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all in the gutter

Chapter Text

 

 

It wasn’t uncommon for people to be lingering around in seedy, partially obscured alleyways in New York City, but it was uncommon to see people who looked like Charles Freeman there, and there alone. The man was tall and built in appearance yet squirrel-like in nature, dressed in a suit that at first glance looked decent but under scrutiny showed itself to be cheap and off the rack; too long in the arms, too boxy. He was waiting for someone, clearly, given that he kept checking his watch – far too elegant a piece for the usual crowd that occupied this kind of place. And oddly enough, there was no usual crowd. The alleyway, one that provided ample coverage from the rain coming down in bullets, was deserted save for Mr Freeman.

Alec saw all this and more.

From his vantage point on a fire escape across the street, he watched Freeman head further down the alley, likely paranoid about being seen before his little rendezvous arrived. Alec’s jacket protected him from the worst of the weather, hood obscuring a little of his face and scarf covering most of the rest. His gloved hands rubbed at each other; a nervous habit he’d never been able to shake, as he waited for the perfect moment.

Cars didn’t often come down this way, which he was grateful for; the less people around, the better, but also it was fortunate that the area wasn’t completely vacant as he was less likely to stand out that way. A small liquor store on the corner had been entertaining a steady stream of customers for the past three hours, and Alec had taken to watching them, analysing them, practising his ability to pick up small facts and tie them together.

For instance, a young woman, tipsy approaching drunk; college student based on the heavy bag she still had with her; clearly underage; stress of finals getting to her, perhaps? Came from money given the coat she wore was Burberry. Based on the other woman watching her intently, she’d be losing whatever valuables she had on her later on; traumatic, but an appeal to Daddy could replace the material. Unfortunate, Alec thought, that he couldn’t help her out – he hated to see innocent people hurt in his city – but he had to compartmentalise. There were bigger things to handle tonight.

The mix of street lamps and headlights and garish neon signs coloured the city at both ends of the road; rain fell and landed in shades of blue and yellow, and the roads and buildings were its canvas. There was a certain serenity to cities bathed in night and rain.

His earpiece signalled; 23:04. It was time to meet Freeman.

He swung down from the escape with ease, landing on the balls of his feet and lessening the impact of dropping two storeys. As he’d planned, the security cameras trained down the road both moved in their calculated arcs – a flaw in their systems causing them to be slightly out of sync, giving him around fifteen seconds to dash across the road unseen.

It was time enough for Alec, professional as he was.

He moved almost silently down the alleyway he’d been observing since night fell, keeping to the shadows and near invisible. Freeman was an amateur, Alec had already worked out, given that he responded to Alec’s anonymous messages alone and without backup. Had he not already realised that, he would now, given that Freeman had his back to both him and the opening of the alleyway.

Fucking moron.

Stepping out of the shadows, knife in hand, Alec immediately grabbed Freeman by the face, hand clamped onto his mouth, before wheeling him around and delivering a quick, precise stab to the abdomen. This was as easy as breathing, for him.

Walking a wide-eyed Freeman backwards towards the wall, Alec manoeuvred him onto the ground behind a dumpster, blocking them from view of the street. He removed his hand slowly from Freeman’s mouth, ready to put it back should he prove a noisy victim.

“I’m meeting someone… back up here any minute…” Freeman gasped, knife still lodged in his body.

“I’m the guy you’re meeting, dumbass. Tell me something useful and I’ll kill you now instead of later,” Alec growled, not exactly pitching his voice down but certainly altering it – he often found it useful to tone down his strong New York accent, at least a little.

“You-“ Alec twisted the knife, and Freeman yelped ungraciously. “What the fuck do you want?!”

“I want Pangborn.”

“Sonuvabitch! Fuck him, fuck Blackwell and fuck you too,” he said, teeth gritting.

“So he’s working closely with Blackwell, huh?”

Freeman groaned again.

“I could make this really painful, you know. Or I could just slit your throat and it’d be over in seconds. Your choice, Charles. You’re covering minor arms trafficking, so they’re covering….” Alec prompted, eyes boring into the very core of Freeman’s being.

“Drugs! Fucking, ah, drugs, that’s all I got on them, please.” Freeman had moved past anger onto pleading remarkably quickly, Alec thought. Searching his face, he knew that Freeman really was barely on the ladder of Valentine’s syndicate; he’d caused enough chaos and injury to make him worth Alec’s time and services, yes, but any more time spent here with him and he’d be making a loss. Patting him down, Alec pulled out Freeman’s wallet and phone, and quickly undid his watch as his other hand twisted the knife again, jerking it upwards, and sliding it out.

“You- Who hired- Fucking-“

“A robbery gone wrong. Such a shame, huh Charles? You’ll bleed out a lot faster than if I’d left that in there, though. You’re welcome,” Alec said, voice level and monotonous. He wasn’t supposed to feel emotion; yet every time, he couldn’t help the sense of righteousness running through him at the dispatch of another member of one of the most lethal crime groups to ever hit New York. His targets never needed to know that, though.

He stood, quickly, stashing the knife in a plastic bag he’d kept in his pocket and sliding the bag up his sleeve. He had another short window of surveillance blind spots coming up on the other side of the alley’s back wall; not ideal, but he managed to scale it without scraping his clothes against the rough surface. He would, of course, be burning them later, but better to be as clean as possible about it.

As he left Freeman to breathe a last, ragged breath, and vacated the area, he formulated the evening’s plan: first, destroy the phone, take the cash from the wallet, dump both and the watch in the Hudson. Get home, incinerate gloves and jeans, deep clean knife and retire it for a little while. Add information gained about Pangborn and Blackwell to the list, take a shower, and attend to the day job..

Maybe he’d write the young woman from earlier briefly into his latest work; an apology of sorts, for not protecting her. He tried not to consider that he was, perhaps, merely apologising to himself.

Chapter Text

“Back for the night, Mr Bane?”

Magnus turned at the sound of the building’s main security guard approaching, and nodded, hand on his earpiece. “Mr Wilson is home safe, I’m simply here to double check his office. Don’t mind me, Connor.”

“Ah, I heard about the threats on Mr Wilson’s life. Just between you and me, Magnus, I’m surprised a man like that hasn’t gotten them before,” Connor whispered conspiratorially. “I’m sure you know all the dirty secrets he’s got.”

“Well, stopping threats is what I’m here for. I try not to listen to gossip,” Magnus replied, tone hushed. “I’ll lock up behind me, Connor, you carry on.”

The security guard took the obvious dismissal for what it was, and carried on his rounds.

Magnus was thrilled to finally be executing his plan; it’d been months of enduring Jeremy Wilson’s inane comments about “the scam of global warming” and how he’d put a violent end to “the gay left conspiracy” – it’d taken all of Magnus’s resolve not to punch him for that one. It was no secret that Wilson was a monster. He’d left a long, scrubbed out history of abuse behind him throughout his 40 year career in politics, but rumours couldn’t be stopped no matter how much money you threw at the problem.

Magnus himself had been approached by one of Wilson’s earlier victims; it was a little different to how it usually started, but not too unfamiliar. He’d gather information from varying sources about corrupt individuals; he’d get Ragnor or Raphael or both to send the target threats; and then Catarina would plant his information (a business card on a desk, a namedrop at a party, whichever worked best for the target) or, if he was feeling ballsy, he’d approach them himself, offering his services as the best in the business.

He was, technically, the best bodyguard in the business. He was hired to stop physical threats, not to stop anyone from destroying his “ clients’ ” lives and careers.

He was also the best in the business if you considered his business fraud, blackmail, or espionage.

Letting himself in to the office, he made a show of inspecting every corner for hidden bugs or devices; he couldn’t shut off the security cameras without painting himself as a suspect for leaking evidence, after all. The office was decked in mahogany and burgundy furnishings, books on two walls and a large window behind the desk – a case of design over functionality,

Magnus thought. One carefully aimed sniper and bye bye, office occupant.

Not that he’d be too upset if that were to happen to Mr Wilson, anyway.

Making his way over to the desk, he inspected the laptop left sitting open on the top, without getting too close to it. Off, of course, but it was far too easy for it to be left out in the open like this. It only took him a couple of seconds to notice, but notice he did – three fine white hairs, laid parallel to each other over the trackpad. Magnus almost considered it amateur – if you were going to leave hairs behind as a mark, at least make it look random. Besides, it wasn’t as if Magnus would need to use the laptop itself.

