth were chattering to get the words out. Alec reached out for his sister and pulled her close, hoping the shared body heat would help them both.
Luck was on their side for once - Valentine Morgenstern probably thought he had picked an isolated place to camp and didn't need a sentry. They managed to get close enough to the camp to overhear the other men talking about plans to rob a bank over in Nebraska, and to overhear Valentine approaching his son to say, "Your dedication to your sister's safety does you credit, but you've barely slept a wink, Jonathan."
"I don't trust any of these men," Jonathan said sullenly. "They way they were looking at her when I brought her here - did you think I didn't notice?"
Up close, Alec took vicious delight in how battered Jonathan looked - one of his eyes was almost swollen shut, lips split, nose strangely crooked and purpling, probably broken. There were bruises all over his face, and from the way he held himself, Alec thought he might have hurt one shoulder as well.
"Nobody will harm Clarissa, not while I am here. You forget, I am her father," Valentine said.
Jonathan glared at the men sitting around the fire laughing and talking. "What did you want me to bring her to you for?"
"Our family finally reunited again - isn't that reason enough?"
"She's mine," Jonathan warned. "My sister. If I find out you have plans to do anything to her..."
They both turned to the tent then, no doubt responding to some sound inside. Jonathan immediately got up and went into the tent. From where they were hiding, Alec could just about see the flash of Clary's red hair. Jace reacted on instinct, shifting on the balls of his feet as if to get up from his crouched position, and Alec quickly put a hand on his shoulder to stop him.
"Look who's awake," Valentine said indulgently.
"Let go of me!" Clary yelled as Jonathan brought her out of the tent and dumped her on the seat he had recently vacated. Clary continued struggling against him even though her wrists and ankles were bound.
"Feisty, isn't she?" one of the men around the fire leered, and the rest sniggered.
Jonathan bared his teeth at them and Clary glared disdainfully at them, and in that moment Alec suddenly saw the faint resemblance between the two siblings. Valentine seemed to find this amusing. He nodded at one of the men, and he came forward with two mugs of something from the pot over the fire, and offered it to Jonathan and Valentine. Valentine took his readily enough, but Jonathan eyed it suspiciously before gingerly taking it.
"To family, together again," Valentine said, toasting Jonathan.
Jonathan raised his mug a little in response, but did not drink.
"Why aren't you drinking, son?" Valentine frowned.
"Because you aren't drinking either," Jonathan snarled.
All hell broke loose. Valentine threw his scalding drink in Jonathan's face, but Jonathan dodged it and whipped out his pistol, firing a shot point blank at his father, who pulled the unfortunate man who had been tasked to deliver the drinks in front of him to take the bullet. Clary tried to roll out of the way of the fight, but one of the men grabbed her from behind and pulled her away when Jonathan was distracted by Valentine. Tempting as it was to just let Jonathan and Valentine take each other out, Clary was caught in the crossfire.
Jace leapt to his feet and went straight for Clary. Raphael and Izzy each took out one of the other men while they still had the element of surprise on their side, then started firing at the rest of Valentine's men, leaving Alec to go for Valentine and Jonathan. Seeing the movement out of the corner of his eye, Valentine whipped around to fire at Alec, only to get shot in the back of the head by Jonathan.
Alec barely blinked an eye when Valentine Morgenstern fell dead in front of him, his focus only on Jonathan. He had his pistol aimed at Jonathan's right shoulder, intending to incapacitate but not kill, but Jonathan ducked his first shot easily.
"Be careful with that iron, Sheriff," Jonathan smirked. "With an aim like that, you might take your own eye out."
Alec ignored his taunting, and when Jonathan lifted his gun to aim at Alec, he squinted and shot the gun right out of Jonathan's hand. Jonathan grunted and grabbed at his bleeding hand, and for a moment, in his eyes Alec saw a glimmer of fear.
"Who said I was shooting to kill?" Alec asked coldly. "A shot to the head would be too kind a death for the likes of you."
"Remember, Sheriff - we operate on the same side of the law. What you saw was me using my sister as bait - which I must admit I am not proud of - to draw out my father and kill him and his gang of outlaws. The assistance of you and your men, and Miss Lightwood, is greatly appreciated, of course," Jonathan said, doffing an invisible hat ironically at Alec as he backed away.
"You can spin it any way you like, Jonathan Morgenstern, but I'm not listening," Alec growled.
"Is this about the whore master and the black whore? They were trying to stop me from taking my sister home. I was within my rights," Jonathan shrugged, eyes shiftily glancing at where his gun had fallen.
"You don't get to talk about rights," Alec said, then moved forward to punch Jonathan in the face. If his nose hadn't been broken yet, it certainly was now.
Alec grabbed Jonathan by the collar, and lifted him up half a foot off the ground, but he just laughed. "So what Aldertree said was true; you truly are a man of unnatural tastes. You're fucking the whore master, aren't you?"
"Shut your mouth!" Alec snarled, the old fears that had haunted him all his life back like a shock to his system. All those years of keeping it a secret, keeping it all inside, until Magnus had come along - nobody was supposed to know, least of all a man like Jonathan Morgenstern. It was on the tip of his tongue to deny everything, but he couldn't do that to Magnus.
"What I heard was it ruins you for girls. I heard once you've been with a man you don't want a woman no more. Was that how it was for you, Sheriff?" Jonathan sneered. "Maybe if your whore man doesn't die from the wounds I gave him, I should give his services a try myself."
"You fucking sonofabitch!"
Alec was so intent on punching Jonathan in the face that he almost missed the whisper of a knife being unsheathed. He moved back in a hurry, but even then the tip of the knife had managed to slice through his shirt and vest - if his thick vest hadn't been sodden with creek water, he was sure the knife would have reached his flesh.
"Oh dear. I went on and said too much, haven't I?" Jonathan bared his teeth in a grin, knife in hand gleaming sharp with the light of the sun rising in the horizon. "How about I do you a favour? You let me go on my merry way, and I promise you I'll send you Victor Aldertree's head on the pony express, so that he don't go blabbing all about your business to anyone ever again."
"You're a yellow snake in the grass, and I'd be a fucking idiot to trust you," Alec bit out.
"Pity," Jonathan smirked. "Looks like we'll have to do this the hard way, then."
Jonathan dove for his gun. Alec fired at him, but he was too fast - the shot just hit the ground harmlessly with a plume of dirt spraying off into the air when Jonathan rolled out of the way and came back up shooting, with the gun in his uninjured hand. Alec twisted his body out of the bullet's path before firing his second-to-last shot at Jonathan - it barely grazed him, but forced Jonathan to throw himself on the ground to avoid being shot. Jonathan pulled the trigger again, but it clicked impotently, chambers already empty - he cursed and threw the gun aside, and was forced to scurry backwards like a beetle trapped on its back. Alec advanced on him, determined to make his last bullet count. They were almost at the water's edge now, and Jonathan obviously didn't know how to swim, or he would have escaped into the water. Alec thought of shooting off one of Jonathan's kneecaps before throwing him into the creek to drown in the swift water, but it didn't seem like it would guarantee his demise, which made Alec hesitate.
"Jace!" Izzy's anguished cry caught Alec's attention for a second - just enough for Jonathan to kick Alec's feet out from under him.
They wrestled on the muddy bank, snarling like wolves, with their hands at each other's throats. Alec shoved Jonathan closer towards the water, but Jonathan pulled Alec along with him, and they tumbled into the icy water together. All of Alec's muscles seized up at once, too weary to fight the current, and with Jonathan not being able to swim, he was like a deadweight grappling at Alec.
Alec took a last, desperate gulp of air just as Jonathan pulled him under the water.
The cold water pressed in on all sides, and Alec wondered if this was what it felt like to be buried.
The last breath of air he had taken was trapped tight inside his lungs, and Jonathan Morgenstern was trying to claw it out of his chest, as if he could use it for himself instead. Alec kicked at Jonathan and used his elbows to hit the other man, but his grip on Alec's clothes was unbreakable. Everything was green and strange under the water, and Jonathan's face seemed unnaturally pale under all the purpling bruises, his icy blue eyes crazed.
Alec could feel his hands going numb and frozen from the cold, his limbs almost too heavy for him to move, his lungs burning from the strain. The surface of the water seemed out of reach, and getting further with every second. Alec's scrabbling fingers found Jonathan's face, and he dug his thumbs into Jonathan's eyes.