He gathered himself, resolve set – it was now or never. His first move was to crawl under the desk space; this was an obvious place for him to check, so it wouldn’t be too odd to anyone who looked over the security footage later. Once safely under and out of the view of both cameras (one trained over the desk towards the door, missing out the space underneath, and the other pointed straight at it) he opened his tablet, accessing the security systems remotely. Once in, he set both cameras to loop continuously. This was the easy part, but it put him on a tight schedule; he had a minute at the most before it got suspicious if the tapes were reviewed, especially since the lights were on a motion sensor timer. If he were under the desk the whole time, as the tapes would show, the lights would turn off automatically – and obviously, he wasn’t going to be. His gloves on, he quickly sat upright, being sure to stay down and out of the view from the window.

50 seconds.

He pulled out a small device, designed to connect through the VGA port, and plugged it in; it was a useful little thing, able to connect through a lesser used port that likely wouldn’t be inspected – after all, who could possibly access data through a video connection?

44 seconds.

Bringing up his tablet, he could access the laptop remotely without turning the actual thing on, thanks to the little device. His tech was top-grade, higher than most intelligence agencies, and while he didn’t always understand it, he respected it and its usefulness to him.

Theoretically, the password to the laptop was supposed to change weekly. Also theoretically, it was supposed to be for work only. But Wilson, stubborn to a fault, didn't observe either of those rules, making it so much easier for Magnus. Not only was the password easy for him to guess, having observed Wilson for months, but he kept records of everything on the device. Shady dealings, payoffs, bribing authorities to keep quiet about his crimes; everything was here and nothing was encrypted enough to keep it private.

38 seconds.

Copying the contents of the hard drive was the hard part. It wasn't, in itself, difficult, but it would take the time it took and Magnus couldn't do anything to speed it along. He avoided copying the ridiculous amount of pornography saved to it, which helped; while he waited, he added in a few lines of code to make it extremely difficult to delete for good. Once the news broke, the laptop would be inspected by authorities, and while Magnus couldn't present it as evidence without potentially getting in trouble himself, he could make it easier to be found.

13 seconds.

The screen flashed up a completed message just in time, and Magnus dove to remove the device as quickly as possible, breathing a sigh of relief. He looked over everything, checking he hadn’t disturbed anything, no matter how small – he was precise, couldn’t afford to be anything but. No papers rustled, stupid hairs still in place, one, two-

One was gone.

9 seconds.

Magnus’s heart was in his mouth as he frantically scanned the area. That kind of slip up would be one that could expose him, and he cursed internally.

7 seconds.

He swallowed hard, fighting down the rising panic and forcing himself to look calmly, to stay composed.

5 seconds.

By the space bar!

4 seconds.

He fished it out, laying it with the others and rearranging them quickly, before diving down and hitting the button to stop the loop.

1 second.

He stood up.

Thank fuck , he thought, brushing down his clothes and making his way out, locking the door behind him. That was the closest call he’d had since he was a rookie, and his heart was racing. Magnus was grateful that Ragnor had agreed to look at the data that night, as Catarina and Raphael would likely be there to provide background noise, which Ragnor liked to complain about even though he both needed it to work and specifically requested they be there for that purpose. He had long since come to the conclusion that complaining was Ragnor’s happy place.

He breathed deeply as he walked out of the building, raising a hand in farewell to Connor, and felt like a gin martini and close friends would help stave away his old companion anxiety, which was simmering away in his mind and threatening to bubble over.

Hopefully, for tonight, at least.

Chapter Text

“I knew I’d find you here, big brother.”

Alec looked up from his notes as Izzy finally spoke; he’d known she and her signature heels were there from the second she’d walked in. She didn’t need to know that, though.

“Me? In the coffee shop right by my apartment that I always go to to plan in? How did you guess?” he said, keeping his eyes blank and his tone flat. She laughed.

“It’s not my fault you’re a creature of habit, Alec,” she smiled as she sat down in front of him.

Alec guessed she was right, at least in some respects - he always came here, to Apothecary, the shop Jace worked in. He had his reasons; there was the little window booth facing a garden that calmed him enough to plan his novels ahead; there was the good coffee; and there was Dot, the owner, who liked him more than she liked Jace and therefore gave him a better discount.  He preferred planning here, writing everything out longhand, preferred feeling like he had a designated space for work and a designated space for living his life – although his other job was intermingled with his day to day living in a way writing wasn’t.

He guessed keeping to some kind of routine in his mundane life balanced out the chaos of his other one – and also made it harder to connect the two. Who would suspect the man with a strict, regular schedule of being New York’s most capable assassin?

“Not that I’m not happy to see you,” Alec said, closing his notebook and giving Izzy his full attention, “but you usually ring. What’s up?”

Izzy pouted, turning her face to the side and shrugging. “Maybe I just wanted to hang out, Alec, not everything has an ulterior motive.”

“Usually true, but the launch party is tonight and also you’re basically my twin, Isabelle. I know you, and I know you want to ask something.”

They sat in silence for a moment, Izzy looking at the floor as Alec looked at her, eyebrow raised, until she mumbled something that sounded like “maybeihavetwoquestions.”

“In English, please.”

“Quizás tengo dos preguntas,” she smirked at him, as he sighed.

“Go ahead, Iz.”

“Alright, so, there’s a girl I like, and I wanted to ask her to come with me tonight, but I found out she has a girlfriend-- ” she nodded at Alec’s sigh of mutual disappointment – “but good news, I met her girlfriend and she’s also super cute AND I found out they’re poly, so uhm,” she trailed off looking at Alec expectantly.

“You can bring them both, just give me their names and I’ll ask Aline to add them to the list. She’s the events manager, I just go where she tells me,” Alec grinned. “And how come you can get two girlfriends but the closest I get to having a boyfriend is writing myself one?”

She grinned. “Clary and Maia aren’t my girlfriends… yet. And anyway, you rarely go outside, Alec.”

“I’m outside right now.”

“No you’re not. I mean. Yes, but, when was the last time you met someone new? Met in an intimate, I can feel your breath kind of way?”

Last night , Alec thought, as I was killing him . But assassination most likely wasn’t the kind of intimacy Izzy was thinking of.

“It’s been... a while. What was the second thing?”

“What are you wearing tonight? We should all match.”

Alec faked a groan, burying his face in his arms on the table, not quite managing to hide his smile.

----

Letting himself into his apartment after entertaining Izzy, he dropped his free and easy smile, having no one to perform for. It was taking a toll, doing what he did in secret, and faking it was exhausting. He told Izzy everything else, wanted to tell her about this secret war he’d been waging for over a decade now, wondered if she’d ever realised something was off about all the training he’d undertaken as a teenager.

She could never know, not if he wanted to keep her safe. He had to keep them all safe.

Heading to his small study, he sat down at the desk, unlocking and flicking through the small filing cabinet underneath it. He kept paper copies of everything, rather than electronic; the cabinet was rigged with small explosives that he could set off from his phone, so that in the event of an emergency he could burn everything remotely and it’d all be gone forever.

He pulled out the file marked Valentine’s Day.

Inside, it was stuffed with materials, separate sections for every target he had meticulously arranged and not a photo out of place. It couldn’t be, since Alec’s go to method for dealing with stress or anxiety or generally feeling too much was to clean, to organise, and failing that to train until he hurt. His left forearm was far too frequently marked with welts from not wearing an armguard while practicing with his bow. Jace told him he’d learn and remember to wear it one day; Jace didn’t know Alec wanted the pain.

Taking a red marker, he flipped to Freeman’s section. Preceding every target, he compiled a brief sheet; a page including at least one photo, and key information like name, date of birth, appearance, anything useful like that – Alec memorised it all anyway, but he kept a sheet, handwritten, like he would if he were planning out characters.

He crossed out the word ‘Active’ by the line for ‘Current Status’, and replaced it with ‘Deceased’.

He also flipped back to the hierarchy diagram at the front and crossed out his name. Freeman’s confession confirmed what he’d already assumed; namely Pangborn and Blackwell were working together, and not with Freeman. Pangborn and Blackwell did report directly to Valentine, which Alec knew for a fact. Freeman was the face of the weapons trade, sure, but he reported to a Frenchman, Malachi Dieudonne, who then reported to a third person, a missing link, who took it to Valentine.

There was also Valentine’s son, who was notoriously rogue – rumours abounded that there were two, Sebastian and Jonathan, one cold and calculating and the other an over-emotional killer who liked to play – but Alec knew that Sebastian and Jonathan were one and the same and that it was a deliberate move on his part to allow those rumours to spread. He wasn’t in the hierarchy, not exactly, more of a loose attachment to Valentine, spreading chaos wherever he went, his father his only leash.

Table updated, Alec spread out everything he had on Samuel Blackwell and Emil Pangborn and read through it all again, just to keep it fresh in his mind. He couldn’t start investigating now, given he had his book launch tonight, but he could always revise, recap, refresh his mind.