Jonathan let out a scream of bubbles, and kicked Alec in the stomach.
All the air was punched out of Alec with the force of the blow, and the water rushed into his mouth and throat. Alec choked, but there was no air for him to get his relief. He kicked desperately for the surface, the invading water setting his lungs on fire with an entirely more unbearable burn, and the pain making him almost as blind as he had made Jonathan. He could barely make out the light from the surface, and something was drifting slowly towards him - a snake, he thought, but had no strength to recoil or avoid it. Until he realised it wasn't a snake, but a length of rope. He grabbed at it, and felt the pull on the other end, and he finally broke to the surface, gasping and choking.
Izzy and Raphael were on the other end of the rope, and between the two of them they finally got Alec out of the water.
"Alec! Are you ok?" Izzy cried out, patting Alec on the back as he went into a coughing fit and retched out some water from his stomach.
"Jace," Alec croaked out when he could breathe again. "What happened to Jace?"
"He got shot. He's over there," Izzy said, and helped Alec to his feet to where Clary was sitting with Jace. Jace was holding on to his leg, his face pale.
"Let me see," Alec said.
Jace let go of his shin with shaking hands, and Alec peeled his pants leg up off the wound. The bullet had gone in dead centre, and exited through the back, splintering the bone. There was a small fleck of bone caught in the torn skin under the calf, a bright spot of white among the pink and red.
"How bad is it?" Jace asked, his face dripping with sweat. He was shivering now, despite the blanket Clary had thrown over his shoulders and her arm around him. "I'm cold."
"We'll get you to a doctor as quickly as we can," Izzy said soothingly, but Alec could see the fear in his eyes mirrored in hers.
"Am I going to die?" Jace asked, mismatched eyes wide.
Alec honestly couldn't answer. It was a long way back to civilisation, if Nephilim Falls could be called such. Alec couldn't look Jace in the face any longer, couldn't face the possibility of having to bury his brother as well.
"It's just a shot in the leg," Alec said bracingly. "Here, let's get some whiskey in you for the pain and tie it off at the knee so you don't bleed out before we get down these Hills and to the doctor."
Clary tore a strip of cloth off her dress, and after they'd tied it tightly at Jace's knee, they saw Raphael coming out of the water - with Jonathan Morgenstern.
"What did you get him out of the water for?" Izzy snapped.
"Because I'm not going to leave it up to chance - I'm not going to believe the bastard is dead until I make sure of it with my own two hands," Raphael said.
"I'll do it," Alec said, but Raphael shook his head.
"You're not a cruel man, Sheriff. You're not the type to think of inventive ways to hurt a man and make him wish he were sooner dead," Raphael said. "But I've got no such qualms."
Raphael picked up Jonathan's knife from the ground and stood over his prone form. "Magnus took me and Simon in when we had no place to go. This is for him." With one swift motion, Raphael stabbed him hard, then pulled - like a butcher gutting a pig. The knife slid through Jonathan's gut like a hot knife through butter, and Jonathan gasped into consciousness. Perhaps Raphael was right about Alec not having the stomach for this sort of thing, because watching Jonathan Morgenstern writhing and clutching at his abdomen did not make Alec feel happy - just relieved that justice had been served.
Not too far off, they heard the scream of a mountain lion - Jonathan froze in fear, only his chest heaving from the pain. He turned around blindly, as if trying to see through his ruined eyes, to make sure that he hadn't been left completely alone in the hostile wilderness.
"Lightwood! End this," Jonathan choked through a mouthful of blood. "Avenge your lover!"
He was trying to hold his wound together to keep his own intestines from spilling out, and something in the movement reminded Alec of the way he had found Magnus dying on the floor of the Pandemonium. It put steel in his heart.
"I think we'll leave you for the wild beasts to find," Alec said coldly.
"God knows there's enough blood around here to lead them right to you," Raphael added viciously.
Alec put an arm under Jace's shoulders and half-lifted, half-supported him with Raphael's help, turning his back on Jonathan Morgenstern and the carnage that littered the campsite. They had a creek and miles of Hills to cross.
Meliorn managed to save Jace, but not his leg. Alec supposed it was a small mercy.
By the time they returned to Nephilim Falls, Maia had woken up, much to Izzy's tearful delight, and Simon and John had moved Magnus' bed down to the first floor of the Pandemonium.
Magnus still hadn't woken up.
It was unbearable, sitting by Magnus when he was lying so still like this, but wild horses couldn't have dragged Alec away. He slept sitting up in a chair until Meliorn came in the evening to check on Magnus, with Ragnor trailing after him.
Alec cleared his throat. "How is he, Doc?"
Meliorn frowned, still looking exhausted after what must have been a full day of bloody injuries. "I have done everything I can for him, but I will be honest with you, Sheriff - it will take a miracle for him to survive this."
"What do you mean?" Alec asked, a sharp ache building in his chest.
"The wound was very deep. The blade didn't pierce anything important, thank God, but the danger is far from over," Meliorn shook his head. "Infection, Sheriff. In all my years, I have yet to have a patient survive a stab to the gut, especially not out here. It may be days or weeks yet, but it's the fever that takes them in the end, and it is a slow and painful end."
Alec swallowed hard, and closed his eyes.
"Is there nothing that can be done at all?" Ragnor asked, since Alec could no longer bring himself to speak.
"There is nothing I can do," Meliorn sighed, gesturing at the state of his surroundings. "If I had better medicine, perhaps - a cleaner place to work with..."
"What if we brought him somewhere else? We have a friend, a doctor in New York," Ragnor said desperately.
"I am not sure he will survive the trip," Meliorn said truthfully. "But it might be preferable to him staying here and waiting for death."
"Then you must bring him to Catarina, to New York, if there's a chance that he will live," Alec told Ragnor.
When Magnus woke up, it was completely dark in the room. He frowned in confusion - why was he sleeping in the saloon area of the Pandemonium? Then he tried to move, and the sharp pain in his gut brought everything back. There was someone with a dark head of tousled hair sprawled over the foot of his bed, probably having fallen asleep sitting up, and he stirred when Magnus moved.
"Magnus?" Alec's eyes widened, and there was a smile brightening his face. "You're awake."
Magnus smiled at him and beckoned to Alec by wriggling his fingers, and Alec shifted the chair closer immediately. There was a pitcher of water on a nearby table. Alec poured him a glass and helped him lift his head so he could sip a little.
"Safe and sound," Alec assured him.
"I hope that means you managed to catch Jonathan Morgenstern."
Alec nodded. "He's dead. Or should be, by now."
"Good," Magnus said with feeling.
"How are you feeling?"
"Like Hell," Magnus winced.
"Ragnor is making arrangements to bring you to New York, so you can get better quicker," Alec said, and Magnus read between the lines, from the pinched look on Alec's face - they didn't expect Magnus to survive this.
"Are you coming with me?" Magnus asked softly.
"I can't," Alec whispered back, his voice choked. Magnus could see the effort it was taking Alec to hold his eyes wide and not blink, could see the tears glistening in them, held back by sheer force of will.
Magnus nodded. Of course Alec would choose to stay - he had always had a great sense of duty, and he would never leave his aged mother and the town behind when they still needed him. He gave Alec a small smile, to show him that he understood. "I lov-"
Alec hushed him gently. "Don't make this harder than it has to be," he pleaded.
How was it that in all the days and nights they'd shared together baring their souls to each other and mapping out the geography of each other's bodies, they'd never said those three words to each other properly? They had said it in touches, and kisses, and actions, and spoken about it with the complacent understanding that it was what they shared. But they had never spoken it plainly and clearly. And now perhaps they never would.
Alec was so pale, he looked like he, too, was bleeding out from a mortal wound - which Magnus supposed was not that far from the truth.
Magnus swallowed hard, then grimaced - every movement seemed to hurt. "Alexander... You know I'm going to fight with everything I have to come back to you. I'm not giving up. But if I don't make it-"
"Don't," Alec shook his head, anguished. "Of course you're going to get better, you're a fighter, you're strong..."
"If I don't make it, promise me you'll move on," Magnus insisted, pressing on despite Alec's protests. "You deserve happiness, Alexander. Find someone else to love, let someone else love you. Forget me."