A lazy assassin was a dead one, after all.

----

Stepping out of the cab, he gaped at the impressive façade of the Institute gallery as he held the door open for Izzy. It looked like a cathedral, a stunning display of centuries old architecture amidst the modernity of the city. By all accounts, it should have seemed out of place – yet it didn’t. It made everything else seem like it didn’t belong. The Institute remained, while the city sprung up around it, and Alec appreciated the poetry in that.

“It’s gorgeous, right?” Izzy said, suddenly next to him and holding onto his arm. Alec merely nodded, smiling down at her. “You should see what Aline’s done to the inside.”

“You haven’t been inside yet,” Alec said, as they made their way in – none of the guests had arrived yet, so they could stroll leisurely and take in all the grandeur.

“I have her on Snapchat, grandpa.” Alec rolled his eyes fondly at her comment, stepping into the great hall.

“…woah. You weren’t kidding.” Alec whistled, as he looked around.

Aline had managed to book the largest exhibition room the gallery had to offer; it was a large, open, square space, neatly divided into thirds by two rows of marble pillars supporting the interior balcony. The centre of the space was high ceiling, with an impressive mural that depicted some biblical scene that Alec couldn’t for the life of him recall. Strings of lanterns hung pillar to pillar, filling the room with a warm white light, and large posters with the cover of his latest work adorned walls and pillars all around the room.

Tonight, his job was to mingle with reviewers and critics and rich people as he promoted the latest in his series of YA dystopian fiction; he was proud of every letter he received from teens who were inspired by the things he wrote, and wished he could only focus on them rather than adults who never needed it. He wrote the things he wished he’d read at 10, 13, 17 – his entire adolescence had been a cage, and he hoped that for some, he could help start them on the path to finding their key.

“Alec!”

He spun around on his heel, arms clasped behind his back in parade rest. Aline was striding towards them, clipboard clutched to her chest as she raised an arm to pull Alec into a brief hug. Thrusting the clipboard at Alec, she pulled Izzy into a longer, tighter hug. Alec thought there was an alarming amount of swaying going on considering how precarious Izzy’s shoes looked (they were six inch heels WITHOUT any actual heel, for the love of God).

He looked up at the ceiling as he waited for the two of them to finish excitedly greeting each other, unable to keep the smile off his face. Aline had grown up near them; her mother Jia, publishing agent extraordinaire, friendly with their mother, meaning regular playdates had been the staple of their childhoods. Aline was also the first person outside the family he’d come out to – Alec being the first one she came out to before that. He liked seeing the two of them happily chatting, enjoying themselves.

Eventually, Aline shifted her attention back to Alec and her precious clipboard, snatching it back and holding it out in front for him to read.

“So in all honesty there’s not many things for you to do tonight but they will take a decent chunk of time. Mingle, mingle, mingle, short speech from you and then my mom, and then you’ll be signing copies as everyone leaves for the night – there is an after-party at Pandemonium, but no one expects you there, so don’t worry.” Izzy’s eyebrows raised and she opened her mouth, but Aline stopped her. “I’ve added you and your friends to the list, Iz. I got you.” She winked, as Izzy grinned.

-----

Alec stopped for a moment, catching his breath as he leant against a decorative pillar. He’d deliberately chosen two lines of work with minimal human interaction; it wasn’t like he wasn’t confident, and that he couldn’t hold the attention of a room easily, but he did find casual socialising exhausted him quickly in a way it didn’t Izzy or Jace. Talking when it came to work, he could do. He just didn’t have it in him to pretend to be interested in the details of yet another straight person’s straight relationship.

Jia had been caught in traffic; their speeches had been due to start fifteen minutes ago, and Aline was beginning to get a little antsy. Alec had pressed a glass of champagne into her hands, and showed her all of the guests enjoying the evening she had planned; they wouldn’t mind if they could idly chat and drink more than they realised for just a little while longer. Most of them were strangers, or half remembered acquaintances; he and the rest of his family were due a quiet home dinner in a couple days, the evening of the public release day. His siblings refused to miss it though, which he appreciated.

He listened out, hoping to hear the voice of either Izzy or Jace; he wondered how Izzy’s not-date was going, as it looked pretty date-like to him. As he took everything in, not bothering to pick out most individual voices even though he could, he heard a beeping sound; muffled, yet frequent and continuous. A watch, maybe? It seemed to be coming from the direction of the table piled with books, which he was supposed to be sitting at and signing by now. He frowned at it, his name and portrait staring back at him, daring him to come over.

“Hey, Alec, hiding from your ‘loyal supporters’?” He looked away from the table that he’d begun to make his way towards, brow still furrowed and mouth slightly open despite his concentration being broken, to see a smiling Jace. “Woah, death stare much?”

Alec shook his head, as if he could shake off the thoughts. “Sorry, I just… heard something. Gimme a second.”

“Heard what? Alec?” Jace followed, as Alec continued walking, uneasy feeling settling deep in his gut. Alec trusted his gut more than anything, but he couldn’t evacuate the room on a whim. Reaching the table, he squatted, looking underneath on instinct.

A small device was planted at the back of it, in front of the only chair, timer displaying 00:03.

“Bomb!” he yelled at the top of his voice, instantly moving backwards.

00:02.

The crowd screamed, dispersing to the sides of the room as quickly as they could.

00:01.

He was still in line with the table, had to move before the bomb propelled it forwards; thank god he wasn’t sitting there, where he should have been, but he had to get to the side-

00:00

He was knocked sideways, falling to the floor out of range.

And he watched as the books, his books, scattered and burned, and the table hurtled forward and knocked Jace headfirst into the far wall in his place.

-----

The hospital’s distinctive smell blanketed him, disinfectant mingled with death, and Alec felt like he was just a passenger in his own body. He’d spoken with police already, while Jace had undergone emergency treatment, and he and Izzy had spent the better part of the night huddled together in the waiting room, both wrapped in one of Alec’s hoodies each and barely saying a word. Aline had kindly dropped by his apartment, leaving Izzy’s heels behind and coming back with coffee and warm clothing, before checking in with her mom. He felt like he was sitting in a space between worlds, almost.

In fact, it was Izzy who noticed the doctor’s approach first, Alec distracted with staring blankly at the walls, obsessed with counting how many tiles across there were between posters. That was the kind of thing that would get him killed, he had the presence of mind to think, as he came back to himself. He eased himself off of the plastic chair and unsteadily took his place at her side, joining in in the middle of the conversation.

“He’s currently in a coma; it’s not a deep one, and he should wake up soon. Now, it’s not like in the movies, and waking up will be a slow process, likely followed by a period of temporary amnesia, but we’re confident he won’t experience any permanent or long-lasting side effects. I understand this is going to be a tough time for you all, so we do have resources available for families of patients when you need them, okay?”

“Okay,” Izzy nodded. “Thank you, doctor.” The doctor nodded, and turned to leave. Alec swallowed.

I will kill whoever did this.

He shook his head to shake the thought away; he knew that he would, but he couldn’t dwell on it right now without doing something stupid.

“You okay there Alec?” Izzy spoke gently, the silence that had surrounded them for hours now broken. He swallowed and met her eyes, feeling like he was moving his head through sludge.

“Uh, yeah,” he said. “Just thinking about why this all-“ he waved his hand around vaguely – “happened.”

“Did the police tell you anything?” Izzy asked. He shook his head.

“Just that they’re concerned it was, um, homophobic in nature. I guess someone doesn’t like my books.” Izzy gasped quietly. “And that they’re willing to offer me protection for the next couple months, while they investigate and. Stuff.”

“Mom and Dad will want to go private with security, you know. I’m guessing it’ll be the first thing they agree on since the divorce.”

He inhaled. Any protection they hired would report back to them, he wouldn’t be able to go anywhere or do anything without them knowing, wouldn’t be able to track down Jace’s attackers and end their miserable lives. He fought down the rising panic, masking it with a layer of almost nonchalance, of something, so as not to concern Izzy. “Oh god, I bet they’ll get me someone awful, I’ll have to-“

Izzy put her hands on his shoulders, even though she had to reach up considerably to do so, her eyes wide, concerned and imploring. “Let me worry about you for a change, okay? Let me make sure you’re safe, before mom and dad get involved and get on your back, because they aren’t gonna care about your feelings whatever they do.”

And Alec, having temporarily disconnected his mouth from his brain at Isabelle’s earnest affection, simply nodded and said okay.

Chapter Text

Magnus awoke that morning the way he imagined kings did; naked in silk sheets, a sizable amount in his bank account from selling Wilson’s indiscretions – crimes - to the press, and a vague sense of personal accomplishment – unlike kings, however, his was earned.

He was incapable of lounging around to enjoy the sensation though, and not a few minutes after waking he was pulling a robe on, also silk. Dust motes danced in the sunshine streaming into his apartment, and his mood danced with them. He flicked on the news as he walked to the kitchen – most of it was concerning the Wilson incident, as he figured it would. He’d waited a couple days; the day after he lifted the files, he anonymously sold the information to a rising journalist he’d had his eye on, while simultaneously sending copies to law enforcement to ensure that even if the story never broke, justice would be served. He’d been burned before.

He needn’t have feared, though. The funds cleared in his offshore account an hour before the news went wild, and he wrote a letter of resignation to Wilson’s staff informing them of his immediate departure, before booking a late night train back to New York. It was early morning by the time he finally stepped into his home, to be immediately accosted by a yowling Chairman Meow.

Other than Wilson, the news was the same old bullshit, and he contemplated its idiosyncrasies over his breakfast of honey and Greek yoghurt. The only thing of merit that caught his eye was one of the scrolling headlines, talking about police responding to an “incident” with no casualties. A failed assassination on someone rich enough to cover it up, probably. He filed it away in the back of his mind; it wasn’t important until it was.

Coffee, though. Coffee and a croissant was vital right now, and his kitchen held neither.

He dressed quickly, with slightly more emphasis on comfort over style for once, given he intended to take it all back off again as soon as he returned. Only slightly more - he was Magnus Bane, after all.

The walk was uneventful, Magnus barely registering it at all as he made his way towards Apothecary – he refused to go anywhere else, given that it was his dear Dorothea’s somewhat successful attempt at creating a new life for herself. Personal loyalty aside, they made damn good coffee. Even that cocky blonde barista with the interesting eyes made good coffee.

He stepped in to the shop, inhaling deeply. He couldn’t always visit, away on business as often as he was, but the smell of dark roast and baked goods would always feel like coming home. Apothecary was safe, mundane, and familiar, and he was more grateful than Dot knew for this slice of normality.

Dot herself was behind the counter today, and he smiled to himself at the fortuity. She only really came out on slow days, and it looked slow – the only other person in the shop was a young woman, standing at the counter as Dot filled her order.

“Magnus!” She exclaimed, her bright eyes sparkling the second they landed on him, as she handed over the other customers’ order. “It has been way too long since you showed your handsome face around here. Usual, or has DC changed you?”

“I am an immovable object, my dear, nothing could change me,” he inclined his head at her in greeting. “It’s only been a month, has it not? Surely you didn’t miss me that much.”

“A month is too long, you cretin. I heard you’ve found yourself without a body to guard, mister: what’s the plan now?” she said, conversationally, as if she didn’t know exactly what he did for a living.

“You know I don’t talk about business on my days off, Dorothea,” he winked at her, and she smiled back at him, dark eyes glittering with guile as she turned to make his order.

He noticed that the woman next to him at the counter - all dark hair and red lips, the picture of the rich NY elite – was eyeing him with intent, lingering even though she’d received her order. He brushed it off; it wasn’t malicious in nature, and he was well aware that he looked the way he did. He deliberately made himself look fascinating and powerful and desirable. While he could rattle off fifty reasons why no one should want to get close to him, his looks definitely did not appear in that list.

He’d found, throughout his more than three decades of life, that his looks were often the only reason why people wanted to get close to him. He couldn’t blame them.

“Don’t be a stranger, Bane,” Dot winked, handing him his precious morning-saving cargo. A casual wave and a smile of his hand, and she turned back to tinker with her machines – Magnus was half convinced she’d cut a deal with a team of small faeries to make her coffee taste so good. Life was weird enough as it was, so she may as well have done.

“Excuse me, Mr Bane?” The young woman finally spoke, as he turned to leave, pulling him out of his whimsical thoughts.

“For you, my dear, it’s Magnus,” he responded on reflex, flirty note in his voice. She smiled at that, all perfect white teeth, and her eyes sparkled. She looked like the kind of woman Magnus could be very good friends with, even trust.

Though, of course, he couldn’t really, truly trust anyone other than those he already did.

“Izzy Lightwood, call me Izzy,” she said, thrusting out a hand – for him to shake, not kiss, like many of New York’s apparent socialites did. . As he obliged, he wondered if perhaps his first impression had been wrong.

“Short for… Isabelle? Isabella? Isa…dora?” he asked.

“Isabelle, and if you wanna call me that, I suppose I can live with it - it doesn’t sound too bad in your voice,” she laughed. “Do you have a minute, Magnus? I have.. a request . Or proposition, I guess.”

If Magnus wasn’t intrigued before, he certainly was now. “I think I could be persuaded,” he smiled, indicating a table by the window. “Shall we take a seat?”

“We shall,” and she did. It became apparent to Magnus, very soon after sitting down with Isabelle, that she was quick as a whip, a highly intelligent woman capable of using any tools at her disposal. He definitely liked her.

It took them a little while to get down to business; conversation jumped quickly between fashion to science & technology to current events. Magnus was genuinely enjoying Isabelle’s company, and reluctantly had to press the issue when he took a sip of his half-drunk coffee and realised it had already gone cold.

“So, Miss Isabelle. This business proposition wouldn’t have anything to do with you overhearing Dot talking about my day job, would it?”

“A little, but I’d almost worked it out before then, actually,” she said, continuing on at Magnus’s raised eyebrow (not that he didn’t believe her, but he was interested to find out how). “I’ve heard of you before, you see. I’ve just started specialist training as a forensic pathologist, so I know Catarina?” Magnus nodded, trying not to worry that he’d been caught out so easily. “She showed me a picture of you not long ago, in D.C., said you were working for that Wilson asshole. What a scumbag..” Her eyes darkened as she trailed off.

“Believe me, I was out of there as soon as I found out. Not that he wasn’t always an asshole, though. I couldn’t even wear makeup down there,” he shuddered, remembering how much he despised having to work for the awful man before he could pull off the plan.

“Ugh. That sounds awful,” Isabelle commiserated, the look of disgust on her face potentially rivalling his. “But anyway. I saw one article that mentioned that his “private security” dropped him immediately, a footnote really. I recognised your face, but couldn’t place it; Dot mentioned DC and called you Magnus, which made me realise; and then she said your surname, confirming my suspicions that you were Catarina’s Magnus, and I thought up my diabolical plan!” She grinned again, infectious; did she ever stop smiling?

Magnus, despite having known her for just over an hour, hoped beyond all hopes that she never would.

“Your diabolical plan… to hire me?”

“Yeah, it isn’t all that diabolical, really. I just always wanted to say that out loud,” she shrugged. “Magnus, bumping into you today of all days is like a sign. You’re exactly what I need.”

Magnus sighed, mostly in relief that Isabelle hadn’t completely cracked his scams wide open and seemed genuinely interested in hiring him as an actual bodyguard. The rest was out of genuine sadness that he would have to charge her the same astronomical price he charged his marks. “As much as I would love to offer my services freely, especially to you, I’m afraid that I-“

“Money’s no issue. Even if my siblings and I weren’t earning enough on our own, rich parents who try to pretend they care makes for a substantial safety net,” she kept her expression neutral, yet was barely able to disguise the sour note in her voice as she mentioned her parents.

He knew how that felt, to some degree.

“So why do you need me, Isabelle? Are you in any danger that I should be aware of?”

“Actually, I don’t need protection,” she said, taking a sip from her drink before continuing. “But my brother does.”

“You have a brother?”

“I have three. Alec, Jace, and Max, and they’re all idiots and I love them.”

Magnus paused for a moment, considering. Isabelle’s last name sounded familiar from the off, but he didn’t want to assume… could it be?

“Alec… Lightwood? The author?” he said, wincing at how high pitched his voice sounded.

“You know his work?” she grinned, eyes gleaming.

“Full disclosure?” Izzy nodded, putting a finger to her ruby lips to show she’d keep it quiet if he wanted it that way. Magnus leaned in, lowering his voice as though he were imparting hidden knowledge. “I’m a huge fan. I’ve read every word he’s ever published.”

If the way she was looking out for his safety hadn’t already made it apparent, her excited and impassioned response to Magnus’s admission drove home that she was her brother’s biggest cheerleader. It was heartening to see in a way Magnus didn’t expect it to be – he had his own cheerleaders, his friends, his chosen family, but something dark and repressed in him fought the notion, fought the idea that people weren’t supposed to go through life on their own.

He didn’t voice any of it. “You know, most people act very differently when they find out how highly I regard fiction aimed primarily at young adults,” he said instead.

“Most people are fucking dumb,” she sipped her drink again, the picture of self-assurance in skin-tight vegan leather. “Anyway, he’s the one who needs looking out for, for a short term thing. Interested?”