"You were every dream I ever had. I could never forget you," Alec whispered, the tears finally spilling over. He pressed a kiss into Magnus' palm, an echo of that morning not so long ago, and Magnus' heart ached with the memory of it.
"Oh, Alexander. Don't cry." He ran a thumb gently over Alec's cheek, his own vision blurry with tears.
Alec shook his head and clutched Magnus' hand like a drowning man, as if he hoped his kiss could work its way into Magnus skin and heal him. If only it could be that easy; if only love alone could save them.
It was decided that they would stick to the original plan - everybody would head to New York except Maia, but Magnus would now be coming with them as well. They left as soon as they could, once Meliorn said it would be foolhardy to wait any longer.
Raphael, Simon and Ragnor had settled Magnus on the train and were off seeing to last minute things like luggage, when Clary came in to the compartment. She hadn't been able to meet Magnus' eyes ever since Magnus had been injured, and Magnus thought he knew what was coming.
"Magnus, I'm so sorry," Clary said.
"Biscuit, you are not responsible for your brother's actions. You know I don't blame you the slightest."
Clary took a deep breath. "They left him to die, you know? Alec blinded him, and Raphael gutted him, but he was still alive."
Magnus winced. "That sounds horrible. Are you alright?"
"Why wouldn't I be?" Clary said a little defensively.
"He was your blood, in the end," Magnus said. "It's alright to grieve."
Clary bit her lip and didn't answer. She stood up to look out of the train window, and gasped. "He came!"
"Alec. He's on the platform. No, Magnus, don't try to get up!"
Magnus slumped back down on the makeshift cot they had made for him in agony and despair. He had assumed that Alec would not want to come to the station for fear of making a spectacle of himself, but apparently Alec had no more been able to help himself than Magnus had been able to resist trying to get up. And it hurt, it hurt that Alec was standing right there and Magnus couldn't even get up to the window to see him one last time.
Magnus covered his eyes with one trembling hand, feeling his tears seeping into the pillow underneath his head. Clary gripped his other hand tightly and waved as hard as she could out of the window at Alec on his behalf.
"He's spotted us! Oh, Magnus. He's wearing that dark green cravat you gave him, and the grey wool vest, and that shirt with the pearl buttons that Izzy made for him..."
Magnus let Clary's description wash over him, clinging desperately to the image she painted with her words. And when the train pulled out of the station, he could see it so clearly in his mind's eye - Alec standing in the billowing smoke and dust, with his hat pulled low to hide his eyes, watching the train carrying Magnus away from him until it was long out of sight.
Dear Mr Lightwood,
I am writing on behalf on Magnus, who is unfortunately indisposed, the fever having taken hold just before we reached New York...
Dear Mr Fell,
Your previous letter was much appreciated. Please let Magnus know that Madzie sends her love. Enclosed I have included her drawing of Magnus, me, and herself, as she has requested...
...you must know how stubborn our dear friend can be. Catarina is confident that he will beat this yet...
...Our mother says to tell Jace in no uncertain terms that he is to make an honest woman of Clary before the baby is born, and Izzy and Maia are beside themselves with happiness at the news. Magnus might be pleased to know that Lydia and John are also expecting a new addition to the family, as I know he has always held Lydia in high regard...
...We have of course heard the news about the Prohibition being passed now that Dakota has been made one of the States. As for Magnus, I am afraid there has been no change in his progress from my previous letter...
...the funeral will be held within the week. Naturally, I do not expect that any of you will be able to attend...
The Lightwoods had moved to Nephilim Falls when Alec had been no more than a boy, and in the twenty years since, the furthest Alec had been out of Nephilim Falls was Deadwood. It had been a long two weeks travelling from Nephilim Falls to New York by rail, especially with little Madzie in tow. They had gone from one train to another and watched the landscape outside the window change from wilderness and forest to concrete and brick. But they were on the final train now - in another hour, they would finally be in New York.