Magnus leant back in his seat. He’d never considered a legitimate position before, despite being fifty levels of overqualified for most of them. It’d look good for him – he’d been pulling the whole “everyone I’ve worked for has been an asshole, maybe you’ll be different??” card for too long now. One good, decent client could help him score big next time.

He tried to ignore the glaring fact that his hypothetical dinner party was resolutely made up of Archer, the ghost-like assassin that barely anyone knew existed, and Alec Lightwood.

“Tell me more.”

 

-----

 

Magnus certainly hadn’t anticipated being out as long as he had when he’d left, let alone coming back having willingly and eagerly tossed any potential vacation time out the proverbial window. He managed to make his way back to his kitchen in one piece, expertly avoiding a very vocal Chairman Meow making his distress known. He attempted to placate him, soothingly assuring him that he did in fact know he was the worst human ever, and nearly got somewhere before his phone rang out and Chairman stalked off with his tail in the air.

He fumbled with the phone a little, bringing it to his ear as he continued unbagging the groceries he’d picked up on his way back.

“Morning,” he said.

“It most certainly is not.”

He grinned, despite hoping beyond all hope that she’d forgotten that he’d said he’d call her. “Catarina, my love, my light!”

“Cut the shit Bane, you were supposed to call as soon as you got back to New York. Madzie’s on summer vacation now and she’s clamouring for you to visit. You had better be staying out of trouble, you vagabond.”

“I love you too, and I’ll have you know I’ve just accepted an honest job actually, Catarina. An actual, honest to god, bodyguard job. So, you know. Nyeh.”

“You’ve gone legitimate? How hot is the client?” she asked, and he could hear the smirk on her face as she spoke, even through the phone.

“You think so little of me, my dear. Were I the sensitive type, I might feel hurt.”

“You are the sensitive type, Magnus. As much as you try to hide it.”

“Yes, well,” he swallowed, wishing to deflect from the sudden serious note the conversation had taken. “I will be spending the next two months, at the very least, protecting one Alec Lightwood.”

“The author? Your favourite author? Magnus, do be serious.”

“I am! There was an attack at one of his launch parties last night, his brother got seriously injured, and his sister, quite by coincidence, stopped me in Apothecary this morning. They were offered police protection but she said their parents would insist on private and she wanted to beat them to it. She said meeting me was a sign. A bright, well-dressed, incredibly handsome sign.”

“She didn’t say that last part, did she?” Catarina’s voice was a monotone, but he knew her well enough to know she was fondly amused.

“No, she didn’t. Point being, I’m in work again a day after resigning. I’m meeting him tonight, and I’m temporarily going legitimate – it’ll do some wonders for my reputation, and it’s for a good cause – stop laughing Catarina, the cause is not my dick . Will you all be okay for a little while?”

He could easily visualise Catarina wiping the laughter from her eyes, before immediately phasing back into seriousness. She was an iron bar wrapped in velvet, a contradiction that made perfect sense; unflinchingly honest but not cruel, never cruel. “Magnus, darling, you don’t need to take care of us. Any of us.”

“Well, I want to.”

“I know, I know. But we’re all set for comfortable lives because of the work you’ve done. Madzie’s trust fund alone should see her through college about five times over.”

“She’s smart. She could go to college five times if she wanted to.”

“And if she wants to, she can, because of you . I just… I want to make sure you’re still living this life because you want to, Magnus. For yourself. You are not your father’s son, and you owe the world nothing, okay?”

He was quiet. At the mention of his father, he couldn’t make himself be anything but.

“Magnus?” Catarina prompted, after a minute or perhaps twenty. “Magnus, are you okay?”

“…yeah.” His voice was barely above a whisper. “Bit… anxious.”

Magnus really, really fucking despised the way that the mere mention of his father made his insides clam up and his palms sweaty, even now, even though he never had it that bad, not really. This is ridiculous , he thought, he’s a goddamned grown man, his father should absolutely not have this gut-clenching spectral hold over him.

“You want me to come see you, or would you like some space?”

“Space. Please.”

“Alright. Put on some Frank. Call me soon. Love you.”

“Love you too Cat.”

She was the one to hang up.

He stood, phone to his ear and jar of olives in his hand, eyes unfixed as he lost himself in his thoughts again. Was he doing what he did for a living to make some kind of fucking point? He helped people, but if he only did it for his own purposes, his own sense of feeling good, did it even matter? To what end do intentions really matter when you’re six feet under? Knowing his luck, there was an afterlife, and his immortal soul would be judged unfit and sent to spend eternity with his father – who would at least be rotting in Hell, if not running it by that point.

He guessed his torture would be running it right by his side.

Magnus came to himself at the sound of smashing glass, and, upon blinking several times, realised he’d thrown the jar full pelt at the refrigerator.

Christ, he needed to get it together. He needed more olives, too. But mostly he needed to get it together – especially since he was having dinner with Alec Motherfucking Lightwood later that night. True, Isabelle would also be there, but Alec had come by at a difficult point in his life with his eloquent words and hopeful stories. Magnus couldn’t ever really convey how Alec’s first novel, published when the man was barely a man at 20, had pulled him from the depths of an emotional ravine.

Alec had shown him characters like himself when he was younger, characters he still saw himself in now, and taught him to never let hope become the first casualty to adversity. He’d never been so attached to someone else’s work before, but it had become somewhere safe for him to retreat to whenever his thoughts became overwhelming or his dangerous life began threatening to catch up with him.

He simply had to impress him tonight. And he knew just the outfit to do it in.

 

----

 

The restaurant he entered wasn’t one he’d tried before, despite his proclivity for being adventurous with dining. It was a place with a unique charm; industrial fixtures left on the ceiling but sprayed brilliant white; hanging orbs that were half copper casing and half warm light; a spacious dining area comprising of teal bench seating and slightly mismatched chairs.

He and his Versace blazer (with the custom snakeskin collar, obviously) felt more at ease almost immediately. A rare feat, considering he was paid to not feel at ease anywhere new and unchecked. He figured that Isabelle likely had a hand in its choosing, emotionally in tune as she seemed to be, and offhandedly wondered if she was single.

Magnus put the brakes on that train of thought before it could really get off the ground; fooling around with a potential employer – and it would be fooling, he was by no means looking for a relationship now or, indeed, ever again – was always, always a dumb idea. Well, it was a dumb idea doing it before you got paid.

He spotted Isabelle moments before she spotted him; he had already started walking as she eagerly waved him over from where she sat at a chair facing a table for four. Across from her, a dark haired man, who he assumed was Alec himself, was slouched on the bench. He appeared to be checking his phone by the look of the light near him, turned away from Magnus’s direction so that he could barely see his face.

He looked up at Izzy’s rapid motions, and Magnus’s brain immediately stopped working.

It wasn’t as if he didn’t know what Alec looked like, vaguely, it was just the approved author portrait on all his books was the still the same one from his first book 7 years ago. Time had evidently been very, very kind to Alec. Magnus felt like he had been transported directly into an art gallery, staring blankly at the finest marble sculpture ever created and never shown to the public previously.

And the marble sculpture was staring back at him, eyes wide and mouth slightly open, as if in a daze.

It took a gargantuan effort for Magnus to keep breathing normally, let alone keep moving forward, but he was no stranger to executing social situations in the face of rampant attraction. Both Izzy and Alec stood to greet him, which was another uncommon experience for him, and he figured these Lightwoods were probably full of those.

“Polite and beautiful,” he said, as he finally approached. “You two already have a lot going for you, hmm?” Isabelle giggled as she stepped from her chair to wrap her arms around his neck and envelop him in a swaying embrace. Even in her heels, the top of her head barely reached past his chin, leaving his field of vision free to make contact with Alec’s.

“You must – ahem – you must be Mr Bane,” he said, pink blooming along his disgustingly high and defined cheekbones. He offered his hand as Izzy let Magnus go.

"Call me Magnus. You know, Mr Lightwood, it's an honour. I love your books." Magnus took Alec’s hand, his grip surprisingly rough and strong and doing all sorts of things to his insides.

"Oh, I - really? Thank you," Alec stumbled over the words, somewhat endearingly, looking genuinely surprised. "And please, it's Alexander- um, Alec, I mean..."

"Alexander," Magnus smiled, nodding. He felt himself be utterly charmed by Alec’s answering smile.

Izzy coughed, distracting and drawing Magnus’s attention to the fact that he and Alec were just smiling at each other, hands still clasped together. They both cleared their throats, hands slipping out of each other’s firm grasp, and the Lightwoods both moved to take their seats again. Magnus had a decision to make.