Madzie was curled up beside Alec, fast asleep, thoroughly exhausted from all the travelling. People had been very kind because of Madzie, and they must have been quite the sight - the single father and his adopted daughter, dressed in all black mourning clothes, travelling halfway across the country. When it was time to get off the train, Alec struggled a bit with carrying her and getting their luggage, although he would probably have carried her anyway for fear of losing her in the chaos of smoke, steam, noise, and people.
Madzie stirred in Alec's arms, yawning. "Are we there? Where's Magnus?"
Alec swallowed hard. "We'll have to go to him. He won't be waiting for us here."
"Why not?" Madzie asked plaintively. "I miss him. Doesn't he miss us?"
"Remember I told you Magnus has been very ill, and needed to come here to get better?" Alec said. "I'm sure he misses us very much as well, but he isn't well enough yet."
Alec spotted a long line of hacks waiting outside the station, and figured that that might be their best bet in an unfamiliar city. He tried his best to manoeuvre through the crowd, and when they were a little further from the platform and in a slightly quieter corner, Alec put Madzie down so that he could take out the letter Ragnor had sent him from his coat pocket, to check the address - he had read it over a dozen times already, but he had just wanted to make sure.
"Magnus!" Madzie suddenly called out. "He's right there!"
"What? Wait, Madzie-" Alec hurried after her in a panic when she let go of his hand and bolted into the crowd.
But she was right. When Alec finally fought his way through the people in his way, he saw Magnus standing right there - much thinner than Alec remembered, and leaning heavily on a walking cane, but alive and well. Madzie was hugging his legs, and Magnus was laughing, then he looked up and saw Alec. The smile that lit up Magnus' face could have brought Alec to his knees.
Alec walked up to Magnus, unable to speak. What he would give to be able to kiss Magnus right there, to hold him in his arms! The need to touch Magnus, to feel that he was really there, was overwhelming - Alec settled for placing one hand gently over Magnus', over the hand that was holding on to the cane, and Magnus immediately placed his other hand over Alec's.
"I thought Ragnor said you weren't supposed to be out of bed?" Alec asked, his voice cracking slightly.
"Catarina said I should get out of bed, that the exercise would do me good," Magnus scoffed. "Last I checked, Ragnor wasn't a doctor."
"Catarina meant for you to take a stroll around the neighbourhood with one of us by your side, not try to sneak out on your own to get a hack to come to the train station," Raphael said dryly, and Alec startled, not having noticed him until now. "It was a lucky thing I met Magnus on the way back to get something I'd forgotten."
"I'm fine. Don't fuss, Raphael," Magnus said, the hand over Alec's hand squeezing tightly as he smiled up at Alec.
Raphael shook his head, exasperated. "Let's go," he said, and took Alec's bag so that Alec could pick Madzie up.
As they made their way out of the station, Alec kept a hand at Magnus' elbow to steady him, although truth be told, he found it necessary to keep in physical contact with Magnus, even if it was just a brush of his sleeve or their shoulders rubbing against each other. He couldn't tear his eyes away from Magnus, and Magnus couldn't seem to look away from him either, eyes hungrily drinking him in.
Raphael had driven a horse-drawn carriage to the station, and as it made its way through the muddy slush of melting snow in the streets, Alec saw buildings taller than he had ever seen before, dark alleyways in which lurked skinny wide-eyed children, horse carriages and horse-drawn tram cars, and so many people everywhere hurrying down the freezing streets. If it wasn't still cold enough for snow, the stench from all the refuse in the streets would probably have been unbearable.
Alec reflected that in a fortnight's time, it would be a year since Magnus had come into his life on the back of that wagon one fine spring day. One year since Magnus had changed his life forever. In the privacy of the carriage, sitting with Madzie in between him and Magnus, Alec found Magnus' hand and held on tightly.
"I'm sorry to hear of your mother's passing," Magnus said.
"She died in her sleep. I don't think she felt any pain," Alec shrugged. "She did not have the happiest life. I'd like to think the last few months brought her some measure of peace."
"How is Izzy taking it?"
"Not very well. But Maia is hoping that taking her around the country to see the sights will cheer her up."
Magnus nodded. "And you?"
"I'll be fine. Luke put in a good word for me with someone he knows in the New York police department, and with luck the inspector will find me a suitable candidate," Alec said. "Even if he doesn't, Jace has been talking about going into business together, and I am sure there are plenty of opportunities in New York for us."
"That's good. I had been worried that you would find it hard to leave everything behind in Nephilim Falls to come all the way here," Magnus admitted.
Alec shook his head. "No decision in my life has been easier," he said softly.
Magnus smiled. "I am so glad that you are finally here.
"As am I," Alec replied with a smile.
Ragnor had acquired a couple of newly-built brownstone townhouses for their little ragtag family. Raphael, Magnus, and Ragnor shared one, while Simon, Clary and Jace shared the other. With the arrival of Alec and Madzie, and in preparation for Maia and Izzy coming to New York after they were done with their travels, some readjustments had been made. Magnus had been especially excited about preparing a room for Madzie, and he wouldn't have missed her expression of pure delight when she first saw her room for anything in the world, but he had to admit that the trip to the train station had taken its toll - by the time Alec had finished putting Madzie down for a nap, Magnus was feeling distinctly winded.
It was frightening still how weak he felt, how the most mundane of tasks could seem impossible on some days. But he could feel himself getting stronger every day, and now that Alec and Madzie were finally here, he had all the more reason to get better.
Magnus was sitting on the edge of the bed, resting in the room he would be sharing with Alec, when Alec came into the room.
"Magnus? Are you alright?" Alec asked, immediately putting down the tray of food he had brought in and kneeling at Magnus' side. "You shouldn't have gone down to the station."
"I couldn't wait to see you," Magnus replied. "I've missed you so much, Alexander."
"I've missed you too," Alec said, taking Magnus' hands in his. "I asked myself over and over again why I hadn't come here with you, why I hadn't been here for you when you needed me."
"I don't blame you. You know that, don't you? You were needed in Nephilim Falls," Magnus told him gently. "And you are here now."
"I wouldn't have been able to go on living if you had died," Alec told him, choking up. "If you had died, I would have followed you-"
Magnus hushed him immediately, pulling Alec towards him, and Alec buried his face in Magnus' shoulder. "Shhh, darling. No more of that. God knows we've been through hell, but it's all over now." Magnus ran his hands through Alec's hair soothingly as Alec cried, the months of sorrow and pain he had been holding in crashing out of him like a tidal wave.
When Alec had calmed down, Magnus said softly, "The words I wanted to say to you that night in Nephilim Falls - you should know that I still feel that way."
Alec drew a shuddering breath. "I know. And it has always and will always be true for me, too."
Magnus cupped Alec's face and smiled through his tears, his heart soaring that he could finally tell Alec this: "I love you."
"Oh God. Tell me I'm not dreaming," Alec whispered, pressing a kiss to Magnus' palm as his eyes fluttered shut. "Tell me this is real."
"I love you, Alexander. And I will say it as many times as it takes for you to realise that it is real."
"I love you, too," Alec said, voice rough from crying. He wiped his face with his sleeve, then took a deep breath, suddenly nervous. He reached into his coat pocket and took out a small jewellery box, which he offered to Magnus. "This was my mother's, and her mother's before that. I told her about us, eventually, and she said that I should give this to you."
Magnus took the box and opened it - there was a heavy gold ring set with a large square-cut diamond nestled in the velvet lining.
"I know we can never stand at the altar and be married under the eyes of the law, but for what it's worth, I wish we could," Alec said quietly.
"And it would have been my honour to call you my husband," Magnus said, tearing up all over again.
Alec took the ring out of the box with trembling hands and placed it on Magnus' finger. It could only fit on his little finger, but Magnus couldn't have cared less. He leaned forward to kiss Alec, heart too full for words, because happiness like this was worth any price, and Magnus would have gone through hell all over again if it meant being here with Alec like this.
"I swear I will do anything to bring you every happiness," Alec promised him, and Magnus shook his head, smiling.
"Oh, my dear - but you already have."
Well, that was a hell of a ride, and thank you all for joining me on it! All of you have been absolutely lovely to write for.
I have a fic coming out in the week before Season 3 starts for the SH Hiatus Big Bang that I cannot wait to share with all of you, and a couple of other ideas in the works, so I hope to see all of you again soon :) In the meantime, do come holler at me over on tumblr at @la-muerta!
Until next time, XOXO.