He slid onto the bench, next to Alec and pretended not to feel a jolt when their knees brushed briefly.

They placed a drinks order, Alec insisting that tonight was all on him, and that Magnus should pick whatever took his fancy given they were taking his time. Isabelle went straight ahead, as if this were common for her brother and arguing would only make him dig his heels in, but Magnus, he… wasn’t used to this kind of treatment from anyone except himself, to say the least. Was this some kind of calculated move? A judge on his character based on what he did with unlimited menu power on someone else’s dime?

Alec ordered a gin martini. Magnus ordered the same, and threw in a comment about how Alec must be a man with taste. Half the time, Magnus found himself saying things to fill the silence, to make himself appear more confident and composed than he felt in the moment. It usually worked.

It didn’t seem to work on Alec, who was contemplating him with an open yet intense gaze. Magnus looked back, causing Alec to look away, and Magnus found he missed the attention. It was almost as if Alec was seeing him, not his projection of a better him.

Isabelle made small talk, Alec content to listen and interject here and there – but it was obvious to Magnus that despite not having much to say, Alec was intelligent, and surprisingly analytical considering the way his writing invoked emotions from Magnus, and indeed, likely every other reader.

Magnus was having trouble remembering, right now, that he was not special in this. That he was not special to Alec. It was difficult though, under the weight of his gaze, to not feel singled out.

It wasn’t until their orders were placed – just dinner and dessert, with Isabelle surprisingly opting out of said dessert – that Alec brought business to the table.

“So,” he said, angling his body towards Magnus, posture straightening out.

“So.” Magnus stayed right where he was.

“What did Izzy tell you? About… everything?”

“I know the vague details of what happened, all that she could tell me without jeopardising anything. And… your brother. I’m sorry that happened, and I’m glad he’ll recover,” Magnus said gently, noticing the flash of pain cross both the siblings’ faces, Alec’s tinged with guilt. It was only natural, Magnus supposed. It was his event that was targeted – obviously not his fault, but Magnus knew how emotions rarely made sense.

“Thank you,” Alec inclined his head. “So, uh – god I don’t know how much I’m supposed to say-“

“I think we can talk about motive with the present company, Alec,” Izzy interjected, tone gentle. Alec nodded, and his earnest eyes fixed themselves to Magnus’s with an intensity that made him shudder.

“I don’t know how much you know about me, or, uhm, if you know anything at all, but I guess,” Alec heaved a strangely and unbearably familiar sigh. “Well. If we’re gonna be knowing each other for a while, you should know that I’m really vocal about being gay.”

Magnus understood then why Alec's sigh was familiar; having to come out to people over and over again was exhausting, never knowing whether it would make an enemy out of a stranger. “So… they’re worried that this is targeted, violent homophobia?”

“Possibly. That’s not gonna be a problem, is it?” Alec looked genuinely wary, with a surge of protective anger preparing itself underneath, and Magnus’s heart went out to him in solidarity. He’d quite clearly been burned before.

“I really, really hope you didn’t look at me and think that I was straight for even a second.”

Both Alec and Izzy laughed at that, but while Isabelle’s laugh was like music, Alec’s was poetry, raw and real and full of relief. His eyes crinkled around the edges as he threw his head back, and Magnus felt his chest soar with happiness.

“But to answer the question,” Magnus continued. “No, that’s definitely not a problem. Like, I said, I love your books. It’s not often I get to read about men like me, like us, being heroes.”

The change in Alec was immediate. From his business demeanour to his protectiveness, from his laughter to how he was reacting now, obviously flustered, Magnus got the feeling Alec had a habit of jumping from mood to mood, whichever was the most honest.

“Oh. Uh, yeah, I mean, men like us? That’s… cool. Not that, that I’m cool, uh-“

“You act like you’ve never met a fan before,” Magnus smiled.

“Not like you.” Alec’s smile was small and shy again, and Magnus nearly found himself at a loss for words again, thankful for the quote that jumped into the forefront of his mind.

“’ Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself ’.”

’I am large, I contain multitudes. ’” Alec concluded, odd look in his eyes. “Poetry fan?”

“A little,” Magnus shrugged.

He intended to continue, to talk about Walt Whitman and other poems he liked with Alexander, to share every word that ever meant something to him, but the main meal chose that moment to arrive. The conversation lapsed back into flashes of small talk, largely replaced with the sounds of cutlery and glasses clinking. Magnus took a moment to take in his surroundings fully again, paying attention to the people nearby in turn – he had always people watched, even when it wasn’t useful to him. There was something that fascinated him about how so many people could live totally separate lives within feet of each other.

The food was good, but the company finer, and Magnus could barely keep his eyes off of Alec. Izzy obviously adored him, and showed it openly, while Alec was quieter in his affections they were there nonetheless. They had similar traits, Izzy and Alec, and watching them it was clear that Izzy had grown up with Alec acting simultaneously as her role model and her safety net, and in turn provided him with unconditional love and support. Magnus thought it was amazing at how easily he could read this just by watching them interact, as if there was no space for pretence among the Lightwood siblings. He wondered if perhaps it was just these two, or if their other brothers were privy to the same kind of treatment.

“Excuse me for a minute, boys,” Izzy announced cheerily once their plates were cleared, standing up and walking off without a further word. Alec looked a little bewildered for a second at her sudden departure. Magnus wished he could have gotten a photo of that expression – Alec clearly needed a new author portrait, after all.

“So. Alexander.”

Alec’s head turned away from where he’d watched Izzy go, back to Magnus, and Magnus was struck again by his eyes , so beautiful, so expressive. Through his eyes alone, Alec’s intelligence shone – they looked older than a man of twenty seven ought to.

“…Magnus?”

Magnus shook himself out of his daze. “My apologies, I… spaced out a little. What was I- ah, yes. Tell me about your favourite poem?”

Those old eyes shone with the excitement of words to come, looking far more like the age they should.

They spoke, Magnus and Alec. They spoke for nearly two hours, about poetry, and books, and ideas. Even dessert barely stopped them for more than a minute. Alec was refreshing to talk to; similar enough to Magnus to make conversation a delight, but different enough to keep it interesting. In truth, they would have kept going, had a server not approached them to ask if they wanted to order anything else as the kitchen was closing. They had been the only two people in the room in their minds, and as it turned out, had become such in reality.

Alec apologised profusely, requesting the bill, and Magnus was amused by the thinly veiled relief on their server’s face.

“Alexander… where did Isabelle go?” Magnus asked, feeling guilty for not noticing she hadn’t returned. Panic flashed across Alec’s face as he fumbled for his phone as quick as he could.

“Oh. Izzy went home,” Alec said, looking down at his phone with a frown on his face.

“Oh,” Magnus frowned. “Does she say why?”

Alec looked up then, and rolled his eyes. “Apparently, this was a test, to see if we’d get on.” He laughed then, softly, pride in his eyes. “She’s so much smarter than me, I guess.”

“Smarter than us both, it seems,” Magnus smiled.

The bill arrived, and Alec barely glanced at it before laying down a sizable bundle of notes. Magnus had inadvertently taken note of roughly what the meal had come to, due to over analysing the cost of what he should order; the wad was entirely more than enough. He wondered how much authors earned briefly, for Alec to be not only hiring him but also such a generous tipper; maybe that was just how Alec was.

They both stood, smiling apologetically at the wait staff that they had kept behind, and made their way out onto the vibrant street outside. They stood, face to face, neither really wanting to leave but knowing there was absolutely no way they could stay.

“So, what’s the verdict, Alexander? Bear in mind that your sister seems to have called this a done deal already, and I’m a little bit scared of her.”

Alec laughed. “Good, this is--yeah, good. If I needed a bodyguard, you'd be the first I’d call.”

If you needed a bodyguard? Forgive me, Alexander, but I really did get the impression that you do.”

“Honestly, Magnus, I’m fine on my own. I don’t go anywhere or do anything much anyway. The police and my family are just wanting to take precautions, and I’ll go with it, for public events, but… You don’t have to do anything, not really. I’ll obviously pay you for the trouble,” Alec shrugged. Magnus couldn’t help bristling a little at his sudden nonchalance.

“Well, unfortunately, I am a consummate professional, and you dying on my watch would look very bad for my business,” Magnus reached out to pat his chest, twice in quick succession, before turning on his heel in the opposite direction. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Alec.”

He began to walk, despite facing in entirely the wrong way to be walking home.

It would be worth it, just for the dramatic moment.

“Wha- when, tomorrow? Where? Magnus?”

“Tomorrow, darling, I’ll find you!” he called over his shoulder.

“You – do you even have my number? Do you know where I live? Magnus!”

Magnus kept walking, smirk fixed on his face from the sheer joy of being ‘a contemptuous little shit’, as Ragnor would put it.

“Magnus!”

He was very much looking forward to tomorrow.

Chapter Text

Sleep had evaded Alec Lightwood, and so too had words.

Normally on his restless nights, he would write and write and write; losing himself in the words of another world to try and shake off this one. It usually worked.

This time, though. This time he was incapable of shaking Magnus out of his system.

He thought back to their first meeting, the adrenaline shooting through him at their eye contact unlike anything he’d felt before. Magnus's grip on his hand had been strong, and Alec had winced internally - not because of the pressure, but because to any with a quick mind, a group to which Magnus clearly belonged to, his hands were not a writer's hands.

His hands held the sins of a killer in every line. Blood ran between his fingers and gunfire had bitten into his palms. They were weapons now, irrevocably tainted.

It wasn’t entirely because of that that he stumbled and stammered either, cursing his inability to remain cool in front of handsome men. Hell, he didn’t even know why he’d instantly told Magnus his full first name, but Jesus fuck, when Magnus had smiled and said it?

Alec was done for.

And yet… the way he and Magnus had talked so freely, so openly, despite Alec’s fortified walls – it made sense.

Sat in his humble study, he stared at the page open on his laptop screen; small snippets and pieces of scenes he had to try and connect together taunted him, swimming about in the white space and rearranging themselves for all the sense they made. The Battle for Sempersol was five books in and every one a best seller. He was undeniably proud of it, he was, but he couldn’t help but think it was more of a love letter to his innocent teen self, the way he’d been when he’d first conceived of the idea.

His first kill, and the mental shake up following it, had certainly given him the push he needed to write it all, but the idea was representative of an Alec long lost to him. While the series had been a journey for him, and while he’d put his heart into it and loved the characters like dear friends, he knew he had barely anything left to give to it. He could end it, after the book just released. It was a good ending. But…he had one left in him, he hoped, until he was done with the world, and the house had given him whatever time he needed for it to be a quote-unquote ‘explosive finale’. At this point, Alec was their younger, hotter, gayer George R R Martin; so long as he finished it before he died and they could make a fuckton of money off of it, it was fair game.

Unfortunately, Alec danced with the devil far too often for his projected lifespan to be particularly long. It was what it was. He saw no need to devote any more of his time to soul searching about it.

He typed a couple sentences, and immediately erased them.

Alec threw his hands up in the air and groaned, before crossing them on the desk in front of him and pillowing his head between them. It was as he closed his eyes, breathing deep and attempting to calm his mind, that he heard the telltale squeak of his living room window opening.

His breath near stopped, and his focus that he couldn’t direct towards writing became laser sharp as he silently felt under his desk for the gun he kept within reach at every possible moment. He was good, damned good, the best – and that meant to always keep a third eye behind you, to live your life watching your back, because no matter how good you are, the chances of someone catching you are too high.

Archer was merely a whisper in criminal circles; he had kept it that way despite his skills because infamy lead to execution. Not to mention, keeping Archer separate from Alec kept him safer and saner. Whether he was being robbed, or if the universe had finally come to collect his debts, he knew he couldn’t falter. He clicked the safety off as he padded silently to the door of the study, one hand holding the gun as the other reached for the handle.

Archer breathed deep, and counted to three, before opening the door and whirling around to find the intruder.

The man, and it was a man, was sat nonchalantly on Alec’s couch, scrolling through his phone, but looked up as Archer made ready to shoot. The casual expression on his face dropped as quickly as the persona of Archer did.

“Alexander what the fuck-!“

“Magnus?!”

“What the fuck-“

“Did you climb in through my window?!”

“No, I magicked myself in. You pointed a gun at me,” Magnus said, accusatory tone punctuating every word. Alec frowned.  Magnus’s attitude towards him was entirely undeserved.

“You broke into my apartment? Of course I did!”

“Why do you have a gun?”

“Why should I not have a gun if I need a bodyguard?” Alec shot back. Magnus shrugged, conceding the point. “Why are you in my apartment at six in the morning anyway?” Magnus sighed at him, and sat back down on the couch. Alec took a seat at the other end of it, still holding the pistol, although he had put the safety back on.

“My intent was to break in at an awkward time and show you how shoddy your security is, though I see now that you apparently believe you’re your own security force,” he admitted wryly, poorly concealed smirk playing about his features. “Except, for the next two months, I’m your security and I think we should look over your business diary. Follow up question: why are you not in bed like normal people?”

“You’re not in bed,” Alec said.

“Darling, I’m far from normal.”

Alec sighed, reaching up to scrub at the back of his neck. He knew Magnus was a fan of his, and he didn’t particularly want to admit his nasty case of writer’s block to anyone right now. “Um. Writing,” he settled on. He tried not to feel guilty at Magnus’s instant, pleased reaction.

“I don’t usually say this, but... put that thing away and let’s do some work, hmm?” Magnus quirked his eyebrow, obviously pleased at his own innuendo, and Alec couldn’t help but to huff in amusement as he moved to return the gun to the study.

 

His upcoming social engagements cleared with Magnus, Alec excused himself to his room under the guise of catching a few hours of sleep – that likely wouldn’t come. He’d set Magnus up with the sofa bed, showed him around a little – and specifically asked him not to go into Alec’s study. Alec explained it away by claiming that it would “mess with his flow” or some hippie bullshit he’d picked up from terrible daytime TV. Magnus seemed to accept it.

Part of Magnus’s role, he explained, would be for him to spend most of the first couple weeks at Alec’s, and if Magnus spent those weeks flirting with him just as casually and frequently as he had been, Alec might die from excessive blushing. He wasn’t an idiot – he knew how he looked, and he knew how to flirt and be flirted with – but Magnus was something else. Magnus was dangerous, for Alec’s composure, and even more so given he didn’t feel dangerous.

Regardless, he had a point; Alec had been so confident about his ability to fly under the radar, and in believing that no one would climb through his sixth-floor window, that he hadn’t considered his safety at home. He had to do better.

He took his pants and socks off, suddenly too exhausted to even think about properly getting ready for bed, and slid under the covers. His mind whirred into action despite his body’s protests; he had a vague idea of several small-time drug dealers that the Circle might have approached. They never sold directly, if they could help it; they were suppliers, and drugs were just a tool, a money-maker, another facet of New York’s criminal underworld that they could stick their fingers in.

He could probably sneak in some time to tail a few of them; if not, his NYPD contact could watch them for him. Alec mostly left them alone, despite his strong disgust at what they did, for two reasons: one, it would be a little hypocritical of him – he was out here committing crimes essentially because he could, no matter his moral motivations, and most of them were trying to survive in a society that had turned its back on them; two, they were an excellent source of intel, voluntarily or not.

But if he gave Underhill – his contact, a cop who agreed with Archer’s mission enough to let the other stuff fly – at least one name, he’d be able to watch out for important information without drawing suspicion from his higher-ups for Alec, and he’d get another arrest under his belt from it. Alec had no idea if Underhill was his real name, and curious as he was, realistically he didn’t care – theirs was a business partnership, a fruitful one, but one that could be severed in a second with no repercussions to Underhill’s good standing as a law-abiding, honest man.

Mostly law-abiding, anyway. There were definitely a few parking tickets on the record – and consorting with a career assassin didn’t exactly look good, either.

 

One week passed far too quickly before Alec had a real opportunity to slip away, and the worst of it was that there was a part of him that didn’t mind. He tried his best to push that part down; he wasn’t meant to be enjoying Magnus’s company as much as he was. He was supposed to be hunting down Emil Pangborn, hoping that not only would it clear someone from his list, but that it would also give him some damned answers as to who planted that bomb and hurt Jace. He’d only had a chance to visit him once, to his dismay, and he’d been unconscious the whole time. Alec had sometimes previously found himself wishing Jace was unconsciousness when he got hyper – this was the first time he’d wished for a Jace hopped up on sugar and talking far too loudly.

The only thing Alec had that day, after a non-stop week of press, was a meeting with his publisher; a tedious two-hour ordeal in which they ran in circles and only finally made any progress in the last five minutes of it, making Alec question the necessity of all the posturing and arguing beforehand.

Or, he would have had a meeting with his publisher, had they not cancelled it due to illness. Alec hadn’t told Magnus that part though. As far as Magnus was concerned, Alec was perfectly safe in an office building with its own security, and he could go get a coffee, have a break, and come back to meet Alec when requested.

Even that had been hard to get; Magnus was very good at his job. He would have been pleased with Izzy’s excellent choice if it wasn’t making his own job a hundred times harder. Even if Magnus didn’t immediately call the police if he found out, there’d still be a thousand and one repercussions from anyone knowing that the man currently sitting atop the NY Times bestseller list was the city’s most competent killer.

No one ever said Alec wasn’t an overachiever.

Stuffing his suit jacket into his backpack, Alec pulled the hoodie on, zipping it up and sinking back into the hood so that his eyes were only just visible under the fabric. He made his way to the dumpsters at the back of the office, hoping that the trash collection day hadn’t changed for some reason since last week and the equipment he’d left there two days ago, sneaking out at 3am when Magnus was asleep, was still there.

It was. Alec was rarely wrong.

It wasn’t anything totally out of place either, which helped his case if some curious passer-by happened across it. His secret equipment was simply a skateboard, a battered pair of Vans, and a helmet.

He slipped the shoes on, stuffing his smart ones into his backpack, and hoisted the skateboard up under his arm as he mapped out his timings.

The meeting supposedly began fifteen minutes ago, which should have been enough time for Magnus to have gone his own way. It’d do him good to get to have a break, Alec thought. He’d never believed he’d meet someone who had the exact same tendency to throw themselves into their work with little to no regard for their own selves - mostly, because those kinds of people and Alec were too busy working to meet each other, but still.

Fifteen minutes to the park, half an hour down. He was already on his way.

Ten minutes scouting – making it look like he was after the best spot to skate, instead of the best place to eavesdrop. Forty minutes gone.

Twenty minutes actually skating. Alec taught himself how to skate – or at least, how not to look like a newborn calf that had tripped and gotten stuck on some wheels. He was no Tony Hawk, but it was enough to get by for what he needed and not stick out too much.

Attempt a trickier stunt… and fall badly.

Or fake falling badly, anyway. Skaters were a pretty supportive bunch, and the second it looked like you’d fucked up an ankle or something, you were surrounded by a group of well-meaning dudes who insisted you sit out and look after yourself, but who also might later sell you weed or a Monster.

“Fuck- yeah, it’s okay, I brought an ice pack. Motherfu-“ Alec waved them all off and hobbled over to a bench conveniently near a group he’d clocked earlier. Making a show of supporting his poor, twisted ankle, he then pulled out his phone and headphones, opened up his Spotify to some pop-punk playlist, and turned the volume down just one notch above silent. He was one hour down. Hopefully someone would let something slip in the half hour he had before he needed to make his way back to the empty meeting room.

Most of what he overheard was completely useless to him, and as the minutes ticked by, he began to get more and more annoyed that his only chance so far had been a bust. Twenty minutes of faking a swollen ankle and nothing yet.

“…nah, ‘cause Eddie’s got a new guy now so fuck him and fuck this Emil too.”

Ah.

“What fuck kind of name is Emil anyway? Even Eddie fuckin’ Bronx has got a better one and he’s so goddamned stupid he named himself after the place he’s from. Jesus Christ.”

“I dunno man, but I think this dude is bad news, ‘cause Eddie says they only meet in the middle of the day round the back of this one specific Chinese grocery store, nowhere else ever. Who the fuck does that?“

“Huh, maybe he’s in trouble. Serves him right for sleeping with my sister anyw…”

Finally.

Alec makes a move, waving dejectedly to those who’d offered a hand as he hobbled off, waiting until he’d turned two corners before he started walking normally, pulling his phone out. eddie bronx, probably buying from ep, around the middle of the day near a chinese supermarket in the bronx -)-, he texts Underhill on his crappy burner brick phone. The -)- signature had been Underhill’s idea, but damn if Alec didn’t like it.

He made it back to the office building with twenty-five minutes until the meeting’s supposed end, dumping the skateboard and helmet and giving him plenty of time to drop into the restroom to change back, head out into the lobby to wait for Magnus, and claim an earlier finish than expected. He smiled to himself as he squeezed through the already half open door.

“And where have you been, Alexander?”

Alec froze. He wasn’t expecting Magnus to be at the office yet.

 “I was, uh-“ Alec faltered. Magnus had a way of rendering him near incompetent, and he’d absolutely be worrying about that later. How could he not be able to think of an alibi?

“Wandering round, endangering yourself, instead of attending your cancelled meeting? Might I remind you, Mr Lightwood, that I am here and being paid to ensure your safety?” Magnus asked, tone speeding up as he went. Alec could tell that he was trying to keep his voice level, and nearly succeeding. Was it fear undercutting Magnus’s voice, that he was working so hard to hide? The fear of failure? “What could possibly be so private that I can’t accompany you and do my damn job?”

Bingo.

Alec hung his head, pausing for a second as if considering his words, just to really sell it. He looked Magnus in the eyes and swallowed. “Grindr meeting.”

Magnus’s eyes went wide at first, before he collected himself. “Oh. In the middle of the day?” he said.

“Uh, yeah. Lotta stressed businessmen looking for a quick hookup before or after stressful meetings, you know.”

“Well, I guess, uh. Just… I’d personally advise against them right now, to be honest, but… please at least inform me where you are, next time?”

“Uh, sure, sure. Dad.”

“Now now, Alexander, I’m gonna stop you there. Daddy kinks aren’t my thing,” Magnus winked, and Alec couldn’t help but grin in response, even as his cheeks burned.

“No? I always thought it was an overrated kink. Like, if you’re gonna go weird, go REALLY weird.”

Magnus barked out a laugh that seemed to surprise himself, which set him off into further laughter. It was, quite possibly, one of the best sounds Alec had ever heard, and he found himself giggling along.

“Was he at least good-looking, though?” Magnus asked after they’d both calmed down.

“Stood me up, actually. I walked back just to get the energy out.”

No way. Well, that won’t do. Come Alexander, get lunch with me. There are worse things we could do than hang out during this whole thing, hmm?”

Alec grinned.

Magnus took him to a little French diner nestled in between tacky Brooklyn tourist shops. The place was small, red and white linoleum floor paired with dark wooden walls, and booths and table with red chairs dotted about in no particular pattern. It wasn’t trying to be too fancy or too over the top with the whole French thing, and Alec appreciated that. He hated establishments that tried to fit their ‘theme’ so much that they lost all personality.

He also appreciated that this place offered mashed potatoes as a side, enough that he added them to his order even though they didn’t at all go with his croque monsieur.

“How’d you come across this place?” Alec asked, swallowing down a forkful of potato that was entirely too big for his mouth. They were damned good potatoes.

“I had a weird are we dating, aren’t we dating thing with a guy who worked here a few years back. He moved back to Paris, which answered that question – but I do get to keep coming here without worrying about bumping into him,” Magnus said, nonchalantly.

“I imagine dating is difficult, with your job,” Alec said. Magnus pulled an expression that seemed to mean “yeah, so-so”.

“I’ve never really had anything that wasn’t casual because of it, I must admit,” Magnus poked at his pasta as he mulled over his words. “But then again, that hasn’t yet bothered me too much. I believe that when I find the right person for me, it will all work out.”

“Do you believe in… soulmates, then?”

“I believe that there is at least one person out there that makes every fight worth fighting. I think there are multiple, and that you’d be lucky to even meet one of them. You?”

Magnus’s eyes locked with Alec’s, and he inhaled, holding his breath. Alec didn’t know if he believed in soulmates, didn’t know if he could with the life he lived, but… he hoped. Some small part of him that he pushed aside every time he took a life hoped.

Alec opened his mouth to answer, and it was at that moment that the shrill tone of Alec’s cell rang out with an unknown number.

“Oh, fuck, uh- sorry, I should take this,” Alec apologised, but Magnus waved him off.

“I’m a big boy, I’ll be fine. There’s a secluded corner over there-“ he indicated the spot “- where I’ll be able to see you, and get to you if I need to. Don’t go too far,” he joked.

“Do you visually map everywhere you go?” Alec grinned, as he left the table. Magnus simply nodded. “Damn.”

Alec pulled the phone up to his ear as he quickly walked to the corner Magnus had indicated – as corners went, it was a pretty good one. He angled his face away from Magnus, though, unsure whether the man could read lips. It wouldn’t surprise Alec if he could.

“Hello?”

“Archer? It’s me,” said a familiar voice.

“You know, anyone could say that, Underhill, and it could be anyone.”

Underhill huffed a laugh. “Heh. Yeah. Listen, I haven’t got long, I managed to sneak from my desk with this.”

“With… what, exactly?” Alec said, voiced pitched lower than usual.

“I know where Emil Pangborn is gonna be tomorrow night.”

Alec snorted. “That was quick – what, two hours, Underhill? Are you sure?”

“Positive. Our boy Ed has a record already, I got onto surveillance right where you told me, and saw the two of ‘em. Tracked them both together through the city. Wanna hear what I found now?”

“Shit, that was easy. Okay, lay it on me.”